Keeping your bears moth-free
Unlike other species, clothes moths (known as Tineola biselliella) don’t fly towards light, but happily spend months concealed in dark wardrobes or drawers where they can breed in peace, and let their offspring feast on your favourite garments.
They particularly thrive on natural fibres such as silk, cashmere, sheepskin, feathers and wool – and are also unfortunately partial to mohair, felt and kapok. So, your bears are constantly at risk of playing host to these unwelcome visitors.
Carpet beetles too, are an added threat, as they attack woodwool, and even animal fleas can be attracted to long-pile mohair. A useful tip is to cover worn paws and footpads with mittens and booties, to at least protect bears from the woodwool-eaters.
If you collect antique bears, there’s a good chance they’ve never been cleaned and will have accumulated many years of dust – perhaps 100 years’ worth! Old teddies may also be ingrained with stains caused by their child owners during play times. This is all a heavenly attraction to moths, as they much prefer to nestle among dirt and grime.
The adult female is about a centimetre long and silvery-brown in colour. She will lay around 40 eggs over a 3-week period, then die. However, males can mate throughout their full life cycle. It takes only a few days for eggs to hatch, then they remain as larvae – the destructive stage! – for up to two years or so, chomping away on whatever natural fibres they can find. Finally, they go into the cocoon stage for 8-10 days, before turning into adult moths.
Joints, ears and exposed stuffing
Given that moths like to breed in dark nooks and crannies, they tend to lay their eggs deep inside the joints of bears, including around the neck, and inside their ears. If a bear if particularly furry, they may also deposit eggs on the backs of ears, especially close to where they’ve been attached.
You won’t necessarily see them lurking under the fur, so you need to go through it with a fine toothcomb in much the same way as checking for fleas on pets. Seams too, are vulnerable places, especially if they’ve been hand-sewn, such as the finishing seam on the torso. If a bear is worn and in holes, then it’s an open invitation for a female moth to leave a host of presents behind.
Basically, exposed stuffing holds huge appeal, providing a ready-made, cosy breeding ground. So check pads as well, armed with a magnifying glass if necessary.
Dead or alive?
More often than not, any evidence you might find could simply be leftover from a previous infestation, and not actually be alive anymore, having been dealt with by a bear’s previous owner. Those white slithers of eggs clinging to the backing cloth of your bear will hopefully have been frozen in time some years ago, and the husks simply need brushing or scraping off.
But you can’t be too careful, so regard with suspician, and follow our action plan below to ensure any eggs don’t hatch.
Dressed to shreds!
Dressed bears are equally at risk of moth-attack, especially as their clothes are likely to be made of natural fibres. So, if a bear is wearing a pretty Victorian silk coat, for example, it might be the coat that first attracts a female moth – plenty of food for her babies!
Therefore, you need to regularly remove and check any clothing, as well as inspecting your bears. Pay attention to the inside of any garment – larvae could be present there, but not necessarily on the outside. Remember, the little devils like it dark!
Moths can obviously wreak havoc if left to fester, and an essential part of collecting bears has to be the ongoing care and maintenance of your treasured teds. It’s all part and parcel of being a responsible arctophile.
If you discover a bear is infested, don’t assume it’s an isolated case – moths can fly (!) and larvae can wriggle about, so they’re able to travel from bear to bear, especially if they’re grouped together. Remember too, that other stuffed animals are also at risk.
Soon as you find evidence of moths at work, take your bear(s) outside (along with any clothing) and give him a good brushing to destroy the eggs and dislodge the larvae – they don’t like light, so will drop off and seek protection elsewhere.
Or, better still, use a vacuum. If the bear is specially fragile, you need to be extra gentle – if it’s a powerful vac, cover the end of the nozzle with fine gauze or similar. Empty the dustbag or container immediately into a sealed bag, and either burn or put in your dustbin.
Although there are numerous pesticides available on the market, you don’t want your bear smelling of strong chemicals for the rest of his life. So, the simple solution to ensure all eggs and larvae are exterminated, is to put him in a sealed plastic bag, along with any clothes, and pop in your freezer for at least 2-3 weeks. The big chill won’t do him any harm, but it will kill off the eggs and larvae.
If more than one bear is infested, and you don’t have enough space in the freezer for them all at once, isolate each one in a sealed bag and store in a secluded place away from the rest of your hug. A garage, for instance, or secure outdoor shed, with the coolest possible temperature, would make a suitable temporary ‘holding’ place until you have freezer space available.
After removing your bear(s) from the deep freeze, take him outside and brush or vacuum him again. He should be moth-free and able to safely join your other bears. However, ideally, it’s advisable to first give him a clean.
Bear grooming tips
Wet surface wash
Unless a bear is very fragile and/or threadbare, a surface wash is recommended. Sit him on a hard surface -such as your kitchen worktop – and follow our wash and dry formula:
Put 1 tbsp of mild liquid laundry detergent or baby shampoo in a large bowl, and pour in about half a litre of warm water. Whisk to a froth, then using a clean cloth, dunk it in the bowl and wring out so your cloth isn’t too wet. Wipe all over your teddy, until every part of him is damp.
To get into nooks and crannies or to tackle stubborn stains, you can also use a soft toothbrush. If teddy is particularly dirty or very big, you may need to change your water half way through.
Afterwards, rinse your cloth in fresh cool water, and wipe over the surface of your bear again, to remove any traces of suds. Then, gently dry him with a white towel (to avoid colour bleed), and sit him in an airy place for a day or two, until he’s completely dried out – or blow-dry with a hair dryer on a cool temperature at the slowest speed.
Finally, fluff up his fur (if he has any), with a soft-bristled brush or comb, and he should look completely rejuvinated and smell lovely and fresh.
Dry bran clean
Old worn teds that are delicate but still have some fur, are better off with a bran clean to draw out grease and grime. Simply put your bear in a clean plastic bag filled with natural bran, usually available from supermarkets or health food shops. Rub the bran into his fur until he’s totally covered, then just brush it all out. Use a small, slightly dampened cloth to wipe off any remaining bran dust.
Everyday bear care
To keep your bear collection free of moths and other predators, you need to routinely check each one at least once a month, and ideally lift and gently shake, or brush off dust every week.
If you own a lot of bears this isn’t always practical, as we all lead busy lives and time is precious. But, in the long-run it’s worth making the effort, because infestations are a huge nuisance and can ultimately destroy your bears.
Devise a rota
Also, try and devise an annual cleaning rota, whereby you give a bear a wash and dry, and also launder his clothes. Depending on the size of your hug this might mean cleaning one or more bears once a week, until each one has been refreshed. It only takes about 10-15 minutes to wash a bear, and it’s time well spent.
Keep a diary of dates when each teddy has been cleaned, so you don’t lose the plot!
Keep moths at bay
As an added deterrent, placing bags of dried lavender among your bear displays will help ward off moths – they hate the smell. But, lavender doesn’t last forever and bags need to be refilled at least every year. In the meantime, regularly squeeze them to keep releasing the fragrance every week or so.
Not everyone likes the smell of lavender, which is quite pungent, so a popular alternative is cedar balls. They will kill off small eggs and larvae, but adult moths can become immune to the smell. Also, the fragrance fades after a few months, so they’ll need replenishing with cedar oil.
Look after your wardrobe
It’s important that you care for your clothes as well as your bears, to discourage moths from invading your home in the first place. Firstly, though, turn your central heating down, or even switch it off as often as possible, and open windows to let plenty of fresh air in.
Have a clothes clear-out, so your wardrobe and drawers aren’t crammed too full, and air can circulate around them. Avoid putting clothes away unwashed, as moths are particularly attracted to sweat, dried-in foodstains, and oil from make-up and hair products.
Pack away any seasonal clothes you won’t be needing for a while, in sealed storage bags with lavender or cedar balls – making sure they’ve been washed or cleaned first.
If you buy second-hand clothes give them a boil wash (above 48 degrees C) for at least 30 minutes to kill off any eggs or larvae they may be harbouring. If they can’t be washed, put in a plastic bag and pop in your freezer for 24 hours.
Get out the vacuum
One of your best allies in the war against moths is a powerful vacuum cleaner. It will shift eggs and larvae from upholstery and furnishings – carpets, curtains, rugs, cushions, fabric sofas and bedding etc. Remember, though, to immediately empty the dust container outside, and dispose of the contents.
Make sure you give your home a good vacuuming on a regular basis, and don’t forget to go under and behind furniture and radiators too, to stop any moths making themselves comfortable.
Also, clean your wardrobe and drawers at least every 6 months – so they stay dust-free and hopefully moth-free. Place lavender bags inside, or cedar balls, and don’t forget to replenish them when their fragrance has faded.
Above all, think CLEAN and it will help protect your home and bears from the perils of the dreaded fibre-eaters.