Mothballs: The Ultimate Home Remedy for Critters?

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Updated on January 28, 2022

Mothballs are a classic home remedy that has remarkable success against some critters. The effectiveness is tempered by its toxicity, and they are officially classified as pesticides. Knowing how to use them safely can save a lot of heartache.

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Mothballs are considered a pesticide and using them in any way not specified on the label (including outdoor use) is considered illegal according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Check your local laws before use.

Mothball Uses

Mothballs can be used in a number of ways and you can find all sorts of tips online for using whole or crushed mothballs. However, we will only discuss some of the safest methods here, as their toxic nature is rarely considered when suggesting “life hacks”.

Corpse Odors

It’s possible to discover a dead animal on your property, especially if you live near woods or in the countryside. Roadkill can also be a common issue when living near a buy road, and simply removing the corpse (if you can find it) might not get rid of the smell. Thankfully, the smell of mothballs can cancel out that rotting stench.

To make an odor control box that’s relatively safe, get a small cardboard box and put some balls in it. Then get a netted bag or large freezer bag (and poke some tiny holes in it) to stick the box in. Seal the bag and place it near the strongest point of the odor.

The bag will help reduce the risk of contamination from rain or moisture melting the box. Be sure to dispose of the box when the odor has dissipated.

See Also: How to Get Rid of a Dead Mouse Smell

Flea Killer

Adding some mothballs to the bag or canister of your vacuum cleaner will kill fleas, dust mites, and bed bugs on contact, if you suck some up while cleaning.

Insect Repellent

Mothballs’ true claim to fame comes from their usage when storing clothes and other insect-prone items. It’s common for some families to store wedding dresses in mothballs to pass down from generation to generation, for example.

This method is so successful that “mothballing” has become a synonym for storage, leading to such common phrases as “The project was mothballed” and “taking it out of mothballs”.

Clothing stored in mothballs should always be washed prior to use to get rid of any residue. Additionally, it’s best to keep the balls in a netted bag or a box instead of placing directly on your clothing to help protect your family from accidental exposure.

Read Also: What Do Baby Moths Look Like?

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Large Critter Deterrent

You can bury mothballs to help deter larger pests such as chipmunks and prarie dogs from helping themselves to your garden. Dropping some into a burrow entrance can also be used to temporarily stop large critters from using that entrance for about a month.

Unfortunately, there’s no way to keep the chemicals from harming any beneficial or wanted critters that come into contact with it, so this method should only be used in emergencies

Being a pesticide, you should also be well aware of any local or state regulations before attempting to use this method outdoors. It should never be used against any species on the protected or endangered list, and it’s best to avoid using mothballs when you suspect it might come into contact with a protected critter.

Disadvantages of Using Mothballs

Most home remedies have side effects and mothballs are no exception. Understanding the downsides of using this product will help you choose those times when a different method should be used.

Environmental Risks

Mothballs are classified as pesticides and are an effective insecticide. Over time, they dissolve into a toxic gas. Using them outdoors will not only harm beneficial critters, but can easily contaminate plants, soil, and groundwater.

Fire Risks

Mothballs use one of two active ingredients: naphthalene and paradichlorobenzine. These have several detrimental qualities including a high level of flammability. As a result, they should never be stored near flame or placed in a storage area that is prone to heat buildup.

Health Risks

Another issue with the active ingredients is that they are suspected carcinogens. The toxic nature of these ingredients means that over-exposure can lead to a multitude of symptoms, including:

  • Coughing
  • Diarrhea
  • Headache
  • Irritation to eyes and ears
  • Vomiting

Mothballs leave behind a residue, requiring anything they come into contact with to be washed before use. Additionally, long-term exposure can cause damage to the liver and kidneys, and ingestion will seriously injure children and pets.

If you suspect a pet or child has come into contact with mothballs or inhaled the fumes, you should contact a poison emergency center immediately. Under no circumstances should you ever keep mothballs in an open container.


Mothballs don’t smell pretty, which is why they’re so effective. Unfortunately, this means they’re also quite unpleasant to people. Initial exposure may smell sweet, but longer exposure will make the smell nauseating.

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Unfortunately, the stench will often outlast the balls themselves, especially on clothing. There are a few good methods to get rid of the mothball smell.


3 thoughts on “Mothballs: The Ultimate Home Remedy for Critters?”

  1. Thank you very much for the information. Since they heat treated apartment #504 in the apartment complex, more than a trillion bed bugs have escaped with out being killed and my apartment has been invaded worse than ever before in my life time. I would love to be able to rid my entire home city of these damned bed bugs.

    • While it might work, the toxins present in mothballs would make this idea more dangerous than the mosquitoes themselves. A better option if you can’t get rid of the standing water would be to add vinegar or a similar plant-based product that won’t harm surrounding plants or release any dangerous fumes.


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