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How to Prevent Wool Moths and Other Pests from Getting in Spinning Fibers and Hand Knits

I have a lot of wool in my home, including things like my spinning fibers, rugs, and hand knits. With all that wool, it is important that I store it properly to avoid any pest problems.

It can be kind of gross or scary to talk about (I truly hate moths!), but pests are a real risk.

Handmade items and fibers like hand-dyed rare breeds can be very sentimental, so we want to protect them and keep them safe. We definitely don’t want any nasty surprises when we go looking for our next project!

A dark-haired woman photoshopped in front of wool and images of bugs and a rodent
We don’t want any pests in our fibers around here!

So, I wanted to walk through the different possible kinds of pests to watch out for, how to store your fibers and wool to prevent any pest problems, and how to deal with them if you do get an infestation.

Watch the full video on pest prevention on YouTube or keep reading below!

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What Pests Do You Need to Watch For?

There are a few categories of pests that can be a threat to wool and knits.

Nesters

First is nesters. Nesters are critters that build a nest in the wool — namely rodents.

For example, a mouse that finds its way into your home will look for a nice cozy warm place to have baby mice. Your fleece will probably be a top choice!

Luckily, I have a cat at home who is a very good mouser. But generally, you want to watch out for signs of rodents, especially if you have your fiber somewhere out of the way like a basement, an attic, or a crawl space.

Eaters

The next kind of pest to look out for are the ones that eat the wool. This includes carpet beetles and wool moths.

A close up of a moth on a knit fabric
Adult clothes moth
A close up of a white clothes moth larvae on fiber
Clothes moth larvae

While you’ll want to get rid of any adult bugs that you see on the wool, it is actually the larvae (baby bugs) that do the most damage. When they hatch, they start eating anything that is an animal fiber. They tend to spot eat at random, so there is no real way to know which fibers in your stash have been eaten. There may be short bits, weakened fibers, and even empty casings and poop throughout the wool.

A close up of a speckled multicolored beetle on a white background
Adult Carpet Beetle
A close up of a brown carpet beetle larvae on a white background
Carpet beetle larvae

Therefore, my approach would be to get rid of everything that might have moths or beetles in it. Get it out of the house immediately, and maybe even burn it to make sure any eggs are eliminated. I am terrified of moths, so maybe that is overkill, but I don’t want to take any risks!

Also, it is important to note that it is not just wool that is at risk. Carpet beetles will eat any animal fibers, which also includes silk and fur.

Found in Wool

The final category is for things that can grow on the wool itself, which includes canary staining and mold and mildew.

Canary staining is a yellow stain that cannot be scoured out. It becomes part of the wool once it happens. It is caused by a combination of bacteria activity, temperature, and moisture. The stain becomes more and more yellow with time so the best thing to do is scour it immediately.

If you are going to dye a fiber with canary staining, know that you may not get a perfectly uniform color because the canary areas may be resistant to the dye. If you’re okay with a variegated look, maybe an orange or yellow dye will blend well, and the stains won’t be noticeable.

Finally, is mold and mildew. Mold and mildew can form on fibers that are wet or damp.

How to Prevent Pests on Wool and Hand Knits

Most of these pest problems are treatable, but the best approach is to prevent infestations in the first place. There are some moth prevention products available for purchase, or you can follow the tips below.

Wash Anything Secondhand

First, if you got your fiber, fabric, or hand-knit at a thrift store or second-hand, it is a good idea to wash them as soon as you bring them home.

Only Store Dry Fibers and Use Breathable Containers

Next, it is important to make sure everything is completely dry before putting them in storage, especially if you plan to store them in plastic. Raw fleece can absorb a lot of water without feeling damp, so keep that in mind. Instead of using plastic bags, try to store them in a pillowcase or another breathable material where the fiber will get some regular airflow.

Use Vacuum Seal Bags

On the other hand, fibers that have been scoured and processed, like dyed braids, can be stored in airtight vacuum seal bags. Vacuum seal bags can work as a sort of detection system, because they’ll inflate if any pests get into them and break the seal.

An image of an inflated vacuum seal bag stuffed with fabric
This vacuum seal bag is inflated, indicating that a pest might have gotten inside and broken the seal.

Use Clear Storage Containers

Using clear storage containers can help you keep an eye on your fibers and monitor for any signs of pest activity. Clear containers can also shine a little light on your fibers, which I just feel like keeps them happy!

Sort Through Items Often

Some of you might put your fibers in deep storage, but I like to go through my stuff frequently — about every month or two. I just dig around my stash to see what’s what and keep a good eye on it.

Use a Cedar Closet or Cedar Chest

I keep my wool sweaters in a cedar-lined closet, which is a sort of traditional practice I’d like to learn more about! The cedar wood contains essential oils that smell really good to people but is a natural deterrent to pests. If you have moths, it won’t kill them, but the idea is that it will keep them away from your sweaters.

Eventually, the wood will lose its effectiveness, but you can sand it and freshen it up. I also use a bottle of cedar essential oil and some lavender-scented sachets to supplement the cedar wood.

Lay Pheromone Traps

Pheromone traps are the gold standard of moth prevention. Pheromones are a chemical or a smell that moths are attracted to, but humans can’t really smell. Moths use the pheromones to find their mate so they can lay eggs. So, if a moth gets into your home or storage area and it smells the pheromones, it will be attracted to the track, get stuck in the trap, and die. The trap should prevent it from ever laying eggs in your wool and eliminate your infestation problem.

It is important to note that there are different varieties of moths, and each have different pheromones, so you need to get one specific for wool moths.

Some people dislike sticky traps, especially for rodents, but I hate moths and that traps are effective, so I don’t feel bad about it.

How Not to Prevent Moths on Wool and Handknits

At this point, you’re probably wondering, “what about mothballs?”

It turns out that mothballs are actually not preventative. They are intended to go into a sealed container with already infested clothing and kill the moths and larvae. So, mothballs are poison.

The major problem is that the smell is absolutely terrible, and it will get absorbed into the wool too. And nobody wants their wool sweaters to smell horrible, right? So, I really don’t prefer mothballs and they aren’t effective as a pest preventative.

Tell Me How You Prevent Pests

How do you prevent pests on your wool and hand knits? Do you have different storage solutions that you love? Please share your solutions and favorite tips in the comments below.

A cartoon of a moth stealing a purple sock

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If you are interested in private virtual spinning lessons, you can send me an e-mail at evie@jillianeve.com.

Happy spinning!

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