Moths Invaded Our Pantry…Bugs Like Real Food, Too!

I briefly shared this on Facebook a couple weeks ago, but in case you missed it here’s the deal. Moths moved into our pantry and it was not pretty.

Bugs in general kind of give me the “heebie jeebies” so I thought the whole thing was quite disturbing actually. And as we were clearing house and tossing out just about every non-perishable food item we owned I said to my husband, ”This is happening because we eat real food isn’t it?” Those moths were all up on our raw nuts, seeds, dried fruit, and other whole foods. They did eventually invade some non-food items as well, but let’s face it…for the most part bugs are after the same nutrients we are!

Before and after pantry moths: 100 Days of Real Food

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It Starts with Just One

So this is how it happened. One day – longer ago than I’d like to admit – I opened our pantry and one moth flew out. I didn’t think much of it (mistake #1). Who doesn’t deal with a pesky housefly or fruit fly on occasion? I thought this was one and the same.

As time went on I noticed that this “moth flying out of the pantry” business was happening more frequently than it probably should. Then (thank goodness for social media) I saw another Facebook page mention they had unexplained moths in their pantry as well. The commenters shared that moths can move in and camp out, and in some cases you’ll need to get rid of everything. Yes, they were speaking of the items we were currently cooking with and eating…yikes!

So I tried to walk and not run straight to our pantry to start investigating. The first thing I found was a bag of unopened almonds that was getting more action (i.e. different moth lifecycle stages) than I care to disclose.

I would have taken a picture, but I was so grossed out I could barely even look straight at it with my own eyes. Plus I was overwhelmed with the need to purge it immediately…after some screaming of course! That’s when my husband got involved. He started inspecting our “nut basket” and basically did a thorough clean out of just those items and we moved on (mistake #2)…eeeek!

The Clean Out

Moth inside plastic sesame seed container with screw top lid

After that my husband put some handy dandy non-toxic traps up in the pantry just to be sure we were in the clear. But, oh it wasn’t pretty. The trap was racking up those bad boys (a dozen or so in a week’s time) so we knew there was still trouble. That’s when we decided to clean out every single item we owned.

As you can imagine this was an all day super fun process. And what we found was infestation beyond the nut basket. Yep they had made nice little homes in sunflower seeds, raisins, muffin liners, and even the plastic brackets holding up our shelves. I learned that quite a lot of our Facebook followers had been through this before, and I appreciate them encouraging us to inspect EVERYTHING.

And rather than leafing through 200 4-ply napkins we chose to get rid of everything. The thing is if we were to miss something we could possibly have to go through all of this again! So my philosophy was better safe than sorry…

Once the pantry was completely empty we cleaned, cleaned, and cleaned even more including spraying the wall corners and shelf brackets with vinegar and vacuuming off the tops of cookbooks. One good thing is that most of our flours/grains are stored in the freezer and our herbs/spices are kept in a drawer away from the pantry. It would have been even worse if we lost all of those items as well.

Then the next thing we did was buy truly air-tight glass containers from Sur La Table (both the reasonably priced Fido and the more expensive but wider mouthed Le Parfait varieties). We owned quite a few plastic containers (seen in “before” picture above) that were advertised as “air tight,” but guess what I found inside one of them…yep! A moth pupa case, to be specific. So we got rid of those as well.

And we got rid of the brown baskets (that we were storing containers of nuts and seeds in) realizing there were too many little crevices and that all surfaces needed to be wipeable for easy cleaning and inspecting!

So what started as a single moth flying out of our pantry ended up being a very disruptive and expensive problem. Fingers crossed they don’t come back (many have told me they thought they were in the clear then a month later…surprise!).

And I guess if I were to look on the bright side of all of this I’d have to say my pantry is looking much better and more organized than it used to be. We got the white bucket containers from Ikea and all the air-tight glass jars from Sur La Table (the can also be ordered from Amazon). It will be a while before we can/will fully stock everything again with all the food we lost though…baby steps. :)

How to Avoid Moths in Your Pantry (Prevention is Key)!

So now here’s a little more of a “technical” explanation from my husband on what to look for and how to ensure your pantry stays moth-free! …

Lisa thinks I’m an expert on all things mechanical, electrical, chemical, biological…well, just about anything ending in ‘al’ it seems! I’ll neither confirm nor deny that, but I will say entomology is not my strong suit.

Regardless, I did learn a lot through our ordeal that I’d like to share with you. Please read on even if you think you have no signs of moths in your household, as prevention is the best approach!

First up – where did the moths come from? It’s technically possible they flew in through an open back door, but the much more likely scenario is that they entered the house through some infected dry goods purchased from the grocery store.

By infected I mean the product, likely nuts or dried fruit, contained moth eggs, larvae, or both. Once in the confines of our home the moths hatched and made sweet moth love, resulting in more moths, eggs, and larvae – in our food.

Now I’ve actually eaten silk and bamboo worms in Thailand on purpose, so this didn’t gross me out that much. But it did NOT bode well with Lisa, at all.

Who Knew Home Cooks Would Need to Understand the Moth Life Cycle?

Picture provided by Safer® Brand

So let’s talk about the moth life cycle, which you need to understand if you ever hope to rid yourself of these pests or prevent them from setting up shop in your pantry in the first place. The duration of the cycle varies depending on conditions, but five generations per year is typical and the whole cycle can take as little as a month.

Adult females lay around 100 to 400 eggs on or near food, and 2-14 days later the larvae hatch out and begin feeding. When mature, the larvae seek out a happy place by crawling with their little legs (usually to wall/ceiling junctions or other crevices) and transform into light-brown pupae, often within silk webbing.

They remain stationary in this stage for 2-3 weeks as they go through metamorphosis, and then the adult moth emerges. Since adults don’t feed (their only purpose is to mate), they only live for 1-2 weeks.

Whether you think you have moths or not, you need to get a pheromone trap (non-toxic) and put it in your pantry ASAP. The adult males are lured into the trap by pheromone bait (mimicking the allure of a female) where they get stuck in the glue and die.

Even if you don’t think you have a problem, this can be your canary in the coalmine. You can buy two traps for about $9 on Amazon (my local big box stores were out), and once opened they last for about 3 months.

I plan on having one in our pantry at all times now. Trust me, $18 a year is nothing compared to the costs of lost productivity and wasted food associated with clearing out these pests. It really is a pain.

But you can’t just kill adult moths and think you’re good. By the time you notice them, you may have multiple generations in play at different points in the life cycle. You’ve got to break the cycle to rid yourself of the pests. And adults can fly all over the house, so your problem could spread to other areas.

If You Have Pantry Moths Here’s What You Have to Do, Step by Step:

  1. Put a pheromone trap (pictured) in your pantry immediately.
Pheromone Trap (Non-Toxic) for pantry moths
Pheromone Trap (Non-Toxic)
  • Pull EVERYTHING out of your pantry and any other food storage areas in your kitchen.
  • Anything that is not sealed in a can, glass jar, or other airtight, hard container (they can chew through plastic bags and cardboard containers) needs to be thrown away (outside!). Wipe clean all sides of the cans and air-tight containers. If you keep an electric broom in your pantry like we do, empty the refuse tray and clean it.
  • Inspect and clean or throw out anything else even if it’s not food (we seriously had bugs that had eaten through an unopened plastic bag to lay eggs on plastic cupcake stencils!). I know it seems wasteful, but you might end up doing it all over again otherwise. Note: Don’t just move items to a different location until you have time to inspect them because the moths could find a home in that new spot, too!
  • Thoroughly clean your empty pantry, paying special attention to crevices. Moths can lay eggs in shelf brackets, wall corners, and even on the top of cookbooks. Be sure to wipe all surfaces several times.
  • If you don’t have them already, purchase air-tight storage containers for your dry food, such as these jars. We will most likely never again keep a box of crackers or pasta or rice in our pantry without transferring it to an air-tight container first.
  • Since your infestation probably came from package goods, it is imperative that you put new dry goods (including dried fruit) into airtight containers as soon as you get home from shopping. Edit: Some readers have suggested placing dry goods from the store in the freezer to kill eggs/larvae before placing them in the pantry (in sealed containers of course!) I’ve read here that this works but 4-7 days in the freezer is required. Thanks readers for the tip! This means put your bag of rice in a jar, even if the bag is unopened (remember they can eat through plastic bags and cardboard). If you bring in any contaminated food, it will at least be confined to the container, and if you use clear jars you can observe the food before opening the jars. This also serves to seal away food sources, so if you do have some larvae hatch, they’ll starve and the life cycle will be broken. Don’t mess around with these moths. Good luck!

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    1. Oh my gosh!! This totally happened to us too. They were even in my couch crevices and in the folds of the 90’s wall paper border!! It’s been an expensive mess. So we are now going to pitch the couches, after pitching all the food and cleaning like crazy…. loving this… thinking it will never end. I know it could be way worse. (P.s. the kitchen fridge died too) ! When it rains it pours.

    2. Thanks for the great info. Just going through this and everything is cleaned out of my pantry. I am looking for good jars to store items, but the ones you mentioned are not showing up. Any help is appreciated. I prefer not too just buy anything.

    3. i have just discovered crawling and moths in the last few days….clouldnt find where they were coming from today i opened corner kitchen cupboard full….threw out all bags of food etc..there were a lot of moths still in the cupboard….Fly spray from Aldi Atlas brand fast knockdown…sprayed in the cupboard and closed door came back 10 mins later….all moths dead…will scrub the cupboard and start cleaning process and get some traps and keep any eye out for any other infestiations….looks like i am only just beginning.

    4. We had them several years ago in our island. We had to take the top off (which we ended up damaging), pulling all the drawers out and spraying everything down with vinegar. We were picking into all the little crevices using skewers to get the worms out. It was a mess! Based on what we had in the island, and the fact that a lot of the food was in Tupperware containers, we believe they came into the house on a bag of rice. Even though most of the food was in Tupperware, if I saw any signs of them near the containers the food was tossed out. I did not want to take any chances. It was awful!!!!

    5. I just found a bunch of larvae living in my dish towel/pot holder drawer at our vacation home! Most of the older towels went into the trash; a few newer/favorites into the wash. Haven’t found any in our food, though.

    6. Oh my! So happy to follow your site and remembered this post. We discovered pesky moths in our pantry Friday evening. We took everything out, wiped it down, put in the traps, tossed and tossed some more. I then vacuumed and wiped down the shelves with bleach water. I even cleaned out each of the little holes that the shelving slides into. I thought for sure there was no way we could possibly see anymore and then lo and behold Saturday night I come home to find one sitting on the shelf. Thankfully, I hadn’t put anything back in. This leads me to ask, how will I know when it’s safe to put things back in? Is there a good waiting period or trial and error? many thanks!

      1. Amy Taylor (comment moderator)

        It can be really hard to know unless you are absolutely positive you’ve gotten all the eggs out of the nooks and crannies. This happened to a friend recently and she used a combination of boric acid and Diatomaceous Earth powder as a back up after the traps.

    7. We can’t get rid of them! We have had them for over a year! We clean, we bleach, we even painted. 2nd time of throwing everything out! It is a horrible issue to deal with

    8. I am having a really hard time getting rid of my cupboard moths too. Unfortunately, it is usually my 13 yr old son who finds the larvae – in his cereal, on his water bottle, on his bowl. Yuck. They seem to like chocolate best in my house. An unopened box of Godiva chocolate was swarming with larvae. I have now completely emptied the cupboard and taken out all of the shelves. They are mostly between the shelves and the wall, which is why I didn’t find them before. I sprayed everything with vinegar and threw out a lot of food. I keep my rice and other grains in the freezer. What a nightmare. I am going to order some traps today!

    9. I don’t worry about them, came in with the birdseed, and then got into my pumpkin seeds. I just eat them, they won’t hurt you nearly as much as pesticides will.

    10. I had moths a few years ago – came in a box of dog treats.
      Used the traps from Garden Alive – threw out everything in the pantry = cleaned three times then spayed with vinegar.
      As I replaced items in the pantry I put bay leaves in the containers and in all the corners of the cabinets.
      Got them again! I left a new package of walnuts on the counter to use the next day and found there were moths in the sealed bag.
      Even tho there was nothing in the flour I threw out everything. Got four moths traps. (two from Garden Alive and two from Amazon. The ones from Amazon are useless – only two months in a month. GA’s are full and I ordered more. I now have four traps all over the house.
      The moths are every where – in the bath tub – even in my denture cup. There are in my fabric stash – which is all 100% cotton. They fly right by the traps and fly at me when I working at the computer. They are all over the walls and ceilings have to use the vacuum. Even found one on a bay leave I had tucked in the hem of the kitchen curtains.
      Read that it takes a month to get rid of them – but it has been eight weeks since I ordered the first set of traps.

      Don’t know what else to try –