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Here's how to get rid of fruit flies once and for all.

Jennifer Kushnier
July 26, 2018

If you like to set out a bowl of fruit for grab-and-go snacks, you’ve probably experienced fruit flies. It starts as one fly, or maybe two, but before you know it, there’s a cloud that erupts whenever you touch that bowl.

While not harmful, per se, fruit flies are kind of gross. But it doesn’t mean your kitchen is dirty or that your fruit is rotting (although it is on its way). At work is the insects’ excellent sense of smell—once you set that fruit out, they want in. Their tiny size enables them to slip through an average window screen or miniscule crevices around doors. Their eggs can even hitch a ride on fruit you bring in from the store, farmers’ market, or garden.

I’ve spent a lot of time trying to tame the swarm, and I’ve found a few techniques that work pretty well.

Get rid of the offenders.

Obviously, use up any fruit that’s been sitting out. If it’s past the phase where you’d want to eat it or is otherwise damaged, toss it by bagging it and taking it out to the trash; don’t simply put it in your kitchen’s garbage can. Alternatively, seal up food scraps in a zip-top plastic bag and freeze until garbage day. Better yet, keep all fruits and vegetables refrigerated, and, in the warmest months, wash produce as soon as you bring it into the house. (Any hitchhiking eggs will hatch in about a week if you skip this step.)

I’ve also tried a trick from the Farmer’s Almanac that suggests keeping a potted basil plant nearby or setting a few leaves of basil in the bottom of the fruit bowl. I give the leaves a few slaps to bruise them and release their oils (and scent), which the flies dislike. While it doesn’t solve the problem, basil does seem to deter fruit flies from setting up camp.

Clean as if your mother is coming over.

Take care of all potential fruit-fly breeding spots—places where anything sweet and/or moist might linger. Toss old sponges or replace used dishcloths. Clean drains as you normally would (including in the shower and bathroom sink), but finish by pouring boiling water down the drain; dry the sink and drain when you’re done.

Rinse out and clean any containers where you keep compost scraps or recyclables. While you’re at it, be sure anything that goes into the recycling bin has been thoroughly rinsed. Give your garbage can (and disposal) a good cleaning, too.

Take out the trash and run the dishwasher with more frequency. If you’re the type who doesn’t run the dishwasher until it’s completely full—even if it takes a few days—then switch over to hand washing until the little buggers are gone.

Catch more flies with vinegar than honey.

While the previous suggestions will help curb the invasion, they’re not enough to end it. Those pests are still flying around the kitchen, after all. The most famous and reliable method to capture (and kill) fruit flies involves a vinegar trap.

The idea behind the trap is simple: lure the flies in without an exit strategy, and they’ll eventually die. The setup is as basic as it sounds—a glass or jar with a couple tablespoons of apple cider vinegar in it, covered in plastic wrap (or a lid) with holes poked in, set near the most problematic places.

There are a few nuances to this straightforward trap that yield varying levels of success:

  • Unfiltered apple cider vinegar works better than filtered.
  • A drop of dish detergent helps break the surface tension, so the flies drown rather than sit on top of the vinegar.
  • Hitting this mixture with a vigorous jet of hot water from the tap creates a sudsy head that sends the alluring scent of vinegar into the air; the bubbles may help to trap the flies.
  • A small piece of fruit added as bait also breaks the surface tension.

What’s worked best for me is a combination. I add a drop of dish soap to the vinegar, pop it in the microwave to warm up, add a piece of fruit, and cover it with the holey plastic wrap. Usually, in just the time it takes for me to run out and check for the mail, this setup has already captured a couple fruit flies.

Make (or buy) a trap.

Instead of the plastic wrap (or a sandwich baggie), you can also set a small funnel on top of the glass—though I find that I need to seal the joint between the funnel and the glass with either tape or plastic wrap. You can also create your own funnel by rolling up a piece of scrap paper, taping it so it won’t unroll, and sticking the smaller end into the jar, just above the level of the vinegar. (A cone-shaped coffee filter with a few holes poked in would work as well.)

If you’re without vinegar or dislike the smell, you can instead leave out a just-about-empty bottle of wine or beer. Similar to the funnel technique, the fruit flies can sniff their way into the bottle, but they can’t fly their way out. Empty the trap whenever you’ve reached your tolerable limit of fruit fly carcasses.

There’s also a little non-toxic remedy called Aunt Fannie’s Flypunch! Fruit Fly Trap, which claims to be safe near food and pets. I haven’t tried it, since my old vinegar-and-fruit trap works so well, but I’m all for keeping poison out of the kitchen.

And if killing fruit flies isn’t your thing, skip the vinegar and the dish soap. Simply cover a bowl and a few pieces of fruit (or compost scraps) with the holey plastic wrap. When enough flies are trapped, transport the bowl outside, where you can set the flies free. Just be aware, that unless you’ve removed all the things they love inside your home, they will likely be back. (As an alternative, consider keeping a carnivorous plant on your windowsill and let it take care of the problem.)

A fruit fly invasion might seem like a never-ending battle, but have heart. With a little bit of knowledge and a good dose of patience, you can out-science this pesky problem and get on with your life. Once the traps start to do their job, it won’t be long before your kitchen is fruit-fly free.