When it comes to renters, moths are among the worst. They don’t pay rent, they eat your food, they even destroy your clothes. Moths are one household pest that can’t harm you, but they can make a mess of anything tucked away in a closet or pantry.
In truth, moths have a strong sense of smell, which they use to find shelter and accessible food sources. You can use this trait to your advantage to repel and prevent moths from nesting by utilizing fragrant herbal smells like lavender, cedar, mint essential oils, cloves, thyme, or rosemary.
Whether you have an existing infestation or you want to discourage moths before they even get started, then keep reading. We have the low down on the BEST scents that moths just can’t stand. Let’s get to it!
Why You Need to Repel Moths
Moths, specifically the moth larvae, will munch their way through anything made of animal fibers, including warm wool scarves, expensive silk tops, and cool leather jackets. Meanwhile, pantry moths will chow down on any pantry carbs they can find – crackers, rice, cereal, and anything else they can get into.
Insect infestations are particularly difficult to resolve, and moths are no exception.
It often takes more than one deterrent to get rid of moths for good. And, like all insect pests, they’ll keep on coming unless you actively defend your closets and pantries.
Pantry moths are easy to spot. They love to leave behind cocoon webbing in pantry corners, underneath cans, and in other nooks and crannies. The other big giveaway is if you get a scoop of flour and it’s crawling with little white caterpillars.
Clothing moths are harder to identify and might be another kind of insect pest.
But how do you know for sure if it’s moths? Clothing moths are tougher to identify and are especially challenging to get rid of. There are other textile-hungry pests out there, so let’s go over how to identify a moth infestation before we get into our moth-targeting solutions.
How to Tell if You Have a Moth Infestation
Moth larvae are especially fond of natural fibers like wool, fur, silk, feathers, felt, and leather. That’s because all of these materials contain the fibrous protein, keratin, which moth larvae like to eat.
Start by identifying if you have cloth-munching moths or something else.
There are many species of insects that like to eat clothing. These include carpet beetles, hide beetles, and harder beetles.
If you find one of these pests in your home, then you’ll be happy to hear that they are generally easier to get rid of than moths.
These beetles have a longer life cycle compared to moths, which makes them easier to get rid of before damage occurs.
Additionally, their eggs, which are about the size of a grain of sand, can be sucked up by a vacuum. Moth eggs, on the other hand, are even tinier and coated in what is called egg adhesion, making them much harder to vacuum up.
What Type of Moth is in Your Home?
Moths in the home. It’s not too unusual, but if you suspect a moth infestation then simply seeing one can raise hairs on the back of your neck.
Most moths spotted in the home are more likely to eat your houseplants than your winter wear. As a general rule, any moth longer than 1cm is not likely to eat your clothing.
Only two species of moth are interested in eating clothing fibers. These are the casemaking clothes moth (Tinea pellionella) and the webbing clothes moth (Tineola bisselliella).
The moths to worry about are generally only 1 cm long, and yellow or yellow-grey in color.
The pantry moth, Indianmeal moth, flour moth, grain moth, weevil moth. They’re all the same pest, P. inerpentella.
This is just one of many insects that can sneak into stored grains. The adult moth is very small, reaching only 1/4 to 3/8 inch in length, and 1/2 to 3/4 inches for its wingspan.
Deter Moths Using These Recommended Scents
Now that you’ve moth-proofed your closet and pantry, let’s get into how to discourage them from coming back.
It’s important to make sure you have gotten rid of as many moths, larvae, and eggs as possible before you start using moth deterrents. These precautions are most effective if put into action before moths even show up, or at the first sign of infestation.
After we review the scents that repel moths – we’ll go over how to use them!
KEEP IN MIND. If you have an active infestation, these scents will do practically nothing for you. These are preventative and will keep moths from wanting to lay eggs in the area. If you have an active moth infestation, call a local pest control company ASAP (click to view our pest control finder.)
Peppermint Essential Oil
Both mint and peppermint are effective moth deterrents. You can put dried leaves in sachet bags, or spread loose leaves among your clothes or cans.
As a general rule, you can also use peppermint oil extract to repel moths. For oil, one of the easiest and most effective methods is to wet a few cotton balls and leave them in the corners of your closet or pantry. Doing t
Lavender Can Repel Moths
Everyone’s favorite calming smell, but it will send moths flying to find a new hideout. To use lavender against moths, simply fill a sachet with dried lavender, or dip cotton balls in lavender oil.
An added benefit of lavender is that it won’t just repel moths. Lavender oil can also repel mosquitos and ticks. Lavender is a great natural alternative to repelling moths due to it’s pungent and pleasant aroma and natural derivatives.
If you’re interested, you can take a peak at Armour Shell’s Lavender Sachet and Cedar Bags that come ready to hang in your closet or pantry and filled with lavender to keep moths away!
Repel Moths with Cedarwood
Cedar is a popular choice for repelling clothing moths in particular for one very good reason: it works.
The cedar has to have a strong enough odor to be effective. You can sand it with sandpaper every few months to increase its potency since cedar loses its scent over time.
Cedar comes in many forms such as the Homode Cedar Blocks, Wood Chips, and Balls so that you can find the perfect repellent for those pesky moths. These can be tucked away in drawers, closets, and corners. Hangers such as the Cedar Elements American Red Cedar Hangers are also effective.
Cloves, Rosemary, and Thyme
Some of the best smelling herbs for humans are a potent deterrent for moths. Who knew having a moth problem would be an excuse to make your house smell like Julia Child’s kitchen!
These herbs can even be purchased in bulk in most natural food stores. Good news, since these herbs will need to be replaced every six months or so to make sure they remain effective in your closet and pantry.
They can even be effective in oil form and might be easier to use. Simply wet a cotton ball with the oil, then tuck the scented cotton balls away into drawers, in corners, and between boxes and cloth folds.
Vinegar Eliminates Moths
Contrary to popular belief, vinegar doesn’t actually keep moths away. Instead, vinegar can be used to eliminate moth eggs and larvae when used properly. Vinegar has a naturally high PH balance and when you find an area that has moths, moth larvae, or moth eggs, you can spray them with a diluted mixture of vinegar.
Once you spray the moth target with the vinegar mixture, the acidity of the vinegar itself with naturally eliminate the moths. Just be careful not to stain your clothes or carpet!
How to Use Scents to Repel Moths
All of these products can be purchased pre-made and ready to go. This makes them a very convenient option when you’re ready to start building up your moth defenses.
If you have preferred scents, you can easily customize your moth deterrent while also making your house a fragrant and sweet-smelling pest-free sanctuary.
Make A Sachet to Hold Moth Repelling Scents
First, you need to get small fabric pouches, tea bags, a Wiffle ball, or a small bowl. You can
Fill your bag, ball, or bowl with your preferred moth-repelling herbs listed above and MAKE SURE they have a pungent scent.
These sachets need to be refreshed every 30 days, which gives you plenty of opportunities to refine your scent or just experiment with different smells. Leave your sachets in closets, drawers, and pantries. They can also be tossed into storage bins and into the folds of blankets and stored rugs. Now you’re ready to enjoy a fresh-smelling, moth-free home.
Spritz Fragrant Water to Repel Moths
Remember that anything that smells floral, clean, or vinegary, is likely to be unappealing and even deterring to moths. Many of these smells are available as essential oils and are actually effective moth repellents.
Depending on your feelings about vinegar, here is how to mix your own fragrant spray that will freshen up the smell of stored fabrics, brighten the scent in your kitchen, and keep the moths from sniffing out your textiles and pantry goods.
Here’s what you need:
- 16-ounce spray bottle such as the Pinnacle Mercantile Plastic Spray Bottles.
- ½ oz distilled vinegar
- 1/2-1 tbs essential oil. This is the fun part. Experiment with different smells that you like. Most floral and herbal smells will deter moths.
- Distilled water to fill the bottle.
Here are a few combinations of essential oils that we recommend that not only work against moths, but smell great too!
- 1 part: clove, cedarwood, or sandalwood (something woody)
- 1 part: sage, rosemary, peppermint, lemongrass, eucalyptus, or lavender (something herby)
- 1 part: bergamot, grapefruit, peppermint, orange blossom, or geranium (something sweet)
Shake to mix everything together, and get to spraying! Spray near wool and other susceptible fabrics.
Spraying 2-3 feet away from your clothes will be effective, no need to spray directly onto your clothing.
Spray countertops and pantry shelves as well.
Acidic smells like balsamic, orange, and lemon balm will hang in the air longer, so spray sparingly if you heavily use those types of scents.
Your home should now be lightly fragrant and moth-free!
Build A DIY Cedar Closet
Did you know that you can also build your own cedar closet? This is a great way to make your entire closet unappealing to moths without using toxic mothballs.
If you aren’t keen on remodeling your closet, there are tons of cedar inserts you can use to get the same benefits.
There’s an added benefit to using lots of cedar in the home, besides it smelling great. Keep the cedar blocks spaced out because the oil CAN stain clothes, however.
Should You Use Mothballs to Repel Moths?
Mothballs are often the go-to solution for getting moths out of the house. However, these should only be used after you have tried non-chemical solutions.
Be sure to use caution when handling any chemical products or pesticides, and that includes mothballs.
Besides the fumes, mothballs can soften plastic. This will impact your storage options.
If you do end up resorting to mothballs, it is essential to follow the manufacturer’s guidelines to a point. This will ensure that you handle the pesticides properly, and they are as effective as intended.
Saving Your Textiles From Moths
Moth deterrent scents work great IF you identify your infestation early on.
Most people don’t know they have moths until it’s too late. Either they have done their spring cleaning and notice holes in their favorite clothing, or they open up a favorite snack only to find creepy crawlies in the box.
So let’s get to securing your belongings.
Protecting Your Textiles
Discard infested items.
If something is impossible to repair, get rid of it. Even if it was your most beloved sweater, you’ll love getting rid of those pests more.
Deep clean intact or salvageable clothes.
Dry cleaning is the most reliable method for killing moth larvae in wool sweaters and jackets that you don’t want to risk damaging. Ironing or washing in hot water (water over 120 °F) can also get the job done. Be sure to check clothing labels if you are not taking them to a professional dry cleaning service.
Deep clean your closet.
Vacuum the entire space. Moths love dark places. They’ll tuck themselves away in corners under shelving, near the ceiling, along baseboards, and doorknobs.
Discard the vacuum bag in your outdoor trash immediately, it is most likely full of living eggs and larvae.
You should consider a professional carpet cleaning service or steam cleaner if your carpet is made of natural fibers.
Protecting Your Dry Goods
Check all food for infestation. Larvae could be in or on food packages. Look for moth webs and cocoons. Larvae can also hide on the edges of cans, in spice jars, and in unopened boxes.
Dry grain products like cereals, flour, pasta, baking mixes, nuts, and sweets are especially attractive to moths.
Wipe down all surfaces and containers with vinegar. Undiluted vinegar will eliminate larvae crawling around on shelves, walls, and other surfaces.
Any infested food items or containers need to go into your outdoor trash to prevent the infestation from spreading again after you finish cleaning.
Any pantry products you keep should go into the freezer to eliminate any infestation that is hiding out in containers. Don’t replace anything in your pantry until you’re certain that you have eliminated any remaining infestation.
Thoroughly clean your pantry.
Pull out shelf liners and clean them with undiluted vinegar. Vacuum all surfaces, crevices, and corners, all the way up to the ceiling and down to the baseboards and trim. Immediately dispose of your vacuum’s contents in the outdoor trash.
Permanently store as much of your grain and nut products in your freezer as you can. This is especially important for food products that have already been opened.
Transfer anything that can’t go into the freezer into mason jars, tins, or other tight-sealing containers. Even if you unknowingly purchase grocery items that are already infested, the hatched larvae and moths will not be able to get into your other pantry items.
When Scents Just Aren’t Enough
Insect infestations are some of the most difficult pest problems to solve. What’s worse is that they are rarely resolved on the first try.
For a severe infestation, call a professional. You can use our nationwide pest control finder to get connected with an exterminator near you in seconds for free. Using our partner network helps support Pest Pointers.
This is sometimes the only option if your moths have spread to your furniture or carpets. While this might be a more expensive option, it will be effective and will make sure the moths are wiped out.
Then, once you’re sure there are no more moths living rent-free in your closet or pantry, you can get to work using the preventative measures we listed.
The last thing you want is to use unnecessary chemicals around your food or clothes, but in the case of severe infestations, it sometimes just can’t be avoided.
That’s All We’ve Got!
That should just about cover everything you need to know about closet moths, pantry moths, the smells they aren’t crazy about, and how to use them.
Remember that if you find holes in your clothing, moths might not be the culprit. Take some time to be certain of what your household pest is before you implement any time-consuming or costly solutions.
Be sure to thoroughly clean your stored clothing, closet space, pantry goods, and kitchen area. A clean space with properly stored clothing and food is the best defense against these flying critters.
Once everything is cleaned up and ready, you can start freshening up the air with cedar additions, scented water, and aromatic sachets. These scents can even be customized so that your moth-free home smells just the way you always wanted it to.
It’s frustrating having tiny moths flying around the closet and food areas. And who wouldn’t be disgusted to find little wriggling worms in their baking goods! Just remember that those fragrant, herbal, floral smells people love are exactly what moths can’t stand.
These smells include
- Mint and peppermint
- Cloves, Rosemary, and Thyme
- Additional fragrances like lemongrass and orange blossom
For these smells to be effective, you need to start with a clean slate. The fewer moths there are when you start perfuming your home, the better.
If you think your moth problem is out of control, too much to handle, or simply too offputting, then you can always contact a professional.
Be wary of using chemical pesticides like mothballs. These might be the traditional solution, but that’s not always the best reason for putting pesticides near your food and clothing.
A professional will be able to verify that moths truly are the issue at hand, efficiently rid you of your unwanted pests, and verify that your home is clean and ready for the sachet and oil treatment.
We hope this article helps you in keeping these flying critters away and gives you some new options when it comes to keeping your home fragrant and moth-free.
Carolyn Klass, Beetles Infesting Woolens Factsheet (PDF), Cornell Insect Diagnostic Laboratory, 1972, updated 2013.
Carolyn Klass, Clothes Moths Factsheet (PDF), Cornell Insect Diagnostic Laboratory, 1981, updated 2012.
Gervais, J.; Luukinen, B.; Buhl, K.; Stone, D,. Naphthalene General Fact Sheet; National Pesticide Information Center, Oregon State University Extension Services, 2010.
Charlotte Flint, Ahna Brutlag, Mothball Toxicity in Dogs, VCA Hospitals, 2014.
Health Effects of Mothballs, National Pesticide Information Center, February 9, 2017.
Peterson, A. (1961). Some Types of Eggs Deposited by Moths, Heterocera-Lepidoptera. The Florida Entomologist, 44(3), 107-114.
Chung, S. K., Seo, J. Y., Lim, J. H., Park, H. H., Yea, M. J., & Park, H. J. (2013, April 1). Microencapsulation of Essential Oil for Insect Repellent in Food Packaging System. Wiley Online Library.
Zack is a Nature & Wildlife specialist based in Upstate, NY, and is the founder of his Tree Journey and Pest Pointers brands. He has a vast experience with nature while living and growing up on 50+ acres of fields, woodlands, and a freshwater bass pond. Zack has encountered many pest situations over the years and has spent his time maintaining and planting over 35 species of trees since his youth with his family on their property.
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