Ugh floaty kitchen bugs... how to get rid of them?
January 12, 2021 9:12 AM   Subscribe

For the last few months, we have had an infestation of what I assumed were fruit flies. These little guys have been around for a few months now, and I'm sick of it. But I also don't have any idea what i am doing *wrong* to get rid of them... maybe you can help.

This colony of little bugs that seem like fruit flies showed up, probably in September. There were a lot of them that would tend to be focused in a corner of our (for NY) large kitchen, but at first they were all over, and would land on the wall (little black dots).

The corner area is recessed, below a cabinet and over a counter. For a while, they were noticeable throughout the kitchen, but now they tend to come out in the afternoon / evening, and sort of just in that area. We swipe at them, kill them, wipe everything down... repeat tomorrow.

At first, we thought they appeared b/c we had a compost bucket in the kitchen, but we removed that. Then we removed everything - like bread, fruit, tea, etc. - and cleaned furiously. This has significantly reduced their numbers. But still that little gang is around, in that area.

A couple other factoids for you bug detectives:
- they never responded to the bowl of vinegar.
- they don't float around any fruit or other food we have sitting out.
- if we leave the kitchen messy - dishes - we might see them as we begin washing. But we never see them originate there.
- Its January in the Northeast. So its cold, they are not coming in from outside.
- Our kitchen is old, so could they just (disgustingly) be living in some old ass grout or wood... nothing is rotted or anything.

Would love any suggestions, thoughts, opinions on what kind of bugs we are facing, and am open to cleaning, poisoning, any old trick you have up your sleeve to avoid the pre-dinner swatting routine.
posted by RajahKing to Home & Garden (24 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
If you haven't treated your drains, try that to start. Fruit flies often colonize sink drain crud.
posted by restless_nomad at 9:19 AM on January 12, 2021 [10 favorites]

our fruit flies went away when I cleaned the drains...
posted by fingersandtoes at 9:19 AM on January 12, 2021

We had a problem like this last year. Clean everything of course, and we had success with traps from Home Depot, they look like little tomatoes and come with a liquid to attract the flies.
We were told they could be living in drains. It took some time but the little traps took care of them and they have not come back this year.
posted by mermayd at 9:20 AM on January 12, 2021

They could be fruit flies from a source you can't identify, but often when it's this persistent they might *actually* be fungus gnats, and their number one territory is potting soil. Do you have houseplants or a stash of potting soil type material somewhere in the apartment?

They also like slow-decompose items like a bag of potatoes or onions that have disappeared way back in a cabinet. You should do a deep sweep with a bright flashlight into all cabinets and the toe kicks in the kitchen. While you're there, do look for damp or swollen wood that suggests a slow leak.

The drains, as other commenters have just said, are also a potential culprit - either fruit flies or fungus gnats. If the drains in your bathroom sinks and bathing compartments are compatible, you'll want to brace yourself and clean them out with a zip-it, then put boiling water down them to soften and hopefully move along old gunk, and then treat with one of the common home remedies - vinegar/baking soda, hydrogen peroxide, bleach water, etc.
posted by Lyn Never at 9:23 AM on January 12, 2021 [11 favorites]

Do you have plants? They could be fungus gnats rather than fruit flies. You can catch them with yellow sticky paper and eventually interrupt the chain, especially if the soil they are living in can dry out.
posted by xo at 9:27 AM on January 12, 2021 [4 favorites]

Additionally, they make indoor bug zappers, including ones that have a fan that is better for sucking in very small bugs (though I notice the ratings on them aren't great). I have one that looks more like an outdoor zapper, hung by the back door where the dogs come and go all the time, and it definitely has mosquitoes and gnat-sized bugs in it and we pretty much never have fruit fly problems, even when that bag of onions went walkabout in the back of a cupboard around Christmas.

I make a point of turning off all the lights in the vicinity of the zapper at night so the bugs have a clear bright line of sight to the GLOW, and this works surprisingly well on our really not-smart houseflies and the occasional tenacious mosquitoes.
posted by Lyn Never at 9:29 AM on January 12, 2021

Best answer: There's at least three common kinds of little flies like this:

1) "Sink flies". These are slightly larger than the others, appear near drains, and are pretty stupid. They will generally let you just wipe them up with a paper towel or something. Clean out the drains and they go away.

2) Fruit flies. These will be attracted to vinegar traps, so sounds like you don't have them.

3) Fungus gnats. Live in soil, compost, worm farms, any really old food sitting around. They have a two-week life cycle, so whatever you do needs to happen for longer than that to clear them out totally. Sticky traps work ok. They hate peppermint, spray some oil anywhere you don't want them to go.
posted by Jobst at 9:32 AM on January 12, 2021 [2 favorites]

If they're slow (which 'floaty' seems to imply) you can most likely catch them quite effectively with a vacuum cleaner.
posted by Too-Ticky at 9:33 AM on January 12, 2021 [1 favorite]

I haven't seen anyone mention pet food. I get what I think of as "fruit flies" every summer when it warms up and they are always all over the damn cat food. If there is pet food around this might be part of what's keeping them going.
posted by Medieval Maven at 9:41 AM on January 12, 2021

If you've got a hand-sanitizer pump, I found it was the ultimate wee floaty fly feeder. Any oxidized alcohol + aloe gel seems to be the ultimate fly noms.
posted by scruss at 10:35 AM on January 12, 2021

Best answer: I'm pretty sure the answer is fungus gnats. I have nearly got rid of mine through a combination of:

1. tilling a generous helping of diatomaceous earth into the top inch of soil of my potted plants (when the soil is quite dry)

2. watering with a 1:4 combination of hydrogen peroxide to water as needed, and

3. cutting back on watering generally since fungus gnats feed off rotten plant stuff (e.g. sodden roots)
posted by cranberrymonger at 10:41 AM on January 12, 2021 [1 favorite]

I have read online that fungus gnats are attracted to light and CO2, which is why they are often in our face when we're reading and mouth-breathing (in my case) all over our phones :)
posted by cranberrymonger at 10:43 AM on January 12, 2021

If you do have plants and want to get rid of them permanently you'll have to stop using peat moss based potting mixes. That stuff always has and attracts gnats. ALWAYS. Coir is a decent replacement.
posted by srboisvert at 10:57 AM on January 12, 2021 [1 favorite]

I have those purple light bug zappers if they do show up.
posted by kschang at 11:14 AM on January 12, 2021

I've been dealing with a similar infestation of these (deeply stupid) insects as well. I think they're fungus gnats as they seem to congregate around my houseplants.

My solution so far has been a spray bottle of neem oil applied to the plants themselves (which doesn't harm them but fucks up the gnats & their larvae) and sticky yellow traps in various places. The traps have caught a ton of them and between that and the oil I'm seeing vastly decreased numbers, though they're making a bit of a comeback and I'm probably going to give the drains a good clean as well just in case.
posted by fight or flight at 4:29 PM on January 12, 2021

Also possibly useful against potting-soil gnats - subirrigated planters, with mesh blocking the watering tube. The surface can stay dry even for plants that like a lot of water.

Our house gains a kitchen-door spider in the summer fruit-fly season, and we’re grateful every year, but as we don’t do anything to bring her, I don’t have any action to recommend.
posted by clew at 5:07 PM on January 12, 2021

posted by dancing leaves at 5:52 PM on January 12, 2021

You mentioned a "bowl of vinegar" but I've found that actual fruit flies need a very specific kind of trap.

Put vinegar in a bowl - I use apple cider vinegar - and add a drop or two of dishwashing soap. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap, then poke holes in the plastic wrap with a knife.

The flies smell the vinegar and enter through the holes in the plastic wrap. Sometimes they just hang out on the sides of the bowl or on the underside of the plastic wrap, but most of them can't figure out how to get back out through the holes.

When they actually fly down and touch the liquid to drink it, the dishwashing soap causes the water tension to be weaker, and this makes them "fall" into the vinegar and drown.

The few times I've done this I've seen 10-20 little flies in my kitchen, but after a couple of days the vinegar will have 100 or more dead flies in it. It attracts them from all over.

If that's what you've already tried, I apologize for wasting your time, but a plain bowl of vinegar has never worked for me.
posted by tacodave at 6:45 PM on January 12, 2021 [1 favorite]

Bug tax?

By which I mean, I'd love to see a photo of them.
posted by amtho at 10:03 PM on January 12, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Any little flies of this type, I like to either vacuum them up or spritz them with an alcohol solution. Something like isopropyl alcohol 70% will kill the little buggers if you put it in a spray bottle and mist the area where they have landed.

Both of these methods will work better than fly swatters or (in my experience) things like vinegar traps.

This doesn't replace eliminating the source. But once you have a handle on that, going to the little area(s) where they congregate and killing all specimens you find there, say a couple of times every day, will cause their population to plummet rapidly.
posted by flug at 10:56 PM on January 12, 2021

Have a garbage disposal? Don't forget to clean under the rubber splash guard. That fixed a fly infestation once for me. (And yuck! Now I clean it regularly, flies or no.)
posted by commander_fancypants at 11:44 PM on January 12, 2021

I've had/have this. For some reason I get a whole batch of them laying dormant from cold at the bottom of my fridge and if I don't vacuum them up right away they reanimate and take over the kitchen. I haven't solved the mystery of the fridge (it happens whether or not there is any food in there) but what's worked for me is to religiously vacuum every one I see in the fridge or flying around and pouring a little bleach down the drain. You have to get them right away to interrupt their breeding cycle which must be super short. I had a small outbreak a couple weeks ago and so far nothing this week.
posted by onebyone at 5:00 AM on January 13, 2021

Pardon me, I'm back with a 3rd comment in this thread, only because I'm obsessed with these little bugs in my own house and quarantine boredom is making me focus closely on them.

A lot of commenters talk about attracting/collecting/killing the adults -- but the adults only live 1-2 days. From what I have read about fungus gnats, an effective attack needs to target the eggs.

After reading this thread yesterday I went through all my plants again last night, turning up the soil with a fork and doing my diatomaceous earth or hydrogen peroxide routine as applicable.

I decided one plant needed more soil so I opened my bag, only to release 5-6 gnats into the air! They have been living in my extra soil bag!!! Apparently the eggs can't be killed by freezing, according to an article I read about their survival in the Alaskan wilderness, so I am going to ditch that soil, sadly. Anyway that's another place for you to check/treat.
posted by cranberrymonger at 9:37 AM on January 13, 2021 [3 favorites]

If it is, in fact, fungus gnats in soil the only thing that’s worked for me is mosquito bits. I’ve had best luck soaking them in water and then using that water to water my plants. You need to do it for a few weeks to get rid of the larvae in the soil.
posted by Bunglegirl at 7:53 PM on January 13, 2021

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