Fruit flies (from the family Drosophilidae) are a widely-known and widely-hated pest. As their name suggests, fruit flies eat fruit. This can be inconvenient if it happens in your home, or it can be catastrophic if it happens to a large-scale crop.
Though these buzzing pests have proven incredibly useful for things like studying genetics, and even knowing which beer tastes the best, they are not something you want in your kitchen.
We all know the tell-tale signs. You’ve once again bought some fresh produce with the full intention of eating it all, but perhaps a piece or two has gone forgotten. Once the flies catch wind of the smell, it’s all over. Soon you have a whole swarm of fruit flies buzzing around your kitchen, and you have no idea how to get rid of them!
We are here to help. When it comes to dealing with fruit flies, we recommend a multistep approach. This article will walk you through everything you need to do to confirm you have fruit flies, get rid of them, and keep them from coming back.
Are you dealing with fruit flies?
The best indicator of whether you have fruit flies is whether you have a lot of flies in your kitchen attracted to your decaying produce (obvious). But not all kitchen flies are created equal. If you have seen flies in your kitchen, they may not be fruit flies at all. Fruit flies can be identified by a few key features:
- Size: Fruit flies are very small – only about an eighth of an inch long. If the fly you see is large enough to buzz audibly around you and be visible from more than a few feet away, it’s more likely a house fly or a blow fly.
- Color: Fruit fly bodies are tan to brownish yellow and brownish black. While that’s not too distinctive, what is distinctive is their eyes. Fruit fly eyes are usually large and bright red.
- Antennae: Fruit flies have antennae that are somewhat feathered, almost like antlers, whereas many other flies have antennae that resemble single hairs. It’s hard to get close enough to a fly to see its antennae, but it’s still worth being aware of them.
Fruit flies vs Drain flies
Drain flies (family Psychodidae) are another pest that can sometimes be confused with fruit flies. This is because both spend a lot of time hiding and laying eggs in the drain. However, it’s very easy to tell the difference between drain flies and fruit flies if you know what you’re looking for.
Drain flies look like tiny black moths. They have fluffy dark wings that are round and held flat on top of the body, and their antennae are fluffy and feathery like moth antennae. In fact, another name for drain flies is moth flies. Here’s a picture of a drain fly –
Where do fruit flies come from?
While it can seem like fruit flies just emerge out of nowhere (and for many years scientists actually believed they did!), the truth is that they just don’t need a lot of resources to grow and reproduce. All a fruit fly really needs is a moist area with something moist and rotting.
Fruit flies usually end up your home by flying in through open doors or windows, or the gaps around them. You may attract more fruit flies than normal if you have a garden or compost pile on your property as well, since they’ll already be buzzing around trying to eat your compost.
Sometimes groceries may even already be infected with fruit flies when you buy them, though thanks to good sanitation practices in grocery stores this doesn’t happen nearly as often.
Fruit flies lay their eggs on surfaces like this so the maggots hatch with plenty of food. Since they can lay eggs up to 500 at a time, it only takes one generation before it seems like your entire kitchen is swarmed with the pests.
How to Get Rid of Fruit Flies
Fruit flies can be difficult to get rid of and keep away because they breed so quickly. We recommend a multistep approach for getting rid of fruit flies, because it’s better to do it once the right way than to have to constantly rid yourself of new pests.
Step 1: Throw Out and Wash Produce
Obviously the very first step is get rid of anything rotten in your home that could contain more fly eggs. Do not just throw it in the trash can. Take out the trash and make sure it ends up far away from your kitchen.
You should also wash any produce that isn’t rotten as an extra precaution. Simply getting rid of the flies’ home can go a long way towards getting rid of them (though it is often not enough on its own to prevent them from coming back).
Step 2: Set Up Traps
You can set up traps in your home to trap and kill flies left behind after disposing of any rotten fruit. These can be either purchased traps or homemade traps.
This is the easiest option, since the trap is already done for you. Most commercial fruit fly traps will include something sweet to attract the flies and a container from which they cannot escape. Most are operated as easily as just opening the trap and putting it out on the counter.
- Fast-acting trap eliminates fruit fly infestations
- Ready-to-use, non-staining lure attracts adult fruit flies
- Built-in window allows for easy monitoring of lure levels
There are also some general trapping methods for insects that will also work for fruit flies, whereas commercial fruit fly traps may not always work for other insects. Types of generic insect trap include sticky traps, which use a material covered in adhesive such as flypaper to trap flying insects, and UV insect traps that use UV light to attract the insect before trapping it with a sticky surface. The Katchy is a great example of a UV insect trap you can use in your kitchen for fruit flies.
- KATCH RELIEF: with 3X TRAP POWER the UV light attracts the fruit fly, gnat, or mosquito, the fan sucks it in, and the...
- BEAUTIFUL DESIGN: Easily place in your home kitchen, office, or outdoors as a decorative, stylish piece. No more ugly...
- TRAP INDOORS: Set close to insect-ridden fruit, plants or trash bin. Turn off lights for best results.
Homemade Fruit Fly Traps
It’s not difficult to make your own fruit fly trap, and it can be a little cheaper and more satisfying than buying a commercial trap.The best way to make your very own fruit fly trap is to use a small jar like a mason jar and put about a cup of apple cider vinegar into it. Then add a few drops of dish soap. That is all there is to it! You can also add a funnel to the top of the jar which makes it easy for flies to enter, but very difficult to leave before touching the liquid.
You can leave the jar out and watch them literally drop like flies! The reason these traps work is because the flies love the smell of the vinegar, but the dish soap changes the surface tension so that when flies try to land on it, they fall to the bottom of the jar and drown. Once your trap starts looking gross and fly-filled, all you need to do is empty it and make another trap.
Step 3: Kill the flies in your drain
Fruit flies do not breed in drains the same way that drain flies do, but they do like drains nonetheless. Not only do they make great places to hide, but decaying food frequently ends up in the pipes and flies just love a nice, rotten snack. So killing the flies in your drain is another step you ought to take in addition to trapping if you really want to keep the flies away for good.
To kill the flies in your drain, there are commercial solutions designed to kill flies and eggs. One such solution is something you pour down the drain just like Draino.
Just pour it right down the sink, following the directions on the packaging. Green Gobbler is one example of a gel-based drain cleaner for fruit flies. It’s created from natural citronella oil, so it won’t hurt you or your pipes, but it will kill the flies hiding there. It will kill any other insects that happen to be hiding down there too, so if you’ve got drain flies as well, this is an especially great option.
- KILL FRUIT & DRAIN FLIES: Fruit Fly Killer is a convenient formula that kills the fruit flies, drain flies, and sewer...
- SAFE FOR PIPES & SEPTIC SYSTEMS: Fruit Fly Killer is a non-caustic, non-corrosive formula that kills pesky flies on...
- CITRONELLA-BASED GEL: This thick gel product is made from a natural fly killing ingredient (Citronella) that will cling...
Step 4: Ongoing Prevention
Killing fruit flies is one thing but keeping them away is quite another. It’s important to take steps to protect your home and your produce from further attack by fruit flies.
Once you already have a problem, you’re more vulnerable to attracting more flies. Here are some of the things you can do to prevent fruit flies from returning:
- Thoroughly wash all fruit after purchasing: With the volume of fruit that goes through produce processing plants, there are bound to be fruit fly eggs around. Washing your produce before you eat can make sure these eggs don’t hatch into a swarm of flies.
- Slow the ripening of fruits and vegetables: You can do this by storing them in the fridge for cold fruits. You also need to be careful with bananas. Bananas release a lot of ethylene gas when they ripen, which causes other fruits to ripen and rot even faster. The best way to ripen bananas is to hang them up and keep them well away from your other fruit.
- Keep your kitchen as clean as possible: Fruit flies can invade even the cleanest of kitchens, but mess can also attract more flies. Empty garbage cans frequently and always do so after throwing away a lot of organic matter (for example, after cutting a melon). You should also keep your sink as clean as possible. While fruit flies do not breed in the drain like drain flies, decaying food in the pipes can attract them, so keep your sink free of any delicious sugar they might want to eat.
Other Fruit Fly tips
- Limit your produce: It can be difficult to estimate the amount of produce you need, but err on the side of caution for fruit, especially if you regularly deal with fruit flies. The best way to prevent fruit from rotting is to just eat it quickly, which is much more difficult if you buy too much. This is especially true for quickly rotting fruits like bananas or tomatoes.
- Check for the freshest fruit at the grocery store: It’s too easy to just pick up one of the big bags of oranges and not realize one of them is rotten. Always look at every produce item you buy, especially if it comes in a larger package.
- Act fast: Fruit flies are a bit of a slippery slope. It’s easy to ignore the first few but that one fly you saw and didn’t think about might have just laid 500 eggs in one of your bananas. Do not wait. Treat for fruit flies as if it were a bigger infestation even if you’ve only seen a few flies.
Fruit Fly FAQs
Fruit flies come from having rotten food around. Fruit flies are nondiscriminatory. Even if your kitchen is otherwise clean, if you have overripe fruit laying around, the flies will come!
Yes and no. Fruit flies themselves do not bite or sting, and there is a very good chance you’ve accidentally eaten one and didn’t even notice! However, fruit flies can carry foodborne pathogens and transmit them to your food, so getting rid of them is definitely a hygienic concern.
If it’s at all rotten or even soft, yes. Otherwise, wash it well after you have safely disposed of anything rotten or overripe.
Yes. They live all over the world except for Antarctica or in the ocean (though they may struggle to survive in extreme desert and mountain climates). Regardless of where you live, you are likely to encounter these pests at some point in your life.
Yes. Fruit flies are year-round pests. That said, they are more common in the summer and fall because like all insects, they are cold blooded and rely upon environmental heat to get the energy for their activities.