How to Get Rid of Fruit Flies

fruit fly trap

Fruit flies are those really small flies or gnats you see in your kitchen. They will appear at any time during the year, but are most common in late summer or early fall, when fruits and vegetables are ripening. They can quickly create a fruit fly infestation. Avoid this hassle with our scientific yet simple methods on how to get rid of fruit flies.

Fruit flies are attracted to the things people enjoy, the fermenting or ripe fruit or veggies you bring in from a garden, houseplants, or the produce you buy at the grocery store. It seems that as soon as you bring it in, the fruit flies appear. They will lay eggs (as many as 500) you won’t see, and in the places you don’t look at, such as the potatoes in the back of the pantry.

Fruit flies are nuisances and can contaminate food. When you see them, you should remove them with our simple, DIY tips.

Simple Methods That Do Work

  • Fly swatters. If you see a few, swatting them is effective.
  • Household sprays. You likely already have a homemade fly spray to use in the house on bugs you might see. A good one uses neem oil, a pesticide that is naturally occurring (it is made of seeds from the neem tree). If you see a fruit fly, spray the area for no more than 3 seconds.
  • Check the sink drains and the garbage disposal. Just put a plastic bag over it at night. If there are fruit flies, you will see them on the plastic in the morning. Then pour boiling water down the sink drain or disposal, or a half-gallon of boiling water with a cup of vinegar in it.

Traps for Getting Rid of Fruit Flies

Photo Credit: cheeseslave / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

A simple, direct, natural way to get rid of fruit flies is to set out vinegar traps. A true DIY project. A fruit fly trap will work within a day or two, and can be done simply:

Open Fruit Fly Traps

  • Set a bowl by an area that is attracting fruit flies
  • Cover the bottom with apple cider vinegar, white vinegar, or red wine
  • Add a few drops of a dish soap.

An alternative: Put a banana peel in a sandwich bag and close it 80 percent to create a DIY fruit fly trap. Fruit flies are attracted to the fermenting banana peel, then many can’t make it back out through the opening. Then close the top and throw it out. Some people use a plastic container with small holes in the top.

Note: Banana is a better attractant than any other fruit, as shown in this this test (bait was set out for 1-2 hours in a room of fruit flies):

[infogram id=”e149ddde-1cba-4c1b-88ef-f2e1223b7984″ prefix=”zQr” format=”interactive” title=”Number of flies”]

Source: Entomological Society of America

Enclosed Fruit Fly Traps

  • Set out an empty jar.
  • Fill it with a bait: Apple cider vinegar, white vinegar, or red wine with a few drops of a dish soap; a few pieces of fruit (bananas are especially good); a mix of yeast (about two tablespoons is fine), warm water (⅓ cup), and sugar (a teaspoon) 
  • Cover the top: Plastic wrap with holes poked through it, secured to the jar with a rubber band; or a piece of paper rolled into a cone that ends with a hole on the bottom,  secured to the jar with tape. Both are DIY projects.

An alternative: Put a kitchen funnel in a tall wine glass that has a bit of wine and a few drops of dish soap to create a DIY fruit fly trap. Some people say that fruit flies prefer wine to fruit juice or any other liquid.

In addition, you can buy a trap from a retailer.

Source:, University of Kentucky

A Natural Repellent: Essential Oils

To deter fruit flies from swarming, certain essential oils act as a natural repellent, and can be used as a DIY project. These oils were found to be the most effective:

  • Peppermint oil was the most effective, repelling 95% of fruit flies for up to six days.
  • Geranium oil also repelled 95% of fruit flies, but its repellent effects declined over the course of a few days.
  • Citronella oil was effective in repelling both male and female fruit flies.
  • Thyme oil was the deadliest by far in killing the highest percentage of male flies that landed on it.

The remaining oils show less promise for effective fruit fly control:

  • Balsam fir oil
  • Eastern white cedar oil
  • Eucalyptus oils
  • Ginger oil
  • Lavender oil
  • Rosemary oil
  • White pine oil
  • White spruce oil

Chemical Solutions for Getting Rid of Fruit Flies

Pesticides are not recommended for use inside a home, no matter how many fruit flies you see. The natural methods are effective, but pose no risk of harm, so there is no need to turn to chemicals.

There are chemical solutions that are used in orchards, and those might be applied to a garden:

  • Spinosad is the common name of a mixture of spinosyn A and spinosyn D, two molecules derived from a bacteria. Spinosad is sprayed, sometimes from helicopters, on orchards. It would take 2,000 times the amount approved for use to harm a human. Once sprayed in a sunny garden setting, it breaks down by half inonly a few hours.
  • Pyrethrins are chemicals derived from chrysanthemum flowers. They must be applied when the fruit flies are present. Pyrethrin’s half-life (how long it takes to degrade by half) is11-12 hours. People exposed to it report symptoms similar to asthma. When used in limited doses, no link has been found to cancer.

A warning: Pest strips, a product that uses chemicals, should not be used in places where food is prepared, consumed, or stored, nor are they meant for use in places where people are present for more than four hours at a time.

Prevent Fruit Flies From Ever Appearing

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons / Public domain

Remove the things that are attractants for fruit flies:

  • Remove all unrefrigerated produce.
  • Discard any fermenting fruit or vegetables.
  • Cover the fruit bowl, perhaps with plastic wrap. Discard overripe fruit.
  • Use the refrigerator to keep fruits and vegetables. Cover them with plastic wrap.
  • Don’t toss food garbage into waste-paper baskets.
  • Keep compost in a covered container and take out daily. Clean container afterward.
  • Give up the recycling bin. The one in your basement or garage. It might be convenient, but it is too easy to forget to empty it, or to properly clean it.
  • Use a 16-mesh screening (or smaller) in doors and windows. Make sure there are no holes or gaps.

Keep clean the things that do attract them:

  • Wipe down countertops, floors, drains, and containers for garbage and recycling.
  • Empty any garbage cans at least daily.
  • Rinse the items you recycle, including bottles.
  • Remove spilled fruit juice, beer, or wine, and partially-empty drinks.
  • Cover trash cans. Don’t use trash bags more than once.
  • After mopping, clean and dry both the mop head and the bucket .

Fruit flies are routinely found near ripened fruits and vegetables, let alone overripe fruit. But they also will breed in:

  • Cans
  • Cleaning rags
  • Drains
  • Empty bottles
  • Garbage disposals
  • Mops
  • Trash cans

How Fruit Flies Get in the House

  • Quickly. You might have none one day, then a few days later a bunch might have appeared.
  • Easily. They can get in through the smallest of screens and through the quickest of door openings.
  • Inconveniently. If you have a nice garden outside, it is an easy trip for them to make their way inside. 
  • Everywhere. They thrive on every continent but Antarctica.

Fruit Fly Life Cycle

  • Day 0: Female lays eggs, often using ripening fruit as their food source. The eggs are so small, you might not see them.
  • Day 1: Eggs hatch
  • Day 2: First instar (a growing period that ends in a shedding of the body, allowing it to grow larger)
  • Day 3: Second instar
  • Day 5: Third and final instar 
  • Day 7: Fruit fly larvae begin wandering stage. Pupal formation takes place. In the garden, the larvae will often burrow into soil before turning hard, hiding them.
  • Day 11-12: Adult fruit flies emerge. They begin reproducing in 24 to 48 hours. Fruit flies live 25 to 30 days.

Source: University of Washington

Differences Between Male and Female Fruit Flies

  • Size: Females are 25 percent larger than males.
  • Shape: Females have a pointed bottom, males a rounded one.
  • Spike: Females have one, males do not.
  • Bands: Females have several light bans. Males’ final bands have grown together and become black.
  • Mating: Males dance and brush against a female to signal attraction. Females choose a mate within 15 minutes.
  • Lifespan: Male fruit flies live longer than females.

Sources: Core Differences, Pediaa 

When to Call in the Pros

If the DIY remedies aren’t doing the trick, that probably means there are breeding sites that are difficult to locate. And unless you get rid of those, new flies will keep emerging. Since fruit flies carry bacteria that can cause diseases, you want to get rid of them.

If so many appear that you have a fruit fly infestation, you have a problem larger than your ability to DIY.

Enter the pest control professionals. They can inspect your home, locate fruit fly breeding grounds, and create a plan to eliminate them.

A Pest Gnome study finds that the national average cost of having an exterminator come to the house is about $390, though prices range from $250 to $525

In addition:

  • Monthly pest control treatments typically cost $40 to $70 per visit.
  • Quarterly pest control treatments are about $110 to $250 per visit.
  • Annual pest control treatments are closer to the one-time treatment exterminator cost at about $250 to $475 per visit.

FAQ About Fruit Flies

Do Fruit Flies Bite?

People often wonder whether fruit flies bite. They don’t. Fruit flies are toothless. In fact, instead of chewing their meals, they suck them up through their mouth hooks.

How Many Kinds of Fruit Flies Are There?

There are two main families of fruit flies — tephrititdae (large fruit flies) and drosophilidae (common fruit flies). In all, these two families have about 9,000 different species, some feasting on many fruits, but most specializing on just one. 

Can Fruit Flies Tolerate Cold Weather?

Fruit flies will die when the temperature drops, according to a study by York University. “They simply cannot take it, and instead die at relatively mild low temperatures,” said Heath MacMillan, of Carleton University.

Can I Just Use a Bug Bomb on Fruit Flies?

Big bombs, usually containing dichlorvos, might be tempting to use, but they shouldn’t be used near places where food is prepared, stored or consumed, nor should it be used in a place where it might settle on countertops or bedding. Plus, the chemical being dispersed isn’t designed to reach into the hidden places where fruit flies can be found.

Why Is the Eye Color of a Fruit Fly an Issue?

The fruit fly (Drosophila melanogaster) has long been nicknamed “the Red House Fly” because of its large, red eyes. However, recent research has found that the Drosophila melanogaster might also have eyes that are chocolate, maroon, or mahogany.

Aren’t Fruit Flies Used for Scientific Research?

Fruit flies are used quite a bit for scientific research, from the high school level to the most senior researchers, for several common-sense reasons:

Small: Fruit flies need little space and are easily handled.

Basic: They can be anesthetized and manipulated with basic equipment.

Differences: Males and females are different, and old and young are different, making it easy to tell them apart.

Short gestation: Fruit fly gestation is only 10-12 days.

Short life: Fruit flies have a lifespan of 25-30 days.

Temperature: They do well at room temperature.

What Are Drain Flies?

While fruit flies can be found in a drain, drain flies are a different kind of fly. Short and hairy, they are nicknamed “moth flies.” They live in the muck in bathrooms, extending breather tubes for air. You should keep your bathrooms clean, and if you see flies in there, quickly break out the drain cleaner.

When to Call a Pest Control Professional

Pesky fruit flies are small things and at first seem more like an annoyance than a true problem, but you can’t take it easy. They can contaminate food as they spread bacteria.

When you see them, you must take action. If a fly swatter ends the problem, good for you. Be sure to make the decision if you need to set out traps, or call in a professional

Main Image Credit: Lorie Shaull / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Ted Rodgers

Ted Rodgers has been an editor and writer for a half century at least, and has had to deal with pests throughout. His home is still standing, which is one (small) definition of success in dealing with them. He is willing to pause in his battles long enough to share what he has learned. He borrows from Beatrix Potter when he shares this truth about pests: “Tiddly, widdly, but not piddly.”