The Eco-Expert Helps You Eliminate Moths, Naturally

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Controlling Clothes Moths

Please tell me how long clothes moth eggs are viable and suggest natural ways to keep moths at bay.

–Helen Purdum
Via e-mail

The most common fabric-attacking moth in the United States is the webbing clothes moth, which eats natural fibers in the larval stage. Each adult female lives ten to twenty-eight days and lays up to two hundred eggs, which generally hatch in three to twenty-one days–but depending on conditions, eggs can hatch for up to four years. Larvae can live from thirty-five days to two-and-a-half years, munching on your clothes. Here are some suggestions for controlling clothes moths naturally.

• Clean fabrics thoroughly before storing them. Moths are attracted to the stains of food, sweat, and urine in woolens and other materials, not to the wool itself.

• Shake, brush, and air. Because moth larvae are very fragile, regular moving and use of garments can dislodge and destroy them.

• To kill moth eggs before they hatch, place clothes in the sun, run them through a hot clothes dryer, put them in the freezer, or wash them. Do this right after you purchase clothing and at periodic intervals thereafter.

• Store clean, infestation-free items in airtight containers and seal edges carefully with paper tape.

• Vacuum cracks and crevices of clothes storage areas to eliminate lint, human and pet hair, and other organic debris that is food for clothes moths.

•Herbal repellents smell nice but are not as effective as these other methods.

Steam Cleaning

What do you know about steam cleaners?

–Janet Aiello
Wheaton, IL

I’m aware of two such machines and just purchased one of them–the Steam Buggy, which is available on the Internet at 100/steam_buggy/steam_buggy.html for about $150 plus shipping and handling. A larger rolling model, The DeLonghi Steam It Clean, is available at for about $400. Both models have several attachments such as a floor brush and a window squeegee, and both produce high-pressure steam, which loosens grime and sanitizes the surface.

Be careful when you’re using a steam cleaner, because there is a danger of burns from the high-pressure steam. If you are cleaning off encrusted dirt, wear protective eye gear because particles may fly.

“Baking Out” Your House

You have recommended “baking out” a house to cure paint and other building materials. Lately, though, I’ve been aware that there is some dissent about the safety of this procedure. What is your opinion?

–Ross Morris
Concord, MA

I have been recommending baking out for more than twenty years and have used the procedure several times myself to quick-dry paint and dry out mold. It can be a general cure-all for many toxic homes, because it bakes off volatile gasses and cures them into an inert form.

I recommend that you close all doors and windows, remove people, pets, and plants, and warm up the house to at least 95 degrees Fahrenheit using central heat or space heaters. Baking can take from two to five days, depending on your needs. At the end of each twenty-four-hour period, open the doors and windows and air out the house completely, using fans if necessary. Then check to see if the odors are gone, or if another day of baking is necessary.

Some architects and healthy home experts are opposed to baking out. They claim that the high temperatures cause chemical processes that would not occur over the normal lifespan of the building and release additional chemicals into the air. Bake-outs are not effective on formaldehyde emissions from particleboard and similar materials because they cannot eliminate all the formaldehyde.

Total Building Commissioning is an alternative and more complex process that tests and fine-tunes mechanical systems of new buildings. It documents that the performance of the building and its systems–mechanical, structural, exterior envelope, roofing, interior, elevator, plumbing, lighting, electrical, fire protection, and telecommunications–meet the owner’s design needs and requirements. Because all building systems are integrated, a deficiency in one component can result in suboptimal operation and performance among other components. Remedying these deficiencies can result in a variety of benefits including improvement in occupant comfort, environmental conditions, system and equipment function, building operation and maintenance, and energy efficiency–all laudable goals, but not the same result as reducing toxicity of materials.

Advocates say that performing Total Building Commissioning allows a period of time during which pollutants from construction can be flushed and cleaned out before the occupants move in. This is true, but simply allowing time for materials and finishes to outgas may not be as effective as applying heat during that same period. For more information on Total Building Commissioning, see resource/totalbcx/.

Soap vs. Detergent

What is the difference between soap and detergent?

–Suzanne Redfeather
Nicasio, CA

Soap and detergent are vastly different, both in their original ingredients and manufacture, and in how they act on fabrics. Most cleaning agents are made from detergents. Few are soap-based.

Amilya Antonetti, president of Soapworks (, one of the few companies that bases its cleaning and personal care product lines on soap, explains: “Soap allows water to work more effectively. The soap mixes with the water, then the water acts almost like a magnet and pulls the dirt and bacteria into the water. When the water is removed, it leaves the fabric clean.”

Detergent, on the other hand, penetrates and kills dirt using manufactured compounds derived from crude oil, she explains. “When you wear clothing washed in detergent, you have a corrosive agent next to your skin,” she says. “If you have rashes, it may be the detergent you are using–it may be eating at your skin.”

DEBRA LYNN DADD is an internationally known expert on healthy home environments and author of Home Safe Home (Putnam, 1997).

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