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What Causes Pantry Moths & What to Do When You Find Them

By: EarthKind

Have you ever noticed weird clumps in an old bag of flour or even a new one you just got from the grocery store? Ever noticed webbing along the corners or edges of food packaging or rice that appears to be moving? If the answer is no, you’ve luckily managed to avoid this unsettling experience. If the answer is yes, you’ve seen pantry moths.

Flour in a glass jar to keep pantry moths out

Understanding more about these unpleasant pests can help with removing them from your home, as well as preventing them in the future. Find out what causes pantry moths, where they come from, and the life cycle stages they go through. 

What Are They?

Adult moth covered in flour

The term ‘pantry moth’ usually refers to the Indian meal moth, also commonly referred to as a ‘flour moth’. The name “Indian meal moth” came from an entomologist who observed their larvae infesting cornmeal, which was commonly called “Indian meal” in the 1800’s. The two other names came about due to the location these pests are commonly found inside of a home. 

While there are numerous different types of these pests, the Indian meal moth is the most common household pantry pest in the United States. It is different from other types because it is attracted to stored, typically dry foods, unlike the clothes moth which is attracted to clothing and fabric, or other agricultural pest types. Homeowners sometimes notice the infested foods due to webbing on packaging, clumping within flour or they can see the larvae moving around. But typically, they won’t be noticed until the adult stage when they begin flying around.  

Where Do Pantry Moths Come From?

These pests can enter your house in numerous different ways. They can make their way in through open doors and windows. They can enter through openings around dryer vents, plumbing lines, or cables that pass through walls. Another common way they get into your home is by stowing away inside of food packaging or contaminated food from a store or warehouse, like pet food for example. Once they’ve made their way into a food item, the problem will likely get bigger. 

Pantry moths are on a mission. Their only objective is to reproduce and they infest places with an abundant food supply. This gives them a safe place to lay their eggs, giving their offspring the best chance of survival. They rely on their sense of smell to find a mate and a food source. Since you may not notice them until you see an adult moth flying around your home, it’s possible they have already laid their eggs somewhere inside. 

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The Pantry Moth Life Cycle

There are four stages they will go through throughout their lifetime:

  1. Egg: Moth eggs are extremely small and a whitish grey in color. An adult female can lay approximately 400 eggs at a time, and they can hatch in just 7 days. As mentioned before, they typically lay eggs inside of food packages due to the abundant amount of food readily available.
  2. Larva: This is the stage that causes damage. Moth larvae are tiny worm-like eating machines. Their color can be affected by the food they are eating, and the frass (waste) and casings they leave behind will contaminate food, making it unusable. The larval stage typically lasts 2-3 months depending on conditions.
  3. Pupa: While in the pupal stage, they are in cocoons, usually hidden in cracks, corners, or crevices. Sometimes the cocoons are buried underneath food, causing the matted webs and clumps that may be found when cleaning after a moth infestation. They usually take 15-20 days to develop from pupae into adults.
  4. Adult: Adult moths appear as winged insects that are attracted to light and fly all around. The purpose of flying around is to find a mate so they can reproduce. They do not have working mouthparts and cannot eat, meaning their only objective is to reproduce. However, since the other stages of the moth life cycle are incredibly stealthy, you may not notice an infestation until this stage which can last one to two weeks.

When you add their life cycle stages together, pantry moths typically live around 3-4 months total. 

Are They Harmful?

Pantry moths aren’t known for spreading disease, but they can contaminate food in the home kitchen or pantry. This can be unsettling to see and expensive to replace. In food processing facilities, their webbing can cause major damage to machinery.

If you notice these pests inside your home, it’s time to do a thorough check of your pantry items. Unfortunately, any items you see that are contaminated will need to be tossed. You’ll want to check items that were close as well and throw them away if you notice any signs of these creatures. 

Placing all dry foods inside airtight containers before storing them in your pantry can help prevent this problem from occurring. It’s also a good idea to do a routine check of the food items in your pantry, even the new, sealed containers you may have just brought home.

Preventing household pests is easier than cleaning up after an infestation. If your home is already infested, then it’s important to be proactive with the issue and work quickly to remove the problem. Learn more about preventing and getting rid of pantry moths naturally here and consider using Stay Away® Moths, a fast-acting, botanical repellent that you place in the problem area to help.  

29 thoughts on “What Causes Pantry Moths & What to Do When You Find Them

  1. Maria Delaney says:

    Hi Rita, I had a bag of unopened wheat cat litter in my closet and started seeing a few small moths flying around outside of the closet. I didn’t think too much of it until I went into the closet to get a jacket and saw many moths flying around. I then looked at the cat litter bag and saw that the bag had holes in it !! and when I opened it “outdoors” moths flew out and there were also worms! UGH..From what I am reading it is a grain moth/pantry moth. Most of them are in my closet.. I kill 8 to 10 a day! and some are outside of the closet. I did not find any in my pantry but I did all the
    cleaning of shells and threw out boxed foods, etc. It is about 2 weeks now and I am still finding them in my closet (I have emptied out all my clothes from the closet because they were hiding behind them.) I have wiped walls down with vinegar.. vacuumed the rug .. sprayed 50/50 vinegar/water on carpet.. I have also bought the glue traps.. some are being caught in there but not many… and I now have the non-toxic spray that is made from spearmint oil made by Safer. I am sick of these moths and want them out of my house! I don’t want to be sharing my house with flying invasive bugs. Please give me some positive news 🙂 Thank you, Maria

    1. Mildred Montalvo says:

      Hi Maria!

      You are on the right path. Cleaning and decluttering are the right steps to follow. Do not give up. You need to get rid of any infestation. Areas that are dark and undisturbed, like closets and pantries, are especially attractive to moths.
      The litter bag could have been already infested with the moth larvae. Getting rid of it should help prevent the infestation from spreading. We recommend washing or dry cleaning the clothes that were in the closet. This will remove any existing eggs or larvae, as well as any biological residue such as sweat, hair, or body oils which moths find attractive. Then keep any items that they may be attracted to in sealed plastic containers or bags; this will help you get rid them once and for all!
      Do not get distracted by a flying moth. The larvae are the ones responsible for the damages you could find in your clothes, pantry items, etc. Be on the watch for damages to clothes, bedding, and furniture, as well as looking out for webbing, cocoons, or droppings.
      We recommend using Stay Away® Moths (1 pouch for a single pantry or 2 for a closet; it depends how big is the closet). Stay Away® Moths works by using moth’s highly developed sense of smell against them. Moths use their sense of smell to communicate, to detect food and find mates. Stay Away® Moths will block the scents they are searching for and cause them to avoid the treated area.
      We hope you find this information useful. You can also contact our Customer Care Team, who can provide live assistance ([email protected]). We are here to help!
      Remember keep it kind, keep it safe! Thanks for reading.

  2. Mary Ann Schuler says:

    So i found tiny white worm looking things n a box that had knickknacks wrapped in newspaper that had been in my storage unit for over a year almost 2 years I just open the box to unpack everything and seen a bunch of these little white worm looking things most of them were dead and just look like empty husks but then I unwrapped a newspaper that had had little colorful Orbeez things in it and that thing had a lot of worms in it and some of them were even alive I’ve been trying to find out what they are by looking up stuff on the internet and the worms of the pantry moth look like what I have this box has been in the storage unit and then in my basement and then in my bedroom it has not been near any food and it does not have any food in it at all could this still be pantry moths?

    1. Rita Stadler says:

      Hi Mary Ann,
      It sounds like you certainly could be describing a type of moth larvae. Many moth eggs can survive in a dormant state for long periods of time, waiting until the conditions are just right before developing further. For more accurate identification information, you may want to check with your county’s Ag Extension office. To prevent problems like this in the future, make sure stored items are kept in air-tight containers with a pouch of Stay Away pest repellent.
      Thanks for reading!

  3. Daniel says:

    I noticed what looks like pantry moths flying around and in closet but have not seen anything in the pantry. Can they live in closets. I have done lots of research and from what I have read and seen online they look just like pantry moths. Thank you.

    1. Rita Stadler says:

      Hi Daniel,
      Yes, there is another type of moth known as the closet moth, or the webbing moth, which is frequently found in closets and fabric storage spaces. Please read see blog on this topic for more information: Pest of the Month – Clothes Moths. Don’t Let Them Wreck Your Wardrobe.
      Thanks for reading!

  4. Stacey Powell says:

    Where do I get a pouch of “Stay Away Moths “

    1. Rita Stadler says:

      Hi Stacey,
      You can order online directly from us, or you can use our store locator to find our products locally. Many Lowe’s stores nationwide also carry Stay Away. We do recommend calling first to make sure the product is in stock before visiting a local retailer.
      Thanks for reading!

  5. Pam says:

    Hi..i have these moths in my town and country van….i think they aregrowing behind the vent in front…cant find them….every morning the van has 8 to 10 on ceiling….how can i get rid of

    1. Rita Stadler says:

      Hi Pam,
      That sounds very frustrating! You could certainly keep a few pouches of Stay Away Moths in your van to repel them, but I would suggest consulting a mechanic to find the cause of the problem. Stay Away Moths is made from plant fiber and essential oils so there shouldn’t be any risk to keeping them in the van, and you’ll be left with a fresh scent to enjoy!
      Thanks for reading 🙂

  6. Laurajay says:

    Hi Rita, I opened a bag of dog food that was in a sealed container, and several moths flew out. I killed them within two days. This container was in a utility room and not my pantry. The moths I killed were all in the utility room and not the pantry. I have not seen any additional moths. I have discarded the food, cleaned the container with soap and water and rinsed with water and vinegar. What else do I need to do and look for? How do I know the problem has been eradicated? I have not seen larva yet, when would I see them? Yuck .

    1. Rita Stadler says:

      Hi Laura,
      The moths that infest dog food are typically the same type of moth that infests pantries, but it sounds like you have a good handle on the situation. You’ve taken all the right steps and now you just need to monitor the area for any more signs of moths. In the future, you can place dry dog food and any other items that may have moths or moth larvae in the freezer to kill the moths and prevent reinfestation. Of course, keeping a pouch of Stay Away Moths is areas prone to infestation is a great idea too.
      Thanks for commenting!

  7. Joe says:

    I found pantry moth in box of sweet and they are most concentrated around the walnut. I threw the box away obviously but I don’t see it anywhere near the box. Just this box. Could the source be the walnuts ?

    1. Rita Stadler says:

      Hi Joe,
      There are many types of moths, even a “walnut moth“! Moths lay their eggs in quiet, undisturbed areas where there is a food source to sustain their offspring through the developmental stages. Disposing of the contaminated items was a smart move! In the future, make sure to store items in air-tight containers to prevent pests and keep a pouch of Stay Away Moths repellent in pest prone areas.
      Thanks for reading!

  8. Amber says:

    Hi, I have been dealing with pantry moths for about a month now. My kitchen is completely empty and I’ve killed every moth (haven’t seen a moth in about a week) but I am still seeing larvae, I sweep them off the ceiling and flush them but everyday there is more. Am I doing something wrong? Will they eventually die off? There is absolutely no sorce of food in the kitchen and a curtain ceiling off the entrance. Please help!

    1. Rita Stadler says:

      Hi Amber,
      Sorry to hear about your situation, it sounds very frustrating! If you are using a curtain to seal off the entrance to your pantry, that may not be an adequate barrier. Emptying out the space and disposing of any larvae you find is a good thing to do though, so you’ve got the right idea. Please call (800)583-2921 M-F 8-4:30 EST or email [email protected] so we can help you troubleshoot the issue.
      Thanks for commenting!

  9. Andrea says:

    Hi Rita,

    Thanks for the information! I had a question about foods that have that webbing/empty cocoons on the outside of the packaging. Do you recommend throwing those away as well? From what I can tell there is nothing inside just on the outside. I don’t know if they can contaminate that way too. Thank you!

    1. Rita Stadler says:

      Hi Andrea,
      Although it sounds like you are just seeing emptying casings, I would err on the side of caution and dispose of anything that shows signs of moths.
      Thanks for reading!

  10. Alan guido says:

    How to get rid of pantry moths. Please I need help. Thant you I

    1. Rita Stadler says:

      Hi Alan,
      A pantry moth infestation can be difficult to control. You’ll need to dispose of any food, products, or packaging that has moths. Then you’ll need to clean the pantry with warm soapy water to make sure there are no moth eggs or larva waiting to hatch. Once the infestation has been cleared, use airtight containers to store dry goods in the future to help prevent reinfestation. For added protection, keep a pouch of Stay Away Moths in the pantry too.
      Thanks for reading!

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