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How to Get Rid of Moths in Your Pantry or Closets

Because you definitely don’t want them in your home.

Country Living

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Sweater with holes

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You’re cleaning up the evening dishes when you spot it: A moth fluttering happily around your kitchen. Did it get in from outdoors? Or does this spell big trouble? “Indianmeal moths are one of the most widely distributed stored product pests in the world,” says Dan Suiter, PhD, urban entomologist with the University of Georgia Extension. “They’re about a half-inch long and are dark brown with a copper tint. You’ll see them light on the walls in the evening, signaling to the males. If you find them night after night, that’s a clear indication they’re living somewhere nearby in any area of your home where you’re storing food.”

Or maybe you start seeing shiny light gold moths near your clothing closet. These are case-making clothes moths, says Suiter. They’re about half the size of Indianmeal moths, and they’re much more secretive about where they hide. Other signs you have clothes moths present are holes in garments of animal origin such as silk, fur, feathers and wool (even part wool).

Once you’ve identified you have a moth issue, it’s time to take action. It’s hard to pinpoint how these things get indoors in the first place, but they do not go away on their own, says Suiter. If you don’t want moth hanky-panky in your pantry (translation: lots of babies!), it’s time to do some sleuthing. Here’s how to get rid of these common pests.

Put out some traps.

Set out an Indian meal moth pheromone trap, available at big box retailers, in your kitchen to trap the males. Follow the label instructions. “More traps are not better,” says Suiter. “If you put out too many, the environment becomes saturated with pheromones, and they can’t detect where to go.” These traps will take care of the male moths, but you’re not done yet.

Find the source of moths.

“The real problem is not the adult moths but the larvae at the back of the pantry in food that’s open or was forgotten about,” says Suiter. “It’s not easy to locate where they’re coming from because moths can get into just about anything such as cereals, cracker or pasta.” Check in between a product’s cardboard box and the lining, too. Birdseed is one of their favorite places to hang out, so never store it indoors. But Suiter says he’s even found these pests in unopened boxes of food, perhaps due to pinhole-sized openings. (We know! You may need a moment to get over that thought).

Look for other clues.

No matter how many adult moths you catch, you’ve still got the potential next generation lurking somewhere. And here’s where it gets even more icky: The moths reproduce by laying eggs in your food, says Suiter. When the eggs hatch, the larvae crawl around and leave behind a silk-like substance. So, if you shake a box of cereal and it’s sort of clumped together, well, they’ve been hanging out in there. It probably goes without saying, but discard anything that’s has signs of invaders (or the invaders themselves). Once they’re ready to pupate, the larvae crawl away, and you could find them attached elsewhere, such as the corner of the pantry or on the ceiling.

Be persistent.

This typically isn’t an overnight fix, says Suiter. If you keep seeing new moths or new larvae crawling around, you haven’t found the source. Keep searching! You also can call in a pest control company. But they have the same tools available that you do, though they may be savvy about a few other places to hunt for these pests.

Scan your closet for signs of clothes moths.

The big signs are moths hanging around your clothing closet in the evening or holes in animal-sourced garments or hats. “The moths lay eggs, and the larvae spin a cocoon from the materials they’re eating,” says Suiter. “I saw a cocoon made of red and green wool with glitter, which was the larvae eating a wool Christmas tree skirt.”

These pests are challenging to find, says Suiter. Start by closing the door to the room you suspect is the issue and put out a pheromone trap specifically for clothes moths. “You’ll be impressed because you’re catching moths, but remember you still have to find the next generation,” says Suiter. “Look for hot spots at either end of the closet where the cocoons may be located. They don’t crawl very far away from where they’re feeding.” As with Indianmeal moths, be persistent. You also should wash or dry clean any garments in the affected closet.

How do you prevent future moth invasions?

Once you’re positive you’ve gotten rid of your problem (no more adult moths, no larvae, no cocoons), be sure to keep foods in clear plastic lidded containers. Ditto for susceptible clothing items in order to prevent a repeat invasion. You also can apply a clothes moth insecticide that has residual effects to the area where you found the moths and larvae. As for moth balls, cedar balls, or cedar closets, they simply don’t work effectively. Stick with the science-tested methods to keep your food and clothing moth-free in the future.

Arricca Elin SanSone has written about health and lifestyle topics for Prevention, Country Living, Woman’s Day, and more. She’s passionate about gardening, baking, reading, and spending time with the people and dogs she loves.

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This post originally appeared on Country Living and was published May 25, 2021. This article is republished here with permission.

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