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How to Keep Bugs Out of Your Closet Naturally

Shirts with dried lavender demonstrate how to keep bugs out of closet

No one wants insects or other pests anywhere near their clothes. They ruin fabrics with holes and leave smears of excrement wherever they've been. Disgusting! But the dangers of pesticides and chemicals can be frightening. Learn how to keep bugs out of the closet using natural products like cedar, peppermint oil, vinegar, cloves, lavender, and lemongrass. These products smell nice. And not only does it protect fabrics, but also your health.

Every creature has its purpose and place in the ecosystem. Some are pollinators. Others serve as food to beneficial animals. However, when they move away from their natural habitat and into your home, they become a problem. This is when we must act to remove them.

Pests that infest clothes closets:

There are numerous pests, both insect and rodent, that will attempt to infiltrate the kitchen. After all, that's where we keep the food. Keeping the kitchen clean while maintaining your food in tightly sealed containers is the best way to deal with those. However, there are other bugs that target fabrics and clothes closets. These need to be dealt with as well. Otherwise, your clothes will be ruined. Learn what types of bugs to look out for and how to prevent them from infesting your wardrobe.

Problem bugs found in closets:

  • Clothes moths — They lay eggs on materials containing the protein keratin, their preferred food. This includes wool, fur, silk, feathers, felt, and leather or suede. The eggs hatch into worm-like larvae that feed on these keratin rich animal fibers leaving holes in your clothes. They will also feed on any unwashed clothing containing hair or body oils as this is another source of keratin.
  • Carpet beetles — Outdoors, adult carpet beetles are pollinators. However, they often come indoors to lay eggs and their larvae will create holes in rugs, upholstered furniture, and clothes. They eat wool, silk, leather, furs, feathers, hair, other dead insects, and hair. They will also consume wool/synthetic blends and any fabric that is soiled with food or body oils. There are three species of this pest, the only difference being coloration.
  • Silverfish — If you have silverfish, you have a moisture problem that needs to be addressed. They require a damp, dark area and can live for up to eight-years. These insects mainly eat paper starch. This includes cardboard shoe boxes, books, and magazines. They convert the paper starch to sugar for energy. That's why silverfish also eat clothes that are stained with sugary food/beverage residues.
  • Firebrat — The firebrat is a relative of the silverfish but smaller. They like to eat cotton, linen, rayon, anything with laundry starch, and any fabric with food or beverage stains. They prefer spaces where the temperatures are over 90°F and are often found in attics. If you see these in your closet, check for cracks near the ceiling.
  • Crickets — Crickets are another indication of a moisture problem. They prefer damp, moist conditions and will enter your closet from any small crack if it is near a bathroom or other moisture source. They eat fabrics soiled with perspiration and food products — especially grease. Their excrement and noisy chirping also pose a problem.
  • Ants — Ants don't eat fabrics. However, they are sometimes found in closets if they offer moisture/high humidity, clothing with crumbs of food residue, or a short cut to other areas of the home with these enticements. The closet wall cavity may also offer a safe place to build a nest. There is never only one ant.
  • Cockroaches — Cockroaches do not eat clean fabrics. However, they can ruin clothing containing food and beverage spills, perspiration, or body fluid stains, and laundry starch because they are likely to weaken fabric creating holes while eating these residues. Their excrement also creates black smears that are difficult to remove without bleach.
  • Termites — Termites will eat anything containing cellulose. This includes fabrics stained with food, or beverages. They eat the food that causes the stain, creating holes in the fabric in the process. However, if you have termites in your closet, chances are you have a problem with dry wood termites eating at your home and the clothes are just desert.
  • Spiders (An arachnid rather than an insect) — Spiders like closets because they are often dark and secluded. They don't eat clothing. Instead they set up residence to catch other insects that feed on clothes. This is a messy business that leads to dead insect carcasses and specs of spider feces littering the corners. Spiders also bite, and many people are afraid of this creepy crawly creature. It's best to ban them from your closet.

Avoid pesty situations by learning how to keep insects out of closet.

The first thing to do if you have an infestation problem in your closet is to identify the point of entry. Whether it's a window that needs weather stripping, a baseboard that needs caulking, or a crack in the wall or ceiling, fix it. Next, make your closet less appealing to pests. Do this by decluttering, vacuum and dust frequently, and always clean your clothes before placing them back in the closet. Never allow dirty clothing into a closet with an insect problem. If you do, you're asking for trouble. If you keep your hamper in the closet, either move it or replace it with a plastic bin that has a tight-fitting lid. Fix leaky pipes and buy a dehumidifier if moisture is an issue. And use fragrant plant-based deterrants in corners and other areas to discourage bugs.

Use natural bug repellants in your closet.

Bouquets of lavender — either dried or fresh, lemongrass, cedar, peppermint, vinegar, and cloves all deter pests. Many insects are also repelled by cinnamon. However, flavoring your closet with cinnamon is not recommended because it is a part of many sweet food stains which attract insects in the first place. Certain natural bug repellants are more effective than others depending on which pest you are dealing with.

Cedar

Cedar closets have long been popular for discouraging insects. That's because most bugs cannot tolerate the smell of cedar. Neither can mice and other rodents. That makes it a good, all-purpose, natural deterrent. The entire closet does not need to be paneled in cedar. Cedar blocks and sachets are also effective, but you must keep the fragrance active with a regular light sanding to release the essence. Use cedar in your closet to protect wool, linen, cotton, and rayon clothing from pests. However, it's not a one-size-fits-all solution. Cedar absorbs moisture from the air and releases it back into the closet. This can damage fur and leather. That's why you should move your furs and leathers to a professional cold storage facility rather than a cedar closet when not in regular use. Cold also prevents insects in addition to other fur damage.

cedar closet to keep out insects
The paneling on this cedar closet doesn't cover every wall. However, the scent released protects the entire closet from insect infestation.

Lavender Oil

Butterflies and honeybees love lavender. However, the lavender plant has a strong scent that most other insects hate. Many people, on the other hand, enjoy the flowery fragrance. This super plant also contains essential oils with health benefits to humans. It's used for relaxation, antifungal treatments, it combats depression, eczema, and insomnia among many other things. It is also effective in discouraging clothes moths, carpet beetles, silverfish, firebrats, cockroaches, termites, ants, and spiders. They all hate the smell and will go out of their way to avoid it. Keep unwanted bugs out of your closet with lavender products. Use lavender scented detergent to wash your clothes. Place sachets of dried lavender in your closets and drawers. Spritz the essential oil in corners, baseboards, and around windows to discourage insect entry. If you have a closet island, center a big vase of fresh lavender flowers in the middle. Then sit back as the bothersome critters disappear.

lavendar products with folded clothes to deter insects
Strategically placed sprigs of lavender on clothes washed using lavender detergent or lavender scented dryer sheets are one way to keep bugs out of your closet.

Peppermint Oil

All bugs hate the smell of peppermint. But peppermint oil does more than deter insects and spiders. It can kill them. All while benefitting humans. As such, mint is one of those "can't go wrong" essential oils. Many people swear that peppermint oil increases hair growth while imparting a tingly sensation to their scalps and discouraging head lice. It also deters rodents. And peppermint oil is readily available from your local grocer or drug store. Place a cotton ball soaked in the essentials oil in the corners of your closet and around windows or other entry points. Don't worry if you get some on your clothes because peppermint oil, like most essential oils, does not stain. (That doesn't mean you should spill it over your clothes, however). The smell of peppermint oil will cause most insects to leave the premises in a hurry. Those that get enough of it on their bodies will die. But don't confuse peppermint essential oil with candy canes or other peppermint flavored sticky sweets that can attract rather than repel pests. Spearmint oil can be used in place of peppermint oil to the same effect.

Peppermint oil in jar with leaves and blossoms of plant
Use peppermint and spearmint essential oils to deter pests in your closet.

Lemongrass

Lemongrass is closely related to the citronella plant. Its oil is frequently used to deter blood sucking insects including mosquitos. However, lemongrass will deter other pests as well. Clothes moths absolutely hate it because it disrupts their nervous system and prevents them from breeding. Ants also have issues with the plant and will avoid it. The effects are not as strong as peppermint and don't last as long, but lemongrass is still a powerful pest deterrent. But it has no ill effects on humans. In fact lemongrass is frequently used for food flavoring, tea, and even in some medicines. To use lemongrass in your closet, purchase the oil and wipe it on your baseboards and around the windows and doors. Or mix bouquets of dried lemongrass with lavender and use them in sachets. The plant has a lemony scent true to its name that complements the lavender nicely.

Lemongrass plants growing outdoors
Lemongrass is a tall grass from Asia. As a perennial, it requires zone 8 or warmer but does well if overwintered in a pot indoors.

Vinegar

White vinegar is fantastic for general cleaning of walls and floors. But did you know it also repels certain insects and even rodents? Spiders, clothes moths, carpet beetles, termites, and ants hate the smell of vinegar. And it destroys the scent trails laid down by ants. Crickets, moth eggs and larvae die on contact with the stuff because it's too acidic for them. Unfortunately, cockroaches, silverfish, and firebrats seem unaffected. But it's very effective for the other pests. Even mice hate it's smell and will stay away while the scent is strong. Mix a solution of 50% white vinegar with water and spray or wipe around your window frame, baseboards, and doors. Be sure to buy distilled white vinegar because it contains no tannins that can stain cloth if some accidentally gets on your clothing.

Custom closet cabinet door wiped clean
Wipe around closet doors and windows with a solution of 50% distilled white vinegar and water to clean and keep away pests.

Cloves, Rosemary, and Thyme

Other strong-smelling herbs that will keep away insects include cloves, rosemary, and thyme. To use these plants as a pest deterrent, fill small sachets or cloth bags with whole cloves mixed with the dried leaves of rosemary and thyme. Tuck them in your drawers and among your folded clothing. Hang them on hooks and hangers in the closet. You'll love the sweet smell, but bugs will hate it. Refresh your sachets often because as the fragrance lessens over time, so does their power at repelling insects.

Adding folded clothes with scented sachets to custom closet
Place scented sachets of fragrant herbs in your custom closet to repel insects.

Declutter and use cedar scented wooden hangers.

Equally important for keeping bugs at bay is decluttering. Insects like to hide in small, out-of-the-way, undisturbed areas. Take away their hiding places by getting rid of any mess in your closet. Keep the space clean and open. Closet organizers can help with this by maximizing the available storage. If you need to store your out-of-season clothing to achieve this, use zippered canvas bags or storage bins with tight-fitting lids to contain the clothing destined for storage. And make sure all the clothing is absolutely clean before putting it away.

Hang the remaining clothes on wood hangers in the closet. If those hangers are made from fragrant cedar wood, all the better. And don't overstuff. Allow your garments some breathing room. Your clothes will thank you for it and there will be fewer places for bugs to hang out.

Banish the bugs!

Now that you know how to keep bugs out of closet naturally, you can put these ideas into practice. Everyone prefers a clean, fresh-smelling closet — except for insects. When it comes to these pests, the closet of your dreams is the closet of their nightmares with nowhere to hide and dangerous fumes from scented herbs permeating every corner. Declutter, clean, and freshen up your spaces. And when you're ready for a new closet system to keep it all under control, call Closet Works. Our professional designers are always ready to help you take your space to the next level with a new closet or other custom storage system.