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 an Infestation
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.
Are They 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.
Step 1. 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.
Step 2. 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. 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. Use hot soapy water then wipe them down with a 50-50 solution of white vinegar and warm water to kill off remaining eggs. (Do not use a stronger solution or you may damage your cabinets.) Clean crevices and gaps with a cotton swab or toothbrush, 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 and thoroughly clean your vacuum. After you’ve discarded the infested food and emptied your vacuum, seal the trash bag tightly and put it in a second trash bag. Knot this and take the entire thing outside, then wash your kitchen trash can. Then clean your vacuum thoroughly so they don’t breed in it, too.
Step 3. Caulk or Seal Gaps
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.
Step 4. 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 several kinds of containers, including these from Oxo.) 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.
Step 5. 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.
Step 6. 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. Try using pheromone moth traps that combine attractants with a sticky surface to lure pantry moths in while keeping them from flying out. Old-fashioned fly strips and bug zappers can also work but since they don’t have attractants they’ll take longer.
How To Prevent Pantry Moths
Pantry moths don’t just appear out of thin air. Most of the time, we bring them into the house with our groceries. Taking the time to do the tasks below can keep pantry moths from getting into your home.
• Transfer food out of the packaging. When you get home from shopping, transfer packaged dry goods to air-tight containers and freeze bulk dry goods for three days before putting them on your shelves.
• Wipe canned and bottled goods. Use a damp, soapy cloth and inspect the lids for signs of pantry moth cocoons before putting products on your pantry shelves.
• Don’t use 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.
• Use scents that pantry moths don’t like. Scatter fresh or dry bay leaves on your shelves 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 this homemade all-purpose spray recipe and use it to clean.
Most of all, you need to be vigilant and 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.
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