The curse of the moth

They're back – and this time we haven't got the balls to stop them. Francesca Infante reports

A A A

One of Britain's grubbier little secrets is out of the closet. Clothes moths appear to be making an annoyingly widespread return – their numbers swollen by the insects' love for our bulging, and not always impeccably laundered, wardrobes.

Reports of infestations have risen sharply in the past six months. Some have attributed this to the demise of the traditional mothball, others to global warming. But, it seems, the real problem is us and our over-heated bedrooms full of more clothes than ever before, not all of which are as clean as they could be.

The larvae of the common clothes moth, or Tineola bisselliella, can live for up to two years among our clothes – and these days they have an awful lot more to lunch on. Consumer expert Lucy Siegle said research by Cambridge University indicates that the average British woman buys about 62lb (28kg) of clothes each year and has four times as many clothes in her wardrobe as she did in 1980.

An added inducement for the moths is our failure to wash our woollens and other natural fabrics regularly. Traces of sweat and the occasional food stain make the garment more delicious to hungry moth larvae.

Kate Hamer, UK technical manager for the pest control giant Rentokil, said our fondness for central heating has played its part, too. "The particularly snowy conditions we had during the winter made people much more likely to crank up their central heating, allowing the moths to live happily in their homes through the winter," she said. "Like all insects, moths are cold blooded, so warm temperatures act as a stimulant and effectively speed up their life cycles which can cause them to breed more quickly and prolifically."

Pest controllers such as Cliff Randall from London say that the number of moth-related call-outs he receives has more than doubled since December 2010. "Before Christmas I would usually do three to four a month, but in the past six months that has risen to more like three to four a week," he said. "Most clients are uncertain where the infestation is coming from, but we almost always find the source under a large piece of furniture that hasn't been moved in a while and has just been Hoovered around rather than under. It offers a perfect breeding ground, and then clients realise too late that a big chunk of their carpet is gone."

Retailers including John Lewis and Robert Dyas report a "massive growth" in moth treatment products. The traditional mothball was removed from sale in the UK after the active ingredient, naphthalene, was found to be highly toxic and banned by the EU in 2008. Since then, new products from cedarwood balls to pheromone adhesive strips have entered the market.

Robert Dyas, which stocks 12 different moth-specific repellents and insecticides, has seen a sales increase of 51 per cent across its range compared with figures from the same period in 2009, with no fewer than 386,556 individual moth products being sold in the first five months of 2011.

News
people'It can last and it's terrifying'
Sport
Danny Welbeck's Manchester United future is in doubt
footballGunners confirm signing from Manchester United
Sport
footballStriker has moved on loan for the remainder of the season
Sport
footballFeaturing Bart Simpson
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
Katie Hopkins appearing on 'This Morning' after she purposefully put on 4 stone.
peopleKatie Hopkins breaks down in tears over weight gain challenge
News
Ricky Gervais performs stand-up
people
Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman topped the list of the 30 most influential females in broadcasting
tv
News
Kelly Brook
peopleA spokesperson said the support group was 'extremely disappointed'
Life and Style
techIf those brochure kitchens look a little too perfect to be true, well, that’s probably because they are
Sport
Andy Murray celebrates a shot while playing Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
TennisWin sets up blockbuster US Open quarter-final against Djokovic
Arts and Entertainment
Hare’s a riddle: Kit Williams with the treasure linked to Masquerade
booksRiddling trilogy could net you $3m
Arts and Entertainment
Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand performs live
music Pro-independence show to take place four days before vote
News
news Video - hailed as 'most original' since Benedict Cumberbatch's
News
i100
Life and Style
The longer David Sedaris had his Fitbit, the further afield his walks took him through the West Sussex countryside
lifeDavid Sedaris: What I learnt from my fitness tracker about the world
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SEN Teaching Assistant

£50 - £70 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: Are you a Teaching Assistant...

Year 5 Teacher

Negotiable: Randstad Education Plymouth: Randstad Education Ltd are seeking KS...

Year 6 Teacher

Negotiable: Randstad Education Plymouth: Randstad Education Ltd are seeking KS...

Automation Test Lead (C#, Selenium, SQL, XML, Web-Services)

£50000 - £55000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Automation Tes...

Day In a Page

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

James Frey's literary treasure hunt

Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering