How to Get Rid of The Mothballs Smell From Your Clothes

Learn how to effectively remove lingering mothball smell from clothes, textiles and home spaces.

February 8, 2024
min read
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If you’ve ever opened a box of stored clothing or pulled a sweater from the depths of a chest to be met with an overpowering mothball stench, you know how unpleasant it can be. As useful as mothballs are for protecting fabrics, the pungent smell can linger for months - seeping into wardrobes, rooms and even onto skin and hair if you aren’t careful.

Follow this guide covering everything from understanding traditional mothball chemical components to practical odour removal methods and safer storage alternatives. Protect treasured garments and textiles without living with noxious mothball fumes ruining your favourite pieces.

What Exactly Are Mothballs?

Mothballs or flakes traditionally contain pesticide ingredients called paradichlorobenzene or naphthalene. These gradually turn from solids into toxic vapors killing moth larvae trying to feed on natural fabrics over time.

The strong mothball smell humans notice comes from these active chemicals interacting with oxygen, moisture and heat in the air during release. Concentrations are highest inside enclosed storage spaces like wardrobes or chests. But the pervasive odor lasts stubbornly once exposed to clothing, soft furnishings, closets and sometimes entire homes.

Both mothball chemicals are registered pesticides governed for usage directions and safety warnings. The registered products Flaken, Glett and Mitin FF contain paradichlorobenzene while various brands sell naphthalene mothballs.

Always follow cautions never to inhale fumes directly or allow skin contact during handling. Use gloves placing balls or flakes in perforated containers before adding to clothing storage areas. Review safety directions limiting quantities used in confined home spaces.

The Chemicals in Mothballs

Traditional mothballs contain either paradichlorobenzene or naphthalene pesticides. Both stop moth infestations from damaging stored wool, furs and fabrics but also pose health risks from fume exposure. Understanding each chemical provides insight managing use and odour removal.


Also known as “para crystals” or PDB, this chlorinated aromatic hydrocarbon emits heavy mothball vapours. It works by both repelling and killing larval stages of insects drawn to keratin-based natural fibers.

PDB mothballs begin as solid white balls that gradually “sublimate” or convert to gas without passing through liquid form when exposed to air. The invisible vapor is around 5 times heavier than air so remains concentrated lower down around stored clothing, textiles or furnishings vulnerable to insect damage.

As the chemical vaporizes, its interactions with oxygen and heat create the powerful mothball smell humans associate with the product. It leaves behind a residue film on fabrics also resistant to egg hatching.

PDB is highly flammable and toxic requiring careful usage instructions on registered products. But the persistent odor, often noticed long after storing susceptible clothes, also causes headaches, eye and lung irritation if breathing concentrations build up in confined spaces.


Refined from either coal or petroleum sources, naphthalene flakes or balls work the same way as PDB moth repellants. Their heavier vapor smothers insects at larval stages drawn to keratin-based natural fabrics.

Being virtually insoluble in water, the toxic chemical residue also lingers stubbornly on stored materials and indoor surfaces once the noticeable pungent odor fades over 2-3 months. So naphthalene mothball odor removal requires some work.

Less popular nowadays due to flammability issues, warnings still emphasize ventilating spaces for at least 48 hours when removing protected stored clothing articles after prolonged mothball fumigation. This allows concentrations to dissipate to safer levels before human exposure.

How to Get Rid of the Mothball Smell

Whether opening up seasonal storage or airing second-hand shop finds, a mothball stench blast ruins the joy of retrieved clothes instantly. Unfortunately, the stubborn odour notoriously lingers for months on fabric fibers and indoor materials.

Attempting to mask powerful smells using fragranced sprays only worsens the issue. Lingering chemical residues attract more insect pests while fragrances contain additional toxic components.

Tackling the problem involves removing both the pesticide residue film from garment fibers and absorptive airborne particles settling on surrounding areas. These tips help eliminate both causes completely.

Airing Out Gear

Start by unpacking storage containers outside or in a very well ventilated area. This allows the initial trapped chemical concentrations to safely dissipate instead of moving into living spaces.

Leave garments outstretched overnight on a clothesline if possible. Direct fresh airflow helps evaporate stubborn residues from the fabric fibers so odors release instead of sticking around. Turning items frequently accelerates the process.

If night airing isn’t possible, ensure room windows open fully providing maximum ventilation for at least 48 hours. Position a rotating fan nearby circulating air around exposed clothing. Shake out any folded items and hang up if there’s space.

This consistent airflow prevents mothball particles resettling while helping it escape via ventilation. Repeat the process again after round one airing until mothball odours reduce significantly.

oraganized aired fabrics

Washing Away Odours

Laundering clothes removes both dingy chemical residues and trapped smells in fabric fibers opening fresh dye sites. Adjust techniques based on garment care instructions but follow certain rules.

Use very hot 130°F plus water - the hottest fabrics safely tolerate. Heat helps dissolve stubborn particles freeing trapped odours to rinse cleanly away.

Skip fabric softener entirely as this simply masks any lingering smells. Harsh fragrances also exacerbate breathing issues around residual chemicals. Let odour eliminator products do their job instead.

Choose a high efficiency smell eliminating detergent like Persil ProClean, Oxiclean or Biozet Attack to pre-treat garments. Check product suitability for delicates though first.

Soak washed items for 8 hours beforehand or add chemical odor removing boosters into machine drums. This jumpstarts odor bonding for maximum elimination through the wash cycle.

Finish small loads in a hot dryer instead of hanging items while wet. Lingering musty smells often return drying clothes this way. Fragranced dryer sheets also just mask odour temporarily.

For dry clean items, ask what chemical odor removal products they use in cleaning solutions. Request extra services like additional stain treatment or deodorizing add ons after explaining issues to maximize results.

Woolens and specialty fabrics like silks may require specialized dry cleaning solutions though. Always defer to professional fabric care expertise tailoring techniques for particular garment needs if unsure.

Absorptive Surface Treatment

Removing destructive odours like mothball smells involves eliminating the vapor residue triggering scent receptors in noses. But airborne particles also settle and stick to any nearby porous surfaces like closet walls or furniture.

Treating surrounding storage areas helps capture these rogue particles preventing reactivation of smells later when disturbed. Be meticulous cleaning every possible textile touching surface.

Start by covering floors with baking soda. Generously sprinkle bicarbonate of soda before vacuuming up again after several hours. The powder absorbs odour causing particles from carpet and cracks.

Wipe down walls, doors, shelves and boxes with white vinegar diluted in a water spray. Acidity counteracts alkaline stench molecules bonding to erase them. Concentrated steam also destroys particles effectively.

Allow containers or enclosures to dry completely before replacing garments. Then stash containers holding dried aromatic herbs like cedar chips or scented tea bags. These pleasant fragrances camouflage any lingering mothball undertones.

Consistency eliminates both chemical residue and airborne contaminants causing that problematic pungent mothball smell. Don’t cut corners skipping important odour removal steps at each stage.

Are Mothballs Toxic to Breathe?

Used correctly inside enclosed storage like trunks and wardrobes, traditional mothball chemicals pose low risks to humans while protecting fabrics superbly. But inhaling too closely or handling the pesticide balls directly leads to toxic health issues.

Both naphthalene and PDB mothball vapours irritate eyes, skin and nasal passages in high concentrations. Chest tightness, coughing, wheezing, dizziness, headaches plus nose and throat pain are common reactions.

More dangerously, swallowing or prolonged skin contact with the chemicals risks organ damage, anemia, confusion, difficulty breathing plus vomiting and diarrhea.

Young children are particularly susceptible to toxicity effects around mothballs so always keep well out of reach. Seek medical help immediately if ingestion is suspected.

Naphthalene especially carries further toxin risks like kidney and liver abnormalities or neurological problems if exposure occurs regularly. Animal studies also classify the chemical as a possible human carcinogen so alleged links to cancer emerge occasionally too.

While extremely useful protecting susceptible fabrics against hungry insect larvae, traditional mothball pesticides clearly pose some degree of toxicity dangers to humans and pets. Weigh up the risks versus storage needs for your situation using all suitable safety measures.

How to Get the Mothball Smell Out of House

If clothes or blankets stored with mothballs permeate whole home spaces with their unmistakable stench, comprehensive solutions banish both the odour and any lingering chemicals.

Start by removing all treated items into a well ventilated area or preferably outdoors. Allow fresh air exposure for 48 hours before washing and drying thoroughly. This permits chemical concentrations present to dissipate instead of circulating indoors.

With garments removed, deep clean the vacated storage spaces first. Vacuum all surrounding surfaces before wiping down with white vinegar and water solution. Steam cleaning kills any remaining odor causing particles settled in nearby materials too.

Address any absorbent furniture or furnishings also exposed to the smell next. Sprinkle liberally with baking soda leaving overnight before vacuuming thoroughly. Repeat until mothball odors fade completely. Delicate upholstery items may require professional cleaning.

Shampoo carpets and mop hard floors with odor eliminating solutions washing away stubborn molecules. Atomizing antibacterial sprays containing tea tree, eucalyptus or clove oil aromas help neutralize any lingering pungent smell residues around rooms. Address curtains last after cleaning ceiling to floor.

Work methodically from high traffic areas outwards so vestiges aren’t carried back inside on feet or clothing. Maintaining adequate airflow day and night also prevents any lingering mothball smell intensifying instead of dissipating fully.

How Long Does The Mothball Smell Last?

That stubborn mothball odour clinging to stored clothes and home spaces depends on a few varying factors. But generally, the pungent smell persists between 2-8 weeks.

In storage containers holding mothball-treated items, the chemicals emit concentrated fumes. These may linger inside for 2-3 months until the products stop vaporizing.

On clothing and textiles, residue films cling to fabric fibers much longer - hence the powerful stench bursting free unpacking items weeks later. Fragrances seem stubbornly entrenched but properly washing garments helps remove both this chemical residue and trapped odors.

For empty wardrobes, drawers and storage areas, mothball smells fade faster without chemical reservoirs replenishing scented particles in the air. Still, traces may cling to absorbent surfaces for up to 8 weeks until thoroughly eliminating them.

Vigilantly removing the smell at every possible stage prevents it perpetuating throughout entire homes for even longer. So tackle odour causing molecules both at source and settled on nearby materials for maximum impact.

How to Get the Mothball Smell Out of Clothes

Mothballs stench infusing your favourite sweater or special occasion garment ruins wearing them until properly deodorizing items. Follow these clothing-specific tricks vanquishing those unpleasant smells for good.

Unpack and air clothes in a well-ventilated place before washing. Hanging outside allows odors to release instead of moving indoors. Expose both sides of fabric to fresh breezes for 48 hours if possible.

Pre-treat with enzymatic odor removal sprays like Febreze or Zero Odor. These break down stubborn molecules triggering scent detectors. Apply liberally to fabric exteriors before sealing in bags overnight.

Wash items using hot 130°F plus water with bio washing detergents containing activated oxygen, enzymes and odor fighters. Soak beforehand maximizing exposure to cleaning agents in wash cycles.

Alternate between soaking in white vinegar or lemon juice instead of detergents for delicate fabrics stained by dye residue. Acids dissolve stubborn particles without risking damage different ways.

Dry woolen items flat on towels then store with natural deodorizers like cedar chips or scented herbs. Their lingering fragrances disguise any remnants of that pungent mothball smell.

woman arranging clothes in a wardrobe

How to Get Rid of a Mothball Smell in Wardrobes

Treating absorbent storage spaces like wardrobes prevents stubborn smells reviving long after mothball usage.

Start by emptying closets completely before vacuuming all interior surfaces. Use attachments reaching cracks and crevices where odor particles accumulate.

Clean insides using non-toxic sprays like vinegar, oxygen boosters or enzymatic cleaners. Tea tree, clove or eucalyptus oils also destroy unwanted particles. Anti-mold solutions prevent musty undertones developing.

Steam clean painted surfaces, hanging rails and storage draws eliminating deeply ingrained particles. Repeat weekly until mothball stench disappears completely. Wardrobe deodorizing “bombs” placed inside also help.

Sprinkle cedar balls, dried lavender or fragrant potpourri introducing pleasant fragrances overriding any chemical whiffs. Or stash scented tea bags under shelving camouflaging stubborn lingering smells. Just avoid strongly scented candles inside enclosed spaces.

Maintaining airflow day and night also stops wardrobe smells intensifying. Cracking doors open slightly or installing vent slats prevents air stagnating when vacant.

Consistency eliminates both chemical residue and airborne contaminants causing that problematic pungent mothball smell inside wardrobes and closets.

Alternatives to Mothballs

While extremely useful stopping insect damage to wool, leather and other natural fabrics, traditional mothball solutions come with downsides detracting enjoyment from stored clothes and furnishings.

The toxic chemicals pose potential health issues through direct contact or breathing concentrated fumes inside confined storage spaces over time. They also damage clothing finishes and seep into nearby porous materials creating a stubborn stench.

Thankfully natural moth repelling alternatives keep fabrics safe sans nasty side effects. Combining these into storage routines protects stored items just as successfully.

Cedar blocks release a strong aroma disliked by moths. The pleasant woody scent for humans beats mothballs too! Chunks work for generations while cedar filled sachets or hangers complement drawers and closets.

Dried herbs like lavender, rosemary, mint and cloves repel moths safely with the added bonus of a sweet scent. Small muslin bags placed between clothing layers or lining storage bins achieve mothball-free results.

Citrus peelings produce d-limonene vapor when drying naturally. This moth deterring essence is perfect tucked around woolens or inside vacuum sealed storage bags. And the ritual appeals to crafty types!

Insect growth regulator pheromones use synthetic moth hormone scents disrupting mating and breeding cycles. Lasting for years per release, the virtually undetectable vapors offer extended protection.

Physical sealing using breathable fabric tarps, vacuum bags or well-sealed plastic containers creates impenetrable barriers against insects without using chemicals. Just monitor for moisture build up or odd smells indicating problems.

Whatever the wardrobe size or storage scenario, safe natural solutions prevent moth damage without exposing your family or belongings to nasty toxins. Protect precious items minus the headache dealing with unpleasant mothball stench afterwards.

Removing that notorious mothball smell from fabrics, rooms and homes once exposed poses many challenges. But some consistency restoring freshness again goes a long way. Implement as many odour fighting solutions simultaneously for optimal impact busting persistent pungent smells for good.

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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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