How to Get Rid of Mothball Smell

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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 isn’t difficult, and there are some great tried-and-true remedies out there.

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Identifying Mothballs

Mothballs resemble candy or gumballs, and are made almost exclusively with one of two active ingredients: naphthalene or paradichlorobenzine. The balls dissolve over time into a gaseous form.

What do Mothballs Smell Like?

While different people often answer this question differently, the basic consensus is that it 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 get rid of the smell, 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 a properly sealed container.

Getting Rid of the Mothball Smell

While it’s possible to wait out the mothball smell, this isn’t recommended, in no small part because the poisonous residue will remain 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

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, or run a cycle in the washer using vinegar instead of detergent, followed by a cycle using 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 to safely get rid of the mothball smell. For most couches and other fabric-covered furnishings (including carpets), however, you can use a wet-vac in the same manner as the washer.

See Also: How to Get Rid of Dust Mites from Upholstery

First apply a layer of the 50/50 vinegar mix using the vac or a spray bottle, then go over the furniture as you normally would with the wet-vac. Not only does this method get rid of the odor, it will make the furnishings nice and clean; killing bed bugs, fleas, and other small pests.

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. A bowl 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 or even coffee grounds. Just remember that you may need to change the item you choose frequently to have a maximum effect.

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, although they are a more expensive solution than the ones above.

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Here are a couple mothball odor removal products we recommend:


  1. What will work to get the smell of moth balls out of drawings my dad did over 60 years ago. The are drawings free hand for plumbing class. the smell is so bad. They have been in the garage airing out even putting them in the sun to see if that helps. Any thing you can do too to help I would appreciate.

  2. Sorry don’t have a solution to the mothball smell apart from maybe experimenting with a fine spray of vinegar and carefully ironing at a low heat? But another idea is what about taking a photo of the drawings and printing those instead? Good luck.

  3. Thank you for your tips. I am dealing with Navajo rugs, just unpacked, permeated with mothball smell. They are airing in the sun outside this week. Dry cleaning is not recommended, so, if needed, maybe the 1:1 vinegar water with a wet vac will solve the problem.


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