How to Get Rid of Mothball Smell

Generally, the mothball smell tends to be present in upholstered furniture or clothing that has been in storage for a while. That is why stuff from the thrift store tends to have this kind of smell. It comes from the tiny pieces of chemical pesticides meant to keep your things from being damaged by insects. And these are usually in the form of round balls, flakes, or cakes.

Mothballs usually consist of para-dichlorobenzene or naphthalene. These chemicals are toxic to human beings when used in large doses and inhaled for a long period. And the latter is similar to the smells that come from tobacco smoke. They are also toxic to pets, such as cats. And dogs who ingest them are likely to suffer from poisoning.

Yet, you are likely to encounter mothball smells because they protect clothing and furniture. They help keep away moth larvae that tend to destroy these things.

Therefore, you need to determine if you are inhaling mothballs excessively and how to get rid of their odor.

Symptoms of Prolonged Exposure to Mothballs

When used correctly within airtight containers, such as storage containers, mothballs work as they were intended. But if you can detect the strong smell of mothballs, you are probably inhaling the toxic fumigants.

And that isn’t good for animal and human health. It can cause respiratory illnesses and poison your pets or small children if it is present for a long time or gets ingested. Also, it may contaminate your water and soil.

However, some symptoms show you are getting overexposed to the toxic chemicals in mothballs. These include

  • Skin and eye irritation
  • Abdominal pain or cramps
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Dizziness
  • Renal disease or kidney damage
  • Anemia
  • Headaches
  • Confusion
  • Malaise
  • Icterus or jaundice
  • Convulsions
  • Excitement

How to Get Rid of the Mothball Smell

It would be best if you addressed the mothball smell in your home or office the moment you realize it’s present. The longer you delay, the more toxic fumes you inhale.

Below are different methods to help you get rid of the mothball scent.

1. Remove the offending items

If you experience the pungent smell of mothballs, the first thing to do is search the entire room and find the offending items. And you can also search through all the nooks and crannies of upholstered furniture and closet spaces to find the mothballs. But of course, if you are the one who put placed these pesticides all around your home, it is easy to find them.

Since these balls are toxic to humans and animals, you cannot throw them out with regular trash. Instead, you need to get rid of them by taking them to a hazardous waste facility or hiring disposal companies that handle toxic waste.

2. Let fresh air work in your favor

To get rid of the strong odor of mothballs, you should also bring in as much fresh air as possible. For example, you can open the windows and allow the mothball smell to dissipate from the room in which you sense it.

On the other hand, if you have clothes and furniture affected by the unpleasant smells, you can take them outside on a bright sunny day and let the fresh air do its job.

3. Buy and install air purifiers

To get rid of the smell of mothballs and toxic fumes, consider buying an air purifier, especially if you have been using these products for a long time.

Air sanitizers will improve air circulation in your home by sucking in polluted air, filtering it, and recirculating it back into the house. Considering the adverse effects of prolonged exposure to mothballs, you should opt for an air purifier with HEPA filters, which are more efficient in cleaning the air.

You can use portable air purifiers for individual rooms or opt for HVAC filters that can be placed within air vents. On average, expect to spend $100 to $300 for smaller versions and $800 to $1000 for the larger models.

However, if you intend to buy and install whole-house air purifiers with HEPA filters, your budget should be $1,000 to $4,000.

Remember, an air purifier is a long-term, expensive solution for keeping your home’s air free of pollutants. So, it’s worth considering after you have dealt with the immediate problem of strong odors associated with mothballs using other methods.

4. Use vinegar to remove the mothball odor

For machine-washable clothes, dry cleaning with vinegar may help eliminate the mothball smell.

Once you put your smelly clothes in a washing machine, pour a cup of vinegar and let it go through one cycle. Then, add detergent and wash the clothes as you usually do.

It may not be easy to tell whether the mothball smell is gone completely from the wet clothes. But once they dry, if they are still smelly, you can wash them again in the same way.

An alternative method is to mix one cup of white vinegar with eight cups of warm water and soak the clothes before washing them with the machine.

Also, you can wipe all the surfaces with a mixture of vinegar and water or lemon juice combined in equal parts to try and clear the strong scents on the affected sections of furniture and clothing. In addition, you can mix rubbing alcohol and vinegar and apply the solution to the smelly surfaces and allow them to dry. All you need to do is put the mixture in a spray bottle, spray, and clean the hard surfaces using a rag.

5. Let baking soda work its magic

Baking soda is an odor eliminator. It will deodorize all acidic and alkaline molecules into odor-free states. So, it is an excellent way of getting rid of mothball smells in your home.

You can soak clothes in a mixture of one part of baking soda and eight parts of water or put them in the washing machine and run one cycle with both laundry detergent and baking soda.

If your furniture is affected, sprinkle a decent amount of baking soda and leave it for several hours before wiping it off. In addition, you can place several bowls of baking soda in the different spaces where the smell of mothballs is strongest. After about a week, you will notice a decrease in the strength of the odor.

6. Absorb smells using activated charcoal

Activated charcoal is one of the natural ways of getting rid of strong smells arising from the use of mothballs. It is also one of the most affordable ways of doing so.

You can put some activated charcoal in a paper pouch and insert it in any hard-to-reach area that has the mothball smell. That includes the nooks and crannies of furniture and closets, and within the folds of smelly clothes. Alternatively, you can use charcoal tablets.

7. Leave coffee grounds bowls in affected areas

Like charcoal, coffee grounds can also absorb strong odors. So, you can leave out bowls of coffee grounds in various sections of your home with mothball smells. Also, you can place bowls of coffee grounds in enclosed spaces, such as closets, chests, and dresser compartments.

The coffee grounds absorb the smells of mothballs and, over time, the coffee aroma will take over. And that is a much better smell than the one produced by the toxic fumes from naphthalene.

8. Use cinnamon sticks

You may want to familiarize yourself with cinnamon incense sticks. Their wood and spicy scent will permeate the entire room when lit. Therefore, they are an excellent way to make a room smell something other than mothballs.

You can also bake cinnamon sticks to spread their aroma. Alternatively, you could place them in various nooks and crannies where the smell of mothballs is more potent, so they can slowly change the odors in there or within the clothes.

9. Utilize cedar chips

Mothballs are so strong that they can permeate a cedar chest and make it impossible to use. In such a situation, you should consider placing a bowl of cedar chips and enclosing the chest for a few days after washing it with a pine cleaner or something similar. In addition, it will absorb any moisture that remains after cleaning.

Afterwards, you can leave a few red cedar chips in a paper pouch within the items you place in the chest when the smell is gone. Alternatively, you can spray red cedarwood oil on everything. The smell prevents moth damage because it repels clothes moths and prevents them from laying eggs, which would hatch into destructive larvae.

10. Make use of air fresheners

Air fresheners are any devices or substances that make the air smell fresh. They can be in the form of aerosol sprays, gels, scented candles, plug-in devices, air freshener fans, diffusers, potpourri, etc.

If your mothballs have been around for a while, it will take longer to make their smell disappear. Therefore, you need to use air fresheners that continuously create a fresh scent that counteracts the unpleasant smell. And air freshener fans or plug-ins air freshening devices that can produce a better smell are worth considering.

On the other hand, if the mothballs have not had time to permeate your clothing, upholstery, or space, you can spray the affected area or light up scented candles.

11. Sprinkle cat litter around

Zeolite is the reason why cat litter does not smell. Instead, the natural, non-toxic mineral absorbs the foul odors, such as ammonia smells, which would have been present and keeps your cat litter box smelling fresh.

So, you can sprinkle it in the affected areas from which the smell of mothballs emanates. Since it comes as crystals or rock, it is easy to distribute. And it will help absorb the unpleasant smells. In addition, it will trap the source of the odor and mask it, thus leaving your clothing, upholstery, and rooms smelling fresher.

12. Bleach your clothes

If your clothes can withstand the effects of bleach, you can add non-chlorine bleach and wash your clothes as usual. But ensure you follow the instructions on your bleach bottle.

13. Ozone generator

You can rent or purchase an oxygen machine from your local hardware stores to get rid of stubborn mothball odors if you want to. These machines are called ozone generators for a reason. And that’s because they produce activated oxygen or pure ozone that oxidizes odor molecules.

You need to follow the manufacturer’s instructions when you leave it on within an enclosed room or storage space.

When Will the Smell of Mothballs Disappear?

How long the foul odor from mothballs stays in the affected area or clothing will depend on how many of them you used and how long you used them. But it is common for the mothball smell to last one month to a year or more.

The good news is that once you get rid of the balls, you will no longer be inhaling the toxic fumes. Therefore, you only have to deal with the strong smells left behind. And there are plenty of methods you can use to make your stuff smell much better.

Just choose what works for you in terms of budget and what you have available and try it out. Most strategies are simple to implement, so you can try a few until you get the odor removal process right.

Photo of author

Brandi Miles, BSW, MS Human Services

Brandi Miles, BSW, MS Human Services is the mother of two adult children and three beautiful grandchildren. Brandi has 20+ years of experience helping people with developmental disabilities.
DISCLAIMER: The content published on is intended for informational use only and should not be considered professional advice, diagnosis, or treatment. You should always consult with a licensed medical professional or physician for professional advice. is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to We also participate in other affiliate programs with other affiliate sites. We are compensated for referring traffic and business to these companies.