Frugal tips and tricks for getting rid of moths

How to Get Rid of Moths

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Nontoxic Ways to Get Rid of Moths in Your House

My house seems to have been invaded by moths. They are even in our kitchen pantry and I haven't been able to get rid of them. I need to know how to get rid of moths without using mothballs, since they are toxic and I'm pregnant and I've got a toddler at home, as well. I wonder if any of your readers know of any nontoxic methods or products that would help us get rid of our unwelcome guests? Thanks very much!

Chunks of Cedar Help

Chunks of cedar work just as well. You can buy them at Wal-Mart for a few bucks. Or better yet, put hamster bedding (i.e. cedar chips) into homemade sachets or canning jars with the opening covered with a piece of lace instead of the lid. They smell great and they aren't toxic!

Pantry Pest Traps

Get "Pantry Pest Traps" at your local Ace hardware. They're similar to cardboard tubes and the moths are attracted to the pheromone scent of the sticky insides, which is non-toxic. We live in northern Arizona and pantry moths are a real problem here (and the season is starting) but these traps will keep them under control.

Freezing the Moths in Your House

The answer to your moth problem may lie in your freezer. We have had moth problems periodically. We find that they live off of any grain product that is open or sometimes unopened. We found their larva in rice, cornstarch, flour, cereal, etc. Our solution was to check all the containers of such sundries. We disposed of any with larva or adult moths. Uncontaminated grains and unopened grains in impermeable packaging go straight into our deep freeze. The cold kills the eggs, and the absence of any food source for the moths soon ends the infestation. You'll need to freeze your goods for at least a week after the time the last moth disappears.

Search and Destroy Moths in Your House

If the moths are in your pantry, they are most likely what we call "pantry moths". Pantry moths are in our homes to infest and thus contaminate our families' food supplies. They are not drawn to the light at all. In fact you'll find them hiding in dark places. Pantry moths are about 1/2 inch long, shaped more like a narrow rectangle, instead of the wide triangle shape that most other moths have. They are an unattractive brownish-gray color with a single stripe of roughly the same color, but a few shades different, near the upper portion of the wings. They are mostly in the pantry, but will also be found on the walls, ceiling, etc., and almost never at a window. If you have them, they most likely came into your home in a package of dry food that you purchased somewhere. I know that some people like to put bay leaves around stored food to try to discourage these critters from invading, but especially when you already have a serious infestation there is only one way that I know of to deal with them that actually works: Search and Destroy.

If you have pantry moths, you need to clean them out of your home as soon as possible or they will simply and quite happily spread. They feed and nest and thrive in your dry foods like grain products (flour, oats, barley, rice, cereal, pasta, crackers, granola bars, etc.), dry pet food and seed, things like this. I have also seen them in dried fruit (raisins, etc.).

There are four evidences of their presence that are relatively easy for you to see and identify:

  1. The adult moths (dead or alive, which I have already described above)
  2. The larvae (caterpillars -- ugly, kind of whitish wormy-like critters about a half-inch long)
  3. The webby stuff the larvae spin (much like cobwebs)
  4. Pupae - Moths do not spin cocoons - butterflies do but moths pupate. The pupa will have some webbing around it, and look like a larva, a grayish grain of rice, an adult moth, or something in-between, depending on how far along in the process.

One important habit that the larvae have is that they tend to climb up. What you need to do is haul everything (yes, everything) out of your pantry and any place else that you store dry food. Then carefully and very thoroughly clean every inch and corner in the pantry or cabinet. Pay special attention to the undersides of the shelves (remember, the larvae climb up), especially the corners where the horizontal underside of the shelf meets the vertical walls of the cabinet. You will probably be finding live and dead adults, some pupae, and lots of larvae. Kill them all. It won't be hard since they squish quite easily.

Then you need to check all (yes, all) of your non-sealed containers of dry food. By "non-sealed", I mean everything but cans and glass jars that have not been opened since their purchase. To check a container, open it and look for the critters and webbing. If you open, say, a Tupperware canister of flour, you will only need to look at the top (don't forget to look at the underside of the lid because they climb up). You usually don't need to sift through all the food in the container. If you see any sign of them such as adults (dead or alive), pupae, larvae, or webbing close the container back up and take it out of your house. If you have chickens or some other outside animals who will eat the food, let them have it, but get the stuff outside. Throw out the food that you can't feed to outside animals. The containers can be washed carefully and re-used (unless they're bags or cardboard, but you know that).

If you are checking a bag of food, you will need to check through the whole bag, because bags are usually laid flat, and don't really have such a well-defined "up" side. The same will hold true for a box of crackers or other food that can easily get air at the bottom. You don't need to actually open a bag if you can see inside it. Also check the folds and tucks and crannies in bags that are inside and outside of the bag. The larvae like to park in the tight, cozy places. With glass jars that seal well, the larvae can't get to the food, but they can (and do) crawl up along the threads of the jar and lid, and pupate (the amazing process by which they morph from caterpillar to moth) there and survive to adulthood (which means they can have more babies). So, if you can see through the jar to the threads without opening, you can inspect it that way. If you keep your rolled oats (or other grains that you buy in other containers or bulk) in jars, you will want to unscrew the lids to check inside. You probably don't want to actually open a jar that is still sealed from your purchase (such as a jar of wheat germ), but do check dry food that you have put into jars yourself. Again, in this type of food/container, you usually only need to check the top of the food and jar, and the underside of the lid for the vile little critters and their webbing.

After you have gone through all your dry food storage, and disposed of the contaminated food, you will need to make sure that all food you put back into your storage places (pantry, cabinet, whatever) is protected. Good glass jars, good plastic containers, etc., that seal well should all be OK. On the glass jar lids, you will need a good, rubber-like gasket. On jars that we re-use from stuff we buy, this is usually applied to the circumference of the underside of the lid, and is usually white. On our canning jars, this gasket is usually a reddish-brown color. There are some products that we buy in jars whose lids do not have a soft, rubber-like gasket. Some (some mayonnaise, for instance) have a cardboard disk in the lid. These are not good enough to keep the moths out. So, while we don't need to worry about the mayo being infested, we can't re-use the jar to store dry food safely from the moths. Plastic containers are iffy. Some will keep them out, while others really aren't tight enough. Good brands will probably be OK.

If you have a lot of boxes that you don't want to re-pack to better containers, you may want to put them into resealable bags. I have done this with a good deal of success. I will buy a case of one-pound boxes of brown rice. For me this is more convenient, because I use exactly the one pound when I cook; and by the case and on sale I get a good buy. I will put the individual boxes in the resealable bags. This accomplishes two things:

  1. If there are moths in the package, the bag does a pretty good job of containing them so they do not get into other food packages.
  2. If there are moths still around or from another container, they will have more difficulty getting into the bagged package.

These bags are not foolproof, but they greatly increase the safety of your food.

You will need to be careful about storing your food in a protected way like this for a few months after you last see any sign of the moths. There will probably be some eggs, larvae, or adult moths that you miss when you go on your search and destroy mission; and you want to keep re-infestation possibilities down to a minimum. Some people, after going through the very unpleasant process of cleaning out after an infestation, choose to permanently use these storage methods, rather that risk going through it again.

If you have as many of the moths as you indicate in your question, you will find at least one container of food that is infested. Be sure to check every dry food container that you have. Don't forget the bag of dog food or wild birdseed in the corner. If you have a bird in a cage, you may find that the gravel and spilled seed at the bottom of the cage contain the critters (clean that out, too).

An Inexpensive Remedy for Moth Problems

I can tell you how to get rid of moths becuase we had a terrible time with them. It seemed they were taking over the house. I now take one hour each month (or every other month) and take all foodstuffs out of my cupboards and wipe them down with the paper towels that I use for the liner. Saves time and money. I then reline the cupboards with paper towels and put a cotton ball or two that has 10 to 15 drops of Eucalyptus Oil on it. I also put these moistened cotton balls in the plastic container where I keep our bulk bag of rice, in the coat closets, on the shelves where I keep my yarn, in my sweater box, etc. The Eucalyptus Oil is very inexpensive. I buy "NOW" brand at my health food store for $3.95 for 1 oz. and it lasts about 2 years. Although I get an occasional moth, it is usually because I let my cotton dry out and as soon as I replenish my moth problem is solved. Makes my house smell nice and clean. There are other oils that work as well if you don't like Eucalyptus like Lavender, Lemongrass, Rosemary, Camphor, Citrus and Citronella oils.

Reviewed February 2018

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