The active ingredients in mothballs, naphthalene and paradichlorobenzene, give them their strong, lingering odor. While they work a charm to keep destructive moths out of our clothes when they are in storage, their pungent smell can be a problem.
The best way to get rid of the smell of mothballs without washing your clothes is to hang them out on a sunny, breezy day. The fresh air will help the smell dissipate. You can also place the smelly clothes into a sealed container with cedar wood chips for 3 to 5 days.
Mothballs themselves only last for 4 to 6 weeks, but their musty smell can outlast them for months. This is frustrating for winter coats, wool, or lace garments that cannot just be tossed into the washing machine.
This article discusses methods to rid your clothing of the awful smell of mothballs without running them through the washer.
Will Mothball Smell Go Away on Its Own?
Mothballs are designed to sublimate from a solid to a gas over a period of 4 to 6 weeks. However, just because the balls themselves disappear it does not mean that the smell does too.
How long the smell lingers depends on a variety of factors, but it can last from months to years!
This is why one should dispose of mothballs correctly after use, and thoroughly clean the clothing, towels, or linen that they were used on, to mitigate the spread of the odor throughout the home.
Are Mothball Fumes Toxic?
Mothballs are designed to be pesticides, so they are inherently toxic. Mothballs with the active ingredient naphthalene (a byproduct of coal tar) are more hazardous than those with paradichlorobenzene.
Inhaling naphthalene fumes for a long time can cause poisoning. People with mothball poisoning generally experience eye or skin irritation, nausea, stomach pain, and vomiting.
In severe cases, people have convulsive seizures, and can even go into a coma. I can also cause kidney damage.
It is critical to keep mothballs far out of children’s reach. Rose Soloway, a clinical toxicologist from the National Capital Poison Center, recommends that children’s clothing and bedding should always be washed before use if they have been stored with mothballs.
Steps to Getting Rid of Mothball Smell on Clothes
There are a few different approaches one can take to get rid of the smell of mothballs on clothes without having to put them into the washing machine. All these methods are natural, and you may already have what you need in the kitchen pantry!
Fresh Air Method
This method works best for clothing with a mild mothball smell. Do this as soon as you take the clothing out of storage:
- Remove any remaining bits of mothball and shake the clothing out thoroughly.
- Check the weather report to make sure there is no rain forecast!
- Hang your smelly clothing out on the washing line for a whole day. The sunshine and gentle breeze will help the mothball odor dissipate.
- Sniff the clothes to make sure that the smell has gone completely before you bring them back into the house.
- If the smell has not gone completely, move onto the next method.
Baking Soda Method
Sodium bicarbonate, or baking soda, is well-known for its ability to absorb odors. This is why many people keep a small bowl of it in the fridge to reduce any unpleasant smells.
- Place the dry, smelly clothes into a sealable bucket along with a cup of baking soda.
- Leave the clothing in the bucket for a few days.
- Open up the bucket and shake out the clothing to get rid of the baking soda. You may need to use a vacuum cleaner to get it all out thoroughly, especially from woolen garments.
- Sniff the clothes to check if the smell has gone. If not, repeat the process.
Cedar Wood Chips Method
Cedar wood is famous for its beautiful smell, but dried cedar wood chips are often used for eliminating odors around the home. They can absorb the smell of mothballs!
- Place the dry, mothball-smelling clothing into a sealable bucket, along with 2 or 3 cups of cedar wood chips.
- Leave the clothing in the bucket for a few days.
- Check on the clothing to see if the smell has gone. If this method does not work, it may be time to try a method that involves the washing machine.
Alternatives to Moth Balls
After final getting rid of the dreaded stench of mothballs, you may decide that they are just not worth the hassle anymore.
Luckily, there are many natural alternatives to mothballs. They prevent insect damage to your clothing without leaving an unpleasant reek.
- Lavender. Moths are deterred by the scent of lavender. Make your own cloth sachets of lavender buds using fabric scraps, or simply buy some. Place them amongst the clothing in the cupboard when you put them into storage.
- Mint. Racoons, rodents, and insects hate the smell of mint. Make a cloth sachet full of dried mint leaves, or for a more potent deterrent, use a cotton ball soaked in mint essential oil.
- Cedar wood. Chips, wooden balls, or blocks are available to buy online and from homeware stores, as cedar wood has become a popular natural alternative to mothballs.
- Rosemary, thyme, and clove. Use these pantry staples to make a delicious-smelling sachet of herbs that will repel moths and other insects while making your clothing smell wonderful.
- White camphor oil. This aromatic oil has strong pest repellant properties. Soak a cotton ball with this oil and place it in the cupboard where you are storing clothing.
The smell of mothballs can take years to naturally dissipate from an item of clothing if it ever does! Thankfully it is not always necessary to wash your clothing in order to get rid of the musty scent of mothballs.
To refresh stinky garments, hang them out on the washing line on a sunny, breezy day. The fresh air and ventilation will help to get rid of the smell.
If the smell is too strong for this to do the trick, place the affected garment in a sealed container along with cedar wood chips for a few days.
I have a bachelor’s degree in Film/Video/Media Studies, as well as an associates degree in Communications. I began producing videos and musical recordings nearly 15 years ago. I am a guitarist and bassist in Southwest MI and have been in a few different bands since 2009, and in 2012 I began building custom guitars and basses in my home workshop as well. When I’m home, I love spending time with my three pets (a dog, cat, and snake) and gardening in my backyard.