Wool is back - and so is the hungry clothes moth

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The Independent Online
IT STARTED with the cold snap in December, writes Melanie Rickey. Winter clothes resurrected from their seasonal slumber were full of holes caused by hungry moth larvae. An epidemic was on our hands, with clothing moths, resistant to deterrents, rampaging through our wardrobes.

But that picture may be false. The reason for our clothes being moth- eaten may be simply that we are wearing more wool. Gaden Robinson, a research entomologist at the Natural History Museum, supports this theory. He says the problem is a result of the return to natural fibres in fashion coupled with a lack of knowledge on how to keep the fibres safe from textile pests.

Jenny Cropper, of the International Wool Secretariat, agrees. "Technological advances have transformed wool from an itchy heavy fibre to one which is lighter, softer and easier to care for," she says. "We are wearing more wool than we have ever done before." The greater use of natural fibres is providing a bumper feast for Tinea pellionella and Tineola biffelliella, better known as the case-making clothes moth and the common clothes moth. Spot one flying around your room (both are very small - about 1-2cm - and a golden light-brown) and it is bound to be laying eggs on your favourite jacket.

Both species lay their eggs in woollens. They hatch into greyish-cream maggoty-looking larvae, one with its own "case", which eat their way out of the fibres leaving holes. Fully grown, the larvae measure about 1cm and, once in clothing, only washing or dry-cleaning can get rid of them. But by then it's usually too late; as Dr Robinson says, "by the time you find the damage the culprit is likely to be long gone".

The latest deterrent advice, endorsed by Anne Steinberg of vintage- clothing emporium Steinberg and Tolkein, is to hang lavender sachets, or pouches containing peppercorns, cloves, orris root and cinnamon, in the wardrobe, or even an open jar of cedar oil. Others suggest wrapping wool garments in tissue paper and then newsprint. Moths hate the smell of ink.