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Natural Pantry Moth Control: How I Beat Our Infestation

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Have you noticed small brown moths flying around your kitchen cabinets or places where you keep food? Those are pantry moths and they won’t stay confined to your pantry. After spending weeks battling an infestation, I have kept my home free of these things for years.

As they say, forewarned is forearmed. So read on for the natural pest control steps I took to rid my home of them. Then roll up your sleeves and get to it, because this takes effort but it’ll work.

What Are Pantry Moths?

Pantry moths, also known as “Indian meal moths,” are small gray, tan, or brown flying nuisances. Besides flying around your house, you may also discover their sticky, silky brown cocoons.

The good news is that pantry moths don’t bite or carry diseases even when they’re breeding or laying eggs in your food. (Yeah, they’re gross that way.)

How Did Pantry Moths Get into My Home?

Most of the time, pantry moths hitch a ride home with us from the grocery store where they’re already inside dry food packaging. Turns out, I brought our pantry moths home in a large bag of rice I bought at the warehouse club.

But dry goods aren’t the only risk: sometimes, they’ll build a cocoon on jars just under the edge of the lid or under loose labels on jars. They can even fly into your home through gaps in window screens or open doors.

Relax, You Don’t Need Pesticide.

I don’t like to use pesticides in my kitchen, or anywhere in my home for that matter. So, when our pantry moth infestation occurred, I wanted to get rid of them naturally. I did that by combining cleaning with playing detective.

I Got Rid of Pantry Moths Naturally

First, I hunted down their hiding spots so I could get rid of any pantry moth eggs and larvae. Then, I took steps to starve the adults by eliminating their food sources.

It may seem like a lot of work, but after that it just takes a few minutes when you get home to prevent future moth infestations in your pantry.

Step 1: Freeze Dry Goods.

Dry goods are a common spot for pantry moths to lay eggs since they can chew through paper and plastic in their search for shelter and food.

Flours, bulk grains, sugar, pet food—they’re all risky spots. If it’s in a box, even if it’s in a plastic bag inside a box, it’s a potential breeding spot for pantry moths.

If you discover pantry moth larvae or eggs in your dry goods, you have a decision to make: Are you comfortable eating them? If so, then freeze the food in its package for 3 days and then transfer it to an air-tight container, moth carcasses and all.

But if the thought of dead pantry moths in your food gives you the ick, throw the food out. Then follow the prevention tips to keep the problem from returning.

Step 2: Clean Your Pantry Thoroughly.

To get rid of pantry moths, you need to clean your pantry. As you work, remember to not only clean the top of shelves but their undersides, any ledger board or bracket they rest on, and the holes for shelf supports.

  • Empty your pantry, down to the bare walls.
  • Vacuum to get rid of hidden eggs and larva.
  • Clean the shelves with equal parts white vinegar and a dash of peppermint oil.

Pro Tip

Be sure to empty your vacuum outside and tightly double-bag the mess so any live pantry moths can’t escape. Then, clean your vacuum to be safe.

Step 3: Repackage Dry Goods.

Before you restock your pantry, transfer all of your dry goods to air-tight storage containers. The type of container isn’t important as long as it’s air-tight. Be sure to clean everything using that vinegar and water mixture, so you aren’t restocking your shelves with pantry moth eggs just waiting to hatch.

Step 4: Caulk or Seal Gaps.

Fighting an infestation can feel like you’re playing whack-a-mole. The first time I dealt with pantry moths in my home, they returned in a couple of weeks. It turns out, I’d overlooked the space above my cabinets, and they’d just been hanging out until I let my guard down.

So, if you’ve had a bad infestation, look around your kitchen and nearby rooms for cracks or gaps. Readers have reported finding cocoons and moths in the space behind cupboards and trim.

If you find gaps, seal them. I use paintable latex caulk on trim and cabinetry, and silicone caulk around sinks or surfaces likely to get wet.

Pro Tip

Bay leaves are said to help repel pantry moths because their strong scent hides the smell of food. Try keeping an open bowl of fresh or dried bay leaves in your pantry and replace them when you can’t smell them at all.

Step 5: Inspect Nearby Rooms.

Pantry moths will spread throughout your home if given the chance. So, play detective and start inspecting rooms adjacent to your kitchen.

If you find any, vacuum the area top to bottom then wipe everything nearby with equal parts vinegar and hot water. (Just keep in mind you shouldn’t use vinegar on natural stone surfaces or anything that’s not washable.)

I’ve heard of people finding pantry moths in the bedroom and bathroom cabinets. When we had them, I found cocoons where the basement ceiling and wall meet, and along the edge of a door frame, too. So be diligent and look closely—use a flashlight if you need to.

Step 6: Use Pantry Moth Traps to Catch The Rest.

After all that cleaning and inspecting, there’s still a tricky period in their life cycle where overlooked eggs may hatch and turn into small moths flying around your home. So, for the next week or two, be on guard.

It’s not a bad idea to set out a few pheromone moth traps, which combine attractants with a sticky surface to lure and kill them. Old-fashioned fly strips and bug zappers can also work, but they’ll take longer since they don’t have attractants to lure the moths in.

Pantry Moth Prevention

Now, I know this is a lot of work. But once you’ve got the pantry moth infestation under control, you just need to do two things when you come home from the store.

  1. Freeze new dry goods in their container for 2-3 days then transfer them to airtight storage.
  2. Wipe the new cans and jars with that vinegar solution before shelving them.

Doing those two things after every grocery trip has kept my home naturally free of pantry moths for years now, and I’m confident it will help you, too.

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98 Comments

  1. I emptied my pantry, vacuumed and wiped the shelves and walls down with hot soapy water but haven’t yet sprayed with the 50/50 solution. I have opened my pantry twice and am still seeing moths on the ceiling. Does this mean I haven’t gotten all the cocoons yet? I have a bad feeling there are cocoons in small gaps behind my shelves that I can’t see.

    1. Katie Berry says:

      Yes, it probably means there are moth larvae in a box of food or behind the shelves. A vacuum will get the latter out. Good luck!

    2. Sandy Briggs says:

      We have thrown out, dumped out and pretty much done all the suggestions except burn them out. We even painted and siliconed the shelves. I’m at a loss what to do and my frustration is about to get the best of me. HELP what to do now that they have started to return. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated. I just want them gone.

    3. Yes I am having the same problem for the second time and I think it’s to do with a gap between the back of pantry cupboard and wall

    4. Sharon Baldwin says:

      I too have recently had problems with Almond moths. I found them in my flour & infesting all my other grains in my lazy Susan. I tried everything & nothing worked. I finally bought diatomaceous earth ( not the one for swimming pools). I threw this everywhere with a dry paint brush. And I mean everywhere! ( wear a mask) I then put out Pheromone traps & closed the cabinet. This looks to be eliminating the larvae & the traps are catching any moths that hatch. Not seeing anything for awhile. Just leaving as is to be sure for awhile.
      Hope this can help someone else!

  2. Darillyn Lamb Starr says:

    I had to throw away hundreds of dollars worth of food, last year, which I absolutely HATE to do! I have shelves in my garage that I was keeping cans on, but also some closed things, like boxes of oatmeal. They were still sealed, so I didn’t think there was any way the moths could get into them. I was wrong. I went through everything and brought everything I thought was safe, inside. This resulted in them getting into everything in the kitchen, as there were obviously eggs in things I thought were safe. I eventually realized that the moths can lay their eggs in anything cardboard, if there is only one layer. They don’t need to get inside the container to lay eggs in it. I started keeping everything either in plastic ice cream containers with tight fitting lids, canning jars, or in plastic bags, over the boxes. I also cleaned every crack and crevice in my kitchen. For a while, there were moths flying in my kitchen. I was diligent with a fly swatter and eventually got them under control. I kill anything that even looks like it might be a meal moth. I haven’t found any in food in a long time, but I will keep doing like I have been, to protect against any future infestations.

    1. I’ve been fighting with meal moths for over a year and they are not getting any better. I’ve used 2 exterminators and different chemicals cedar oil seem to work the best but I am inundated again With the moths. The only items I have in my kitchen are jars or bottles that have been washed. Worst area is above my microwave in the cabinet which has been empty for months and months. I don’t know what to do anymore. I have traps throughout the house and I keep catching numerous moths but unfortunately they only catch the males I finally bought a bunch of Laurel Bay leaves and have them in bowls throughout the house. I keep purchasing new traps when my old ones are too full. I am considering getting a handyman to come and remove the microwave and the vent above it. I would love any other suggestions you might have. The moths are now in my dining room, living room guest bedroom and in the kitchen on top of my oven , refrigerator and microwave oven cabinet are the worst areas. They also show up in other areas sometimes inside the cabinet where they’re only dishes. Any suggestions you have would be welcome. Thank you. I’ve also plac d cedar blocks in the kitchen cabinets and not sure if they are helping.

    2. Anita luna says:

      I have been dealing with the same problem started last spring so did a good spring cleaning. Now for this past few days I’ve cleaned out closet wash room kitchen cabinets through out all stuff that even though it may have them but this time I’m going yo put spices in freezer the few I did keep will use the peppermint and bay leaves ? and lots of prayers

    3. Yes, I have been doing the same but unfortunately they keep coming after 2 or 3 days that traps are empty, I am about to lose my mind

  3. I open box that have even been open yet and there are moths. Even boxes with plastic bags in them sealed and they will have moths. I just threw out 4 boxes of rice, I had to get rid of all my boxes of cereal and biscuit mix. UGH! darn moths, itty bitty light brown moths thru out my house and in my cabinets….

    1. Robyn Heff says:

      I have the moths in bedroom,bathroom and living r oom.

  4. For Ellen who seems to have been struggling with moths for awhile, they can also lay eggs / live on / under contact paper and any sort of cardboard or paper product. They are annoying little buggers, if you can figure out how to pull the shelves out and get behind them you might have a better chance of eradicating them.

    1. I don’t know if they’re anything like roaches (I’ve dealt with roaches living in California and am currently fighting an infestation in my damn car after using it to haul some garbage to the dump, fml) but I’d wonder if they’re in the back of the fridge somewhere. I don’t envy you, they sound as bad as roaches…they fly?

  5. Icelandic Ally in NJ says:

    Been dealing with this annoying pest for about a month, swatting about 50 a day in one corner of my kitchen. We just moved in and seems like we brought it home when we went shopping for catfood. I have found the main source (catfood) bit have also thrown out anything that MIGHT be infested). I wiped everthing down with vinegar/water mix with eucalyptus, peppermint, lavender and tea tree oil in it. Also bought pheromone traps, cedar mothballs and am dying from the stench in here myself. I haven’t seen larvae for a couple of days and only a few months that I hunt down and swat with a string of cursewords in about 5 different languages that could make a sailor blush ( I know it doesn’t help but sure makes me fe el better).

    My question, how long until I can put the dishes back in the cupboard? I washed EVERTHING (thank goodness for my dishwasher )

    Stay strong my fellow mothfighters!!!!

    1. Katie Berry says:

      You can put the dishes back in the cupboard right away after cleaning the cupboards and dishes. Put everything else, like cat food and other dry goods, in plastic bags or airtight containers before returning them to the cupboard, too. That makes it easy to figure out where they’ve laid eggs: you’ll find dead moths in that particular container.

  6. CONCERNING PANTRY MOTHS: i HAVE KEPT LITTLE BAGS OF BAY LEAVES IN MY CUPBOARDS FOR YEARS – THAT CURES THE PROBLEM.

    1. honestly the worst place that you probably wouldnt suspect is the toaster .thats where I found the cocoons they were behind the insulated walls I had to get a new one but that seems to be great breeding ground for them ,so please check your toasters use a vaccumm on reverse power blow out in between hard all the elements and clean the crumb tray often

  7. I found them in a cabinet..there wasnt alot really. I tossed everything! Should i be concerned anout the other cabinets? I havent noticed any in the others, but am paranoid. Gross

    1. Katie Berry says:

      If you haven’t seen any since purging that cabinet you’re probably fine. If you do notice more, then I’d go through with purging and cleaning the other cabinets, too, Mandy. But I hope you don’t have to!

    2. I’ve not seen a moth in weeks. YAY! After “purging” my pantry to the bare walls including removing the despised wire shelves, is there any treatment i.e. an insect repellent that I can use prior to installation of my new pantry shelving system?

    3. Katie Berry says:

      I just make a point to add peppermint oil to my homemade cleaning mixes since that goes a long way to deter most pests. You can also leave bay leaves on the shelves.

    4. Fred Eversole says:

      We find the moths all over the house, not just next to their food source. We are grinding them down, but it is a real chore.

  8. Omg these are disgusting! Few weeks ago I saw one flying moth, didn’t understand where it came from, didn’t know anything about them, but once in a week start finding worm kind of creature on kitchen sealing… after getting information in internet, found the source, it was in loose tea packet! Throwed out all opened packets of food, everything. Cleaned. And today out of nowhere find one learwe… don’t know what to do anymore. All shelves are cleaned. Can’t see any more worms or moths. I hate them so much!!! 🙁 what else can I do? Ordered some moth trap so waiting for it to come.

    1. Daiva, the same thing happened to me! My in-laws have them BAD, and we sometimes take food from their place. Since my short-lived infestation, I’ve gotten really picky about anything I take from them, and immediately switch it to another container or wash it. Anything buggy in my house gives me the creeps, so I threw out anything I wasn´t totally sure of, and froze anything that I thought might be okay for about 2 weeks. I scrubbed down my entire kitchen (even the ceiling!) and then vinegared it and put some bay leaves in the cupboard, as suggested above. Luckily, my kitchen is small, so I can’t keep a lot of excess food. I now store everything in plastic containers with lids. It’s been a year and I haven´t seen any more, but I’m still paranoid that they’ll come back!

  9. Do you use dry bay leaves? Do they sell fresh bay leaves in the grocery store?

    1. Katie Berry says:

      I use dry bay leaves, yes. You can sometimes find fresh bay leaves in the grocery store. Fresh are no better than dry for this purpose, though.

    2. Patricia Pender says:

      I bought some dry bay leaves for my cabinets due to those nasty moths. Just wondering, when I sniffed bay leaves, I couldn’t detect much of any smell. I’m thinking maybe the moths could smell them better than a human. You think maybe I should buy a better brand of bay leaves? Thanks, especially since this moth break-out is driving me crazy.

    3. Katie Berry says:

      If you don’t smell a noticeable scent then, yes, they’re old and should be replaced.

  10. Thought I’d taken care of the pantry moths last summer. Nope. Just saw one of the little buggers on the kitchen ceiling! ACK! I can only blame myself-was not perfectly scrupulous in storage of newly purchased things like-brown sugar and did not have the white sugar in a proper jar. Yes, I got lazy. Not looking forward to cleaning out everything and doing this all over again-but, since I didn’t learn the lessons the first time-guess this will keep me on point from now on. Like the idea of wiping down the jars with anti-septic cloths. Hope others will learn (as I will) from my mistakes, and do not let your guard down with these bugs-they do not go away. Ever.

  11. We had an infestation last year when i went out of town for 3 weeks and did not have on air conditioning in August. When I got back, i saw many of the worm crawling up my wasll. They do not appear in my pantry anymore because we cleaned it and have not put food in there. But, they would show up in traps in every area of our house.
    We were down to maybe 2 every couple nights flying around (we killed those) and were hoping for the best. Now it is spring and we killed one last night and one 2 nights ago. We have looked everywhere and have cleaned all rooms and closets. We can not figure out where they are gettinf food from.
    Will chemicals work to kill them? If we put bay leaves out, everywhere in the house…will that help?

  12. Michael Wilson says:

    The vacuum cleaner is a quick and easy way to get any moths or cocoons you find. If you’re skilled, you can even catch the buggers with the vacuum cleaner when they’re flying around! (Make it a game!) The wand attachment is particularly useful for capturing them up near the ceiling, and for getting into those hard-to-reach corners. I go on a vacuum hunt about four times a day, and we’re down from many dozens of them flying around to seeing maybe one or two per day, or some days none. Due to the size of our pantry and the amount of stuff in it, we’re sort of trying a piece-meal approach to keeping them under control until we reach the point where I’ll be ripping out all the shelving in the pantry and basically remodeling it. At that point is when it’ll be convenient to take the more intensive (and more effective) steps. But until then, the vacuum cleaner is quite useful and effective.

  13. Thanks for the article – have been dealing with these pesky things and am taking the over reaction approach and followed all your advice plus even sprinkled diatomaceous earth in nooks and crannies of pantry to ensure death of these things. I am also wiping down EVERYTHING that will be going back into area and even delaying and rearranging zones in kitchen.
    But to my questions — I have found they like the bedroom closet directly across from kitchen area (small house) and am concerned about them being in clothing or having little nest thingys in there!! Has anyone had any experience with this at all or come across this? IF so, any suggestions other than obviously laundrying everything in site? Any help is appreciated!

    1. We have them in the kitchen and pantry area but also in the back bedroom closet. Can’t figure out why they keep showing up so far form the kitchen.

      Thanks for the article; think we will remove and clean with the 50/50 solution. It’s been two years fighting these buggers.

  14. We had infestation of pantry moths -started with bird seed stored in our garage but some got into our house. Cleaned everything- found eggs on chamois and leaf bags! Found that hanging those sticky fly paper rolls helped better than the pricier traps.

  15. FERNANDO VELAZQUEZ says:

    I have spent the entire summer trying to get rid of indian meal moths in my basement boiler room. This pest has gotten the better of me and I feel like they are laughing at my futile attempts to get rid of them. I have used over 50 or so of those pheremone traps only to see how badly they have infested the basement. Do they eat wood because there is no food source available and I have only seen them there. Please someone help I’m losing my mind.

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