If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you know we dealt with these evil, stupid pantry moths for a while. Even once you nip them in the bud, you still continue to look over your shoulder for their fluttering wings.
I’ve been quite surprised and almost alarmed that this has become one of the most popular posts on NOH. I don’t know if that’s because these moths are becoming more prevalent (I can’t remember ever having them or hearing about them growing up) or if I’m just more aware of them now. But to put it in the words of the Waterboy’s mama, “These bugs are the Devil!”
I decided to put together a free comprehensive guide for those who are battling pantry moths but getting nowhere. I know it can be frustrating and feel like you’re not progress, but you’re not alone. Find out what you need to know about the life cycle of these little buggers, how to sweep your home of all traces of them (plus what you’re looking for exactly when you search for them) and how to keep them from coming back! Just enter your best email address below, confirm your address in the email you get immediately after and start reading. You’ll also start receiving the NOH News weekly newsletter with recaps of what has been happening on No Ordinary Homestead, tips, contests, blog highlights, personal insights from me that you won’t find elsewhere and more!
If you’ve had pantry moths in your home, what did you do to get rid of them? Or are you still battling them months/years later??
I’ve been putting off writing this post…because to be honest I’m totally repulsed by these things. In fact I am utterly disgusted by what I’m about to share with you. But they are an incredibly common problem in the kitchens and pantries of the world. And since we almost all buy staple products that have been sitting on a warehouse shelf for at least some stage in their lives, we’re all at risk.
Let me forewarn you the following pictures are icky, gross and not appetizing in the least. They may even cause you to get the creepie crawlies or the heebie jeebies. I apologize in advance.
A few months ago, I noticed a fine, silky webbing in what I thought was an airtight container of oats. Then I saw it in some cereal, a container or rice and so on.
“What the heck is that??” I thought. And then I pulled out a package a wheat germ, ready to bake some muffins and found this guy on the bottom of the package:
GROSS! These little larvae actually make me want to hurl. But at the same time they also make me really mad that they think they can invade my pantry and eat our food. I mean seriously.
Meet the pantry moth, properly know as the Indian Meal moth (Plodia interpunctella). They are usually most active in summer months, and that’s when they got really bad for us…but they will hang with you for a long while and having you praying every day that you don’t see any more traces of them. And they will hunt down those little kernels of wheat germ that drop to the bottom of the box or spilled flour on a shelf and begin a thriving colony in your home.
I now have a vendetta against these creatures in all stages of life. You may first notice the little brownish moths that flit around your kitchen. They will lay somewhere between 60 and 300 eggs which will hatch 2-14 days later. The mommy moth, wanting to take good care of her kids, will usually lay these close to a food source. Then, once they hatch, they don’t have very far to travel before they start to feast. The larvae/worms look a bit like small caterpillars are a whitish-yellowish color with little black heads and about 2/3-inch (1 cm) long. They will burrow into anything and everything they can find, continuing to eat for 2 – 41 weeks, depending on the temperatures. They take longer to complete their life cycle in cooler weather. And once they are finally full and have left behind their tell-tale webs, they will find crawl off somewhere looking for a cozy place to nest and spin a cocoon. This will often be crevices in your kitchen you don’t normally see or maybe even where the ceiling meets the wall. They seemed to find that a particularly nice nesting place in our house.
So not only will you find these delightful creatures in your pantry, but sometimes you will actually be lucky enough to see them crawling across your ceiling. We went into the kitchen one morning and I swear there were no less than 5 of these things crawling around up there. We promptly killed them and hoped not to find anymore. But there were more…there always are.
I seem to find moths in cycles, after a couple of them seemed to have hatched at once. They’re very easy to catch in your hand and then I just smoosh them in a paper towel or on my dirty work jeans. And I have to say I’m really not a fan of bugs, but somehow killing those moths is a pleasure.
The only really good way to get rid of these evil creatures is to go on a massive cleaning mission. You need to take everything out of your pantry, cabinets, etc and wipe it down. Make there there are absolutely no food crumbs anywhere. They don’t need much to feed and they will find even the smallest collection of crumbs to live off of until you still some flour or a bag of rice and forget to clean it up. If you have your cabinets lined with paper, remove it and put down new stuff. I’m pretty sure these moths would LOVE to nest under the paper.
Indian meal moths will eat a lot of things, from dried fruit to nuts, grains, rice, cereal, OATS, powdered milk, chocolate, candy, seeds, pet food, crackers, pasta…they will seriously devour just about any sort of staple in your pantry, leaving silky webs in everything. You can sift out the webbing but in the case of nuts, they will probably eat a hole through every nut in the bag which really tends to make them a lot less appetizing.
And apparently, they love to nest under things you don’t use very often…
I have a collection of baskets on top of our very high kitchen cabinets that I don’t too regularly. The took a liking to one basket in particular which had some sort of fruit in it at one point (it’s been a few years so I can’t remember anymore). So I was moving some of the baskets around, searching for something, I go to lift this one down and notice that there is a pantry moth jamboree taking place.
Disgusting! So this basket promptly went into the trash and I did as good a job dusting up on top of there as I could. I didn’t find any more of the bugs on the other baskets but I can assure you I inspect each one of them closely now before I use them.
Apparently these things tends to overwinter and we might get a rash of pantry moths hatching in April. I just can’t wait. Until then, I have quarantined all packages of oats and wheat germ to the freezer (they seem to be especially tasty and I have to wonder if I brought them in with the oat packaging from Lidl). I also keep a very close watch on all of my “airtight” containers that don’t really seem to be as airtight as originally thought.
How to Get Rid of Pantry Moths
- To prevent pantry moth problems, carefully inspect every package you buy for signs of tiny little holes. I honestly never saw anything when I bought the foods and if you’re looking at something that has flaps or is a bag inside a box (like cereal), you likely won’t see any evidence of them until you get the box home.
- For foods that you rarely use but are especially susceptible to pantry moths (like seeds or spices), try to buy smaller quantities that you can use up quickly. I know it’s not always economical but it can save you a lot of headaches. Or make sure that the items are stored in the fridge or freezer, airtight containers to prevent infestation.
- If you think something could be infected or see evidence of infection, do one of the following:
- place it in your freezer 0°F for four to seven days
- microwave it for five minutes
- bake it in a shallow pan or tray in the oven at 140°F for one hour or 120°F for two hours. Stir food periodically to prevent possible scorching.
- Dried fruits can be placed in cheese cloth bags and dipped into boiling water for six to ten seconds to kill external pests.
- Sift the food to remove insect silks and any larvae that may be pigging out at the buffet. Silks and bugs will not harm you if eaten, just make you gag if you realize you’ve eaten one.
- If you are certain insects have been killed, contaminated food like seeds or nuts can be used outdoors during winter months for bird feed.
- If you’ve had an infestation, the only sure way to prevent them from continuing to grow is to start cleaning like mad. Take everything out of your cabinets and vacuum up every trace of food, no matter how small. Pull out appliances from your wall and clean behind and under them with soap and water.
- Immediately destroy or bag any cocoons or worms you might find and heavily infested bags of food. Get them as far from your house as quickly as you can. Don’t just leave them sitting in your garbage can in the kitchen for a week or two. Bury them, squish them, drown them, take them out to the curb…just get these pests away from your home and their food sources.
- Be vigilant and constantly on the lookout for them. As I mentioned, we have been dealing with pantry moths (well more than larvae than the moths) for several months now and I have really had enough. The numbers are certainly fewer now but I have not torn apart my kitchen yet to clean up anything and everything I can find, but I do think I have eliminated all of the major problem areas. So we’ll see what happens!
- Be especially careful wen purchasing grains, flour, seeds, pasta, spices and dry pet food. They seem to find birdseed especially tempting.
- If you continue to find moths, you need to make a another pass through your food stores and clean everything again. There are likely some holed up in a collection of plastic bags or in a box of brownie mix or an airtight container you think they’d never get into (or escape) — but they do!
Have you ever had pantry moths in your home? I have to say this is the first time I’ve ever experienced something like this and I was pretty surprised. I’m not a neat freak but I always clean up spills and keep my flour and things like that in snap-top containers. But apparently I either wasn’t closing them well or they’re just not truly airtight because I found a lot of webbing inside those things.
Update August 22, 2011
I purchased pheromone traps a few moths ago and these have made a huge impact on catching moths — but it still doesn’t catch them all. I have bought many different kinds of traps at this stage because you need to change them every 6 months (they get full and the stickiness/scent decreases) but I find the ones that are open paper traps work far better than the little houses.
One of our big problem areas has been my spice cabinet so I finally had had enough last week and I tore the whole thing what I found was really gross.
I have a tendency to buy sesame seeds for one recipe and then swear to myself that if I buy the bigger, cheaper bag, I will find a great recipe to use the rest of them in. Or sprinkle them in my salad. But then I never figure out what to do with the rest of them. Now I know that I can just leave them out for pantry moths and turn it almost into a science experiment for Mackenzie. I was pretty amazed at the way these things just tunneled around in the jar, eating their way through the seeds.
It was really an entire pantry moth ecosystem inside this jar, from worms to moths to eggs galore. Oh joy.
So I hope and pray that this was what was causing my spice cabinet (which I have to admit is a regular-sized cabinet so kinda large) to be infested. I have caught and killed quite a few more moths since then. And found another package of spices that had a hole in it which they infiltrated. It went immediately into the trash.
I also discovered them inside a box of brownie mix that I was finally going to make, just to have it out of my kitchen. I tend to stay away from mixes and like to make my own, but we had a box that was sent in a care package from the US, so I though Mack would enjoy them. I did find it a bit strange that there was some chocolate powder on the top of the box, but didn’t give it too much thought — then opened the lid and saw all the webbing inside and the moths. Into the trash it went (outside, not inside!)
I’ve also still been finding and killing a bunch of worms on the ceiling and walls in the kitchen lately, but not too many moths. My fear at the moment is that they have built a nest behind my kitchen cabinets — and if that is the case, I’m just going to have to wait them out. I hope that now that I’m seeing mostly worms, I will be able to kill them all and stop the cycle.
My pantry (which is a closed off room separate from my kitchen), also experienced an infestation over the last couple of months. I was killing moths like crazy in there whenever I walked in. The pheromone traps caught tons of them, and a lot I squished by hand. I have not yet found any major areas of infestation (aside from all the nuts I threw away at Christmas) so I’m keeping my eyes peeled for worms and what not. I just hope and pray things are under control in that room now.
Are they everywhere?
On a side note, we recently had a friend here who used to work for a major national drug store chain in the US. I asked her if they had ever had any run-ins with pantry moths (she immediately called them by their proper name of Indian meal moths) but said that there had been occasions when large amounts of food had been tossed out because moths had been found. They are actually required to throw out the food which is infested — but I have to wonder how many chains just fail to notice that they are infested, how many things get shipped out in winter months when the bugs are mostly dormant and as Chris comments below, how many non-food products are infested with these things as well. They will definitely build nests in small cracks and crevices, and I’ve heard that they love stuff like bunched up bags as well. So just because it’s not food doesn’t mean there are no moths in it.
Updated July 26, 2012
A little over a week ago we moved from the farm to an apartment in Berlin. I have been looking around for these crazy bugs with every thing I packed, and with everything I unpack. I managed to find a few dead ones in several places that had nothing to do with food at all (like between two flaps of cardboard in some boxed up espresso cups I rarely use) and trashed a few things that looked questionable before we even left.
I am hoping and praying that the moths and their larvae stayed behind at the farm and will be eradicated as the house sits empty. All of the shelves have been thoroughly scrubbed down there as well. So far I haven’t seen any in the new place (knock on wood) so I will remain vigilant and pray that they don’t resurface in something new we bring home.
I hope that if you are on a quest to destroy these pests, that your journey is swift and successful. There is a ton of good advice within the comments, so be sure to read them all!