Yikes! Your wool sweater just came back from the dry cleaners with a cluster of little holes right on the front. You never saw these holes before so you conclude the cleaners spilled something on your sweater.
Not so fast! Before you blame anyone, step back and consider some facts. The true culprit may surprise you.
Think back to Memorial Day weekend when you wore this very sweater to your neighbor’s cookout. The following week the temperatures soared so you stored it for the summer with your other woolens. Here comes Labor Day weekend and time to reopen the storage drawer and drop off its contents at the cleaners for a fresher upper.
There is one critical link you cannot gloss over, however. Whether you saw it happen or not, your sweater picked up some tiny food particles at last spring’s cookout. Then, in the heat of the summer, clothes moths quietly swooped down in the dark of night, snuck into the storage drawers and zeroed right in on the food residue where they enjoyed a long and leisurely meal. “¨”¨
Clothes moths chomp on wool and silk and other natural fabrics like linen and cotton while they gulp down the little protein-laced food residues imbedded in the fibers. They also make this their comfy little nest to lay eggs. Without a microscope it is easy to miss moth damage unless you look very closely. This is because the moth larvae imbedded in the chewed up area are actually covering the holes and masking the damage. The area may look slightly rough but most people have no reason to assume anything is amiss since the damage is so well camouflaged. Washing or cleaning the sweater rinses away the larvae along with the damaged fibers thus exposing the moth holes. Voila!
Typically, moth damage occurs along “spill” or “splash” zones, including the bib and belly areas, lap, sleeves and cuffs. These are the high-risk exposure zones most susceptible to drops, spills, and splashes. Another target area is the under arms where perspiration residue attracts moths as well. Moth holes usually appear in a cluster and upon close scrutiny you can actually see where the individual yarns or threads have been chewed away.
Once the damage occurs, it is usually too complicated or expensive to correct with reweaving or darning and may well cost more than a new garment, even if you are lucky enough to find a skilled re-weaver in your area.
The best strategy is to prevent moth damage in the first place by washing or dry cleaning your off-season garments before putting them away for seasonal storage. If you do not have a cedar closet, buy some cedar wood pieces and place them in your closet and drawers to deter moths. Use mothballs with caution as they can be harmful to pets and children.
Moths are equal opportunity pests and do not care how much you paid for your sweater or if you only wore it once. All they need is a microscopic speck of protein on a garment that is safely tucked away where they can munch and lay eggs all season long without being disturbed.