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Avoid a pantry-moth invasion

By on January 22, 2010

pantry stock
photo by jules:stonesoup

Pantry stockpiling and purchasing food in bulk are popular among frugal people. But it’s common for larvae or Indianmeal moths to be carried in with bulk purchases such as flour, cereal, dog food, powdered milk, spices and birdseed. If there are females, you’re bound to have an infestation. Within a couple of weeks, they are capable of laying several hundred eggs.

Anyone who has ever had pantry moths knows it’s a frustrating experience to get rid of them. Thankfully, there are a few moth-management strategies that can help prevent and eliminate the problem.

— Prevention. Shop at stores with a high shelf turnover rate. Inspect your food by checking for larvae, webbing and small holes in the packaging. Freeze any items that are not going to be consumed in a few days. Store your pantry items in tightly sealed containers. To check for a tight seal, place water in the container and hold it upside down to see if any water leaks out. If water can get out, larvae can get in. Plastic bags with seals aren’t going to help, because insects can still bore their way in. Glass and metal containers with rubber seals are ideal.

Look through your pantry, and check for any signs of crumbs, spills and old food that hasn’t been used in a while. Clean it up by wiping with soap and water. Keeping some bay leaves or spearmint gum in your pantry or attached to your storage containers can help because they act as a natural repellent.

Purchasing in bulk is a wonderful way to save, but try to maintain a pantry with items that can be consumed within a couple of months.

— Elimination. Unfortunately, if you know you have pantry moths, you should throw away any packaged foods, especially grains. Don’t forget to check items in other rooms of your home, such as dried floral arrangements, because pests may migrate. Be certain to pull appliances away from walls and shake crumbs out of your toaster. If there’s something you really want to keep, place it in a tightly sealed container and inspect it in a week or two.

You’ll need to clean your shelves and cabinets well. Don’t forget crevices, folds and seams on packaging, and even rims on canned foods. The eggs can be found literally anywhere but tend to be concentrated near the food source. Simply remove the food source, vacuum (don’t forget to discard the bag immediately after use) and then wipe down with soap and water, bleach and water, or vinegar. Be sure to dry the area completely, too.

You need to be diligent and break their life cycle. One-time cleaning and tossing might not be enough. Continue to kill any moths that you see and maintain a weekly cleaning schedule of vacuuming and wiping cabinets down.

As a last resort, you might need to caulk cracks and gaps in shelves and place moth traps that use pheromones. Some traps only attract male moths, so look for traps that attract both or consult a pest-control company.


  1. deb

    1/23/2010 at 7:20 am

    I had these moths for the first time this summer. It’s now January and I’m still seeing them. Very few but still see them. They are so hard to get rid of. My secret weapon, my cat, she chases them down and kills them. LOL. I see only 1 or 2 now and then but I’m still trying. I threw everything away and started over.

  2. KT

    1/25/2010 at 4:01 pm

    On a somewhat related note, I’d love to know where to find containers like those shown in the picture and described. Of course the more frugally I can get them, the better. Anyone have a good source?

    • susan garrison

      10/10/2010 at 8:15 am

      i buy the Pantry pest traps & cut them in half & then cut the little red bait in half & put each 1/2 into each 1/2 of a trap. works great & cuts the cost in half as well. they are about $8.00 for 2 traps in my area.

    • mrshammerhankus

      11/6/2012 at 10:04 am

      I save my peanut butter containers. It’s a messy job but i feel so satisfied having saved them from the landfill. I can see through them. I don’t feel like they are too pretty to write on or label. They keep mice out and bugs. They don’t break if dropped. If you have your heart set on the ones in the picture, however, we have a Habitat for Humanity store where everything is really cheap. I always find the best stuff for kitchens at yard sales at homes of seniors.

  3. Sara Noel

    1/25/2010 at 4:09 pm

    Not too cheap. But if you check thrift stores, garage sales, flea markets or estate sales, you’re sure to find some vintage clamp jars and they’d probably be cheaper.

  4. Saule

    1/25/2010 at 8:18 pm

    Something that I found helpful was those yellow fly strips that you can get at Walmart or similar stores – they attract and trap a remarkable number of the dang things. I used to use them just in the summer in my kitchen to catch the stray fly from outside, but they now stay up yearround to get the dang pantry moths. It has reduced the population significantly, making management much easier.

  5. deb

    1/26/2010 at 6:10 am

    I went to the Hardware and bought Half gallon Mason Jars. They look nice enough to have out as canisters. I bought the quarts also to hold smaller amounts. Make sure you get the wide mouth jars. I got 6 half gallon ones for 8.50

    • mrshammerhankus

      11/6/2012 at 10:06 am

      Oh, this reply reminded me that I do use my mason jars which are empty for storage. I reuse the lids from previously canned goods i made since they are fine enough to recycle this way.

  6. Anna

    1/26/2010 at 1:50 pm

    The darned things thrive where I live and every summer is a constant battle (and heartbreak … throwing out all that food) squishing, swatting, spraying, tossing out and scrubbing down the cabinets. The darned things somehow manage to lay their eggs right at the lip of a Brand X plastic (tupperware-type) container then weasel their way in (I’ve seen them do it). I’ve tried freezing and thawing things, plastic containers, bay leaves, you name it. Since I stockpile in bulk (at least a 3 month stockpile of everything we need), investing a pot of cash in a million mason jars for 300 pounds of flour just aren’t going to cut it (nor would I have room for things stored that inefficiently).

    However, if you happen to store smaller amounts of dry goods, I’ve had decent luck keeping the little buggers out by rinsing and reusing plastic food jars with lids such as mayonnaise jars, peanut butter, nuts, even 2-liter plastic juice jugs (good for storing dried beans). Also … larger glass jars (such as spaghetti sauce and jelly) also keep them out. It’s not foolproof, but it’s better than nothing, keeps a lot of plastic out of the waste stream, and is free.

  7. Linda

    1/29/2010 at 10:13 am

    After getting rid of an infestation some years back, I read somewhere that bay leaves repel them. So I put a bay leaf in each container and also scattered them in my cabinets that were infested. I never had them again, but don’t know if the bay leaf or increased vigilance actually worked. I also refrigerate some items that are the worst offenders, such as flour, bisquick, etc. in our second refrigerator. You can search the web for more info on the bay leaf idea, and you can buy large quantities of bay leaves cheaply at places like SAMS.

  8. shandora

    1/30/2010 at 11:13 am

    I never had those problems before..until I started to buy organic…infested everywhere….

    I tried about everything, but the only thing that really worked, is buying a little fridge…I keep all the drie stuff in there, type, flour, cereals, cookies etc…;I only turne the fridg on, the hot months, since as soon as it cools down, the moths are gone….

  9. sheri

    10/30/2011 at 12:35 am

    You can also store bulk items such as flour, rice and pasta in containers found at your local pet supply stores. I buy flour and rice in 25 pound or larger size bags and found pet food bin style containers that have a flip-top lid that hold the bags without having to dump the flour or rice into the bin. The containers have a rubber gasket around the lid and seal tight. Since using these for flour, rice and pasta ( I take the pasta out of the box and put into zip-lock style bags), I haven’t had the moths come back after I started using these bins and have not had any in my pantry since.

  10. mrshammerhankus

    11/6/2012 at 10:08 am

    For the bugs…I was told to tell people to freeze items like flour for three days and it will prevent bugs from growing inside boxed/bagged goods. My dry goods sit inside my garage most of the year up North.

  11. MC

    12/19/2012 at 11:57 am

    Glass jars can be found at IKEA for relatively cheap prices. All sizes. Get a family membership and the price may reduces a bit more – not sure though so check the ikea website 🙂

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