Posted on: November 24, 2008 Posted by: Nicole Harding Comments: 16

One of the things that makes shopping for secondhand clothes fun is that you’ll never know what you’re going to find. Except maybe clothes hangers… and that sharp, heady, headache-inducing scent of mothballs. Whether you get your clothes from the discount store, or remove a winter jacket from the wardrobe, the smell of mothballs can send you to a faint.

Some people are used to the smell of mothballs, although most people are nauseated by the scent. Not only are mothball fumes toxic, but they also don’t smell good on clothes that you’re going to wear. Some brands and formulas for mothballs are also considered as cancer-causing agents. Rather than walk around town smelling like an old clothes trunk, here are some ways to get rid of that sharp, toxic mothball smell.

What are Mothballs?
Mothballs are insecticides and deodorant chemicals packaged into white balls, and are used to preserve clothes from insects like moths, cockroaches, and even rats. Mothballs also help prevent the growth of mold and mildew, which can destroy the fibers of fabrics and textiles. While there are some sprays available on the market that do the job just fine, mothballs are inexpensive and easy to use.

A chemical called naphthalene is the traditional ingredient in mothballs, although it is highly flammable and is a possible carcinogen. Another side-effect of naphthalene is that it can destroy red blood cells. Today’s mothballs are made from a chemical called 1,4-dichlorobenzene, which is also used in some insecticide sprays. Some manufacturers try to reduce the pungent smell of mothballs by adding eucalyptus, camphor, menthol, and other ingredients.

Mothballs kill insects and arrest the growth of mold through a process called sublimation, or when a solid dissolves and turns into a gaseous form. During sublimation, the gases formed by many mothballs and mothball pellets build up and kill moths that try to eat through the fibers of clothes. The problem is that the fumes can build up so much that you can get knocked out when you take a deep whiff of it. Clothes packed in mothballs can also cause irritation when worn immediately.

Don’t Use Mothballs at All

When you store your summer clothes for the winter, or when you store your winter clothes for the summer, you don’t really need to use mothballs. Mothballs are an old-fashioned way to keep clothes fresh during storage. Here are other ways to store clothes without using mothballs:

  • Reusable vacuum-sealed clothes bags. Clothes exposed to air can discolor, and are a magnet for mold and insects. Vacuum sealed plastic bags prevent air, mold, and moths from destroying clothes put in storage.
  • Sprays. Some stores use sprays that work in the same way as mothballs, which reduces the chances of you fainting from the strong aroma. An insecticide spray also works great for storing clothes, although you need to be careful not to spray it directly on the fabric.
  • A cool dry place. If you’re not too keen on using chemicals to store your clothes, then you can do it the all-natural way. All you need to do is to store your clothes in a cool, dry place. Make sure that your closet or storage drawer is clean before you store your clothes in it.

Use Mothballs Properly

Some people make the mistake of emptying bags of mothballs into storage drawers or closets, and pack their clothes into the mothballs. Mothballs will not stain, although the sublimation process can literally burn a hole into some fabrics. Older mothball brands made from naphthalene are especially notorious for damaging sensitive fabrics like silk and satin. Mothballs by themselves do not kill moths or prevent the growth of mold. What you really need are the gases formed by mothballs during the sublimation process.

If you do need to use mothballs, follow these simple steps:

  1. Place a few mothballs into small plastic jars. Do not use plastic grocery bags, because the thin plastic may literally dissolve.
  2. Close the jars, but not too tightly. You still need to have some of the vapors escape from the jar.
  3. Store some of the jars with the clothes that you’ll store. The gases will build up inside the jars once the mothballs decompose.
  4. Once every couple of weeks, open the jars to release the fumes. Make sure you’re wearing a face mask or a handkerchief around your face so that you won’t faint from the strong odor of the mothballs.

Wash On, Wash Off

Some solid residue from the sublimation process can stick to fabrics, especially for fabrics like silk and wool. Residue builds up around dust and dirt particles. Before you store your clothes and use mothballs, make sure that they’re absolutely clean, dry, and free from dust and grime.

Skin irritation and other diseases can be caused when you wear clothes that smell like mothballs. People with sensitive skin can develop rashes, eczema, and dermatitis because of the chemicals and by-products found in mothballs. Do not wear clothes that still smell like mothballs; not only are they irritating, but they’re also a major turn-off for people around you.

Removing Mothball Smells in a Pinch

Say you have to attend a cocktail party at 9 in the evening. You really need that fur coat or sport jacket immediately, but you don’t have time to wash it. You know it’s clean, but there’s still the lingering odor of mothballs. Perfume can do a good job at masking mothball smells, but not if you’re willing to waste one expensive bottle just to get rid of mothball smells. To remove mothball smells quickly, you’ll need the following tools and ingredients:

  • Baby powder (preferably unscented)
  • Hair dryer
  • Fabric softener pads
  • Tumble dryer or spin dryer

Follow these easy steps to remove mothball smells in a pinch:

  1. Rub some baby powder on your clothes.
  2. Set the hair dryer to medium, and dry out your clothes using it. If you don’t have a hair dryer, you can hang out the clothes to dry at a clothesline if you’re not in a big hurry.
  3. Shake out the excess powder.
  4. Place your clothes in a tumble dryer or spin dryer, with two or three fabric softener pads. Let the clothes spin or tumble dry for about five minutes.

Now that you know how to get rid of mothball smells, you don’t have to worry about smelling like an relic of a time long since passed. You can smell fresh and clean all day without having to worry about dizzying smells that come from your clothes again.

Click here for more information on how to get rid of mothball smell.

16 People reacted on this

  1. Hello. I have duplex in LA area that was built in 1935. Apprently the foundation was treated with Naptholine as termie control. The odor is really bad. I read your article about Moth ball odor removal with BabyPwoder. It Obviously does not work for foundation. Do you have any other recommendation??

  2. hello i am judth i am deaf i would like to buy moth ball pls u will give me a address i will buying it where and number phone i will call to you pls u email to me thank you have a nice day smile

  3. So how do I get rid of mothball smell perminantly? My old wool coat stinks of it and I have had it dry cleaned. Sure baby powder or perfume will work for the night but how do I get rid of it all together. That would be the helpful information I would expect on a page titled “How to Get Rid of Mothball Smell”. Please post this information or change the name of the page to “how to temporarily mask mothball smell”.

  4. I’ve been using a product called What-Odor? for a few months now, mostly while I was housebreaking my puppy. My girlfriend was getting married and wanted to wear her mom’s wedding dress – stored in mothballs. Even after dry cleaning it still smelled!!

    So figuring we had nothing to lose, we tried my odor eliminator, What-Odor? and it completely eliminated the mothball odor. This product is truly amazing.

  5. Did you find a solution? I put 4 boxes of moth balls in my basement to rid it of mice last fall and the whole house still smells of moth balls. I don’t know how to get rid of the smell. I have aired out the basement with a fan for weeks and the house still smells.


  7. i live in a tri-level condo, and we have wild cats that sprayed outside
    our lower level going into the family family room was filled with that terrible order,,since my son stays down there, i quickly tried to get rid of the smell..i wasn’t thinking so i used 2 boxes of mothball mostly outside and some in my family was the worst thing i neighbor had the mothball smell in her house and all 3 floors in my house..we removed all the mothball from outside and i went to Petco and bought a liquid oderremover and sprayed on the carpet around the inside door and i’ve have a fan running for 4 days and i used fabreze spray(Heavy duty)also window open..its much better
    now, i think i’ll use some fabric softners sheets also..i use them when i close my florida home..i put them everywhere..I also bought a pet repellant from for outside to, hopefully, keep the cats away..

  8. I read an article that recommended “smelleze”. The product states that it eliminates moth ball smells. I also found “What Odor” is available at Bed, Bath & Beyond.

  9. The Center for Disease Control made my son and his family leave my home after I had mothballs put in my garage.

    The fumes are hazardous to little babies! I will try the recommendations listed and see if they work. What a bummer! They will be going back to California soon and I am missing out on my visit. DON’T USE MOTH BALLS AROUND BABIES!!!

  10. Help!!!!! My neighbors who do not speak english I believe used mothballs throughout their house. Now my whole house top to bottom smells of moth balls i have a 3 year old and my parents who live here as well. The smell makes me very sick and dizzy. the only relief I get is to go outside. How can i get rid of the smell from my house, and find out if that is in fact what is causing the smell of mothballs in my home. we dont use them. So it has to be coming from them. I dont want to be rude about it. either. Please help!!!! I dont want my son or my parents to get sick too.

  11. I threw mothballs all over the attic to get rid of rats. it is making us sick and smells awful. Can onne get them out or neautralize them and how or who can do it?
    Thanks, MB

  12. So far Ive seen:borax,vinegar,baking soda,hydrogen peroxide(will bleach clothing) mentioned elsewhere..I’m leaning towards the bonfire option.

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