Pantry Pests

August 1, 2013

Summer means Pantry Pests!

By Raleigh-Elizabeth. Beautiful moth (welcome in my home at any time) from Red Tree Designs.

They come in in your flour. They procreate while you aren’t looking. They ignore the baby on board, organic only, no-pesticides-here-please signs littering your life. They make you the most popular person on the block out of thin air.

And now you have to find a way to get rid of them.

At least, after a seven month deployment and an eight month decampment at my mother’s through my recent pregnancy, that’s what we came home to. A newborn, a reintegrating Marine, a new mom, and a kitchen full of meal moths. And let me tell you: I’m not a big fan of bugs.

It doesn’t matter where you buy your groceries or how clean you keep your home (as I keep learning, almost punitively), pantry pests are the peril of anyone who cooks. My stepmom — the family food guru — maintains that they come in and you just can’t help it, they are simply a part of food life. Every other kitchen queen I know agrees. But I can’t help it: “No, no, no!,” I yelp. These critters make my skin crawl.

So we find ourselves in battle again. Them, taking wing to drive me nuts, and me, giving up all things green and calling in the big guns — the exterminator.

A good treatment and a few thorough vinegar and water washes later, our cabinets have returned to a temporary normal, but sanity is still on the loose. And we all know I’m not in this boat alone. How do we keep our kitchens free of pantry pests?

Like every grandmother before her, my grandmother had a trusty pantry pest weapon she swore worked on the winged and wingless alike. She was so evangelical in this truth you’d think she’d never seen a bug in the kitchen in her life: Just put bay leaves in every cabinet.

I’ve bought bay leaves. I’ve laid them out menacingly in every cupboard in my kitchen. I have done this several times in several kitchens. I don’t know if I just repeatedly befriend a particularly herb-adoring breed of pest, but my unwanted visitors always treat those little leaves as festive floral decoration for their favorite encampment. The bay leaves have never served an eviction notice.

And again the bugs lead to desperation, and the desperation leads to desperate Googling. Always be careful when you’re desperate Googling, or you might find yourself doing as I did a few years ago: Deluding Borax soap and scrubbing the life out of every surface, nook, and cranny in your home. The good news is it works. The better news is that if you happen to spill it on your coral, silk tufted sofa (because you make really practical furniture choices), you’ll discover it also cleans your sofa. And then you’ll find yourself spending twenty hours diluted-Borax-soaping your sofa. And friends, Borax is not easy on the hands.

But these bugs are never easy on the soul, either. Maybe I should take more yoga classes and really focus on some sort of inner kitchen peace. Or maybe my husband should pursue a second career with Orkin. Either/or.

Did your grandmother pass on any tricks for getting rid of these pests? Or have you encountered any fool-proof strategies you can share with the rest of us? At the moment, I’m thinking a grain-free diet is our only option. And with my love of pasta, that’s bound to be impossible.

Tell me, valiant kitchen warrior, what tricks do you have for keeping the littlest summer visitors at bay? Or do you, like the kitchen mavens in my life, just accept the occasional creature as an inevitable part of cooking?

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{ 53 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Rose August 1, 2013 at 3:48 pm

My mother always put flour and other grains in the freezer to kill any pests that might be there. After several weeks, or months, I move the flour to a canister in the kitchen . I have never had those little black bugs..
Good luck

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2 Raleigh-Elizabeth August 2, 2013 at 4:50 am

I had those little black bugs only in New York City once – they came in with some fancy schmancy specialty flour I got at the farmer’s market. (Proving how stupid spending ten dollars on the teensiest bit of flour was in the first place…) But I digress. We’ve been freezing our grains ever since we came home, and it surely does the trick! I guess it’s time to either give up ice cream or buy a chest freezer to make room…

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3 Maryanne August 1, 2013 at 4:09 pm

I’ve bought pantry moth traps– they’re a sticky surface on the inside of a cardboard triangle with a little pheromone square in it that lures them in. That and the freezing of stuff and trying not to leave opened packages of crackers/grains around (we seem to have some shoved to the back of the pantry quite often).

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4 Raleigh-Elizabeth August 2, 2013 at 4:51 am

We always seem to have a bag of chips roaming freely in the lazy susan cupboard… clearly, offering itself up as a pest hotel! I second those little traps. They work wonders (before full on infestation).

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5 Michelle August 1, 2013 at 4:28 pm

There was a creek behind the house I grew up in, and it seemed to attract all varieties of pests. My mom was a city girl, and it always drove her up the wall. We learned to cover absolutely everything. And to hire Terminex. :)

By the way, welcome back! I’ve missed your prose here! Congrats on your little one.

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6 Raleigh-Elizabeth August 2, 2013 at 4:52 am

Yay thanks! We’re still getting the hang of things. And I’m learning that four hours of sleep can be a lot.

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7 miriam August 1, 2013 at 4:53 pm

You can use these to catch the ones you have, and it seems to get rid of the problem.

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8 Raleigh-Elizabeth August 2, 2013 at 4:53 am

Second! They are quite helpful (even if throwing them away is a litte icky!).

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9 Jennifer August 1, 2013 at 5:03 pm

I once read that the bug larvae are in the boxes or bags that the items are packaged in, especially cardboard boxes. Since I read that, I put flour, sugar, rice etc in sealed containers in my cabinets and have not had any problems with opening a cabinet door to find winged creatures fluttering about.

As for fruit flies, when I notice that we have them, I use this trick. I get a very small bowl, fill it partway with rice vinegar (cider vinegar works well too) add a drop of dish soap, swirl it together and leave it out. Supposedly, the fruit flies are attracted to the sweetness of the vinegar, but the soap does something to the vinegar that makes it impossible for the flies to land and balance on the surface of the vinegar. So unfortunately for them, the fall in and drown. It definitely works and every time I see one flying around, I set up the trap, and find them in it later in the day/next day.

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10 Raleigh-Elizabeth August 2, 2013 at 4:54 am

We do the same thing with fruit flies! Only we add a funnel top. I’m not sure if it works any better, but it does make them less visible. http://www.squawkfox.com/2008/10/02/diy-how-to-get-rid-of-fruit-flies-with-a-homemade-trap/

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11 Ellie August 1, 2013 at 5:52 pm

@Jennifer I was at my wits end with fruit flies, and google taught me to make a trap with 1 cm of vinegar in a glass, the top covered with saran wrap and a little hole to let the flies in. It works!

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12 jessie hansen August 1, 2013 at 5:56 pm

I freeze everything when it comes into my house, and after about a week I remove it from the freezer and keep it sealed in plastic bags. Does the trick.

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13 Raleigh-Elizabeth August 2, 2013 at 4:55 am

I really do need a bigger freezer!

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14 Amy August 2, 2013 at 6:32 am

You won’t be sorry about having more freezer space. I have the biggest one I could buy and I never have to ask ‘will it fit?’

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15 jessie hansen August 2, 2013 at 10:59 am

We inherited one from my in-laws when we got married. It’s perfect! Life without it would be miserable. We will need to get a new one, though, if we get our desires “ice cream bar” in the new house… A whole stand up freezer just for ice cream! Yes please!

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16 Ed Decker September 30, 2013 at 12:29 am

My little flying black “monsters of small” actually show-up in my refrigerator and freezer and actually live in both. Today I cleaned out
all that I could find. Must have been hundreds in each area.

Three hours later there were more crawling in each area, refrig and freezer.

Open the door and they fly-out towards any food and seem to fly around
the windows.

Help!!!!!!!!!

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17 Marisa August 1, 2013 at 5:58 pm

After a very memorable mealworm/moth infestation when I was a kid, I learned to keep everything in airtight containers. All my grains go straight from the bag into large plastic locking containers with seals (the type with the four locking flaps). I haven’t seen any invaders since.

And I do believe you meant “diluted” Borax. . . unless you misled your Borax before cleaning with it, but I don’t see how that would make it work differently. :)

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18 Raleigh-Elizabeth August 2, 2013 at 5:00 am

Well I did probably fool my Borax into thinking it was going to make a permanent appearance in my life until I saw what it did to my hands – but yes! I did! Thank you! Life with a newborn means lots of attempting-to-write on your phone, and not so shockingly, iPhone spellcheck is still keeping people entertained. Unlike meal moths. Which are not entertaining at all. Nooo.

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19 sarah k August 1, 2013 at 5:59 pm

The only time I ever had a problem with bugs, it was because I had neglected to store my flour in the freezer as my mom had taught me. I now keep any large bag of flour frozen; smaller bags (of gluten-free flours) that will be used quickly I do keep in the pantry. I have the occasional tiny fruit fly, though…and those don’t really bother me. Maybe they should?

Also, I think you mean “diluted”, not “deluded”.

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20 Raleigh-Elizabeth August 2, 2013 at 5:01 am

I’m going to conclude from this that your mothers were all a lot more knowledgable about stuffing grains in the freezer than mine! You’d think the Southerner would have a gene specifically for bug-prevention!

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21 Alicia August 1, 2013 at 8:19 pm

I really, really hate my pantry moths. We had them in San Diego and unfortunately packed them and moved them with us to the Bay Area. I’ve thrown out everything in my pantry 3 times. $$$!?! Cleaned with vinegar (hate hate the smell). Once I realized that I was likely bringing them in, I stopped buying dry items in bulk. No more bins of oatmeal, flour, nuts, etc. I only buy in sealed packages and immediately transfer everything into oxo containers. I’ve heard spearmint gum in cabinets works.

Seriously, these bugs drive me insane!

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22 Raleigh-Elizabeth August 2, 2013 at 5:03 am

I feel like we should go out to coffee someplace with big, comfy, moth-free chairs and commiserate. It’s such a beast. Those OXO containers (WHY ARE THEY SO EXPENSIVE! Oxo, are you listening? I’d buy more if you brought the price down a smidge! And I already have about fifteen!) are amazing, though. Somehow, the flour we had in an OXO survived the whole thing blemish-free.

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23 Cathy Lane August 1, 2013 at 9:15 pm

I feel for you. Since I moved to the South it’s been extremely hard to keep pantry items bug free as well as keeping things from getting limp and soggy in our humidity. (I think that’s why the bugs like stuff so well.) The best thing I’ve done is put EVERYTHING in clear plastic food storage jars that I get at Wal-Mart. Cereal, oatmeal, grains of all kinds, pasta, sugars, splenda, crackers – everything. They have two sizes and I take everything out of it’s store package and put all dry staples in them. The tops screw on air tight and this seems to keep bugs out, or not let them grow. Since they are clear you can see what’s inside. I even made the shelves in my pantry so they fit the jars. The jars used to be made by Rubbermaid but now Wally World has their own brand but they seem to be identical and the lids fit interchangeably. If I think I need some information on the label I put the label in with the product. Even cornmeal and oatmeal last for months without any “guests” and they seem to stay fresh. (These were the worst for me.) You can buy similar jars at other stores but the Wal-mart ones are the cheapest (under $3 for the large ones and about $1.60 for the smaller size.) I bought mine a few at a time (when I started they were only about a dollar) and I now have a enough for lots of long term as well as short term storage. Good luck!

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24 Raleigh-Elizabeth August 2, 2013 at 5:05 am

Oh my goodness! Who knew Wally World would have an OXO-besting brand! I’m going to have to give these a shot before my wallet starts crying. Thanks for the recommendation! (And those lids working interchangeably is amazing.)

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25 Heidi August 1, 2013 at 10:14 pm

I feel for you, we had bugs in our flour when we lived in Austria. There, I put everything in sealed containers. I think I can one-up you, though. We live in the rainforest on Vancouver Island, and my parents had a slug infestation in their kitchen. Gross! We stayed with them when my second was a baby, and I stepped on one on their kitchen floor when I got up in the middle of the night. It took some major work to figure out how they were getting into the house, and then things were sealed up. I’ll take bugs over slugs any day!!!
Actually, on second thought, I’d like neither!

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26 Raleigh-Elizabeth August 2, 2013 at 5:09 am

SLUG INFESTATION? oh the horrors!!! I think I’d still get the heebeejeebies with the sight of every slug from there forward. How on earth did that happen?!?

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27 sp August 1, 2013 at 11:47 pm

I am currently battling meal moths. Most of them are gone, but I see one or two every couple of weeks. This has been going on since March! I have cleaned cabinets and thrown away almost everything. The worst part is that they move into other areas of the house. It’s driving me insane!!

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28 Raleigh-Elizabeth August 2, 2013 at 5:11 am

So ours technically came in with (of all things) a laundry hamper for the nursery. It’s adorable and shaped like an elephant and bought from a very reputable source… but apparently the wicker was still “too fresh.” And so the moths came in with that (or at least that’s what a thorough inspection led our exterminator to believe). But then they made their way to the kitchen… and upstairs to Bill’s loafers… and around the corner into my craft supplies (really? you want to eat stamp pads?) … it’s just a nightmare. I can’t recommend it enough: call the exterminator. Your sanity deserves it – it’s what finally did it for me.

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29 Melissa August 2, 2013 at 12:11 am

We’ve never had problems with pantry moths, but we get fruit flies at the end of every summer, and they tend to stick around until canning season is over. I’ve tried all of the home remedies I hear about, but haven’t found any that work. We just put up with them, shoo them away when they fly by, and hope for fewer next summer!

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30 Raleigh-Elizabeth August 2, 2013 at 5:12 am

Hahaha I think that’s the best wisdom of all. Hope for fewer next summer! I know the feeling. We see ants every June… and every July, I am grateful their caravan took them onward and I just pray that next summer, they aren’t nearly as social and we get some loner ant group instead.

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31 hollee thornton August 2, 2013 at 12:56 am

These little moths drove me crazy and totally grossed me out for a few years! They seemed to be seasonal when I lived in SC. I threw out nearly everything in my pantry a few times. I froze everything and I put stuff in canisters. I tried the moth traps and most of all I used a fly swatter! I remember they would land on the ceiling and when I killed them their dusty wings left marks. It drove me nuts climbing up on a ladder to dust the ceiling?! Finally the combination of efforts and the change of seasons seem to help, I think my worst time of year was fall? Cornmeal was the worst! Anything with corn did seem to attract them. The larvae is in everything so no reason to keep it- who wants to eat that?! Kill them daily and hope they did not have a chance to lay eggs yet.
If you find something that works, please do a follow up post!!!!! This is really helpful. Oh- and CONGRATS!

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32 Raleigh-Elizabeth August 2, 2013 at 6:11 am

ORKIN. They got them!!! I think they really are worse in the South. They come in and then all of a sudden it’s EXPLOSION OH HEY YOU REALLY HAVE A MOTH PROBLEM. Not Oh hey! We’re a few moths just hanging out! So, we did the following things: (1) start crying (2) insist that this is somehow your husband’s fault because he eschewed the admittedly baseless idea that you hire an exterminator in march when you came to check on the house “just in case” (3) do not repeat steps 1-2 (4) vacuum all nooks and crannies and throw everything out (5) call exterminator and go out to dinner until he shows up (6) buy oxo containers and put all new food in it (6) ask your mother in law very nicely to help clean out the cabinets while you nurse the baby. It worked for us so far… but I’ll admit: I did see a moth yesterday. I’m just going to believe (naively) that it’s a blip.

GOODLUCK IN YOUR MOTH WAR!

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33 bettijo @ PagingSupermom.com August 2, 2013 at 1:30 am

Thank heavens we’ve never had flying pantry bugs — how AWFUL! Here in AZ though the bugs are inevitable but freezing the flour really does help. I simply don’t have room to freeze all my pasta and everything. I try to seal as much as I can in sealable containers. I’ve always been amazed that my husband’s mother keeps her flour in a drawer in her kitchen. Literally in the bare drawer! It never has bugs in it — that would never work in Phoenix. I’ve heard these flour drawers were common way back when… and her kitchen is old, but still it always amazes me.

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34 Raleigh-Elizabeth August 2, 2013 at 6:12 am

in a kitchen drawer?!? how does that work? where on earth does she live? what bugless, amazing place is her home???

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35 Birgit August 2, 2013 at 2:02 am

We use those sticky moth traps. They are basically sticky paper with a small bit of moth-pheromone. That gets rid of the moths and it’s non-toxic.
We also keep any food that attracts them in air tight containers.
They seem to love oatmeal, nuts and muesli the most.

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36 Kaja August 2, 2013 at 4:45 am

Hi all, I was just wondering – doesn’t your flour get damp if you stick it into the freezer? I hate kitchen bugs (I’m feeling a phantom itch just from reading about them) and I’d like to try the freezing method.

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37 Raleigh-Elizabeth August 2, 2013 at 6:13 am

I would think it’s not a humid cold, so it shouldn’t? Our pastas and rice haven’t, and we’ve been sticking them in the freezer as we navigated our moth-eradication phase.

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38 jessie hansen August 2, 2013 at 11:04 am

I don’t see how it would get damp. I just toss the whole bag into the freezer, all 25-50 lbs of it. There is no added humidity to the freezer so if it doesn’t get damp in your pantry it won’t get damp in the freezer.

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39 Erin August 2, 2013 at 2:17 pm

Mine doesn’t. I grind, buy, and keep a lot of types of flour around, but don’t use them all on a regular basis–so less-frequently-used types go in the freezer. I’ve been doing this for years with nary a sign of moisture. In fact, the main problem is that flour is compacted–but that would happen just as well in your cupboard.

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40 Kaja August 3, 2013 at 3:48 am

Ok, thanks for the reassurances! :)

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41 Amy August 2, 2013 at 6:27 am

Our exterminator told me that some time in the freezer would kill any eggs in the flour. I store flour and sugar in large plastic containers and other grains and rice (and dried fruit) live in glass jars. We had a massive sugar ant invasion a few years ago and I did a massive pantry-clean-out. The only things I didn’t have to change was the way I stored my flour and sugar. Thankfully we haven’t had a serious invasion since then.

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42 SusanC August 2, 2013 at 7:13 am

Both times I have had a moth infestation it was because of birdseed. I normally keep this garage but twice it made it’s way into my laundry room. And then I wake up to clouds of moths!!!! I keep my vacuum out for a week and suck them up when I see them. Hate them, hate them.

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43 Stephanie August 2, 2013 at 7:22 am

I have had moth infestations TWICE this summer…I have resorted to freezing grains and then storing EVERYTHING in my pantry in glass canisters/jars. My children are older so I don’t worry about them breaking the glass and I actually had stuff with moths in it that was stored in plastic Snapware containers which totally grossed me out!! Yes, I am also in the south! Oh, and the sticky traps…those have worked well to stop the “life cycle”!

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44 Rachel August 2, 2013 at 7:44 am

I didn’t realize this was such a problem! So sorry that you have to deal with it! I’ve lived in both Oklahoma and New York and never had any bugs in my pantry. I just moved to Virginia, though. Should I prepare myself for this inevitability now?

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45 Emily August 2, 2013 at 8:03 am

I feel so fortunate!!! In 10 years in the south, I’ve never had any pantry pests (or I’ve been eating a lot of them without knowing it…). Since we moved to SC–the furthest south I’ve lived in adulthood–I’ve kept our Lily White in the freezer. This winter, when i turn to freezing soups & casseroles, it’ll definitely get interesting packing it all in there…

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46 Erin August 2, 2013 at 2:21 pm

I am thinking this is climate-influenced; in my six years in Minnesota, I’ve yet to have this problem, my main pests being fruit flies during the summer. And I have a lot of containers of grain around–in fact, a 25-pound bag of oats in the basement seem to be pest-free (though I’ll be putting that into a food-grade 5-gal bucket soon). Perhaps the extreme cold warns the bugs not to settle in here–there’s a plus.

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47 Amanda August 3, 2013 at 10:40 am

I live in florida and haven’t had a problem with moths, tho we do get tiny black bugs in ceral, flour, etc. One day I can home to hundreds of them swarming on the windows outstide my pantry. After consulting with my mom, we figured out that they had been in some old cereal in the pantry, and were chased out when I hung a new cinnamon broom in the adjoining laundry room. Apparently, they hated the smell of the cinnamon, and couldn’t exit the pantry fast enough! Kind of a miraculous, tho inadvertent discovery. Seems to follow that keeping a little cinnamon oil on a cotton ball or even fresh cinnamon sticks would have the same result. And the bonus is that it smells great!

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48 Isabelle August 4, 2013 at 7:18 am

I keep as much as possible in canisters ,recycled jars or sealed containers and try to store as much as possible in the fridge ( rice and grains). I’ve discovered that those little rascals also love chocolate and that every tiny speck of chocolate is a potential feast for them. So I make sure I go throughout my pantry at least once a month, wiping everything with vinegar(I put lemon rind in my vinegar so it doesn’t smell so bad).I have bay leaves in my garden but I think the smell disturbs me more than them…It doesn’t work for me either unfortunately.
And my vacuum is also my best friend against meal moths and fruit flies. But I definitely need to try the trick with vinegar and dish washing soap…Cinnamon sounds tempting too.
Thanks for the tricks!

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49 Brigitte August 4, 2013 at 9:06 am

We had them for quite a while. What finally worked was traps that I believe my husband bought from the Vermont country store catalog. It got rid of them and they have not returned. I cleaned well when I had them but generally am kind of lackadaisical about cleaning. They have been gone for a few years now.

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50 Caroline August 5, 2013 at 10:20 am

I tried bay leaves and it didn’t work. But then I put a few drops of bay leaf essential oil on a few cotton pads in my cabinets, on the shelves and the countertop… for the next couple of days, there were still many moth, but after that I never saw one again. It’s doesn’t smell very good but it’s the smell of victory against those bugs, do I don’t mind that much. :-)
Just remember to add a few more drops every now and then.
Hope it works!

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51 Sarah August 6, 2013 at 5:26 am

Flowers that drive away fruit flies: Lemon balm, Catnip and Marigolds

Plants that drive away moths: lavender with southernwood, wormwood and rosemary in an anti-moth sachet

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53 trish November 6, 2013 at 5:10 am

I have battled the pantry pests for years. I put everything in the freezer, left bags in my hot car trunk, sealed grains in plastic bags or storage containers, anything to kill those pesky grain weevil eggs that are omnipresent.
A few years ago, I read somewhere, not sure where, that to leave a cotton ball soaked with lemon balm oil in the corner of each shelf, or drawer will keep these pest away. Well SO FAR SO GOOD.

I even stored a container of bird seed in the back of my closet and forgot about it for over a year. When I finally retrieved it, it was crawling with thousands of grain weevils, but not a single one got outside the container. Good container, or repellent? I don’t know but I am pleased.

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