Hello, knitters! This is Jessica, the Lefty Knitter of KnitChats.
Spring has sprung! It’s here, it’s here! If you experienced subzero temperatures and record
snowfall this past winter like my area did, you’ve probably been eager to see all the signs of
Spring: budding trees, emerging flowers, pollinators, birds, and insects.
Speaking of insects, there are insects which come in the house, uninvited, and they set up
camp without our knowledge. They mate, lay eggs, and their emerging larvae eat our precious
yarns! Carpet Beetles and Wool Moths. With Spring, especially after a cold, hard winter, the
springtime bulbs and tubers emerge and bloom with more vigor than with milder winters. The
insects tend to emerge and hatch with just as much enthusiasm. Unfortunately, that means the
moth larvae and carpet beetle larvae are also hatching and munching with all that enthusiasm.
Carpet Beetles are mottled, hard-shelled, beetles which are primarily black with brown spots or
brown with cream-colored spots. They’re really small; smaller than the ball on a quilting pin.
Carpet Beetles will eat fabrics of natural and man-made fibers as well as dried insect and
animal remains and foods in the pantry. In my area, they’re very common, but I hadn’t seen one
before until two years ago. Wool Moths are small (just over ¼-inches in length) with a metallic
sheen on their wings.
The house we live in has trumpet vine growing on the south side which serves as the perfect
feeding site for carpet beetles, which feed on the pollen of flowers. They tend to climb into the
house via the screens in the summer and fall, but may also fly in when you walk in the door or
hitch a ride on you. They’re so tiny they’ll easily slip in undetected. Two years ago, I went to my
stash to look for a yarn and a carpet beetle fell off a shawl I’d knitted. I was in an instant panic
and set off to google what this could be. Much to my dismay, it was indeed a wool-eating-critter.
One-by-one, I opened my stash drawers, inspecting all my yarns for any signs of having been
munched. I threw out a handful of partial skeins which were munched and a few full-skeins. I
was heartbroken, but mostly just grossed out. How could this happen to me? I’m obsessed with
vacuuming and we have wood floors so critters can’t really hide. I felt shame - deep shame and
embarrassment. However, I was put at ease upon reading a blog post several years old by
Stephanie McFee (AKA: Yarn Harlot). She too experienced an attack on her stash and made
me realize it just happens. We love what these insects also love: wool!
Yarn Harlot’s advice is very practical and simple: every spring and every fall, toss your stash.
WHAT?! Toss it?! Yes, but no - not like that. Take some deep breaths and hang with me. Get
your yarns and spinning fibers out of your storage, open up the skeins; unroll your unspun batts
and braids, spinners (unless you have them vacuum sealed). Give the skeins a few gentle
snaps and inspect them for munching. If you suspect any critters or you just want to be
proactive, put your wool on a baking sheet in the middle of your (preheated) oven at its lowest
heat. Mine will only bake as low as 170*F. Bake as much as you can fit in a single layer for two
hours and do this to your entire stash. If you live where it’s already pretty hot in a car this time of
year, put it all in a black trash bag and stick it in the backseat of your car or SUV for a couple
weeks to let it bake that way. The heat kills all stages of life in moths and carpet beetles. This
also can be done with your fabrics if you have a stash.
Alternatively, one can do the freeze and thaw cycle for moths (this doesn’t work for carpet
beetles from everything I have read). Bag and place your yarns in the deep freeze for two
weeks, thaw for two days and refreeze. Repeat the cycle one or two more times.
Another option is to wash all your yarns and hang them out on the line for a few days because
the critters prefer hiding in the dark and their eggs are dry like dust rather than sticky so they’ll
fall right off.
Upon inspection, if you see that some of your yarn has been eaten, it is generally suggested to
throw it in the trash or compost pile. Oftentimes, the critters will have munched enough you’ll
have oodles of ends and the structure of the yarn itself is completely compromised. Despite
recommendations, I did keep some of my yarns which were only slightly damaged. I washed
them after baking and cooling.
While my yarns and fibers were baking, I took my drawers completely apart and vacuumed them
out as well as the inside “bare bones” of my storage and underneath as well. I washed my
storage out with 50/50 water and white vinegar. White vinegar and grain alcohol disrupts the
hormones of the carpet beetle, inhibiting them from mating, and deters them from the area.
They may also dislike cedarwood (I have read conflicting information regarding the
effectiveness of cedarwood). I put grain alcohol (cheap Vodka works) with cedarwood essential
oil in a glass bottle and shook it up really well to incorporate them. Then, I sprayed the drawers
and the “bare bones” of my storage down with the mixture after washing the drawers out with
white vinegar. Unfortunately, carpet beetles like sweet florals so I don’t think (I could be wrong
because I couldn’t find anything to prove or disprove my understanding) Lavender sachets will
work (I had them in the drawers when they were infested).
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
To prevent future attacks, I have purchased Space Bags and Ziplock Bags for which to store my
entire stash. My superwash yarns are housed in Space Bags because they won’t felt from being
opened and vacuum-sealed repeatedly. My non-superwash wool is stored in Ziplock Bags by
brand and weight, possibly even color if I think a dye could potentially rub off onto another color
(lights and darks).
Carpet Beetles do not like Cedar (again, iffy) or Vetiver. If you can gain access to cedar blocks
or dried Vetiver root I highly recommend using them in your drawers or totes - whatever your
preferred storage may be. Diligent vacuuming of carpets, washing and/or dusting of curtains or
blinds, vacuuming and cleaning of window sills, and dusting of yarn storage shelves will also
deter carpet beetles. They’re here to clean up the unwanted bits of fiber, dead insects, and
dropped food crumbs of the world and lack discretion. The less availability of such things in your
home, the less appetizing your home will be to them.
Moths do not like Cedar (again, iffy), Vetiver, or Lavender. Lavender sachets are a great option
if you’re in an area where wool moths thrive; particularly if your area doesn’t have carpet
beetles. If you’re allergic to Ragweed, Lavender may not be the best option for you as Ragweed
and Lavender are cousins. There are also pheromone traps which attract the female moths
available on the market. However, the jury of opinion is out on that. Traps can be hit-and-miss in
quality and there’s the fact that it actually attracts moths which may not already be in your
immediate neighborhood. Each of these options should be changed each year due to the
release of their essential oils and effectiveness. I’d personally change out the Lavender in the
sachets every 4-6 months. You can buy Lavender blossoms by the pound from Amazon,
Mountain Rose Herbs, soap-making supply companies, and any natural food store which sells
Frontier bulk products (though, you may need to request a special order in some cases).
Cedar chests are an option as well, but they still need to be vacuumed out for dust and wiped
clean. A member of a knitting group I am part of shared that she opened her cedar chest and
out flew a number of moths. All which was stored in the chest was lost. Some of her most
treasured yarns of indie dyers of the past were in there and it was devastating.
In addition to doing the above, I also automatically bake any yarn or fiber which comes to me,
whether from a LYS; another knitter; or an indie dyer. I do this to protect the rest of my stash
and prevent another infestation. Sound extreme? Well, I figure it isn’t any different than washing
new clothes before wearing them. One really doesn’t know what the fibers are coming into
contact with between the mill and your home. It really could quite possibly even come from the
cardboard box the products were shipped in; maybe even while sitting on your front step waiting
for you to get home and bring it inside. Stranger things have happened and it’s a small sacrifice
of time as opposed to the stress of a stash infestation.
My hope is that this information helps you, whether it be through raising awareness, learning
new tips, or commiserating a shared experience. Have you ever had to deep clean stash
because of critters? If not, do you feel confident in prevention?