Tired of finding pantry moths? Here’s how they’re getting into your house, the tricky places they’re hiding, and natural ways to get rid of them for good.
What Are Pantry Moths?
Also known as “Indian meal moths,” these small gray, tan, or brown flying nuisances are one of the most common household pests in the U.S. You may have seen moths flying around in your kitchen or found them in your food, or maybe even your bedroom. One of the most telltale signs of a pantry moth infestation is the silky webs they leave on food packaging and nearby areas.
Signs of Pantry Moths
Most people don’t realize is that pantry moth larvae can actually chew through food packaging. They can get inside plastic wrappers and paper boxes and will weave webs in your food items. You may find bits of cereals or flours clumped together. Their eggs sometimes leave a strange smell. You may notice an odd smell in foods they’ve infested, but not necessarily. The larvae may or may not still be present.
Also, their larvae crawl into cracks and holes. You may discover dusty-looking webs in crevices around your cupboards, behind light or electric switch panels, even in the gaps between your cupboard and wall. Then, you’ll find little brown moths flying around your house. That’s because, despite their name, pantry moths do not always remain in the kitchen. They’ll breed wherever they can find shelter.
Where Do They Come From?
While you may need to clean your pantry to get rid of them, your housekeeping isn’t to blame for pantry moths. Most of the time, they get into your house because they’re already inside dry food’s packaging or have built a cocoon on cans or jars. Sometimes, they might fly into your home through gaps in window screens or open doors, then stay because they’ve found food.
Pantry Moth Life Cycle
An adult female pantry moth can lay 300-400 eggs at one time. The eggs of the pantry moth hatch in roughly one week. Then it enters the larval stage, during which it feeds and gains strength for its future breeding efforts. Pantry moth larvae are often mistaken for worms or even weevils — a type of beetle that also likes flours and grains. This is when they’re at their most destructive, chewing through food packaging and creeping into crevices to find shelter.
The pupal stage begins once the pantry moth larva gathers enough energy. Then it creates a cocoon where it will remain until it’s ready to hatch as an adult and begin the search for a place to lay its own eggs. Their full life cycle can run from as short as 30 days to as long as 300 — it all depends on the availability of food sources, breeding conditions, and temperatures. The warmer the environment, the shorter their lifespan.
Are Pantry Moths Harmful?
The good news is that pantry moths, or Indian meal moths, are not harmful in any stage of their life cycle. They do not bite humans, and they do not carry disease. Eating food that’s infested with these moths or their eggs and larvae won’t transmit any sickness, but if you’re squeamish, it may make your stomach turn knowing you have.
The real reason to kill pantry moths and keep them out of your house is that they’re unsightly, and they can make some food items smell “off.” So, if you’re tired of seeing moths flying around your kitchen and cupboards or finding signs of them in your food, it’s time to get serious about getting rid of them.
Steps to Get Rid of Pantry Moths Naturally
For mild infestations, cleaning the pantry thoroughly and transferring food to new containers may do the trick. If you’ve been seeing dozens of pantry moths or finding signs of them elsewhere in your home, the process will take more effort.
Freeze Dry Goods
Dry goods are foods that don’t come in cans or jars. This includes foods sold in plastic packaging or boxes with or without plastic inner liners. Since pantry moth larvae can eat through paper or plastic, any food that’s not in a can or jar is a potential food source and breeding ground for them. This includes dry goods that haven’t even been opened. Dry goods that provide a food source and breeding ground for pantry moths include:
- Flours and flour cereal of any kind
- Dried fruit
- Bulk grains
- Nuts, seeds, cereals
- Crackers, chips, bread
- Sugars, baking powder, or baking soda
- Coffee or tea
- Pet food, including birdseed
- Other food items in boxes or bags
You can freeze opened dry goods for 2-3 days to kill pantry moth larvae or eggs. Freezing does not remove these pests, however, so you need to decide if you’re okay with eating dead ones or not. If that makes you squeamish, skip the freezing and discard opened items instead.
Clean the Pantry Thoroughly
Cleaning to get rid of a pantry moth infestation involves much more than simply wiping shelves. Keep in mind that larvae seek out even tiny crevices to make their cocoons in. Skipping steps won’t eliminate them all, and you’ll wind up having to do it repeatedly.
- Take everything out of your pantry. Keep pulling things out until the cupboards, drawers, shelves, wall, and floor are all bare.
- Remove shelves from supports, including the pegs that hold shelves in place. Larvae love to breed in those holes. If your pantry has drawers, pull them out completely and set them to one side.
- Pull up shelf liners or contact paper you’ve laid on the shelves. Gaps between shelves and liners are a favorite spot for pantry moth cocoons.
- Vacuum everything, including the doors and walls of your cupboards. If you removed drawers, vacuum the space where they go along with the slides they rest on. Clean the drawers, inside and out and their underside, too.
- Wash all surfaces with hot soapy water then wipe them down with a 50-50 solution of white vinegar and warm water to kill off remaining eggs. Use a cotton swab or toothbrush to clean crevices and gaps in the cupboard, including the holes where the shelf-support pegs go. Many readers have reported continued problems with pantry moths despite cleaning until they discovered cocoons in these holes. Don’t skip them.
- Empty your vacuum immediately to get rid of any pantry moth eggs or larvae you just got with it. Then clean your vacuum thoroughly so they don’t breed in it, too.
- After you’ve discarded the infested food and emptied your vacuum, seal the trash bag tightly and put it in a second trash bag. Seal this and take the entire thing outside, then wash your kitchen trash can.
Caulk or Seal These Spots
For severe pantry moth problems — or if cleaning alone hasn’t put an end to it — you need to look for other gaps and crevices where they may be hiding. Use your vacuum’s crevice attachment to clean these areas. Seal gaps or cracks with caulk. Readers have reported finding cocoons and moths in the space between cupboards and walls and joinery gaps in the cupboards. Other spots to check are behind your appliances and behind electric outlet covers and light switch plates.
Change Your Food Storage
Remember, anything not in a bottle or can is a potential food source and breeding ground for pantry moths now or in the future. So, transfer all of your dried goods to airtight containers to keep out pests. Good options include Tupperware and some Rubbermaid products. (I use these Oxo Containers.*) If you prefer glass jars, look for ones with air-tight hermetic seals. Avoid screw-on caps since pantry moth cocoons have even been found in the tight space between the jar and lid.
Inspect Nearby Rooms
If your pantry moth infestation has been going on for a while, the problem has probably spread. Readers have reported finding them in nearby closets and adjoining rooms. Sometimes, you may even find pantry moths in bedrooms and bedroom closets. Look particularly where ceilings and walls meet at a right angle and around door frames and window trim, which all provide a convenient spot for pupae to build cocoons. A strong flashlight can help you spot them in darker areas.
If you find them elsewhere in your home, use your vacuum to clean them away, then spray and immediately wipe the area with a 50-50 vinegar and water mix to remove any eggs. (Do not use vinegar on natural stone surfaces.) Empty and clean your vacuum immediately afterward.
Commercial Pantry Moth Traps and Solutions
Cleaning your pantry and food packaging gets rid of pantry moth larvae and eggs. You need to combine this with killing adult moths before they have a chance to lay eggs that start the 30-300 day life cycle again. The things below help get rid of adult pantry moths in your home. (These are Amazon affiliate links to highly-rated pantry moth traps and preventatives.)
- Pheromone moth traps combine attractants with a sticky surface to lure pantry moths in while keeping them from flying out. Dr. Killigan’s is a highly-rated brand.
- Old-fashioned fly strips don’t contain attractants but can still work. They are a bit more unsightly. Big Devil Sticky Fly Ribbons gets high marks from people.
- Bug zappers use light to attract pantry moths then kill them with electrical current. The PestNot Zapper works both indoors and out and will kill gnats, fruit flies, and mosquitoes, too.
- And, of course, you can use a regular fly-swatter, though that can be tedious.
How To Prevent Pantry Moths
Pantry moths don’t just appear out of thin air. The majority of the time, we bring them into the house with our groceries. Taking the time to do the following tasks can keep pantry moths from getting into your home.
When you get home from shopping, transfer packaged dry goods to air-tight containers, or freeze any dry good items for three days before putting them on your shelves. Discard empty packaging and immediately double-bag your trash, then take it outside. Then, wipe all canned and bottled goods with a damp cloth and inspect around lids for signs of pantry moth cocoons. Use a scrub brush and soapy water to get rid of any you see before putting products on your pantry shelves.
In the pantry, skip the use of adhesive shelf liner or contact paper. Pantry moths and other household pests frequently build cocoons or lay eggs where the corners and edges lift over time. But do consider scattering fresh or dry bay leaves as a deterrent. Pantry moths and some other household pests don’t like the scent of bay leaves, so they’ll stay away. You can also add a few drops of bay leaf essential oil (Laurel Nobilis) to homemade cleaners. Here is a homemade all-purpose spray recipe.
Finally, be vigilant so you can deal with any pantry moths before they take over. Tidy your pantry weekly and inspect your shelves often. Spotting early signs of a moth infestation gives you a chance to deal with it before it gets out of control.