Are Mothball Fumes Toxic to Humans?

Learn about the toxicity of mothball chemicals, their effects on human health, and discover safe practices for using mothballs in your home.

February 8, 2024
min read
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The short answer? Yes, mothball fumes are toxic to humans.

Preventing fabric damaging moth larvae chewing through stored clothing using pungent mothball pesticides poses an inconvenient tradeoff for many homeowners. The powerful fumes released keeping insects at bay also bring health risks through inhaling or touching these toxic chemicals over time.

Understand exactly why traditional mothball solutions impact human health along with recognizing dangerous exposure symptoms requiring swift medical intervention. This covers safer ways correctly using chemical moth deterrents plus better fume-free alternatives protecting textiles without nasty side effects.

Why Are Mothballs Harmful?

The strong mothball odor emanating from stored woolen sweaters or blanket chests comes from two pesticide chemicals called naphthalene and paradichlorobenzene (PDB). Their invisible vaporizing fumes smother moth larvae stopping feeding and breeding cycles.

Both mothball pesticide ingredients register as probable human carcinogens interfering with oxygen supplies to cells. So manufactured moth deterrent products require handling cautions and environmentally safe disposal guidelines.

But the pervasive mothball stench lingering for months signals direct exposure to concentrated chemical fumes - especially problematic accumulating inside enclosed storage spaces over time.

The mothball chemicals not only irritate eyes, skin and airways but longer contact causes headaches, nausea, confusion and lightheadedness. More chronic exposure risks organ inflammation, neurological decline and currently unconfirmed links to certain cancers.

So while extremely useful preventing priceless textile damage, traditional naphthalene or PDB mothballs pose very real health hazards warranting strict precautions minimizing dangerous fume concentrations indoors.

The Dangers of Chemical Mothballs

Both naphthalene and paradichlorobenzene (PDB) register as probable human carcinogens according to Australian National Industrial Chemicals Notification and Assessment Scheme (NICNAS).

They require special handling and usage directions under federal Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority control minimizing contamination or poisoning incidents through open sale.

Naphthalene especially raises extra red flags according to mounting medical feedback. Canada banned the chemical for mothball use completely during the 1990s once repeated links to hemolytic anemia emerged. The EU soon followed restricting sales.

Yet mothballs containing PDB still flood markets globally despite similarly concerning health correlations. Understanding all risk factors informs smarter usage decisions managing valuable but problematic mothball pesticides.

What is Naphthalene?

Found in fossil fuels like petroleum and coal tar, naphthalene forms colorless triclinic crystal flakes featuring an extremely low water solubility and strong aromatic hydrocarbon smell. That characteristic pungent odor helps repel moths even in very low concentrations.

Historically mothball products relied on refined naphthalene crystals sublimating from solid to gas form in average air temperatures. The heavy vapor smothers moth larvae nerves and disrupts crucial life stages so they die before maturing and reproducing.

But other applications also utilize the chemical like toilet deodorizers, skin creams, cattle sprays, rubber preservative agents and concrete plasticizers. These increase environmental load and contamination risks further.

Aside from flammability issues, direct skin contact with naphthalene also creates health consequences like eye or nose irritation alongside headaches, nausea and confusion if inhaled at high concentrations.

More chronic or frequent exposure causes anemia, liver abnormalities or neurological decline as the toxic chemical byproducts accumulate faster than bodies eliminate them. Canada and EU states now label the chemical a suspected carcinogen after repeated consumer safety scares.

What is Paradichlorobenzene (PDB)?

This chlorinated aromatic hydrocarbon performs very similar moth repelling roles to solid naphthalene flakes without the same flammability fire risks. PDB also sublimates from crystals to vapor state permeating enclosed spaces at room temperature.

Since the 1970s, mothball products containing 1,4-Dichlorobenzene concentrations replaced traditional naphthalene options in many regions due to fire concerns around the latter chemical. PDB presents similar fuming actions keeping moths away from wool, fur and fabrics.

Outdoors, PDB breaks down reasonably fast reacting with water, oxygen and sunlight so poses fewer environmental contamination hazards than other chemicals. But build up indoors still creates respiratory irritation and toxicity scenarios through constant contact minus adequate ventilation.

Headaches, dizziness, sleepiness or eye damage may occur if inhaling too much PDB vapor in confined home spaces. More chronic reactions involve liver inflammation, skin pigmentation changes and blood cell impacts weakening essential oxygen transportation abilities over time.

The Main Health Risks of Mothball Fumes

Both naphthalene and PDB mothball vapors affect humans similarly through airborne contact, ingestion or physical handling over short and longer periods. Understanding key warning signs proves crucial avoiding extensive personal damage after usage.

Immediate health impacts center on mucous membrane irritation typical from most inhaled chemicals. Burning throat or nose, watery eyes, sneezing and coughing occur straight away. Headaches often feature too.

Worse symptoms like vomiting, fatigue, confusion, breathing issues or profuse sweating signal tissue inflammation and cell jeopardy as toxin levels accumulate faster than being eliminated. Seek emergency assistance noticing these serious reactions.

Contact poisoning from touching then accidentally swallowing traces poses highest risks for infants and pets. Both mothball chemicals readily absorb across skin so handle cautiously minimizing contamination near food surfaces or children’s play zones.

Among confirmed long term health consequences, weakened blood cell counts or anemia from naphthalene present fast while liver and kidney damages may incubate over decades. But airways and eyes endure more chronic assaults from frequent low level mothball vapors too.

Monitor environments accordingly and watch for wheezing, eye irritation, skin pigmentation changes or easy bleeding indicating chemical interference beyond safe thresholds. Seek qualified medical help determining suitable mothball usage levels balancing textile protection with indoor air quality.

woman packing clothes for long  term storage

Long Term Storage Problems With Mothballs

Aside from acute mothball vapor threats, regular wool or fabric storage habits also risk gradual indoor air and surface contamination plus associated health issues over time.

Chemical concentrations accumulate faster inside poorly ventilated basement rooms or attics used for costuming, heirloom garments or household equipment closed up with mothballs. Occupants may little suspect risks from occasional brief access.

Yet both PDB and naphthalene plastics, paints and sealants emit trace emissions through normal weathering indoors. Adding pesticide reservoirs enabling long term vapor exposure multiplies compounding toxicity potentials gone unnoticed over years or even decades.

So best practice favors storing vulnerable apparel items or cloth artifacts in actively occupied living zones of homes instead. This guarantees adequate airflow circulation dispersing any fumes appropriately. Introduce strong ventilation permanently removing summertime stores offsite minimizing unnecessary domestic contact.

Carefully track total mothball reliance with intended storage duration and human presence exposure factors in your situation. Higher garment values offsetting health issues perhaps justifies conservative usage with vigilant safety protocols minimizing contamination downsides. Or make mothballs a last resort when other natural deterrents fail short term.

How to Test for Naphthalene or Dichlorobenzene Fumes

Wondering if mothball exposure inside your home already exceeds recommended thresholds given the risks? Professional air monitoring services gauge current toxicity levels informing suitable responses balancing health and possessions protection.

Seeking qualified assistance also makes sense after moving into older homes with unknown storage history. Visual mothball use signs like crumbling flakes or the famous odor offer warning. But lingering emission potentials and residual traces may remain hidden for years.

Sampling correctly identifies any problematic volatile organic compounds (VOCs) like naphthalene or PDB vaporizing into living spaces from contaminated material reserves within walls or subfloors. Detailed lab reports quantify chemical concentrations across separate zones targeting deep cleaning or remediation efforts containing further household diffusion.

Monitoring also establishes baselines before reintroducing older stored clothing or fabrics into active areas after a long absence. Preservation best practice favors isolating and ventilating articles extensively outdoors first given the propensity for pesticide residue trapping in fibers waiting to offgas indoors eventually. Such precautions strengthen health protections later.

So invest around $150-250 hiring reputable environmental professionals to sample internal air pollution if traditional mothballs featured over 3-6 months in enclosed storage areas. The findings shape practical low toxicity solutions allowing ongoing textile enjoyment for generations more.

healthy living space

Making Your Home A Healthy Space

Balancing stored clothes preservation with indoor air quality when utilizing traditional moth pesticides requires thoughtful solutions minimizing chemical build up over time.

Start by establishing dedicated storage zones isolated from human activity centers like bedrooms or living rooms. Attics, basements or freestanding garages work well securing frequent ventilation opportunities easily. Still air allows vapor accumulation.

When first introducing newly mothballed clothing, only open containers briefly while wearing gloves and masks limiting personal intake. Immediately wash hands and clothes aired minimising residual contact.

Strategically place sticky traps checking for moth larvae successes given pesticides dissipate effectiveness around the three month mark typically. This prompts suitable wardrobe rotations.

Mothball Alternatives

Thankfully some very effective fume-free moth prevention alternatives protect stored clothing from insect larvae damages without repeating the same nasty toxin exposure issues over time.

Natural fabric safe moth deterrent options prevent eggs hatching and starve hatchlings interrupting life cycles before voracious caterpillars chew through treasured cashmere or heirloom antique quilts.

Certain strong aromatic plant oils perfectly repel moths while remaining harmless contact with human skin or to breathe easy. Best results layer these protective wardrobe companions between garment layers or around storage containers keeping textiles safe.

Popular choices include:

Cedar Wood - blocks, rings or chippings sachets

Lavender sprigs - dried flower buds (you get 2 of these for FREE with all our Cedar Wood Bundles)

Eucalyptus leaves - dried then crumbled

Rosemary, thyme or mint leaves

Citrus fruit peel - lemon, orange or grapefruit

The natural vapor from these moth repelling materials poses no health threats but lasts Warding off hungry larvae for 6-12 months effectively. Replenish or add more bundles whenever unpacking seasonal items from storage for maximum ongoing protection.

Cedar wood especially deters moths potently for decades emanating from solid camphor and cedrol vapors from the timber itself. Its pleasant scent for humans outlasts detecting effectiveness too. Choose high quality Eastern red cedar blocks, rings or chips bundled inside natural muslin wraps specifically for wardrobe storage duty.

Aside from natural odor deterrents, non-toxic insect growth regulator pheromones now offer chemical-free wardrobe or fabric protection as well. The synthetic copies of natural hormones send larvae into a mating frenzy but preventing essential reproductive actions downstream.

Placing sticky pheromone traps or impregnated strips around susceptible natural fiber storage spaces tricks moths abandoning attempts colonizing there. They last around three months then get replaced mimicking moth egg hatching seasons.

For sensitive antique fabric care or medical risks ruling out pesticides, consider these mothball fume substitutes safeguarding precious textiles safely. Breathe easy without toxic vapors ruining health gains moth population success either way.

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About Wood Blocks

Our mission is to empower you with the knowledge to curate a wardrobe that not only reflects your personal style but also aligns with environmentally friendly practices. From exploring the wonders of natural mothballs and sustainable garment storage to diving deep into DIY solutions and green living, we're here to guide you on a journey towards a more eco-conscious, stylish, and intentional lifestyle.

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