Identifying and controlling clothes moths, carpet beetles and silverfish

Page last updated: Friday, 14 July 2023 - 12:32pm

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Clothes moths, carpet beetles and silverfish can be destructive household pests. Learn how to recognise and deal with them.

Insects could become a real problem to home stored food and fibre products. Pests that may damage agricultural industries and the natural environment may also find their way into homes and food storage areas.

Keep an eye on pests found in and around your home. Report unknown organisms or suspected pests to protect Western Australia’s agricultural industries, natural environment, and lifestyle.

Clothes moths

Clothes moths are small, 1.5cm moths that are beige or yellow-ochre coloured. They have narrow wings that are fringed with small hairs. Clothes moths are rarely seen because they prefer dark areas such as closets, basements, and attics. Similar-looking moths spotted in kitchens and other well-lit areas are possibly pantry moths originating from pantries and other stored food areas.

The moth larvae (grubs) may damage fabrics with natural fibres – adult moths do not feed. The tiny white larvae eat holes through susceptible materials and damaged fabrics sometimes have silken cases or threads on their surface.

Clothes moth larvae prefer to feed on natural products such as cotton, silk, wool, feathers, fur, hair, leather, and upholstered furniture. Larvae also feed on lint, dust, and paper products. They can feed on mixtures of natural and synthetic fibres but cannot feed on materials made only from synthetic fibres. Outside homes, clothes moths infest pollen, hair, dead insects, and dried animal remains.

Common clothes moths include the webbing clothes moth, Tineola bisselliella, and the case-making clothes moth, Tinea pellionella. Both species are introduced to Australia.

Webbing clothes moth adult   Webbing clothes moth larva
Webbing clothes moth (Tineola bisselliella) (L) adult and (R) larva

The webbing clothes moth larvae are small white grubs and are rarely seen. 

Case-making clothes moth adult   Case-making clothes moth larva
Case-making clothes moth (Tinea pellionella) (L) adult and (R) larva

Case-making clothes moth larvae spin a silken tube or 'case' for protection and they drag this along as they feed. They are often noticed when attached to walls or dragging themselves across smooth floor surfaces. The adults are small (1cm), buff or straw-coloured moths with fringed wings. They are reluctant flyers and may be seen running over the surface of infested materials. Unlike many other moths, clothes moths are not attracted to light and avoid lit areas.

Carpet beetles

Several species of carpet beetles occur in Western Australian homes, such as Anthrenus and Anthrenocerus species. The most common are the European carpet beetle (Anthrenus verbasci) and the native Australian carpet beetle (Anthrenocerus australis).

All carpet beetles have similar biology and feeding habits. The adult beetle is a rounded insect about 4mm long, dark grey with distinct wavy white bands across the body. The larvae are roughly 4–5mm long and covered in hairs, with dense stiff bristles extending from the rear. Indoors, adults are attracted to light and are often found on window sills. The larvae avoid light and actively feed in dark places like ceiling voids, crevices and folds, and can be found in wardrobes or within upholstered furniture. The larvae develop through a series of moults. As they shed their skins, the empty, hairy skin castings can be seen as a sign of infestation.

Carpet beetles are capable of flight. Their natural habitats are the nests of birds, rodents, insects, and spiders. Adult beetles are pollen feeders and can be found in large numbers in flowers. They can be inadvertently brought into the house in cut flowers and laundry.

Carpet beetle larvae can damage fabrics, furnishings and clothing that contain cotton, wool, silk, hair, fur or feathers. Synthetic items are resistant to attack but blends of synthetic and natural fibres can be damaged.

Carpet beetle adults and larva
Carpet beetle (Anthrenocerus sp) adults and larva

Carpet beetles and carpet beetle larvae are similar in appearance to khapra beetle (Trogoderma granarium), an exotic beetle which is a threat to Australia’s agriculture (see below Report household pests).


The silverfish, Lepisma species, is a small, wingless insect and one of the oldest insects in the world, inhabiting the planet for over 400 million years!

The adult silverfish is carrot-shaped and about 10mm in length, with long tail filaments. The most common house species is covered with smooth and shiny silvery scales. They develop slowly under household conditions and can survive several months without food.

Silverfish are nocturnal and not often seen by day. They usually live and develop in dark, cool places, especially bathrooms and basements. Large numbers may be found in new buildings in which the masonry is still damp. Because silverfish need and seek moisture, they are often found trapped in sinks and bathtubs. They may also be found in bookcases, around closet shelves, behind skirting boards and window and door frames. Silverfish are often brought into new homes in cardboard cartons, books and papers from infested sites.

Silverfish, cause damage by eating foods or other materials that are high in protein, sugar, or starch. They eat cereals, such as oats and wheat flour and can damage paper, especially on which there is glue or paste such as wallpaper and book bindings. Silverfish can damage clothing, carpet, artwork, and curtain materials containing natural fibres such as wool, cotton, paper, silk, and rayon fabrics.


An integrated approach to control should be used combining various management strategies (chemical, physical, cultural).

  • Regularly inspect and vacuum wool or wool blend carpets, along skirtings, behind and under pieces of furniture and where the carpet extends into walk-in wardrobes.
  • Store clean woollen clothing, furs, or blankets in sealed plastic bags between seasons.
  • Place camphor, mothballs or pest strips in storage areas such as linen cupboards and wardrobes Essential oils such as lavender and tea tree oils used with drawer sachets can also be used as repellents.
  • Protect pianos by hanging cloth bags of mothballs or camphor inside the instrument, renewing them when they cease to vapourise.
  • Spray the areas where the insects are most seen, like tight cracks, crevices formed by shelving, loose mouldings, or floor tiles, around skirting boards, door and window casings, bookcases, shelving, closets, and where pipes go through walls or floors. You can use household ready to use spray packs that will list the types of pests controlled on the label. For serious infestations seek advice from your local Department of Health licenced pest management company.

Always follow label instructions and do not apply insecticides on or near food or food preparation surfaces (including for pets).

Report household pests

The public plays an important role in the first line of detection of exotic pests such as brown marmorated stink bug (Halyomorpha halys) which can damage fruit and vegetable crops and ornamental plants, and khapra beetle (Trogoderma granarium), which can damage grain. Both exotic pests would impact our agricultural industries, if established.

Report pests or unknown organisms using the MyPestGuide® Reporter app so the department can respond to incursions of exotic pests and help prevent any spread to our agricultural production areas. Early detection of ‘unwanted hitchhiking pests’ is critical to protect local grain growers and production areas from damaging pests.

MyPestGuide® Reporter contacts

Contact information

Pest and Disease Information Service (PaDIS)
+61 (0)8 9368 3080

Identifying and controlling clothes moths, carpet beetles and silverfish