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How can I get Rid of the Smell of Moth Balls?

Diana Bocco
By Diana Bocco
Updated May 16, 2024
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The smell of moth balls is so characteristic that most people can recognize it even months after moth balls have been removed from a home. The good thing about the strong, lingering smell is that it keeps protecting clothes even after the ball itself has dissolved. The bad thing is that the odor will usually stay on clothes even after they have been washed repeatedly.

If you have tried to remove the smell of moth balls from clothes, you know how hard it can be. The most common way of doing so is to hang the clothes in the sun on and off for at least a week. This seems to work especially well if the clothes are hung dry, before attempting to wash them even once. After the smell has dissipated, it could also help to wash the clothes with a little vinegar added to the water.

It may also be possible to remove the smell by sealing the clothes in a plastic bag together with a powerful deodorizer, such as dryer sheets or a sachet of dry lavender. Lavender is also a natural moth repellent, and it can be used instead of moth balls in the first place.

Removing the smell of moth balls from furniture may be trickier, as the odor can get into the wood grain and become as one with the piece. Baking soda and charcoal may help absorb the smell from the inside of drawers or cupboards, and furniture polish can sometimes help with the outside. The best solution, however, is to let the wood breathe. If you have a chance to put the furniture outside, do it, but make sure it won't get wet. Water will embed the odor even further into the grain.

The best thing you can to avoid the smell is to use moth balls as little as possible. Choose natural scents like lavender, mint, and rosemary, which are natural moth repellents. Moth balls are extremely toxic to pets and children, and they should be avoided in houses trying to keep their surroundings green.

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Discussion Comments

By anon996625 — On Sep 20, 2016

I don't understand why there hasn't been a class action law suit against mothball manufacturers! Naphthalene and the other chemicals used are so toxic. They are neurotoxins. They are designed to kill.

You guys are breathing the same air.

There is no reason in this day age for these to be made or used. Even if you get rid of the smell, the chemicals are still in everything. These chemicals can cause brain injury, slowed thinking, cognitive skills affected, Parkinson's disease, leukemia, injury to your liver, kidneys, lungs, eyes and soft tissue.

Please, please, please do not ever use this product. It can also cause something called multiple chemical sensitivity Or MCS for short, as well as encephalopathy. Just don't. Tell others. Talk to people about this deadly product. Educate yourself. Share what you know or have experienced in random conversations with others. You might save someone from going through what you have. You might even save a life. Just say no!

By anon989806 — On Mar 23, 2015

We had a major terrible mothball smell in our huge 5500 sq foot home, and since it was up for sale, lost buyers. But, we got rid of the smell by doing this!:

Washing all carpets with ammonia and water only via a rug doctor carpet cleaner we rented from the grocery store.

Putting bowls of cut up onions/lemons/oranges in water throughout the house for a week (the entire house will reek of onions, but this will go away once you throw out the onions. Onions kill all chemical smells).

For the unfinished basement I took a bottle of the onion/lemon/orange water mixture and sprayed the walls, floors, ceilings, and air every day for a week, and placed the onion bowls around the area.

I used a very good ozonator and ozonated each room individually for about 30 minutes, and the bigger rooms for an hour.

I took our steam cleaner (we have an expensive $500 unit with various attachments) and steam cleaned all the walls and ceilings in every single room (be careful not to touch walls with attachment, stay a few inches away from wall), and I steam cleaned the air. Hot heat kills chemicals in the air!

|I also kept house around 70 degrees for showing the house to buyers, as heat or very cold air activates moth ball smell. We already have two offers on our house and the reviews are great now! Our house smells wonderful! It took time, but we did not have to tear out carpets or repaint.

By anon335652 — On May 22, 2013

The jerks ought to be shot for using di-chlorobenzene as a mothball repellent. Sure, it will repel you plumb the hell out of your home! That's what we are doing is moving.

My wife asked the mobile home park owner what to use to get rid of juvenile opossums. He told her to use mothballs. Now the jerks use di-chlorobenzene instead of napthalene (which is bad in its own right but nothing like the di-chlorobenzene). My freaking whole respiratory system burns. If the foreign idiots who manufactured these for mothballs were here, I'd beat the hell out of them and send them back to hell for more.

By anon280024 — On Jul 16, 2012

I put mothballs near a hole in the wall where I saw a mouse run and also in the hole. After about 12 hours my entire apartment and the hallway of the apartment smelled terrible! I got rid of the mothballs and opened the wall to get what I think were three mothballs out but I still smell the fumes. Could this smell be coming from the carpet I put them on or did I miss one in the wall?

I'm freaking out! How long before you get damage from this stuff? I have been breathing in fumes for about a week and I'm worried! Any suggestions or answers about how long it takes to get poisoning?

By anon246449 — On Feb 09, 2012

I haven't tried this X-O Odor Eliminator on moth balls, so I don't know if it will work, but it works on pet stains with ammonia so perhaps it will work on these, too.

I don't have any affiliation with them, but swear by the quality of the product. If you want to research it, look it up and watch their video presentation. They show various things they try it on, like curdled/sour milk, onions, all types of stinky stuff. We used it after leaving the windows open in our car during a rainstorm, to get rid of the mildew smell. That is not easy to get rid of, but X-O worked like a charm.

We have five dog rescues, and have used it to eliminate scent markers of any mistakes they made, so they don't return to the scene of the crime and repeat the deed. We also used X-O after our son smoked the house with wet cedar wood in the basement fireplace, leaving the flue closed. Wow, was that a stench. This is the only thing that worked to get rid of that overpowering smoky odor.

I would definitely give X-O a try, but try a small test first. I'm also not sure about any remaining toxins that might still need to be eliminated, so you'll want to check on that. I am willing to bet that this would definitely help with the odor end of the problem, however. Good luck, everyone.

By anon246440 — On Feb 09, 2012

After a hurricane felled a tree against our attic roof and made a space for rats to enter, we had a problem with rats getting into the walls and scaring the bleep out of us while taking showers in pitch darkness due to no electricity. Right after seeing The Grudge, too. I think I lost 10 years of my life when I heard them suddenly kicking in the wall next to me.

Rodents are hard to get rid of humanely, so I researched and finally came up with moth balls. Well, it worked all right. Too well. We were ready to move out, too! We had taken a box of moth balls and scattered it up in the attic. Second big mistake. You can't gather them back up easily that way, plus the Florida heat melted them into the wood, and they were there to stay then. They bond with wood, we later found out.

I have Multiple Chemical Sensitivity, so this was brutal for me. I was quite ill with flu symptoms, and had to wear a mask for a long time. We gathered up as many as we could as well as scraped up what was possible, and that helped. But for the rest, we had to pray and wait for them to dissipate. We will never do that again. Those things are deadly. But hey, no rats.

By anon238607 — On Jan 04, 2012

Never, ever use moth balls for any purpose at all -- ever! My family is now homeless due to the use of them. They are deadly and harmful and the smell and fumes that are harmful will never go away. Trust me. Just don't. Don't, don't!

By anon219443 — On Oct 02, 2011

Has a solution been found for post 23 from anon72638? I have the same problem and would love to recover my scotch.

By anon213613 — On Sep 12, 2011

I used a few moth balls to get rid of wax moth on my frames of drawn out honeycomb for winter storage (I keep bees) now the bees won't go near them but will try the sunshine plus airing exposure method.

By fotonaut — On Sep 01, 2011

Mothballs are solid pesticides composed of naphthalene, paradichlorobenzene, or 1,4-dichlorobenzene and are all toxic carcinogens. In addition, the telltale scent of mothballs is a combination of the thalene or benzene with camphor, itself an irritant and toxic if ingested.

All of these chemistries are extremely pervasive vapors and will embed into any porous surface or material, as you may have discovered. Get them out of your house.

Removing the residual odor and vapor from these chemicals is almost impossible. I discovered while cleaning out my aunt's house with a basement full of mothball laden boxes. Begin by getting rid of the mothballs. Clean up any residues using gloves and damp paper towels, thrown directly into a plastic bag. Using a vacuum cleaner with a HEPA filter, vacuum all areas, clothing, furnishing and carpeting that has absorbed the mothball vapors.

Remove all pets and people from your home for an entire day. Clean all solid surfaces with a mild TSP solution (be sure to wear gloves). After this dries, close all the windows and doors. Put on a filtered respirator mask, and beginning top to bottom, spray every absorbent surface, textile and fabric with a high-phthalate air neutralizer (Such as Ozium, Febreze or Walgreens' brand). Try and leave clothing and fabrics spaced apart so the neutralizer permeates thoroughly. After the entire house has been sprayed down, seal the house as air tight as possible for 8 hours. Leave and remove your respirator.

The next step is counteracting the residues from all of these agents. Buy or rent an ionizer or ozone generator, at least one for each floor or 2000 square feet. Place it in the center of the floor on a non-flammable table and leave, again sealing the house. Let the ionizer run over night.

*Note: Ozone is toxic, so limit your exposure. Ionizers and Ozone generators both create ozone.

Upon returning, open all doors and windows and shut off the ionizer. Allow the home to breathe for 2 hours before entering or reintroducing pets. Wash or dry clean all fabrics. Sprinkle a noticeable amount of baking soda on any carpet, upholstery or textile that can't be washed. Allow 24 hours before vacuuming to exhaust the baking soda.

Hope this helps someone; and yes the process can be a bit expensive - but it's a lot less expensive than gutting the house, removing all the drywall and insulation, throwing away the clothing and furniture, and starting from scratch.

By anon173281 — On May 06, 2011

We had snake skins under our house so a plumber put out mothballs to keep snakes away. Biggest mistake ever. I hate snakes, but I'll take them over this any day. We've got company coming and can't get the smell out. It makes my eyes and face sting and makes me cough. If you are thinking about using mothballs for anything, don't!

By anon118726 — On Oct 15, 2010

I have had a bat problem, due to faulty installation of a entire steel roof. The roofer, in a attempt to fix the problem, put 14 boxes of moth balls in the peaks of my roof. I came home from vacation on July 8th, two days after he put them in. You could smell the mothballs 200 feet away, outside of the house. We have not lived there since.

Currently, we are attempting to fix the problem by removing the entire roof, insulation and interior ceilings. We had to evacuate the house of the entire contents, including carpeting and pads.

To say this is costly is a understatement. I don't even think we can afford to complete the remediation to completely eradicate the problem. The interior walls and insulation should also be removed. My house has to have the air cleaned with hydroxyl technology, all of the interior beams/wood in ceiling need to be sealed with special sealers, similar to smoke damage houses. This may bankrupt us.

Nice mix of mothballs and ammonia from bat urine in my house. So gross. Just can't believe that one person (roofer) can so completely ruin a entire home. Not to mention the marital strain due to all of the financial obligations....

Has anyone ever heard of anything similar? I can't find anyone on line with my problem. Just need moral support from someone who has been there. Looking to find out if smell can be entirely eradicated....

By anon114202 — On Sep 27, 2010

I don't have the problem but a neighbor does and I don't believe they have any idea or maybe they are so used to it they don't realize it is so strong!

The Mom likes to send me food and I have to dispose of it unless it is on a paper plate or quickly place it on a plate from my cabinet. I am concerned about their health from the odor. You can actually smell it from the outside of their home.

By anon112658 — On Sep 21, 2010

I don't think anyone here realizes that not only is the smell bad but mothballs are extremely toxic! They contain naphthalene which is also in toilet bowl cleaner. It is a neurotoxin which kills brain cells and causes neuromotor skill issues in babies and children.

It is very toxic to pets and adults too.

Avoid them at all costs in favor of natural solutions like cedar balls inside your home. Eucalyptus oils and cut up citrus peels are great for keeping cats away. Moths do far less damage than the moth balls that people use. I wish more people understood how toxic they were.

By anon98349 — On Jul 22, 2010

The owners of the unit below my condo apartment used mothballs in the laundry unit for about five years, which is connected to the shared ventilation shaft. The moth balls were removed but I continue to get a frequent moth ball/gassy smell from the area.

I understand that moth balls can permeate wood which the air shaft is primarily constructed with. When one area is sealed up, the odor finds another site to penetrate: baseboards, medicine cupboard, electrical outlets etc!

I cannot access this shaft to wash or clean it, and fear I will be left with residual odor for years. Any ideas of what to use if I could get access to the area?

By anon96794 — On Jul 17, 2010

We've successfully removed a mothball odor that was pervasive throughout an entire house that we had just purchased.

First, we entirely demolished and removed the cedar closet in the basement that was the source of the problem. Though there were no mothballs present, just opening the door of the closet made one's eyes sting. Getting rid of the closet did not solve the whole problem, however, as the whole house still had an odor. It was discovered that the heating duct on top of the closet was punctured by nails in the building of the closet, causing the smell to be distributed throughout the house (if it hadn't already done so through osmosis).

These were the steps that were taken to eradicate the smell:

1) Opening all windows and turning on ceiling fans and exhaust fan in basement all day of each non-rainy day for over a month during the summer.

2) Purchasing and turning on four large dehumidifiers during the night to make the air as dry as possible.

3) Removing the wall to wall carpeting that was present in the entire home.

4) Having the entire home including basement washed by professional cleaners.

4) Getting the ducts cleaned by a reputable duct cleaner (Duct Medic).

5) Changing and upgrading the filter on the AC system.

6) Painting using nontoxic AFM SafeCoat Transitional Sealer and then a top coat of SafeCoat on the walls.

The smell is gone!

By citizen — On May 24, 2010

a house in the neighborhood has mothball odor. I know they put them in the attic to repel squirrels but the children are embarrassed going to school smelling of moth balls. I am worried for their health sleeping in that house. The scent of moth balls can be smelled way out in the street. How harmful is it to live in a house smelling of moth balls like that?

By anon80496 — On Apr 27, 2010

My mother has been using moth balls for 60 some years. Now she has Parkinson's, could this be the cause?

By anon72638 — On Mar 23, 2010

I kept my Scotch bottles in a drawer that had a residual small of moth balls. Now all my liquor tastes like these moth balls. How do I get rid of the smell / taste. Keeping in the sun has made it worse. It gave an aftertaste - and a bad throat to boot!

By anon70108 — On Mar 11, 2010

I stupidly rolled up my grandmother's wool braided rug with mothballs in it to get rid of what I thought were moth larvae. Now I can't put the rug back in the house. What do I do to get rid of the odor? anon1947

By anon65365 — On Feb 12, 2010

i placed mothballs in the walls of the house to rid a room of moth infestation (ceilings). are we truly in danger? i smell them a bit but not much. what should i do? dig them out or what?

By anon54267 — On Nov 28, 2009

Thanks to all of you who responded to what to do when my daughters handyman put moth balls in wall of attic to get rid of raccoons. Those are scary items and should be marked with a skull and cross bones. She had to move out of the house with her children. Lesson learned!

By anon53941 — On Nov 25, 2009

I had a terrible moth ball smell problem. I bought St. John clothing and feared moths would attack it. So, I placed multiple moth balls in a wooden chest of drawers with my items.

Well, needless to say, the entire chest of drawers reeked of moth balls, and my clothing was unwearable. The best solution I found was to use a hairdryer to blow dry the clothes and hang them to air out. After a few days the smell was gone. However, avoid getting the garments wet.

I steamed a jacket a week later, and it still had a slight odor. As for the wooden chest, I used Febreze to lightly wet the insides of the drawers and set them out to dry. The smell was gone.

I used all natural herbal sachets in the drawers and it smells wonderful. I hope these techniques will work for you.

By loriemack3 — On Sep 21, 2009

Help! Moth balls between the walls in the attic. Four small children breathing the fumes. Dangerous?

By anon45862 — On Sep 21, 2009

My daughter's handyman put lots of moth balls in between the walls of her attic to get rid of racoons that had nested there. Now the entire house smells that way and so does her entire family. Everywhere she goes she takes the smell of moth balls with her. I am concerned for the kids. Will it harm them? What can she do? She can't reach the moth balls. Please help!

By anon45840 — On Sep 20, 2009

hi. I was reading how to get rid of mice. well i know moth balls smell bad, but you know i am so afraid of mice i will leave my home. i mean so afraid i get chills when i go in a room thinking there might be one there. so i think i can live with the smell of moth balls, if it really works.so i am going to try it -- yeah a truck load. lol.

By anon40755 — On Aug 10, 2009

I found the trick that worked with my hand-me-down furniture. In the end, a thin coat of shellac was the only thing that worked. We tried airing, sanding, vinegar, and bitter tears, but nothing worked. Finally, we sprayed on some shellac and voila! I hope this helps some folks.

By melissa0862 — On Aug 10, 2009

I used moth balls in a container on my front porch. I have had this bad smell in my home for 2 years. I finally got this container off my porch. Now the smell is taking a long time to go away. what can I use to get this smell out my home? I will try anything. I have my air on 73 degrees and a candle burning. is there any thing else to try? I wish all you luck with getting this smell away. melissa in sc

By anon38657 — On Jul 27, 2009

Use them in your outside trash cans. they help keep away flies and rodents.

By anon38656 — On Jul 27, 2009

I put mothballs in my (outside)garbage cans in the summer. They helped flies stay away and not lay their maggot eggs and kept any raccoon or any other rodent from wanting to mess with the garbage inside.

Word of advice though: Hold your breath when opening and taking the trash bags out! It stinks to high heaven! Plus, it's not very good for you to ever breathe in the fumes of mothballs.

By anon32665 — On May 25, 2009

*Guys-moth balls are toxic.* Nobody should use them. They are what killed your kittens. They are extremely harmful, do not play around with them. Their intended use was for small *sealed* areas so that one does not breathe in the toxins. Use common sense people. You can't just sprinkle them to get rid of pests as you will breathe in the same toxins that *kill* other animals.

By mgh — On May 22, 2009

It's easy and costs nothing (providing you have a steam iron).

Wash the garment then iron at the relevant setting. The heat from the iron releases the molecule causing the smell. You could also try this on dry clothes with the steam setting.

My advice is to set the ironing table up outdoors. As you see the steam blowing away you know the smell is going with it. Then hang the clothes outside to air. When you are sure they are completely dry, pop them into a plastic bag with some lavender and you will have your formerly unusable clothes back.(the lavender step is optional - or use a cotton wool pad sprayed with your favorite perfume - be creative)

I have just retrieved a bag full of woolen garments this way. I washed the garments then set the iron on wool/steam and was amazed at the instant results. I've just brought my woolens in from the line and there is not a trace of the smell of moth balls. (an hour ago the smell from them was making me sick)

I suppose carpets, curtains and upholstery can be steam cleaned as can vehicle interiors just remember to create as much ventilation and through draught as possible as the steam produced is carrying the smell.

I don't know about using steam on timber furniture. I read a post saying wetting timber only injects the smell further into the object, but maybe a question placed on the woodworking forums might produce a solution.

I agree with the writer who said this stuff should come with a warning and thanks to the Perth (Australia) writer who explained about the 'smell molecule' affected by heat.

Hope you have as much success as I did.

love Margaret

Brisbane Australia

By anon30569 — On Apr 21, 2009

Moth balls fumes are actually very toxic to humans and animals. The fumes can cause red blood cell damage, cancer, kidney and liver damage and more. They are very dangerous especially to children, pregnant women and pets.

I don't know what to suggest to get rid of the odor of moth balls, except maybe an ionizer (you can rent one if you can't afford to buy one from an equipment rental place) or buy an aircleaner.

By Vickie1018 — On Dec 17, 2008

If anyone knows how to get rid of moth ball smells where I place them around my husband's wool suits, please let me know. Will start using some other type of insect repellent, but need to get rid of the odor! Thanks.

By grz2222 — On Sep 12, 2008

We put mothballs next to our house to repel skunks, but the smell of mothballs is through the entire house. Is this toxic?

By anon15014 — On Jun 29, 2008

I put moth balls crushed into the window well to get rid of a snake. the basement smells of moth balls. I tried to seal the window with tape but still smells. I tried to vacuum up the crushed moth balls with no success. Any suggestions are welcome. can I dilute with water and vinegar or make it worse. DB

By anon12697 — On May 12, 2008

I ask my friend about eliminating odors from my carpet. She suggested I spread crushed mothballs on the carpet for a few minutes then vacuum. WHOAAA!

What a mistake. The fumes from the vacuum were awful. I'm sitting in fumes, a tiny apt., can't go to friends or motel. Have drenched my carpet in baking soda, spread newspapers on the floor, running a fan, windows open......*gasp*, *choke*. I drenched the vacuum bag in baking soda - it's in the bathroom with the exhaust turned on. *coff, coff*

We used these thing when I was a child. never remember this smell to be so gassy.


By auntiejannie — On Apr 27, 2008

our neighbor thought he was doing us a favor and threw moth balls under our house to get rid of a skunk. I don't know about the skunk but breathing these moth balls is killing us. My question is, how do we get rid of the smell quickly as we also have 2 kittens that this could be harming.

By anon5247 — On Nov 18, 2007

I use moth balls under my mobile home to repel mice. There are strong fumes in the house. What do you suggest??

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