I had never heard of them before, though I must say I noticed a few last year, but didn’t know what they were or why they suddenly found my cupboard such a cosy place to hang out.

They are small moths, browny-beige coloured, measuring about half an inch long. They are sometimes called Indian Meal Moths (Plodia interpunctella), and you might have been unlucky enough to have found them flitting around the inside of your kitchen cupboards. They are attracted to any unsealed dry foods – flour, biscuits, pasta, breakfast cereals, nuts, pet foods, even potpourri mixtures - but don’t automatically assume the infestation is due to your bad housekeeping - sometimes they are already in your flour or grains, as it’s possible the moths laid those eggs at a food-packaging facility or in bulk bins somewhere. This would explain why they might be inside a bag of flour or grains before you even got round to opening it. Nothing is creepier than pouring cereal out and it is moving with their nasty little worms! They also like to spin their nest-like webs underneath your pantry shelves, in the corners, below the shelves, where you can’t see them.

Now for the good news – they don’t cause disease, even if you accidentally cook and eat a few larvae (gross), and they won’t escape to eat their way through your clothes. The bad news is they can be really difficult to eradicate, especially if they’ve completed their life cycle and dispersed throughout your pantry. The reason they are so hard to get rid of is because one female moth will lay as many as 400 eggs at one time, and once they have hatched, the larvae stealthily feed and grow (in your flour bag maybe) for several weeks before spinning a cocoon (pupa) and emerging as an adult moth. That moth’s life cycle could be as little as one month or 10 months, depending on the temperature, food source, etc.

Next step – how to get rid of them. They are tenacious little devils, so you will have to be really diligent. Take everything out of the cupboard and throw away the contaminated products - don’t just throw them in the rubbish bin in the corner of your kitchen but remove them entirely from the house straight to the bins down the road! Vacuum – the eggs are tiny, so easy to miss. There are plenty of suggestions to try to eliminate them, from cleaning and scrubbing all surfaces with hot soapy water, adding peppermint oil to the wash, then a 50:50 solution of white vinegar and water, or using a weak bleach solution. Then, as a deterrent, you can leave bay leaves, lemon peel, sprinkled cinnamon, black pepper, peppermint or coriander on your shelves after cleaning. Others swear by Boric Acid and Diatomaceous Earth powder to effectively get into those nooks and crannies where they lay their eggs. The powder is useful as you can sprinkle it, and it will stay put, and not make its way into your food. Diatomaceous Earth is safe if accidentally ingested, but don’t mix it with your foods – it should be scattered around on the shelves themselves. There are even commercially available sprays you can try.

Yes, I hear you groaning, a nightmare - and you will also need to remove and replace any torn or peeling shelf liners as well, and clean thoroughly all corners, cracks or holes in shelves, handles, door hinges – even the underside of shelves.

Before you put anything back, check the edges of cans and storage boxes and even non-food items you might be storing in the same place. The larvae can even chew through plastic ziplock bags, so check for little holes where they might have gained entry. They will get between the weaves of a wicker basket (which they will eat too), and between the folds of paper bags food might be stored in. Now is the time to invest in some plastic, glass or metal containers for everything!

They are the moths from hell, and devils to get rid of. It may sound like a lot of work, but will be well worth the effort.


Marilyn writes regularly for The Portugal News, and has lived in the Algarve for some years. A dog-lover, she has lived in Ireland, UK, Bermuda and the Isle of Man. 

Marilyn Sheridan