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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. Deborah Denny says:

    Thanks for this thorough and helpful posting! I’ve been researching pantry pests all day, after finding larvae in my spaghetti. Here’s what I’m still confused about – to keep the problem gone once I solve it, I’m supposed to freeze items from the store before putting them in the pantry. Ok, rice, spaghetti, cereal… but sugar (?)… tea? cookies? crackers? spices in original plastic containers? I can’t find a list and unfortunately “dry goods” is too vague for my clueless brain 🙂 Thanks for any advice!

    1. Katie Berry says:

      You’re right, it is an imprecise term, isn’t it? My general rule is to freeze anything that only has a paper wrapping: flour, white sugar, dry pasta, oats, sometimes rice. If it’s sold in airtight plastic bags within a box — cereal, cookies, crackers — it probably hasn’t attracted moths so it’s safe to skip freezing. Tea has tannins which repel moths, anyway, so I don’t bother with that. I hope that helps to clarify!

    2. Yes,they get into everything!!! If you have enough freezer space just leave them in there!

  2. We battled these buggers for 3 long years. Took all the advice: cleaned, threw out food, swept daily, kept NO food in our cupboards, even caulked around all the cabinets. They would disappear for a few months, and then come back. We finally laid plastic in our kitchen and took all of our cupboards off the wall. Guess where they were hiding? Took them all outside, scrubbed them with a wire brush, bleached them and let them dry in the sunlight. Hung them back up and we have been moth free for over 1 year now. My guess is that they were actually breaking through the caulk every few months, after making us think they were gone, but finally pulling the cupboards off the wall let us find and get rid of the real nest.

  3. Tim Fitzgerald says:

    The problem that people do not realize is that these things string their webs in all adjoining areas IE other rooms, hallways etc…. They especially seem to love anything that makes a right angle. Take a high powered flashlight and scan along the ceiling line, door tops, windows of all areas near your kitchen. You will see the little webs as well as their eggs that look like little white dots. If you DO NOT do this…, all of your cleaning will be in vein as they will continue to reproduce. I basically wiped down all walls where they adjoin the ceiling with 75/25 vinegar solution in addition to everything everyone has already mentioned

    1. Katie Berry says:

      Excellent advice, Tim.

  4. I am putting everything outside in backyard while it’s cold & completely cleaning pantry! I just cleaned out Cabinet sprinkled bay leaves put spaghetti into plastic containers.

    1. I find consolation in that someone else is spending there days the same way as me.

  5. Sandra P Chiles says:

    I am handicapped and cannot stand for long, cannot get on ladders and in general my housekeeping has gone to pot since I got this cancer 4 years ago. We had the moths, seemed to get rid of them with some traps, but I know all my shelves are not clean and haven’t been for awhile. I have hired housekeeping a few times a year but cannot afford much of that. Here in the Dallas area cleaning services are real expensive. So just today, I opened my pantry in the utility room and I see 50-75 moths around a cracker box. Dumped the box quickly into a plastic trash bag, sealed it and out it went but I am left with MANY visible adult moths. OH me, I just don’t have the energy to do all the cleaning involved, and that is just one pantry, not talking about my kitchen, all those shelves and the rest of the house. Feeling overwhelmed.

  6. Oh boy! I had NO IDEA what these things were… UNTIL I GOT THEM LAST NOVEMBER! I’m practically insane now, because of those disgusting creatures ????. I wish I would’ve read these articles at first. I now have them ALL OVER the house & garage. I’ve did practically everything listed except the peppermint oil & bay leaves. They’ve taken to the main bathroom too…in ALL stages, so I’m not sure where they’re coming from now. I’d like to burn the house down & start over…that’s how bad it is. Any help or suggestions?

  7. Mitzi Pederson says:

    Ok just moved into the house and pantry moths are not bad, but I need to rid them now. So you are saying wash all shelf’s and walls with soapy hot water with peppermint in the vinegar 50 and water 50 then wash down all cans, bags, plastic containers etc. I just bought groceries, but have not opened anything as of now so can I wipe all down and be ok? I have chips, plastic bags of sealed rice and boxes of rice in sealed boxes. I have sprayed witha potent bug spray and killed 4 moths and a larvae. I do not think I am invested with them, but need to stop them now!!! Then do I put out bay leaves?
    Thank you,
    Frustrated!!!

  8. Also, I can see them in the crevaces of the roof above the pantry, does that mean they are likely to be coming from the pantry? So frustrating, I have thoroughly cleaned and thrown out open items so many times but they keep coming back, these things are relentless!!!

  9. Jim Jennings says:

    I and my neighbours have been battling them for years so thanks for all the tips.I even often find them between pages of books or reports in my office. Finally its an incentive for purging. My moth traps are filled up very quickly and I am constantly killing them. Found they like to hang from the stipple ceiling as well as underneath the kitchen cabinets. They even manage to chew through plastic wrap to get into new foodstuffs and lay eggs and webs.

  10. Thuranie Aruliah says:

    I’m going to try your home made cleaner on my larder cupboard – with peppermint oil. Your site has helped me deal with an infestation of pantry moths, but I still see odd ones emerging and sticking to my trap inside the empty cupboard every day or so, two weeks after clearing and cleaning the cupboard following your advice. Threw out so much dry food that it hurt and everything is going into Kilner jars now, but the jars and cans are all piled on my kitchen table as I don’t want to put anything back in the cupboard until that moth trap stays empty!

    So these moths are still emerging – but what on earth are the larvae living in or on? There’s nothing left in there! And I can’t see anything moving except dying moths!

  11. Peter C Timpson Jr says:

    I have had these buffers for over a year now. I’ve emptied out cabinets multiple times, wiped cabinets down with 50/50 solution bleach/water and then I’ll see them in the ceiling of my kitchen.there is a 3\4 gap between the cabinets and the ceiling. I put both traps on top of cabinet between that gap and in a bout 3 months it was filled.
    Other than jamming bay leaves in the gap all around cabinets, is there any way to get them if they are out of reach?

    1. I am at the verge of a nervous breakdown, because I seem not to be able to get rid of indian meal moths!!!! I don’t know what to do anymore; I wiped all my cabinets, pantry (I even painted the pantry); and they seem to be still there; pantry is shared with our laundry/furnace room and they seem to be still somewhere in the laudry; they get caught everyday in the traps (ocasionally i kill 1-2 around the house, even upstairs in the bedrooms-is this normal ?) I vacuumed the walls, I put some peppermint oil in different spots!!!! I don’t have any food in the house whatsoever, everything is out, except for spices that are in glass or plastic jars!!!! what should I do???!!!! please help!!
      Another problem I think might be our garage!!!! We seem to have a lot of the moths there!!!! (could it be in the birds food? )I am affraid i am bringing them back to the house!!! also i removed all my clothes from closets and put in the garage in the plastic bins (i thought I have clothes moths too, which after a research i don’t think I do); I bring clothes slowly home, wash and dry them in hot temperatures!!! We fogged the garage already and i used some spray inside home in the corners and crevices but it doesn’t seem to help, they still get caught in traps!!! please advice what else can I do?
      Sorry for a very long msg but i don’t what to do anymore; thank you

  12. Another culprit is birdseed. My mom used to spread newly-bought birdseed on a shear pan and bake it at 300 degrees for 20 minutes or so to kill off any larva. A side benefit is that any seed that lands on the grass under your feeders will not sprout.

  13. Carina barberi says:

    Hello please help 911 I just killed 40 moth maggots and moths from the ceiling of my kitchen all over next I’m cleaning my pantry it’s just a lot of work , but the ones from my kitchen ceiling keep coming back what do I do ???

  14. Gary Naman says:

    After reading this blog and stripping the pantry bare I called an entomologist at a pest control company and he said it’s fairly easy…and it is! 1. Buy a gallon of white vinegar at the grocery, a large spray bottle, and several rolls of paper towels. While stripping the pantry bare, 2) Spray generously each bag, can, spice, bottle with FULL STRENGTH white vinegar making sure to spray into the caps and threads of bottles and around edges of storage containers. 3 While spraying, closely examine every package and look for the source (we found ours in an acrylic canister with a rubber gasket. and a tight metal locking device). 4) Discard all open packages and put them in a garbage bag — be sure to seal the garbage bag(s) and take it / them out of the house. 5) GENEROUSLY spray any straw baskets, etc. several times at different intervals (the eggs are very small and can get between the weaves). 4) If you have room in your freezer, store unopened tea boxes, etc. in the freezer for 2-3 days. 6) Fortunately the gestation period for meal moths is short but it can vary with the temperature — if the weather is warm, the gestation period is shorter. 7). Generously spray the shelves, walls and ceiling of the pantry SEVERAL times and wipe them down each time you spray. 8) Keep the pantry doors closed to contain the moths in a viewable area. 9) Repeat #5 several times for 2-3 days, each time squishing moths and larvae as you encounter them. By the end of the first day you should see fewer moths flying around and by the second day you should finally be nearly free of moths. To be sure you’ve killed all the eggs, larvae and moths, wait a few days (depending on the temperature) after seeing the last moth before restocking the pantry.

    We did our pantry on Sunday, by Sunday night we saw fewer moths, on Monday even fewer, on Tuesday fewer still, and this morning, Wednesday, I killed one moth. I sprayed several times a day Monday & Tuesday and if I don’t see any moths tomorrow, we’ll put everything back.

    The best part??? We took the opportunity to clean out the pantry of “stuff” we’ve accumulated over the years and got rid of “stuff” we only used once several years ago.

    Have fun!.

  15. The larvae are like little tan worms that seem to like crawling across your ceiling. For months I was swatting the moths (they are especially active at night when lights are out), but I never noticed the larvae until I found one hanging by a thread of web. Then I noticed a lot of them! Almost the same color as my ceiling but they slither out from the pantries across the ceiling. They seem to like the corners where they wrap themselves into a cacoon. Now I am swatting both moths and larvae and will dispatch whatever dry goods may be infested. Thanks for the tip on vinegar and bay leaves, I will toss and clean this week!

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