Do Essential Oils Get Rid of Pantry Moths?


I’ve been delaying the problem of dealing with the pesky moth in my pantry, but could not stand it anymore. The moths crawled to the fresh fruits on the dining table. Then I see moths atop the cotton shirt of my son in the laundry stack. Last week, they were only in the rice carton, now they’re everywhere.

Essential Oils stimulate the sense of smell of a pantry moth and cause repelling behavior once the scent is present.  Moths avoid this plant extracted oil because they do not like the scent. They keep a distance from shelves and containers where they smell the essential oil. 

Getting rid of pantry moths without using toxic and chemical solutions is possible when you use essential oils. The plant-based extraction has two opposite effects. The bugs hate the smell, while humans enjoy the scent with its relaxing component.

Essential Oils that Get Rid of Pantry Moths 

Essential Oils are compounds extracted from plants with oils that capture the scent and flavor of the plant. This is the essence that gets the unique aromatic scent that gives it its character. 

Plants are distilled through steam or water by cold press or mechanical methods. The extracted liquid or aromatic chemicals combined with a carrier oil that is ready for use.  

Essential Oils Benefits to Humans and Repels Pantry Moths

Pantry moths with their keen sense of smell, cannot stand the scent of essential oils. They will avoid it like a burning fire. Maybe it’s too strong for them but, it’s been an effective way to ward them all off. 

While insects hate the smell of essential oils, humans on the other hand have multiple benefits in inhaling this aromatic substance. It brings health benefits alongside the essential oils used at home as a natural insecticide.

The list below is DIY insect repellants, that when used as a spray or diffused in the air, acts as a deterrent for insects to approach.

  • Lavender Essential Oil distilled from the Lavandula Angustifolia plant is anti-inflammatory, anti-fungal, antiseptic, and antimicrobial. 
  • Mint/ Peppermint distilled from the Mentha x Piperita plant is an antibacterial, mild antimicrobial, anti-fungal, and anesthetic.   
  • Cedarwood is distilled from the Cedrus Atlantica plant and is an antifungal, anti-inflammatory, and anti-allergy.
  • Cloves distilled from Syzygium Aromaticum herb are anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, anti-parasitic, and a powerful germicide.
  • Thyme distilled from the Thymus Vulgaris herb is anti-allergy, antiseptic, and anti-parasitic.
  • Rosemary distilled from the Rosmarinus Officinalis herb is antimicrobial, and anti-allergy.
  • Eucalyptus is distilled from the Eucalyptus Globulus tree and is antibacterial, antiviral, anti-fungal, anti-allergy, and anti-asthma.

Essential Oil Insecticide Recipes

When you mix essential oils with water, you create an organic and chemical-free insecticide.

But when you add a dose of vinegar, you turn the insecticide into an antibacterial solution as well. Remember to shake the bottle before using the spray for the liquid to mix well with the essential oil.

Bug off Spray

  • 12 drops Eucalyptus essential oil
  • 3 drops Peppermint essential oil
  • 8 drops Lavender essential oil
  • 1/2 cup Vinegar
  • 1/2 cup Water
  •  8 oz Spray Bottle

Directions:

  1. Mix the Eucalyptus, Peppermint, and Lavender Essential Oils in the cleaned spray bottle and leave for 8 hours.
  2. Add the vinegar and water into the bottle.
  3. Shake well each time before use.
  4. Spray on the shelves and container of dry goods. 

Pantry Moth Spray

  • 12 Eucalyptus Essential Oil
  • 8 Cedarwood Essential Oil
  • 5 Peppermint Essential Oil
  • ½ cup White vinegar
  • ½ cup Water
  • Spray bottle

Directions:

  1. Mix the Eucalyptus, Cedarwood, and Peppermint Essential Oils in the cleaned spray bottle and leave for 8 hours.
  2. Add the vinegar and water into the bottle.
  3. Shake well each time before use.
  4. Spray on the shelves and the containers of dry goods. 

Pantry Moth Repellent

  • 25 drops of Peppermint oil
  • 1/2 cup of water
  • 1/2 cup white vinegar
  • Spray bottle
  • Sponge

Directions:

  1. Mix the Eucalyptus, Cedarwood, and Peppermint Essential Oils in the cleaned spray bottle and leave for 8 hours.
  2. Add the vinegar and water into the bottle.
  3. Shake well each time before use.
  4. Spray on the shelves and dry goods and wipe the shelf with a clean sponge.

How to Use Essential Oils to Repel Pantry Moths

Essential oils have useful properties not only for our health but also for repelling insects at home. There are many ways to use essential oils to get rid of the pesky pantry moths from coming into the home. 

  1. Mix a mist or spray insect solution of essential oil (Eucalyptus, Cedarwood, or Rosemary) with equal parts of water and vinegar and place this in a water bottle sprayer. This serves as a chemical-free insecticide spray is used to spray on the shelves in the pantry, on the dining table where the moths gather around the fresh fruits, or even on a stack of newly bought grocery dry food waiting to transfer to an airtight container
  2. Diffuse the aromatic essential (Peppermint or Lavender) oil by using an ultrasonic diffuser allowing a delicate mist of essential oil and water droplets into the air. Another way to diffuse is heating essential oil and water placed in a small container atop a tea candle to release the oil’s scent. You can diffuse the essential oil in your kitchen area, preferably near the pantry door, to protect from visiting moths that came from outside the house.
  3. Add a few drops of essential oils (Rosemary or Thyme) to a porous terracotta case or cedar wood block. The clay or wood has a porous material and releases the scent slowly. You can leave it near the shelf in your dry food area. This keeps the moths away from the scent because they can smell its solution.
  4. Using a cotton ball dipped with essential oil (Peppermint or Eucalyptus) and tucked in the corners of the shelf or in between the container of dry food to ward off any pantry moth from crawling over the lid.
  5. The Essential Oil Wiping Solution is the simplest natural homemade wipes. Using a cloth rag, soaked it in a mixture of water, essential oils (Cedarwood or Clove), and very little white vinegar. Use this solution to wipe clean the shelves and the outside of containers to keep the moths from crawling on top.

Getting Rid Of Pantry Moths With Essential Oils

Even if the eggs or larvae of a pantry moth has been in our dry goods for weeks, that we are helpless to get rid of it?

Doing the simple steps will lessen and eventually scare off any outside moth that wants to sneak into your house, while you control what goes on from the inside of the house.

  1. Remove and clear out everything on the shelf. Wipe clean with the essential oil (Cedarwood or Clove) wiping solution of water, essential oil (Eucalyptus or Cedarwood), and very little vinegar. 
  2. Throw out items that have moths or visible eggs in the packaging. It must go straight into a trash bag and sealed or tied up immediately. Discard it on a trash can with a lid.
  3. Transfer dry goods to airtight and hard-cased packaging like hard plastic or glass. You can also use a freezer bag and in the freezer for the next seven days. 
  4. You either freeze the dry goods such as flour, cornstarch, beans, or pasta for the next seven days. For rice, oatmeal, or dried corn and spread the grains in a pan. Pop them in the oven at a temperature of 120°-140°F for two hours to kill any eggs or larvae. 
  5. Using a vacuum cleaner, clean all shelves, baseboard, ceiling corners, and door hinges of the pantry to take out any spilled flour or grain in the pantry shelf or floor. 
  6. Wipe the shelves with the Wiping solution made of water, vinegar, and Essential oil (Cedarwood or Clove).
  7. After freezing or heating, store dry food in airtight containers with hard casing on shelves. You can use essential oil (Rosemary or Thyme) in the terra cotta casing or wood cube. You can also use a cotton ball soaked with essential oil (Peppermint or Eucalyptus) and place it in between the containers.
  8. Spray the area with the bug spray of essential oil (Eucalyptus, Cedarwood, or Rosemary) at least every two days. For clothes, you use the Lavender Spray to repel cloth moths and still have a pleasant smell of new clothes.

How Pantry Moths Get Into The House

Pantry moths or Indian Meal Moths are the most troublesome pest in the house. They will attack almost everything they lay their feet on, whether it be crackers or cheese or fresh fruit or nuts. Even the cotton shirt is considered a natural fiber, therefore part of its menu choice.

The eggs stay dormant and unhatched until the conditions turn warm and ideal for them. They can hatch as early as the 30th day or wait until the 275th day to become larvae. 

Pantry moths lay eggs on exposed harvests of rice, corn, cereal, even pet food before the products are packed and ready for distribution in the groceries. But the eggs have already been deposited in the dry foods and biding their time.

  • Grocery items like cereal, rice, corn, and flour, have larvae eggs inside the packaging. When you delay transferring items into an airtight and hard-cased container, there will be a presence of moths in the pantry.  
  • Pantry moths are attracted to light and will climb in your house through the cracks in the windows and doors. They will hang out on the edges of windows and doors then slip in quietly to start looking for a place to lay their eggs or food to eat.
  • A broken screen from a window or door is an entry point for moths who are tiny and smart enough to get inside the opening. 

Why Pantry Moths Stay in the House

Knowing a little information about the pantry moth allows you to devise plans, on how you can get rid of them or prevent them from laying their eggs. 

Warm Temperatures vs. Cool and Dry Place

Pantry moths thrive on warm and humid temperatures of 77°F or higher. The females will lay their eggs, and in 30 days, the eggs can hatch in these conditions and start the larval and pupal cycle.

At a cold temperature like a freezer, the eggs will remain dormant and unhatched. But as soon as you take it out at room temperature, the eggs will awaken and hatch.

Poorly Sealed Containers vs. Sealed Containers

Containers that are left ajar or have the lid slightly opened is a sure invitation for pantry moths to get into the padded dry food to lay their eggs.

Next time you open the cover of an oatmeal plastic case, take the time to close it tightly. When you get a cup of rice from the rice box, make sure the lid is tightly shut. 

Carton Boxes or Plastic bags vs. Air-Tight Hard Cases

Pantry moths can bite through a carton box or a plastic bag and get themselves inside dry foods. As long as the container is soft, the moths can puncture a hole.

Even if it’s a sealed item, the moth will squeeze its way into the packaging. They lay their eggs and feed through the dry ingredients. 

How to Tell If There Is a Pantry Moth

Here are some tell-tale signs that there are moths present in your pantry. To avoid an infestation from happening, remember when you see one of them, that means there are more. 

  1. You’ll notice some flying insects or tiny brown crawlers on the shelf or even on the wall. Sometimes, you’ll see a caterpillar on a corner of the shelf where the dry goods are all stored together. This is a pantry moth moving around your storage area. 
  2. Take a closer look at the packaging of carton boxes if there are sticky secretions visible. These are the webbing of moths from the pupae’s cocoon. The thin hairlike strings appear on the sides of the carton or container.
  3. You might smell an unpleasant odor when you take a sniff from a container. It doesn’t smell like dry food but smells different.   
  4. You notice that the grains of rice or oatmeal have clumped together, even though there wasn’t any liquid that touched it.
  5. You see punctured holes in the carton packaging or a plastic bag of dry food. You would’ve noticed this from the grocery because it was on display in the rack, but sometimes the holes happened after you stored them in the pantry.

How To Prevent Pantry Moths at Home

The moment you go through an infestation experience, you’ll never want it to happen again. But this would mean continuous checking and extra effort in preventing pantry moths from hatching their eggs in your home.

  1. Buy what you need for dry food and avoid stocking up. While you may save time doing another grocery run, but if you have food sitting in your panty awhile, it’s the perfect setting for an infestation of pantry moths.
  2. Transfer dry goods to a freezer bag and freeze for 5-7 days to kill any eggs or larvae in the pasta, rice, or dried corn. Keep in mind, the larvae eggs will not hatch in cold temperatures. They either die or lay dormant until the food air-dries at room temperature. That is when they wake up and start the cycle.
  3. Heat dry food such as rice, oatmeal, beans, or corn at a temperature of 120°-140°F for two hours to kill the eggs and toast them. Many grains will have eggs or larvae hiding inside the grain. They will remain hidden until it’s time to hatch or the pupa is coming out of its cocoon as an adult moth.
  4. After you freeze or heat the dry food, set aside for a few minutes to come to room temperature. This avoids condensation or moisture build-up if you don’t air-dry properly. Only then can you transfer the dry food to an airtight and hard-cased container for storage.
  5. Moths like to eat the dry food of pets. It’s best to separate the cat or dog food by storing it in a hard-cased container in the basement or another room in the house.
  6. Moths are nocturnal insects and are attracted to the lights in the house. Turn off bright porch lights at night to discourage moths from getting near the source of light. You can replace the bulb with a bug lightbulb that lights up the area without attracting any bugs or insects.
  7. Do a check of the windows, doors, even baseboards in the walls. Seal any cracks in the windows or doors to take out the entry point of the moths.
  8. Make use of the natural and chemical-free mixtures of essential oils. You can use your bug spray of essential oil of water, vinegar, and cedarwood. Or dip your cloth in the wiping solution of essential oils of clove or cedarwood and mixed with water and vinegar. You can also diffuse the aromatic oils near the pantry door to keep the moths away.

What’s Next

I wrote a complete guide on pantry pests. Please check it here.

Photo credit: ©canva.com

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