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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    183 thoughts on “Moths Invaded Our Pantry…Bugs Like Real Food, Too!”

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    1. I’ve been in denial about this for too long, I knew you had written this a long time ago and finally just read it. Thanks for the information, I was taking for granted that the sealed product was ok, but obviously not the case. Time for a good cleaning – the Sur La Table link goes to the generic homepage, can you recommend a specific type of air-tight glass jar (besides a canning jar) Thank you so much!

    2. the link for the ikea bins goes straight to the general kitchen page. do you happen to have the name of the bins? thanks so much!

    3. So we have a moth problem we are dealing with. So glad I had read this post. I’m curious about the boney, but a bigger question is…what do I do about the appliances that were in the pantry? Like the food processor motor. Should I worry about them having bugs?

        1. Assistant to 100 Days (Amy)

          Hi. Oh, sorry you are having to deal with that. If you just give the appliances a good cleaning and thorough inspection, you should be okay. Just keep an eye out. ~Amy

    4. I would like to buy some hermetically-sealed glass jars to keep my pasta in, but I’m having trouble figuring out what size jar would be tall enough for spaghetti and lasagna noodles (they would need to be about 11 inches tall, I’m guessing). Can you help me with that by any chance? If you’re not using glass jars for these long noodles yourself, may I ask you what you use to store them? Thank you for your time!

      1. Assistant to 100 Days (Amy)

        Hi Amy. I use tall mason jars for many things including dry pasta storage. They work great, are inexpensive and hearty (which is convenient when you have a 7 year that tends to drop things), and are widely available. Hope that helps. ~Amy

    5. Thank you for the inspiration! I saw a moth here and there and said, “Eh.” But after reading this, I scoured our pantry. I used some tea tree oil solution my mom got me, and I think it did the trick! It definitely could have been a lot worse, that’s for sure.

    6. Not moths, but recently had a total infestation of little black fruit flies. On the advice of a friend I put all fruit in the refrigerator. I made fly traps by making a cone from construction paper with a small opening at the pointy end and putting that into a jar. Before I taped the cone on top I put covered the bottom of the jar with apple cider vinegar and a couple drops of dishwashing liquid. In the morning there were 50-60 dead flies in the vinegar. Still the bugs in the air though. So I reset the 1st jar and added a second on the other side of the kitchen. Then I found more in the laundry room (where the trash can is and I suspect someone threw away some fruit), so I made a third and left it in there. We have been dumping all 3 jars every morning for a week and although we still see an occasional one in the air, they are definitely decreasing in number. (and I continue to find more in each jar every morning – even when I think they’re all gone). So I’ll continue until I don’t see a single one flying around my house.

    7. We keep nuts, dried fruit, dried mushrooms etc. in canning jars. They’re so much cheaper than buying glass “storage” containers and still airtight. Haven’t had a problem with moths. Thanks for the info.

    8. We had moths in my mother’s house in Europe. We hadn’t really paid attention to the flying ones until we saw them in the flour. That’s when we started to go through the whole pantry. They were every where. In the spines of the cookbooks…We had long knitting needles that we pushed through the cookbooks (we didn’t want to toss them). We spent the whole afternoon tossing and cleaning, and touch wood, they never came back.

    9. We went through a similar ordeal last year. We bought our house, only to find out after we moved in that it was infested with roaches. I am still disgusted thinking about it. We had to redo the way we stored everything!

    10. Ugh I just went through this and tossed out a bunch of lucky stuff I had been meaning to pitch anyway but YUCK!!! Now I feel all buggy. I know it doesn’t mean that I’m a messy house keeper but still eww and yuck,

      I was the same way didn’t think anything of a moth or too they fly in when we let the dogs in and out so I just thought they were the same type. Wrong and Going to get tons and tons of masons jars asap for storage.

      thanks for you article, some might have been scared to admit they have them. You made me feel better!

    11. So do you truly recommend the glass then? I redid my pantry this weekend and put a lot of stuff in glass containers but used some “air tight” plastic ones cause frankly they were cheaper. I would certainly do all glass though if that’s what you recommend. I’ve been hearing about the mouth thing more and more lately and wanted to be proactive!

      1. Assistant to 100 Days (Amy)

        Hi Rachel. The glass containers are really nice to have. You can find many varieties and price ranges. My largest jars were under $6.00. But your airtight plastic containers should work just fine. Good luck! ~Amy

    12. This happened to us several months ago and was scarring. I’ve been keeping everything in old applesauce and pasta sauce jars with screw on lids. Do those count as airtight, do you think? Or should I splurge for the ones you bought? (Love your site, by the way!)

    13. Thanks for this post! I noticed a moth flying around in our pantry the other day and just this morning I saw another one… I’m hoping it’s not an infestation, but most likely it might be, as we keep our dog food, rolled oats, almonds in non-airtight containers.

      Sigh… I was looking at the OXO pop airtight containers… do you have any experience with these? I figured they would be easier to organize, since they’re stackable and square, as opposed to the round canning jars from Sur La Table. Thoughts? Any reason why you went with the round containers from SLT rather than the OXO ones?

      1. We have the Oxo containers in our pantry after just such an incident, and they’ve kept things safe for us. We’ve even had an infestation of flour bugs (not moths) in one and the container kept it contained.

      2. I hope you don’t have a moth infestation! We mainly chose the containers that we purchased because we wanted to go with glass instead of plastic this time. Our previous plastic containers were advertised as air tight, but as it turns out they were not fool proof.

    14. Just wanted to say thanks for sharing!

      A few weeks ago I complained to my husband there was a moth flying around, No big deal. Then a week later my husband told me he found a worm of some sort in our dogs food. I immediately put the two together and was like OH NO!!! My husband was impressed that I had all this knowledge about the moths. hehe :) Once we confirmed it was indeed moths, we started cleaning everything! We got lucky and they all seemed to be contained in the dog food/treats … So far it’s been a couple weeks and we are still moth free, but I just keep worrying we missed one! But at least now my all my food is better organized and air tight! (Dog food is also now kept in air tight container in the garage!) It was nice to have an excuse to buy some of the organizing containers I always wanted, just never got around to buying before. So thank you for sharing!! Without your blog the moths might have had a chance to spread so much further! Ewww!

    15. Make sure you check everything, not just foodstuff. The worms were in dry packets of herb mixes, toothpicks, packets of matches!!!! They were inside sealed jar lids, things that were never opened. My boyfriend was ready to strangle me for throwing out all his lazy suzan stuff when I showed him his toothpick box. LOL!!!!! I think our infestation had to do with remodeling the house next door…they stripped the walls there, so the little critters came to us! Gotta be vigilant on this one!!!

    16. Thank you for this post! We just cleaned out our pantry as well after finding moths in our bag of rolled oats (bought in bulk at a health foods store, sealed with a twistie tie). We had been storing paper napkins, toilet paper, and paper towels in the same pantry as these foods. We’ve checked through these items the best we could. Would you still recommend tossing them? Also, do you now store these kinds of paper products elsewhere? Best to keep them away from moth-loving foods?

      1. Assistant to 100 Days (Jill)

        Hi Becky. It’s up to you as to whether or not you want to toss them. I would probably keep them separate going forward. Best of luck. Jill

    17. We had an infestation of these moths while in college. They were in the cat food. Our freezer was tiny, and since it was winter time, we put all the pantry food in the trunk of our car! It felt weird having all the food in the trunk, but the freezing weather killed off the moths. Now I keep the pet food in sealed plastic containers. Winter time may make it easier to kill off all the life stages.

    18. Wonderful information! After i read last night i went right to Amazon and ordered sev packets of the pheromone traps. Each winter i see those nasty little carpet beetles that crawl on the walls and get on your clothes. I then starting cleaning out the entire pantry. I keep most items in locknlock so thank goodness didn’t see any infestations but did put new items in the freezer. But then on the floor i had a wood little bin and there were a couple of the litte larvae bugs. An exhausting process but well worth it.

    19. Thanks so much for your post! I printed it earlier this month, thinking to myself that I would redo our pantry after the first of the year. Guess what we found in the pantry last night?!? Thankfully, I quickly pulled out your post and got working. I guess I shouldn’t have put it off until 2013!

    20. It happened to us too. The culprit was a bag of organic rice that started the whole fiasco. Unfortunately, I hate to tell you, but the white larvae went into hibernation in every crack & crevice of my white popcorn painted ceiling & behind my pantry where I couldn’t get to them. It took almost 40 weeks of keeping ALL my food either in the freezer or in airtight jars for all the eggs to hatch, find no food & die. I hope it goes quicker then that for you. FYI, oou almonds were particularily well loved by the little suckers too.

    21. Ok… just had a weird bug incident in our pantry also! But… it was tiny white bugs in my yellow stone ground grits! Not sure what they were but the whole bag went in the trash. :(

      1. We had the tiny white bugs in our rice….. blech! Thankfully I didn’t find them in anything else, but we have a lot of air tight containers so that probably helped us too!

    22. Oh yeah, they are nasty little creatures. I opened a glass jar of soaked, sprouted and dehydrated pumpkin seeds and one of those booger flew out like it was on fire. I even found the little shell he grew in, so I know he had to have come in from wherever I bought the seeds. Needless to say he is no longer with us.
      Thanks for the tip on the traps. I will be getting some ASAP!

    23. Lisa,
      We had problems with moths when we lived in NC also, they started in our pet food and quickly consumed everything. A good rule of thumb with things that hang out in your pantry like bird food (the likely cause of our moth outbreak) but also things like nuts and other items you now know are suspect to getting moths is to freeze the item for at least 24 hours. Then take it out and put it into your pantry as normal. Since I started freezing certain items I am pleased to say I have had no more moth problems. I agree the experience is really gross to go through! Good Luck!

      1. have battled these pest off and on for awhile now – I have heard of this tip and bought a big container of bay leaves – DOES NOT WORK!!!

    24. We had them in our VAN this past summer. I think they laid in a carseat that was uncovered in the attic and apparently hadn’t been cleaned from our son using it. It took FOREVER to get rid of them. Over a month, probably more like 3. I used the traps in the van. It was horrible. I would be SO upset if it had been my pantry!

    25. OK I don’t THINK I have a problem with dry goods tho not all are in bins… I saw a moth come from my fruit and veggi cupboard just today what exactly am I looking for and I’m broke how do I afford getting bins for everything?

      1. Assistant to 100 Days (Jill)

        Hi Sarah. As mentioned in the post, in addition to the actual moths, you generally find a source where they are breeding and so you are also looking for them in earlier life cycles before they develop into actual moths. I would suggest going through the clean out process as the post lays out. After that, decide what you can purchase now and maybe consider putting some of the items you cannot get into airtight containers in your freezer. You could also consider “double bagging” some of the items you cannot get into containers in ziploc bags. The comments in the post are also a great resource as readers left a few ideas about “natural” remedies that seem to keep these pesky bugs away. Best of luck. Jill

      1. I’m not sure…they appear to be similar in construction to the Fido jars and yes are about $2 cheaper. Note the IKEA Slom jars are not available online, whereas the the options from Sur La Table are (if that matters to you). We started our search at IKEA, but when we didn’t find wide mouth jars we headed over to Sur La Table and got the mix we mentioned. It’s high quality stuff.

    26. I am so grateful for this post. I read it on the same day that I saw a moth fly out of my cabinet. I am now hopefully moth free and the plus is my kitchen is super clean & organized, thank you!!

    27. We’ve suffered through moths as well, and they are persistent little things! We moved from our old place, where we had a moth problem, into this one, and I couldn’t bring myself to throw out food that didn’t have any obvious infestations since it would be so wasteful.

      Needless to say they infested our pantry here and then I had to go through everything and throw out heaps of food, freeze the rest for the week and put everything into glass jars!

      Since then the pantry seems to be okay, but strangely enough we get them in our living room. I haven’t been able to figure out where they’re breeding, but since they’re not getting into the food, it’s not such a problem. Now if only I could get rid of the fruit flies!

    28. I keep opened sticks of peppermint gum in my pantry and just replenish every month. The minty smell keeps moths away! My mom, aunt and Grandmother do the same thing and none of us have ever had a bug infestation.

      Oh and maybe I’m just immature but the repeated use of the phrase “nut basket” made me chuckle. :)

    29. I had my moth invasive two months ago. The came from pecans that grow on my trees. Everything came out of the pantry. Everything was wiped down and inspected. I will be purchasing containers for the food to go in as an extra preventive measure. Thanks for sharing your story.

    30. I am so glad I stumbled onto this post! I am not dealing with moths at the moment, but the grain beetles. They are so gross. I have spent the better part of my day tossing items, cleaning, and storing other items into glass jars/containers. Lesson learned!

    31. No moths in my house as far as i know and if they were i would have to move until someone else removed them. Although i had a similar problem with mice. They moved from cupboard to cupboard wherever there was food they turned up and tucked right in. In the end i went into my flour, grains cupboard and got someone else to pull everything out and throw it away and now the cupboard is empty and where the food is now stored they cannot get to.

    32. I remember my Mom having this issue when I was growing up and it was the main cause for her becoming a Tupperware lady.

      I have had them once… and they came from a bulk food store. Make sure the foods in the store “bins” look very clean (aka no bugs) when you are there. :)

      An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure for sure!