Wednesday, June 13, 2018

The Beloved Summer Pastime of Eradicating Pantry Moths

I don't think I ever blogged about our pantry moths.

Actually, I know I didn't. Because I remember starting a post about them and then thinking, "this is just too embarrassing!" and I never posted it.

So, here I am, posting about it now. Because it's been a year and we're still dealing with them, and I don't care how gross it is, I NEED HELP.

When I advertise that we live in an urban cottage, it's pretty much true. By square footage it's bigger than a cottage, but it has a very cottagy feel with it's low ceilings, it's non-minimalist decor, and it's shabbiness. It also has a lot of flaws, and a lot of bugs. We live in a very damp area of the river valley and so we have a constant ant problem (when an area entomologist was consulted it was basically a "too bad for you, you're never getting rid of them" scenario) among other crawly things. We just have a lot of bugs, and since they aren't snakes (further up the hill in both directions there are tons of snakes!) or bats (I love bats, but not in my house,) I consider myself lucky.

Last summer I came out one night from putting the girls to bed to find Martin watching something on the wall above our little freestanding pantry in kitchen. He said, "Look at this little inchworm. It started out way down here, and now it's all the way up here!" He was really impressed by the progress of this little yellow "inchworm."

I took a look. Oh, gag. "Um, that's not an inchworm. O-M-G. Martin, that's a maggot." I was horrified. I almost threw up. I'm can take a lot of grossness, but maggots making their way up my kitchen wall is about at the limit of what I can handle. And then it got worse. We looked around the corner and saw a whole collection of them crawling along the hallway ceiling. I was ready to light a match and burn the house down right then and there.

At first I was too disgusted to even think, but after the maggots had all been flushed, I considered the problem and where it could be coming from. We didn't have flies, or any other critters that I would necessarily consider maggoty. The only thing we really had a lot of were ants and moths.


Then I realized that part of our glorious summer (last summer was really a great one) had been spent admiring the moths in the pantry. Every time I'd open the pantry door a little host of moths would flutter out. Sometimes we'd catch them and release them outside the kitchen door, but mostly we just let them be because the girls and I thought they were sweet and beautiful, and what harm could a moth do, anyway?


You guys, I didn't know about pantry moths. I didn't know they were a thing, so when I was living in harmony with the moths in my pantry, I had no idea that they were eating and pooping and birthing in my dry goods. I HAD NO IDEA. I don't even remember what clued me into the idea of pantry moths, but Google can solve all the problems of the world and it was discovered that that was our problem. We stayed up half the night clearing out the pantry and finding little collections of webs and *more maggots* on every shelf. (Even just writing this is making my skin crawl and it was almost a year ago. You can see why I was embarrassed to talk about it!) Then we were absolute crazy people about keeping moths out of the pantry and out of our life.

Except, it's not an easy fix. The good news is, they've remained confined to what we call "the bird room," which is the bedroom next to the kitchen where we keep our parakeets. I'm pretty sure that the Bird Room is where these nasty things emerged from in the first place, in some batch of long-ago purchased birdseed. And since we don't keep any of our people food in that room, it's better that the problem be there than in our kitchen, but STILL. I would rather the problem be GONE. Almost every day I go into that room and kill between fifteen and fifty pantry moths. I kill all that I can see. And then the next day THEY'RE BACK. I have no idea where they're coming from and no idea how to stop them. Are we getting more with each new bag of birdseed we buy? Will they not be eradicated until the parakeets are all dead? And don't parakeets live for practically ever?!?

This morning when we were cheerfully getting ready for our day, Ingrid and I spied a moth outside the bird room. Then there were more--there were about six moths fluttering around in the hallway and we went into full attack mode. She had her strip of toilet paper and I had my tennis-racquet bug zapper thingy and we tackled the problem without mercy. They just kept appearing. They are worse than they've ever been and I'm losing my mind over it. While it's pretty cute to see Ingrid excitedly leaping around in her undies trying to nab moths with her tiny bit of toilet paper and her poor coordination, I really wouldn't miss giving up this summertime activity.


I will be forever grateful.

P.S. You may remember last summer that I did post about our bout with lice. One of the reasons I was embarrassed to post about our moth problem was that the moths and the lice were happening at the same time. Imagine finding maggots on your ceiling and bugs living in your daughters' hair within days of each other. If my self confidence as a clean human had been low before, you can imagine how far down in the dungeon it was dwelling during those weeks of infestation. Yeesh!


  1. Okay, first, calm down. Pantry moths happen. They don't mean you're a bad housekeeper. They're just jerks. We had them really bad in our pantry in Cincinnati. I did not transport a single dry food item from that pantry out here. We ate most of them and ditched the rest. I didn't have pantry moths here...until a few months ago. The little bastards found me. I keep my flour, rice, pasta, sugar, etc in metal garbage cans (TSC, Rural King) because I buy in bulk and I can't afford to loose it to them. The cans are fine, as long as the lids are tight the moths can't breach them. I used to keep stuff in the freezer, but that eats up your chest freezer space fast so I highly recommend a cheap metal garbage can. Maybe you could keep it in the Bird Room? Anyway, the one item they like that I DO keep in my pantry is cereal. Aldi's cheapest, lowest sugar cereals are our family's guilty pleasure/crazy morning savior. I found pantry moths in a box of corn flakes several months back. Then I found them inside one of those glass lidded wire clasp glass jars which I had lentils in. I almost fed those lentils to my family, I am so glad I saw the maggots. So. So. GROSS. At this point, this is my plan, and you might want to try it before you pay an exterminator beaucoup bucks: eat, or if it can't or won't be eaten, trash-everything in your pantry that they like. Cereal and grains, flour, pasta, rice, etc...Then empty and THOROUGHLY clean every crick and cranny of your pantry and the nearby area. Clean all your reusable containers that you store those foods in-jars, bins, etc. Then start over from scratch. And keep everything possible in sealed containers. I am still trying to decide what to do about cereal. Big square bins? Those little plastic cereal containers that you pour the boxes contents into are kind of expensive. Or just live without cereal? Between the mice and the pantry moths I hate the feeling that nothing is safe and I have to seal up all my food. It's so not homey. Also I have ANTS ON MY COUNTERS for the first time ever and it is driving me nuts. We also have periodic mice infestations that we are always, always battling. Beetles and centipedes galore come up form our dirt crawl spaces and spiders of all sizes come up from our cellar. My parents' house, similarly ancient, is the same way. A lot of that is just old house, not the housekeeper. But it's still gross and annoying. Best of luck with those miserable moths! I hope you find a way to eradicate them!

  2. A late comment, but since I had my own experience with pantry moths two years ago and also had never heard of them or experienced them before, I thought I'd share--

    I couldn't bear to toss everything in my pantry, so I thoroughly inspected and saved what I could. I moved anything not in frequent rotation to my fridge or freezer (I live alone, so I had the space for that), and I transferred as much as I could that was staying in the pantry into glass containers. Several sticky traps (like this: ) really helped me get a lead on them. I also read somewhere that they dislike the scent of peppermint, so I made a spray of distilled vinegar and peppermint essential oil and wiped down every corner of the pantry with it. My pantry was a whole closet, so I would even spray that straight on the walls. (I've kept this solution as my standard kitchen and cabinet cleaner since, just in case. It's also good for streak-free cleaning of stainless steel appliances.) My pantry shelves were lined with contact paper, and I threw that out and replaced it, just in case any maggots had settled between the wood and the contact paper.

    As Emily said above, this is in no way your fault. Pantry moths often enter homes through purchased dry goods, even from "clean" grocery stores. After some thorough cleaning in my pantry, I realized that a strand of dried oranges hanging above the pantry (since Christmas; it was around June when the moths became a problem) were filled with their eggs and maggots...truly disgusting. I suppose they enjoyed feeding on the sugar? But it might be a good idea to look around your kitchen for anything like that that you might first interpret as decor rather than moth-food.

    Good luck!