Mothballs are a common home remedy due to their pesticidal properties and ability to negate other bad smells. The problem is that mothballs are themselves rather unpleasant smelling and tend to leave that odor behind long after the balls themselves dissolve.
Getting rid of that mothball smell can be difficult in many cases, but there are some great tried-and-true remedies out there.
Mothballs resemble candy or gumballs, and are made almost exclusively with one of two active ingredients: naphthalene or paradichlorobenzine. Despite the latter being safer than the former, both of these are toxic chemicals. The balls dissolve over time into a gaseous form, resulting in that characteristic mothball scent.
Back in the day, they were commonly placed in cardboard boxes, cedar chests, and with items of clothing as a moth repellent. Since the smell of moth balls also repelled other critters, they became a popular remedy until their affect on pet and human health was discovered.
Today, mothballs look just like their original version, but are no longer made with naphthalene. Despite ongoing health concerns, many people (especially older folk) still use them.
Read Also: What Do Baby Moths Look Like?
What do Mothballs Smell Like?
While different people often answer this question differently, the basic consensus is that the scent of mothballs initially has a sweet smell which soon becomes pungent the longer you’re exposed to it.
As the fumes are toxic and can cause physical and neurological damage with over-exposure, it’s best to quickly get rid of the smell of mothballs, when possible.
How Long do Mothballs Last?
When exposed to the elements, a mothball will generally last for between four and six weeks. However, the fumes can last much longer, allowing mothballs to effectively last for several years if in an airtight container. The smell from clothing exposed to mothballs most commonly lasts until they’re washed.
Getting Rid of the Mothball Smell
While it’s possible to wait out that awful mothball smell, this isn’t recommended – in no small part because the poisonous residue will remain even after the smell dissipates. The good news is that getting rid of that stench is fairly simple and involves products you likely already have in your home.
Related: How to Get Rid of a Dead Mouse Smell
From Your Clothing
White vinegar is your best friend when it comes to washable clothes. You can either soak the clothes in an equal mix of water and vinegar overnight. Alternatively, you can run a cycle in the washer using a cup of vinegar instead of laundry detergent, followed by a cycle using your regular detergent. For delicates, you can also use a spray bottle instead of soaking.
An alternative to vinegar is unchlorinated bleach, although this is best reserved for whites or more durable materials such as jeans.
From Your Furniture or Carpets
Depending on the material your furniture is made of, you may need to get an odor eliminator such as baking soda to safely get rid of the mothball smell. However, you can use a wet-vac for most couches and other fabric-covered furnishings or soft surfaces (including carpets).
Here’s a simple, yet effective wet-vac (or steam vac) treatment you can try. Simply apply a layer of the 50/50 vinegar mix using the vac or a spray bottle. Next, go over the furniture as you normally would with the wet-vac.
From Your House
Getting the mothball smell out of a room or closet is a little more difficult than clothing, although the solutions themselves are simple. Bowls of vinegar or activated charcoal (available at most pet stores) will slowly absorb the odor safely.
You might also choose to use odor-absorbing candles, cedar chips, cinnamon sticks, or even coffee grounds. Just remember that you may need to change the item you choose frequently to have a maximum effect.
One popular method is to take a paper lunch bag and fill it baking soda, cedar chips, and coffee grounds. This curious potpourri will not only absorb the smell of mothballs, but it can make your drawers and closets (including any items of clothing stored inside) smell pleasant.
Using a Mothball Odor Eliminator
There are a number of mothball odor eliminators on the market, each with their own qualities. Most of these eliminators do a good job of eliminating the mothball smell. However, they are a more expensive solution than the ones above.
Note that you can’t use any old air freshener and expect it to eliminate the toxic chemical odors. Popular brands such as Glade usually only mask odors instead of eliminating them.
Here are a couple mothball odor removal products we recommend: