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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. Hello I have been having the same problem for months now and I’m just now like right this second finding out what they are called i couldn’t figure out what they were to save my life and then I ran across this page ong I’m so happy to finally know what I’m dealing with now comes the hard part of getting rid of them but I have a question does these moths also Bring maggots because they are in my pantry like crazy I have checked for rotted food and everything else that would bring about maggots and nothing and I only started seeing the maggots when I started seeing the moth things please help I’m at a loss they are getting on my ceilings and its pretty nasty I don’t know how to get rid of the maggots. Please Help and Thank You

    1. Katie Berry says:

      Hi Michelle,

      I’m sorry you’ve been dealing with these, but very glad you’ve found my page. If you have pantry moths, then the maggots you mentioned may be their larvae. Pantry moths lay them in dry food, crevices, and all the other places I mentioned. So, check there and follow the steps I laid out — including freezing dried foods and then putting them in air-tight containers. That should have the problem under control in a week or so, then stick with the steps I described to keep new ones from entering your home. 🙂

    2. I found a bugs net and an electric tennis racket shaped zapper to be a great way to have fun with the moths. Then I found a fairly easy way without equipment. Since I would never be able to clean everything in this hoarders kitchen. Forget that.

      And I got rid of them except for the ones that found the bedroom.

      From 25-30 moths and larvae crawling up the walls, to zero. The finishing blows to the population came from slapping them downward with my hand- (it’s not that hard but a Rolled newspaper would work because their instinct is to DROP, and stay low for a few seconds). Then STOMP them with a foot!!!

      I almost wish they came back, it was fun.

      I did also try the pheromones but made my own trap using a tiny portion. I suspended it inside a jar smeared with a sticky syrup. When the sides were covered I just smeared more syrup over the stuck ones. (Yup it looked gross).

      And please do consider learning to eat bugs like mealworms and other favored critters – it took me awhile to like shrimp what’s the difference?

  2. Natalie Smith says:

    Thank you so much. We just moved to Texas from vegas, never experienced this before. Its alot of them for months now will try this tomorrow and let you know how it worked …cant wait.

    1. Katie Berry, Cleaning Expert says:

      You’re so welcome! Just remember, it takes consistency and patience to deal with pantry moths so stick with it. You’ve got this!

  3. I have them in my basement. I can’t find a food source but have been trapping moths for two years. They have to be eating something. I have opened every container stored down there, washed the wall with vinegar solution, vacuumed etc. but can’t figure out what is keeping them alive. I am preparing to go through it all again, and there is a lot! So frustrating!

  4. I have pantry moths in my basement. I believe they came in from some birdseed I stored there. I mostly find them among my Christmas ornaments, which I am working on eradicating by disposing of the boxes, washing ornaments in vinegar solution or freezing some for four days, or baking them in plastic storage containers in the hot sun. Then I store them in a detached garage. I have never seen any in my kitchen, which is on a different level and the opposite area of where I find the moths. But I did throw out all my food anyway (and keep new food in containers), and cleaned the cabinets by vacuuming and wiping down with vinegar, just in case. I find 1 to 4 moths daily in a trap in the basement. My question is do you think I need to keep concentrating on areas where I do not find moths – or am I a OK concentrating on the basement? By the way, I find most of the cocoons and larvae in styrofoam and corrugated cardboard.

  5. Thanks Katie – I do have a dog, but she never goes into the pantry and have doors also on the pantry which I am ensuring are always closed now. Thanks for the suggestion though. Have made a note of this.

    1. Katie Berry says:

      You’re welcome!

  6. Heather R says:

    For the lady saying “help!” about pantry moths. Do not have wooden panels in your pantry if you have them on the walls, as they will find a way into the lines between the wood. Smooth finish flat wall. If you have wooden shelves, remove them if you have age old sticky back plastic contact sheeting on them, and get new ones or old wood with no infestation, like old fence wood, and have narrower shelving and less of it, you do not need really deep shelving where you cannot see the back of the wall. Keep brackets for your shelving simple if metal or if wood, and put peppermint oil on everything with a cloth, including the wall before you mount the boards. Get some moth strips which are revolting but you have to get these as well if you are going to get rid of them, which means they stick to these strips, Ew! But not to your food. The amount of them will very soon drop drastically and be none!!!!

  7. Thanks for all your suggestions. I have a huge walk in pantry which my husband built for me. Unfortunately the walls are exposed brickwork. Would have lined them if I knew about the moth problem. Had a big problem with them over this summer. I followed your suggestions on cleaning, which has taken me a week and a half to perform, as the area is so large. I used soapy water, scrubbing brush, then sprayed neat vinegar on the shelves, walls etc. Then sprayed neat eucalyptus oil on the areas. The oil cost me $100 to cover the area, but am so determined to get rid of these enemies. Washed and dunked all my baskets in water and then sprayed with vinegar. Now is the waiting game. Had 3 of the horrors on the sticky pad after a few days. Nothing today – so far. I would say something which hasn’t been mentioned before. We have an electric bug catcher in the kitchen, which I completely forgot about turning on this season. Initially, purchased to catch mossies and flies, which ended up being virtually useless, BUT it does catch moths. This prompted me to purchase a cheaper item which consists of two lights and apparently deters moths. That’s in the pantry also. Good luck with you all, we need it !!

    1. Katie Berry says:

      You have definitely been working hard! Just a note of caution, though: eucalyptus oil is one of the essential oils that aren’t safe around pets, so I hope you don’t have any. But your bug catcher sounds like a brilliant solution. I bet it’s super rewarding seeing all the ones you’ve zapped!

  8. I have a second home that i leave for a week or two at a time and have never had this issue until now…came home and found a few of these pests and immediately researched what these pests could be and came upon this site. Cleaned my pantry, didn’t see any sings of the pests there but now have a very clean pantry and unfortunately threw out food that didn’t need to be thrown out. As I was cleaning, noticed several in the living room area, as I was dusting I noticed several of these moths coming our of a dried flower arrangement. A week or two ago I purchased some dried wheat stalks to add to a dried flower arrangement I had made, turns out the decorative wheat stalks were infested with the moths or larva, didn’t look too closely as I immediately got a plastic bag, wrapped the entire arrangement including the vase and took it outside, the vase had hundreds of moths inside of it. I was so grossed out. Now i am on the lookout for stray moths and killing them and hoping they haven’t laid eggs yet. Lesson learned, it is not just food items, in this case I brought then into the house in dried flowers/wheat stalks.

  9. Jack Freud says:

    Hi, Thanks for all the info I have an infestation in my basement, where I have open shelving. I found the source which was a rotting bag of chocolate chips, but have since found larva and webbing in other foods. I have done a thorough cleaning with a %10 vinegar solution. and hung the traps. I’m still finding moths. The issue is the house is old and the electric wiring was completely redone so there are a ton of wires going in and out of the ceiling and and endless amount of crevices in the basement. Do they lay eggs in the wall? Will spraying everything down with bleach of vinegar work? Any other ideas?

  10. Hi! I just bought my first house in June and sadly the house had pantry moths and we did not notice them during inspection. We aren’t seeing handfuls of pantry moths daily but I would say 4-8 a day. Is this normal? We have had two exterminators come and they have drilled holes in the walls. We haven’t had any food in the house for 3 months it was a completely empty house and we still have them! In July we discovered the two lazy susans in the cabinet were filled with cocoons and we removed that and threw it out. We have cleaned every inch of the house. We re did our hardwood floors and have painted every inch of the house. We are capping and cleaning our fireplace tomorrow as that seems to be where they are now coming from. I am loosing hope and this problem doesn’t seem to be going away. Any and all suggestions are welcomed. I am at the point in wanting to sell the house.

  11. Lori Hodgson Saltz says:

    The real pearl is to check all the holes for the shelf supports including the ones the supports are in. That’s where they lay their eggs. You might see webbing over the opening, a sure sign there is large inside unless the moth has escaped. I had tried everything without success until I read this on another site. Sure enough we found tons. I made up this spray and dipped a small brush I use for my hummer feeders in it and started cleaning out every hole. I washed and sprayed everything again and got hole plugs for shelving on Amazon. No more moths!

  12. To those people that cannot find a source for the moths not in the kitchen I want to share my experience.
    I have neck problems so I used to buy those little rice filled cloth bags that you can heat up in the microwave to put around my neck when it was sore. I used to store a couple of those little bags in my sock drawer until I noticed moths. Sure enough, I had to clean out my sock drawer after I threw away the rice bags. They worked so well on my neck and now I just pass them when I visit boutiques, which is where I would buy them.

  13. They took me forever to get rid of. I discovered them in the worst way. Reading while I eat. Cheerios in the morning. Eyes on my book while I ate the bowl until I got to so few I had to look at the bowl to get the last few Cheerios into my spoon. And was like….uhhhhhh…….while I stared paralyzed at my cereal bowl. Based on what was in the bowl, who knows what I ate that I wasn’t looking at. I’ll testify they won’t kill you if you ingest them, but it sure will remove your appetite. I did all the purging, cleaning and had Terminex out a few times plus traps, but it was still a while.

  14. Hello to all,
    I had a massive infestation last summer – was “rewarded” with moths for buying dry food with eco packaging in efforts to reduce plastic. Throwing out tons of food hurts on so many levels but even I cleaned EVERYTHING I still keep killing at least one or two of the flying buggers each day! I can’t find anything in the places you suggested and going out of my mind trying to find their new nesting places. I did notice that garlic prevented them from entering the food places again – so leaving that all around the kitchen now. One question though: I started seeing small white moths and started having panic attacks about my clothes – are these perhaps “young” kitchen moths or an I now faced with the “closet problem”? Didn’t notice anything in the closet area though and considering it’s winter – contemplating taking cotes and other woolen things for a few h outside in the -C … Any advice please? Thank you!

    1. Are you using garlic cloves,bulbs,or powdered garlic? Wanting to try.Thanks!

  15. Please let people know they will also bore into sauce, seasoning, gravy, taco packets. They like the spices & gluten so Beware to safeguard those envelopes ( none of the articles even mention those). Good luck.

  16. Heather C says:

    Hi, I desperately need help. I found larvae about 6 weeks ago in my pantry and did a full scale clean with everything mentioned. I threw everything away, rejoined everything after freezer quarantine into plastic oxo containers and mason jars. After about 4 weeks of no larvae or anything, I started to see moths. Immediately bought traps and started killing the suckers. Here’s the catch, the moths have been in our upstairs bathroom (far away from the pantry), and our mud room. I’ve now done another full scale clean expanding it to all mentioned areas and am still seeing them. I’ve thrown out everything and am spiraling out of control. Any ideas?

  17. Barabara Boday says:

    I agree with your details , wonderful post.

  18. We have been fighting the infestation for over a year now. At first it was constant moths, then we had a lull and then for the past months, only worms, but lots of them. Sometimes 10 or more a day. Why would there be only worms and no moths? You mention that freezing kills the moths and larvae – do you know if it kills the eggs too? With it being winter, it will be easy for us to move ALL our food outside to freeze and kill everything, so I can be sure that none of those things have living moths or larvae in/on them, but what about the eggs? Also, you make many references to putting things in “air-tight containers”. Honestly, at this point, I don’t even know what that means to these beasts. It seems they can get into EVERYTHING! I have things with silicone seals and are water-tight and they seem to get in. Screw caps are no match. Zip bags are gotten through. Clamp-top jars. There does not seem to be any container that I can find that they cannot get into, including new packaging. I don’t believe all these things came with the bugs already in them from the store. I have been around more years than I care to say and have NEVER had an issue like this. We must have brought in one thing at one time and it has caused this infestation that now can’t be gotten rid of. Unfortunately, I am considering resorting to chemical warfare next, coupled with all your great suggestions. I previously covered all the shelf peg holes with masking tape (still there after a year!) as they had been laying eggs there. I like the idea of covering the outlets too – that may be next. The good news is that so far (fingers crossed), they have only been spotted in the kitchen, and we do store some overflow food in the basement. I find they prefer items that are sweetened the best (granola, cookies, tea with sweet things in it, even chocolate). I thought grain-type items were their favorite? I’m going crazy and really sick of all the food I’ve thrown away and wasted.

  19. If you find moths in other rooms, does that mean they are laying eggs in those rooms too? Or, are the eggs just really in the kitchen area?

  20. From the info/questions posted it sounds like they start From a food item or container but also will invade cabinets that don’t have food in them. I’m in the process of getting rid of them. I didn’t think I needed to worry about the cabinets that don’t have any type of food product in it but sounds like I need to?

  21. Keep in mind that ‘dry goods’ includes nuts and seeds. When I cleaned out my pantry I found the worst infestation in an open bag of walnuts.

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