How To Get Rid Of The Smell Of Mothballs
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How To Get Rid Of The Smell Of Mothballs

Mothballs on Wooden Plate
The smell of mothballs can be stubborn but there are always proper methods to remove it!

Learning how to get rid of the smell of mothballs is never a redundant thing. Mothballs are usually used to protect the clothing by preventing moths and other insects. People also use them to soak up the moisture in space and avoid mold growth.    

In fact, mothballs are made of toxic chemicals and can be harmful to the health of both humans and animals! If you let the smell linger around your house for a long time, it may be dangerous for your kids. So you should know ways to get rid of it as soon as possible!

Read on this post and see if there’s something that can help!

What Is Mothballs, Exactly?

Mothballs are small, white round cubes or chunks made of naphthalene or paradichlorobenzene. These two chemicals are toxic to humans and make mothballs gradually turn to gas and fumes floating in the air to repel the moth larvae.(1)

The smell of mothballs is strong enough to make moths, insects, rats, and other small pests stay away from the clothing or space. Mothballs can be an effective product only when they are used as directed on the label, not for further purposes.

It may take mothballs 6 to 12 months to completely dissipate if you put them somewhere with no air circulation like under the clothes or in a corner of the sofa. Mothballs can work well as an insect repellent, but you should never let their smell dominate your house!

To Describe The Smell Of Mothballs

Mothballs consist of chemicals, so they have an unpleasant, heavy, and acrid smell. They also contain a damp smell that can fade in the air and be hard to tell. You should not smell mothballs, since if you do, you’re breathing something awful for your health.

The smell of mothballs can disturb you if it has been clinging to your clothes for too long. The pungent odor will dominate the flowery scent from laundry detergent or fabric softener, creating a super awkward smell, which can be compared with the odor of tobacco smoke.

Is The Smell Of Mothballs Dangerous?

The answer is not out of your expectation. Yes, it is dangerous to inhale mothball smell. Since they are made of 100% pesticide chemicals, they are unsafe to smell or even use, especially around your kids and pets.

If you and your family have to breathe in the harmful fumes of mothballs for a long time, it can cause dizziness, nausea, vomiting, headaches. The paradichlorobenzene in mothballs can be a cause of cancer.

The naphthalene in mothballs can turn into alpha-naphthol once you inhale it. The alpha-naphthol may be harmful and destroy your red blood cells since it can decrease the oxygen amount that the cells can absorb.(2)

Because of the toxicity, please always use gloves, a filtering face mask, and goggles to protect yourself from exposure while working with mothballs. Make sure that your children stay away from mothballs. The kids can accidentally ingest them without your awareness.

How To Get Rid Of The Smell Of Mothballs Properly?

The smell of mothballs can be everywhere! It can linger on any materials or surfaces that you keep in or near to. To eliminate this strong odor, you may go through a complex process with many steps, but it’s worth trying!

Remove Mothball Smell From Your Hands Quickly

Sometimes, you forget to use the gloves and accidentally touch or pick the mothballs with your bare hands. Then the pungent odor of them keeps clinging to your hands and contaminates everything you touch afterward. How to fix this?

Washing Hands with Soap
Treat your hands immediately after touching mothballs so the smell won’t linger for any longer!

Option 1: Using citrus-scented dish soap.

Immediately wash your hands with some dish detergent. The citrus scent, such as lemon one, can beat weird odor and grease on your hands. If the smell is still strong after using this method, you can sprinkle and rub some baby powder on your hands.

Option 2: Using baking soda.

Baking soda is known as an amazing odor-absorbing that can help you get rid of unpleasant smells quickly. You may want to make a solid liquid as a paste by blending baking soda and water. Put the mixture on your hands and leave it there for 3 minutes, then wash thoroughly.

Option 3: Using toothpaste.

Use non-gel toothpaste to wash your hands as you would use with dish soap. Just a small amount equal to a single bean can help you eliminate the bad odor clinging to your hands.

Option 4: Using orange zest.

If you happen to eat an orange, don’t throw away the zest! You can always make use of it to get rid of the mothball smell by rubbing it into your hands. Then wash your hands with plain water or some hand sanitizer.

Option 5: Using tomato juice.

The tomato juice appears in any kitchen and can be a great cleaner to reduce the mothball smell effectively. Pour the juice in a container that has enough room for your hands. Immerse your hands in for 5 minutes and then wash them with water.

You can use as many options above as you want if it doesn’t work with just one method. Try them until your hands don’t consist of the strong smell of mothballs anymore.

Best Methods To Eliminate Mothball Odor Lingering On Clothes

The treatments for removing mothball smell from clothes vary due to the fabric types of which the clothes are made. I will provide you with the most specific methods for some common and special kinds of clothing that can’t be normally treated.

However, for most typical garments (such as cotton), you can use a vinegar solution with white vinegar and water in a 1:1 ratio. Soak your clothes in the mixture for a while and rinse them off with warm water. Then wash and dry them as you usually do.

Find some useful tips for removing the mothball odor from your clothing here!

Watch this video: How to Remove Mothball Odor from Thrift Store Clothing

Some more steps and detergents are required for different types of clothing. But with every method, make sure that you don’t use the dryer to dry the clothes at the end. Stay tuned for more fascinating tips!

1. For Wool

If you use mothballs when storing wool clothes, the smell will dive deep into the fibers and may be difficult to remove. Also, you should not wash the wool often, since the water and washing process may make the fibers lose gradually over time.

Woolen Sweaters
Woolen sweaters are one of the best items to wear in winter!
Option 1: Hang the wool outside.

Hang your dry wool somewhere outdoors, airy, breezy, and sunny. Let the unpleasant mothball smell fade away naturally. Repeat the drying until the smell is not on your wool anymore.

Option 2: Make use of some baking soda.

Sprinkling some baking soda on your woolen clothes evenly may help. It will absorb any bad smell, including mothball smell, on fabric pretty well without washing the item. After that, slightly vacuum or brush or shake the wool to get rid of the white powder.

2. For Silk

You should know that you cannot wash silk garments in the washing machine. The silk textile is super complicated to deal with, especially having a weird mothball smell on it. But if you know how to do it right, everything will be fine!

Fabric Satin Silk
Silk is a beautiful type of fabric, but the item made of it is hard to clean or wash.


  • Baking soda
  • Sealable container (airtight bags, a box with lid, etc.)


Step 1: Place some baking soda in the prepared container.

Step 2: Put your bad-smelling silk items inside the container. Seal it tightly. Leave the whole thing there for 3 days.

Step 3: After that time, take all the clothes out and wash them with water. Hang them up for drying, in a cool place having fresh air. Avoid using the dryer.

3. For Leather

Leather is also a difficult textile to handle – it is shiny and has a signature smell and texture. The leather jacket is always hard to clean, even when there’s no bad odor on it. But don’t worry, I’ll show you how to get rid of the mothball smell on leather garments right away!

Black Leather Jacket
Leather is even more complicated to clean with some professional detergents required!


  • White vinegar
  • Water
  • A rag
  • Leather cleaning soap/ Saddle soap
  • Mineral oil/ Leather conditioner


Step 1: Prepare a solution with 1 cup of white vinegar and 3 cups of water.

Step 2: Use a rag to rub the mixture on the leather item. Make sure that every part of the leather has the vinegar solution on.

Step 3: Hang your leather garment outdoors in breezy weather and let vinegar and chemicals in mothballs fade away naturally. Another indoor option is to hang the item somewhere with well air ventilation.

Step 4: Use another damp rag to wipe the vinegar and mothball excess off.

Step 5: Next, use an available leather cleaning soap or saddle soap to thoroughly clean the item once again. Ensure that the leather is cleaned completely without any stains left.

Step 6: Let the leather dry for a few minutes, then apply mineral oil or leather condition on the leather so it can get the moisture back as normal.

4. For New Jeans

The denim or jeans garments may sound a bit difficult to deal with at first, but actually, it’s really simple! With these easy steps, you can eliminate the stubborn smell of mothballs clinging to your new pair of jeans!

Remove Mothball Smell From Jeans
You can use vinegar to remove the mothball smell from the jeans.


  • Vinegar
  • Water
  • A container (bowl, sink, bucket, etc.)


Step 1: Prepare the vinegar and water solution with a 1:3 ratio in a container. Stir the mixture well.

Step 2: Soak your new pair of jeans to the solution. Leave the whole thing there and wait for 2 to 3 hours.

Step 3: Take them out and wash them with cool water. You don’t have to rewash them with regular detergent.

How To Get Away From Mothball Smell In Your House?

Sometimes, you keep asking yourself where the mothball odor comes from around your house because you can smell them obviously. Well, it’s time to find out! Here are some tips for you to remove the smell of mothballs clinging to your house for a long time.

Getting The Mothball Smell
Getting the mothball smell out of your house is not easy but also not complicated at all!

Tip 1: Search for the mothball sources and eliminate them all.

The excess mothballs can be stuck somewhere you don’t notice. Try to remember the last time you put those mothballs and go find them all. Always wear rubber gloves and a mask when you have to expose yourself to mothballs like this.

Tip 2: Use neutralizing detergents to clean your house.

Make a solution with baking soda, white vinegar, and water. Use it to clean all the surfaces that you suspect to have the mothball smell on, especially the furniture. The solution will work well as a neutralizer that helps you remove all the chemical excess from mothballs.

Tip 3: Make use of any air purifier that is available.

If you have a dehumidifier, scented candles, an air filter or anything that can purify the air in your house, use it. Or if there’s none of them, fill a bowl with vinegar or activated charcoal tablets or coffee grounds to get rid of the unpleasant mothballs around your house.

Tip 4: Ventilate the space that includes the mothball odors.

Open the windows and doors (if you can) in breezy weather so that the air from outside can take away the bad smell in your house. You can prevent doors from slamming shut by using door or window stoppers. Notice the weather forecast before you decide to leave them open.

Turn on a standing fan or ceiling fan to freshen the air in your house to flow away the awful mothball smell. This will also get your house better air ventilation.

These tips can be applied anywhere in your house, such as in a room, garage, or attic. You may need clearer instructions to clean the furniture since they vary in size, shape, and material.

Here are some reasons why you should not use mothballs in the attic!

Watch this video: Why You Shouldn't Put Moth Balls In Your Attic

The Efficient Way To Remove The Mothball Odor In Furniture

Consider the material when it comes to cleaning the furniture in your house! With different textiles, there will be a different method. So notice this and then follow my lead.

Remove Mothball Odor Furniture
Furniture varies with different textiles, sizes, shapes and also cleaning methods!


  • Vinegar
  • Baking soda
  • Water
  • A vacuum


Step 1: Find the excess solid mothballs stuck inside or around your furniture.

Like the general instruction, put on gloves and a mask when looking for the left mothballs that cause the awful smell.

Step 2: Deal with the furniture by a suitable method.

For the carpets and wood furniture, you can use the vinegar and water solution with a 1:1 ratio in a spray bottle. Spray or wipe down the mixture on them, then let them dry naturally.

For the fabric-covered furniture like a couch, you can sprinkle some baking soda on them to get rid of the bad odor. This method will take you some time, so be patient. It may last for an hour or more for the smell to go away. Once it’s gone, vacuum the powder up.

Step 3: Use a refreshing agent to neutralize the air.

Use some agents or air purifiers to remove the bad smell completely. Especially with furniture that contains cabinets, drawers, shelves, or enclosed areas, use a bowl filled with vinegar or coffee grounds or activated charcoal and leave inside those spaces for a while.

By applying this method, dirt and pests such as fleas, moths, and bed bugs may be removed as well as unpleasant smells.

Bonus Options:

Option 1: Airing your furniture out.

Leave your small pieces of furniture outdoors for a day or up to two weeks, based on the weather. The sunlight may speed it up. If the furniture is too large and heavy, keep it indoors and turn on a fan or ceiling fan and open all doors and windows for air ventilation.

If your furniture contains a lot of different parts, such as drawers, separate them all so that the air can get through and eliminate the strong odor of mothballs.

Option 2: Making use of the heat.

You can use a hairdryer to apply heat to mothballs and speed up the dissolution process, or the release of mothball odor. You should use it once a day in a week or two until the unpleasant smell on the furniture piece fades away obviously.

Keep in mind that you should move the hairdryer around continuously, not let the hot air sit in one spot, especially with certain fabrics or wooden furniture. Only use this method in a well-ventilated space.

Option 3: Using some odor-absorbers.

Place one or many bowls filled with baking soda/ white vinegar/ activated charcoal/ coffee grounds around your pieces of furniture. It can work really well with the furniture including small enclosed parts.

Crumple some old newspaper and stuff into narrow areas of your furniture can also help absorb the terrible smell of mothballs.

How about some old furniture smelling mothballs for a long time? These tips may help you!

Watch this video: How to get that smell out of an old piece of furniture in 3 easy steps

Easy Instruction To Eliminate The Mothball Smell In The Closet

You have known about the methods to get the mothball scent out of your clothes, but you should also be aware of the mothball smell in your closet. If you happen to store some garments with that smell lingering on in a narrow closet, the odor may haunt the inside area.

It’s easy to learn the ways of getting rid of mothball smell in the closet, you just need to prepare some common detergents that may be available in your kitchen right now!

Mothball Smell in Closet
Your closet can have a mothball smell if you store the bad-odor clothes inside!


  • Baking soda/ White vinegar/ Coffee grounds
  • A rag
  • A container (a bowl, a box, etc.)


Step 1: Exclude the clothes or any fabric stuff that consists of mothball smell.

Start with pulling out all of your clothes in the closet and sort out the items with an obvious mothball scent. These items should be removed and cleaned (scroll up to see how) before you get to the next step.

Step 2: Clean the surfaces.

Use a damp rag to wipe off every corner of the closet: clothing rods, the shelves, shoe racks, etc. You can also use a multi-purpose detergent for a better result. Let the surface dry.

Step 3: Use the “secret weapons.”

Based on what ingredient you may have at the time, make an odor-absorber to place inside the closet. A bowl filled with white vinegar, or another one of coffee grounds, or a baking soda box with the lid opened.

You can use the three separately or mix them together to create a double or triple result!  

Step 4: Use some natural alternative of mothballs or an air freshener

Refresh your closet with cedar chips, which also have the same purpose as mothballs but are not harmful to your health since they are from nature. You can also use an air freshener for a quicker way to eliminate the smell completely.

Removing The Mothball Strong Odor In Your Shoes

I’m pretty sure that some of you may put mothballs inside your shoes or in the shoe racks to repel insects and make the sweat smell fade away. But those balls may melt over time and spread the unpleasant smell to your shoes or shoe racks.

The following method does not only work with mothball odor but can also be applied to eliminate any bad odors developed in your shoes. Try it now!

Mothball Odor in Shoes
The bad mothball odor in your shoes can fade away by following these simple steps!


  • White vinegar
  • Baking soda
  • Alcohol
  • A rag
  • A spray


Step 1: Dip a rag into some white vinegar, then rub slightly on your shoes in and out.

Step 2: Place half a cup of baking soda inside your shoes, then leave them there for a while.

Step 3: Remove the powder from the shoes after letting them sit enough.

Step 4: Prepare some alcohol in a spray and spray it on your shoes to get rid of the mothball smell as well as any unpleasant smell in your shoes.

Bonus tips: You can also put ground coffee beans in a paper pouch and place it inside your shoes for a week. The coffee scent will gradually absorb and dominate the awful mothball smell and leave a fresh, pleasant smell of coffee.

Some Common Mothball Alternative Options

How can you store the clothes without using mothballs? Is there anything to stand in place of them? The answer is yes. There are many mothball substitutes and options that can replace the mothball with the same characteristics. Here are some of my suggestions:

  • Use Natural Mothball Alternatives: Red cedar wood is also an effective moth and insect repellent. Unlike mothballs, it has a very pleasant aroma and isn’t harmful to your health.

Some other natural ones are the essential oils of lavender, mint, and cloves. Many herbs such as eucalyptus leaves, rosemary, cinnamon sticks can also be great replacements for mothballs. Peppercorn and wormwood plants may also work well.

Learn how to make use of these natural ingredients to say goodbye to the mothball smell! Watch this video:

Watch this video: Natural Moth Repellent | Robert Mahar
  • Store Your Clothing In An Airtight Sealed Container: You can use vacuum-sealed garment bags to store your clothes. Don’t need to worry that your clothes are messed up with moths and insects. This way can also help you to save some space.


I believe that you have somewhat figured out your own way to get rid of the mothball smell properly. However, there might still be some questions wandering in your head that need to be answered. The following questions can be some of them.

Does the smell of mothballs fade away over time?

Yes, it does.

Although mothballs can last for months, the odor will linger for much longer. However, the smell doesn’t last forever. It will fade away sometime in the future, but you should remove it as soon as possible since it may cause you some health problems.

How can I get rid of the smell of mothballs in a wood chest or an old trunk?

As with other methods, you can use baking soda to neutralize the mothball smell inside a wood chest or an old trunk. Before that, you should take everything inside them out first. Let the baking soda sit for at least 1 day, and leave them open after vacuuming the powder up.

Can dry cleaning eliminate the smell of mothballs?

Yes, it can.

Dry cleaning can be a nice trick to get rid of the stubborn mothball smell! Dry clean your clothes to remove the bad odor from them. If you can’t do it yourself, bring them to the professional.

What are some tricks for me to eliminate the mothball odor from my car?

You can sprinkle the baking soda everywhere inside the car, and allow it to sit as long as possible. Spray and clean the hard surfaces of the car with white vinegar. Always open the car doors when cleaning.

How to remove the scent of mothballs in a camper?

Just do what you may do with the car. Remove all the excess mothballs. Air the camper out and use baking soda and vinegar to neutralize the mothball smell.

How can I eliminate the mothball smell from my attic?

First, make sure that there are no mothballs left in your attic. Open all windows for the fresh air to come in, run a fan to blow away the weird odor. Neutralize the mothball smell by coating the floor with baking soda or using some heavy-duty cleaner.

Can I get the mothball smell away from clothing without washing?

Yes, you can.

You can spray the clothes with vodka, white vinegar, essential oil or citrus juice to deodorize them immediately. You can also steam the clothing in boiling water or freeze them in the freezer for a few hours. Hanging them outdoors in breezy air can be a great idea.

What are the ways to remove the odor of mothballs from a mattress?

Try to spray your mattress with white vinegar, or coat it with some baking soda, leave for a while and vacuum it afterward. You can also put the mattress somewhere outside under the direct sunlight to remove the awful mothball scent.

I’ve Spilled You The Secrets! Now It’s Your Turn!

The information that I provide you may be enough to deal with the unpleasant and toxic smell of mothballs in most typical cases. The instructions are simple and easy to follow up, so don’t hesitate to try! Eliminate the mothball smell to protect yourself and your family!

Do you find this article helpful? If you do, remember to like, share it, and subscribe to the newsletter for more exciting tips and tricks in eliminating bad odors from your clothes and house. If you have any concerns, comment below to let me know! See you later!

How To Get Rid Of The Smell Of Mothballs


  1. 2021. Mothball Fact Sheet.
  2. 2021. Naphthalene – Wikipedia.

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Kevin Jones

Kevin Jones

Home Cleaning Specialist

Expertise: In-depth Knowledge of Cleaning Agents and Their Uses, Advanced Home Sanitization, Techniques Expertise in Cleaning and Maintaining, Various Floor Types, Innovations in Home Cleaning Tools

School: American College of Home Economics

Kevin Jones is a seasoned home cleaning specialist with over a decade of experience in the industry. A stickler for cleanliness and organization, Kevin brings a systematic and innovative approach to home maintenance. His expertise ranges from traditional methods to modern cleaning technology, ensuring homes are not just clean but healthy environments too.

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