What are meal moths or pantry moths? A nuisance, that’s what. Few moments in life are as unappetizing as the one where you open up your pantry to grab the flour and you find everything is crawling with worms! Yuck.

Getting Rid of Moths in the Kitchen - Example of keeping dry goods in air tight containers

When pantry moths get a foothold in your kitchen, they don’t just infest your surfaces—they also get into your food stores and lay eggs in all your dry goods. Not good. The pantry moth life cycle can really wreak havoc on your food budget since you have to keep replacing everything.

 

What Are Pantry Moths?

Close up photo of the pantry moth
Photo Source: University of Minnesota

The pantry moth is a household pest that feeds on the dry goods and grains in your kitchen. They are particularly fond of flour, rice, cereal, bread and pasta. They can also be found in birdseed or in dry dog food containers. Other names for this household troublemaker are the indian meal moth or the flour or grain moth. The pantry moth is brown and white and fairly small – just about 8-10 mm long which is about a third of an inch.

The Indian meal moth’s life span is between 30 and 300 days so they can live almost up to a full year. They lay eggs in your grain products where they will hatch and mature. As the moths are growing –  they look like small white catepillars or grubs. It is during this stage when do most of the damage, eating your dry goods as they mature. They can eat right through plastic and cardboard, so even unopened boxes may be infected by these pests.

The tell tale sign of a moth infestation is a small fluttering in or around your cabinets. You also may notice pieces of grain webbed together as they will spin webs as the young moths grow from the larvae to adult stage of life. If you see any type of moths in the kitchen, you’ll definitely want to take a closer look, since once they have a foothold, they become more difficult to get rid of.

Getting Rid of Pantry Moths Naturally

How can you deal with your moth problem for once and for all? Well, you can’t very well spray insecticide into the cabinet where you keep your foodstuffs, so you need to find out how to get rid of pantry moths naturally. Here are some safe, natural home remedies and steps for cleaning out your infestation of flour moths.

1. Start by Cleaning Out Your Pantry Thoroughly.

A thorough cleaning is required at the first sign of a moth infestation in the kitchen.

There is never just one larva. So if you find a larva (or a pupa), it is time to take evasive action! If you have any opened dry goods in your pantry, get rid of them right away. Even if you don’t spot any eggs in the dry goods, rest assured, they are there. Just toss them—thankfully dry goods are usually inexpensive in the grand scheme of things. Don’t want to do this? You can freeze the food for a week instead and that will kill any eggs or larvae that happen to be inside. You may wind up eating them, but hey … it’s protein.

Next, pull everything else out of your pantry and tackle all the shelves with a vacuum cleaner. After you do that, wash every surface with hot, soapy water. Believe it or not, even after doing this, it still may not be enough. So next grab a bottle of white vinegar and use that to wipe down your shelves and walls and corners.

2. Consider Using Peppermint Oil.

While white vinegar works pretty well to deter moth infestations, peppermint oil also works wonders. Additionally, it can deter other nasty things you don’t want in your pantry, like ants and cockroaches. So you can add a few drops of peppermint oil to your vinegar when you are wiping down your shelves for an even more potent effect.

3. Wash Out All Your Containers.

Remember, it isn’t just your pantry which may have eggs—the exteriors of sealed containers may as well. Wipe down all your containers with warm soapy water and vinegar before refilling them and resealing them. If possible, you might even consider temporarily transferring your dry goods to some other form of storage so you can immerse the containers and soak them. Otherwise it can be hard to get into the creases in their lids.

4. Use Bay Leaves.

Bay leaves are an excellent moth repellant

Pantry moths despise bay leaves, so use them! Scatter a few on your pantry shelves, and even consider adding them into your dry goods containers. They won’t guarantee that the moths will leave you alone, but they will certainly act as a deterrent, making future infestations less likely.

If you want, you can simply fill a shallow dish with them, but scattering them on each shelf will have more of an effect. Martha Stewart also recommends taping a few bay leaves to the underside of your cup board shelves.

Preventing Moths in the Kitchen

How the heck do pantry moths get into your kitchen to begin with? Usually they don’t fly in through the window—they hitch a ride in your grocery cart. The food you are purchasing is already infested. When you transfer it to your pantry, the moths do what they do best—hatch and breed.

pasta and cereal in glass jars
Glass or plastic jars with a tight fitting lid should be used to store all dry goods.

Prevent future infestations by taking a few extra steps when you bring home groceries. Wash any jars and cans you purchase before you put them into the pantry (there may be eggs stuck to them). Freeze any dry goods you buy before you store them in your pantry. Use only airtight storage containers. Do not keep food in your pantry past its expiration date, and take time to regularly wipe down your shelves.

Pantry moths can be a pain, and it can be very hard to miss eggs and larvae while you are cleaning. For that reason, it is wise to wait a week or so before you restock your pantry after a thorough cleaning. This will give you some time to observe and make sure that the infestation really is eradicated. After you are certain that the pantry is clean, you can begin putting items back inside.

Thankfully pantry moth infestations tend to stay fairly localized since the moths need the dry goods for their life cycle. You can usually get a pantry moth infestation in hand on your own. Just be patient and make sure that you follow the steps for prevention in the future. This will ensure that your dry goods remain moth-free!