How to Get Rid of Pantry Moths in Your Kitchen

updated May 25, 2022
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(Image credit: Kath Nash)

Pantry moths are the things nightmares are made of. Here’s why: Pantry moths lay tiny grayish-white eggs in flour, cereal, pet food, and other dry goods. When the eggs hatch, a wriggling mass of larvae feed on your stone-ground whole wheat flour or whatever, form cocoons, and eventually hatch into adults, who will soon lay more eggs. (Adult females can lay 400 eggs after mating!) Severe infestations can take up to six months to get rid of, and even the most well-organized pantry can fall victim to these nasty pests. What’s more? Like fabric moths, pantry moths can actually cause damage to clothing. Oh my!

We reached out to emergency preparedness expert Diane Vukovic to get the skinny on pantry moths. 

What Are Pantry Moths?

Pantry moths (also called Indianmeal moths, flour moths, and grain moths) are common household pests that lay eggs in dry food products. They generally hitch a ride into your home on food products from infested warehouses or grain storage facilities. They’re found all over the United States, though they’re most common in Florida. “What a lot of people don’t realize,” Vukovic says, “is that there may already be moth eggs in food when you buy them. For example, FDA regulations allow up to ‘75 or more insect fragments per 50 grams’ of wheat flour. If you let the food sit in your pantry long enough, the eggs will eventually hatch and turn into larvae.”

Pantry moth larvae are off-white and about a half-inch long. They spin silk webs inside food containers. Adult pantry moths are about a half-inch long with wings that are one-third gray and two- thirds reddish brown wings. Spotting them flying about is often the first sign of an infestation, but know that if you see them during the day, chances are you’ve got a pretty sizable problem on your hands.

How to Get Rid of Pantry Moths

If you’re wondering how to get rid of pantry moths, we don’t have the best news. If you have a pantry moth infestation, you’re able to lose a good bit of time and money, since you’ll have to dispose of a lot of food. It’s a sad fact, but know that it is possible to overcome a pantry moth infestation. Below are the steps you’ll need to follow. 

Step 1: Trash all your dry goods.

This might sound extreme, but if you’ve found pantry moth larvae in one bag of flour, it’s practically guaranteed that they’ve also been visiting your cereal, oatmeal, rice, pet food, bird seed, and other dry goods stored in the same cabinet or closet. Bag everything up and put it straight in the dumpster or out on the curb. Don’t store the trash in the garage or anywhere else indoors until garbage pick-up day or you’ll risk spreading the infestation elsewhere in your house.

Keep in mind that the larvae can chew through paper and plastic too, so even an unopened pouch of food (like nuts or trail mix) may not be safe, especially if you see signs of damage to the packaging. Check all packages carefully for holes. Packages that appear intact but still leave you with a lingering sense of dread can be put in the freezer for four days to kill off any eggs you might have missed. But if the thought of unknowingly eating insect eggs skeeves you out too much, we don’t blame you, so just toss it.

Step 2: Do a deep clean.

Don’t gloss over this step. Pantry moths lurk in the tiniest of cracks, including the crevices of canned goods and other containers. Wipe down all jars and cans with soap and water. Vacuum the pantry or cabinet carefully, paying special attention to corners and cracks. You may even need to use a toothpick to make sure there aren’t any eggs or larvae lodged inside. When you’re finished, change the vacuum bag or empty the canister outdoors. If you have shelf paper, now would be a good time to pull it up and put down new stuff. Wipe shelves with a bleach solution followed by soap and water.

Step 3: Put out pantry moth traps.

Pesticides don’t work very well on pantry moths, and they’re not safe to use where you store food anyway, but you can buy sticky traps like these on Amazon or at a hardware store. The traps use pheromones to attract male moths. Once inside they’ll get stuck to the glue and die. This disrupts the pantry moths’ mating process so that you won’t have new eggs to deal with as you’re battling the infestation. Using the traps alone won’t solve the problem for you, but they can help you win the war. And if there are fewer moths in the trap each day as time goes on you’ll know for certain that your cleaning efforts are working.

How to Prevent Pantry Moths

Follow these steps in order to prevent future pantry moth infestations:

  • Use dry foods within one month of buying them, recommends Vukovic. “If you can’t use the food by then, keep it stored in an airtight container. Moths are amazingly good at getting into tight spaces, so the container needs to be truly airtight. Plastic containers should have a gasket seal. Mason jars with two-part lids work well too.”
  • Put dry goods like flour in the freezer to kill off potential eggs.  
(Image credit: Kath Nash)

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