How to Get Rid of Pantry Moths and Worms

What Are Those Bugs in My Flour?!

Oct 1, 2018
Pantry Moth

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You open a bag of whole wheat flour, a box of cereal, or a bag of dog food only to find little worms, moths, or even some webs. Ew! Here’s how to get rid of these pantry pests.

What Are Pantry Moths?

You’ve just encountered the Indian meal moth, perhaps the most common among the “pantry pests.” These moths can infest bags or boxes of flour, grains, dried beans, seeds, nuts, cereals, baking chocolate, cake mixes, rice, nuts, dried fruit, dog food, birdseed, teas, herbs, spices, potpourri mixtures, and even decorative wreaths that include nuts, fruits, and/or seedheads.

One Cooperative Extension fact sheet describes what you’ve just seen this way: “Most of the ‘damage’ to stored products occurs when the larvae spin massive amounts of silk that accumulate fecal pellets, cast skins, and egg shells in food products.”

Where Do Pantry Moths Come From?

Although you may need to do some serious cupboard-cleaning, don’t lay the blame for the infestation on your poor housekeeping. Meal moths probably laid those eggs at a food-packaging facility or in the bulk bins at the natural food store.

After mating, the half-inch long gray/brown female meal moth finds a suitable environment for laying her eggs—as many as 400 at one time. When the eggs hatch, the larvae feed and grow for several weeks before spinning a cocoon (pupa), from which emerges an adult moth. Depending on temperature, food source, and other factors, the meal moth’s life cycle lasts from a month to 10 months or longer.

Are Pantry Moths Harmful?

The good news: This pest does not cause disease, even if you accidently cook and eat a few larvae (gross), and it doesn’t escape your foodstuffs to eat its way through your fabrics or furniture. It likes the same foods that you and your pets like.

The bad news: Indian meal moths can be difficult to eradicate, especially if they’ve completed their life cycle and dispersed throughout your pantry.

indianmeal_moth01.jpg
indianmeal_mothadult.jpg

Photos: Indian meal larva and adult moth. Credit: John Lyle, University of Florida.


How to Control Pantry Moths

  • First, get the infested flour and any other infested products you might find out of your house. Don’t just throw them in the trash, unless you plan on taking the trash out right away. You could also dig a hole away from the house and bury the infested product(s) in the soil.
  • Don’t store that trash in the garage or basement while you wait for trash pickup or your next trip to the dump.
  • Then, remove everything from your cupboards and food-storage areas, including cans and glass jars. Vacuum and scrub all surfaces. Remove and replace torn or peeling shelf liners. Using a flashlight, pay special attention to the corners and the undersides of shelves, as well as to cracks or holes in shelving.  
  • Meal-moth larvae have legs, and often move quite far from their original home. You may find larvae and pupae tucked away in door hinges, backs of door knobs, and corners of wire baskets; underneath shelves, and around the edges of jar lids, cans, and non-food items also stored in your pantry or cupboard.
  • The larvae can chew through paper and plastic. If (like me) you tend to keep an assortment of nuts, fruits, and grains bought from bulk storage bins and stored in plastic or paper bags, check every bag for openings that could have allowed entry of meal-moth larvae, or for holes the larvae may have chewed themselves.
  • If you have concerns, place any items that seem intact with no signs of damage to the food inside, in the freezer at 0° or below for four days. That will kill any eggs that might be present.
  • Now, resolve to store all pantry edibles in sealed glass or metal containers as soon as you bring the food products into your home. If a product is infested, the larvae won’t be able to escape the container to contaminate other products.
  • Keep small bags of spices in the refrigerator or freezer.
  • Keep pet foods and birdseed away from the pantry in covered metal containers in a laundry room, garage or outside shed.
  • Hang seed-and-fruit wreaths outside. Better yet, purchase or make wreaths of twigs or evergreens that don’t contain edibles.
  • Consider placing some meal-moth pheromone traps (widely available online and in hardware, garden, and home-supply stores). These traps monitor the presence of meal moths, and perhaps prevent a future infestation. The traps work by attracting the male moths, who then become stuck to glue boards and die, unable to fertilize female moths. (Warning: Some folks find the glue traps a bit gruesome, since the trapped moths aren’t killed quickly, but flutter for some time before dying. )

    Note: Don’t be deterred by negative comments from others who claim the traps didn’t work and now they have moths flying all around their homes. These folks are probably aren’t seeing meal moths, but rather one or more of the many other Lepidopterans (butterflies and moths) that commonly visit home interiors.

Finally, please don’t use insecticides to kill meal moths. Not only are they unlikely to be effective, but many aren’t safe for use around food.

See more about pantry pests—mice!

Do you have or have you had pantry moths? What did you do to get rid of them?

About This Blog

"Living Naturally" is all about living a naturally healthy lifestyle. Margaret Boyles covers health tips, ways to avoid illness, natural remedies, food that's good for body and soul, recipes for homemade beauty products, and ideas to make your home a healthy, safe haven. Our goal is also to encourage self-sufficiency, whether it's re-learning some age-old skills or getting informed on modern improvements that help us live better healthier lives.

Reader Comments

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moths in the flowers

Several weeks ago i bought two large flowering plants for the indoors for the holidays. They are a type of mum and in a deep burgundy, so lovely to look at in the living room. I then noticed moths flying around them or the lighting. Couldn't figure it out but then when I water them again more moths. I put them outside to completely water them then tried again. In the mean time while they were outside, no moths inside. It seems to me that the flowers had become root bound and dried out too much at the market place, then attracted moths? Anyway, I have left them outdoors this past week and have not suffered them in the house. Anyone had this experience? I haven't even seen a moth until I got those plants.

to all of you with seemingly unsolvable meal-moth problems

The national Cooperative Extension website, E-Xtension offers a wonderful Ask-an-Expert feature that will connect your question(s) with an expert on the topic in your particular area. Do check it out!

Cannot Find the Food Source

My roommate and I have been living with cupboard moths for the past 2.5 years.

These moths came into our lives by the way of infested borrowed flour.

They have since invaded our lives.

As suggested, my roommate and I did a major clean of our kitchen. We used bleach, soap and hot water and dichotomas earth on all cupboards and drawers. We used traps. We noticed a significant decline in our population to the point that we saw nothing in our traps. We thought we were free after 2 years.

However, we never were able to move the fridge or stove to get behind these appliances sweepers/cleaned. So perhaps that's where they resided?

Fast forward to approximately 2 months ago. My roommate and I move into our new place. Never lived in. Brand new.

Suddenly we begin to see these moths. Obviously, we were never free of our pests and they must've hopped on a ride on some appliance or something. And they're multiplying like crazy. We confirmed their presence after observing them in newly placed traps.

We threw out all food that we didn't need (almond flour in airtight sealed glass jars) and a bunch of things in our fridge. We threw away so many cookbooks and checked all our manuals (that resided in a cupboard in our kitchen for signs of these pests. (Side note for 2.5 years my roommate and I placed all our spices, flour everything in the fridge- we had no food in the cupboards).

Things we couldn't bare to throw out- teas and spices have now been in the freezer for almost 2 months.

We threw away any appliance we thought could be infested- a Crock-Pot, a toaster, two blenders. We have a new espresso machine that I cleaned feverishly with vinegar (my roommate just got this $300 machine and I would hate to have to get her to throw it out) We placed dichotomas earth in our cupboards, cleansed everything with vinegar (including peg holes and door hinges). We have not cooked in our new place or brought new groceries. Anything brought in has been placed on the fridge.

These moths have been found in the kitchen, the living room and the foyer.

We had a pest control company come in and do a spray. They sprayed everything. And at first it was fine. 3 days later we found live ones in our traps AND fluttering around.

About a week and a half later we got a second spray. Night of the second spray we saw one fluttering by the fridge but it appeared to be dying. We killed it anyway.

I found a dead one by my bathtub and assumed I mustve stepped on it and brought it in accidently. Why would it be in my bathroom?!? What food source could there be? But today, ten days after our 2nd spray (where they apparently drenched our couch and rug...just in case) we find a small live one by our tv.

I'm at my wits end and ready to move from this brand new apartment, break the lease and abandon all my belongings. Realistically, I can't do that.

We've searched high and low- we think we eliminated their food source.

Can Indian meal moths live in the fridge? Can they live in appliances like tvs, PlayStation store etc? Could they reside in the soil or cactus plants we have bought? Where do these suckers feed? As we're so certain we've removed their food source? Do they live in sink drains perhaps.

We seen no larvae. Nothing.

Please- what is our next step? What are we missing?

Pantry Moths

I have been dealing with them for a year. Followed EVERY SINGLE PIECE OF ADVICE that exists and still they are here. Summer and its high temperatures was the worse. They just had a population explosion. I am at my wits' end.
How the hell do they just keep on coming?

Indian Meal Moths

You're likely to find these moths thriving in the back, motor section of your refrigerator. They like the warmth and there's plenty of crumbs and stuff under the refrigerator to keep them going. They also like to live under your stove and dishwasher for the same reason. I don't know why these places are often not mentioned in articles about getting rid of the moths. 99% of the time, that's where they are. If they're not under these appliances yet, your infestation will be simple to end. Just look through your stored, dry foods, find the source, and throw it away. The scrubbing, the other laborious recommended actions are not necessary and do no good. Most often you'll need to buy a new refrigerator though.

Cupboard moths

We fought this problem for over a year. Fortunately, we told our local farm and feed store about the problem. They carry pest strips that you hang in the kitchen. These are the same strips that they use to protect the inventory in their store. IT WORKED !!!! No more moths.
Advise...go to your local feed store and see what they use!

MOTHS

I just experienced pantry moths. I actually gutted my pantry totally. Used peppermint oil in my diffuser and sprayed with 91% alcohol to drug them and then killed them with a flyswatter. It took me a month to get them all out. Then I painted the room completely and thankfully I have not seen any in the past month. When I set off bombs in my house it acted like they fed on it and multiplied faster. Never want to go thru this again.

Weevils

I am having problems with weevils in my flour grits and meal. I store them in sealed plastic containers. What can I do is it because the eggs were already in the bags when I bought them?

miller moths

We put all grains, dried fruit, etc in glass jars, tight plastic bins. I put bay leaves in them. Millers and other weevils hate bay leaves. I have a home bakery and these bugs are the enemy! If you get an infestation the only thing we found to really get them out was a bug bomb. Of coursd you have to find and get rid of whatever has the bugs in it.

Thank you for this

Thank you for this informative article.

Pantry Moth

I have putting bay leaves in my buckets of bulk goods keeps them at bay. Great article!

Have Bay or Eucalyptus? Moths will take an Exit

Sheila has the right idea. No moths in my cupboards for years since I began using Bay leaves and/or leaves of Eucalyptus which grows rather abundantly on the West coast. Simply tie a sprig into a clean sock or net bag, place on shelf or hang it on the inside of a cupboard door on a small hook or tiny nail, and give it a squeeze. Replace once a year or less or more. Moths hate what they consider the stink, but we consider aromatic. Don't put leaves behind or beneath appliances though, that would be a fire hazard.

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