Close-up view on indian-meal moth on oatmeal.


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A stray pantry moth may look harmless. But then you’ll notice that they’ve multiplied, and when you finally look in your pantry, you’ll discover something horrific: an army of airborne pests and a wriggling mass of larvae. The good news is that experts say pantry moths are harmless, as they don’t spread diseases, bite, or sting. Still, no one wants moth droppings or writhing worms in their food, which is why we've come up with an easy, low-cost guide to getting rid of pantry moths for good.

What Are Pantry Moths?

Although there are several species of pantry moths, the Indian meal moth is the most common. These small, brown pests find their way into your home through dry goods you buy at the grocery store: bird seed, dog food, grain products, seeds, nuts, dried fruits, etc. 

Once their tiny, 0.3- to 0.5-millimeter eggs hatch in your food, the moth’s life cycle begins. The off-white larvae feed for 13 to 288 days before they wander away to some confined space, wrap themselves in cocoons, and transform into moths.

Once they've reached their final form, Indian meal moths have one goal: to mate and lay hundreds of eggs in your food.

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Cashew nuts infested with caterpillarsPhoto credit: undefined undefined/istockphoto

How To Get Rid of Pantry Moths (Forever)

If you don’t identify and eliminate the source of the infestation, moths will continue to hatch, breed, and lay eggs. That’s why it’s so important to either throw out and contain all contaminated foods, including products that don’t appear to be infested.

Step One: Inspect Your Pantry

Start by inspecting all of the unsealed dry goods in your kitchen. If you find evidence of moths — webbing is usually a giveaway — then throw the product away in an outdoor trash can or dumpster. Remember that pantry moths can infiltrate unopened containers by chewing through paper and plastic.

Step Two: Control the Infestation

For the remaining nuts, herbs, cereal products, dried fruits, pet foods, etc. that appear to be uncontaminated, you have two choices. Either you toss them (the safest option), or you “disinfest” the product. 

According to Colorado State University’s Indian meal moth fact sheet, you can kill egg-infested foods by placing them in the freezer for two to three days. Or, if you prefer a faster method, you can heat the product to around 120 to 140 degrees Fahrenheit for 20 minutes. Of course, both processes could damage certain foods, so be realistic about what’s worth salvaging.

To prevent reinfestation, you’ll also have to keep your disinfested products where moths can’t get to them for at least one month. Tightly sealed containers work well, though you can also place food in your fridge or outdoors.

Step Three: Sanitize Your Pantry

Once you’ve eliminated all moth food sources, you’ll want to thoroughly clean your pantry and any other contaminated areas of your kitchen. That means removing all stray crumbs, eggs, and larvae by vacuuming, sweeping, and wiping down surfaces. You should also wash and wipe down any jars, cans, or packages that could have eggs on the outside. The idea is that you’ll eliminate the moth's food source while also killing its larvae and eggs.

Step Four: Repeat the Process

If you want to win the war against pantry moths, you have to do two things: 1) remove their food source, and 2) kill all the remaining moths. But because the eggs are small and the larvae are hidden, it might take a couple of rounds of the above process before you eradicate the moths entirely.

A hand opening a drawer of a freezer with frozen foods, long-term food storage and inventory at homePhoto credit: Nadezhda Mikhalitskaia/istockphoto

Preventing Pantry Moths

It’s inevitable that some of your groceries will be infected with pantry moth eggs. That said, there are a few things you can do to avoid an infestation.

  • Use Insect-Resistant Food Storage: Store food items in sealed hard-plastic or glass containers. Not only will these containers prevent moths from laying eggs in food products, but they’ll also contain potential outbreaks.

  • Put Bay Leaves in Your Pantry: Bay leaves are a cheap, simple, and natural moth repellent. Place a few in your pantry to keep the insects at bay.
  • Place Dry Goods in Your Freezer: When you first buy a new bag of flour or dried fruits, place it in the freezer for a few days. The cold will kill any hidden eggs.
  • Keep Your Kitchen Clean: If you regularly clean out and inspect your pantry, you can catch a moth infestation in its early stages.

The Bottom Line

You shouldn’t turn to pantry moth traps or pesticides if you’re dealing with these insects. The key, rather, is to thoroughly remove their food source while also killing any remaining moths. And if you don’t succeed at first, be patient and consistent. Assuming you follow the above steps, a thorough, weeks-long campaign should leave your kitchen moth-free.

Frequently Asked Questions

Where do pantry moths come from?

Before they make it to the grocery store, pantry moths lay eggs in common dry goods, such as spices and flour. Once these eggs hatch, the caterpillars feed on the food in your pantry and metamorphose into moths.

What do pantry moths eat?

Pantry moths eat most dry foods, including grains, cereals, beans, seeds, nuts, spices, pet foods, and flour.

Are pantry moths dangerous?

As gross as they look, pantry moths aren’t dangerous, as they don’t carry diseases. If you accidentally eat an egg, caterpillar, or moth — and let’s face it, you probably have — there’s nothing to worry about.

Should I use pantry moth traps?

Probably not. As the entomologist W. Cranshaw writes for Colorado State University, pheromone traps can identify “hot spots” but cannot “control” an infestation, as they only attract male moths. “As mated females are not captured, they will continue reinfestation,” he explains.

Should I use pesticides?

No. Insecticides aren’t particularly effective, nor are they safe to use around food, Cranshaw writes.

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