How to Get Rid of Mothball Smell? | A Complete Guide

Written by Thomas Matthews

Mothballs have a distinct and unpleasant smell that can take over your entire home. On top of that, the scent can stick around for years, clinging to furniture, carpets, walls, and clothes. With such a powerful smell, it might seem impossible to get rid of mothball odors. 

How to get rid of the mothball smell? To eliminate the pungent smell of mothballs for good, you can use baking soda, vinegar, or activated charcoal, which will neutralize the odor. Airing mothball-smelling furniture, carpets, or clothes outside or with a fan will help dissipate the odor faster.

Continue reading to know why it is crucial to get rid of mothball smells and how you can eliminate them for good. We will walk you through the simplest and most effective ways to deodorize your clothes, rooms, furniture, car, and more so you won’t ever have to breathe in the toxic fumes from mothballs again. 

What Do Mothballs Smell Like?

Mothballs smell bitter and chemicals like house paint, ammonia, or cigarette smoke. Although some more modern brands of mothballs don’t have a strong smell, good old classic mothballs can have a pungent, lingering odor. 

Mothballs often contain napthalene or paradichlorobenzene. These two chemicals are solids at room temperature, but they slowly turn into a gas that is highly toxic and dangerous if inhaled. 

The gas that these two popular ingredients in mothballs make is a strong chemical smell that many people find unpleasant. Many people compare it to other highly chemical odors that leave a bitter taste in your mouth. 

Still, it is crucial to note that you inhale some of these toxic chemicals when you smell mothballs, which can be very hazardous to your health. 

Related: What Chemicals do Exterminators Use for Ants?

How Long Does Mothball Smell Last?

Mothball smell has been known to last for years after the mothball itself dissolves. Mothballs generally last for around 31 days to 3 months, but the smell lingers for much longer. 

When it comes to mothball smell, you can’t just wait for the odor to go away on its own – unless you are prepared to spend years smelling that awful, bitter scent of toxic chemicals. 

Related: What Chemicals Kill Bed Bugs? | Effective Solutions for Pest Control

Is It Dangerous To Smell Mothballs?

Is It Dangerous To Smell Mothballs

It is very dangerous to smell mothballs. Many professionals advise against using mothballs since they are toxic to humans and can cause cancer, liver damage, kidney damage, and anemia. 

When you inhale naphthalene, your body converts it into alpha-naphthol. Alpha-naphthol can cause liver, kidney, and blood cell damage. That’s because it can burst some of your blood cells and reduce the amount of oxygen they can absorb. 

The other chemical commonly used in mothballs is paradichlorobenzene. According to scientific research and the World Health Organization, this chemical is carcinogenic or cancer-causing. 

Because of the harmful effects of mothballs and the chemicals inside them, people exposed to them may feel dizzy at first. If the exposure is prolonged, they may suffer organ damage, feel nauseous, or faint. 

Is the Smell of Mothballs Harmful to Babies?

Is the Smell of Mothballs Harmful to Babies

Mothballs are dangerous for humans of all ages to smell and touch, but children are highly susceptible to illnesses caused by pesticides. So, if you have children or babies in your household, you should never use mothballs. 

The chemicals in mothballs are very toxic to babies and young children. Children also eat mothballs frequently since they look like candy, which can cause medical issues or death in young children. 

Ingesting mothballs can cause jaundice, diarrhea, vomiting, blood poisoning, and dizziness. If a young child eats a mothball, you should always seek out medical attention immediately. Left untreated, exposure to mothballs can be fatal for children and babies.

How Do You Get Rid of Mothball Smell?

Beyond the toxic effects of mothballs, they also have a permeating, bitter, and unpleasant smell that many people dislike. Getting rid of this smell can seem impossible, but if you know the right tips and tricks, you can get rid of it for good, no matter where it is. 

To get rid of the mothball smell, you will need to:

  • Remove all of the mothballs from your home.
  • Clean all fabrics to remove the toxic chemicals. 
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Depending on where the smell is the strongest, you may want to use different methods to get rid of it. So, if you want a pro guide to eliminating the powerful, toxic smell of mothballs, keep reading. We’ll walk you through all the steps. 

But first, a necessary note of caution. Mothballs are dangerous and highly toxic. If you can smell a mothball, you are breathing in the harmful chemicals that they produce. 

When dealing with mothballs, always use gloves, a filtering face mask, and safety goggles to protect yourself from exposure. 

How To Get Mothball Smell Out of House?

How To Get Mothball Smell Out of House

If your house smells like mothballs, you will need to clean thoroughly to eliminate all of the toxic chemicals from the mothballs. 

To get the mothball smell out of your house: 

  • Investigate your home for mothballs and remove them. Sometimes, mothballs get lodged in hard-to-reach places where it can be challenging to find them later. Wear gloves and a filtering mask to search for and remove all of the mothballs from your home. 
  • Clean with a neutralizing agent. Mix vinegar and baking soda with water. Mop your floors, wipe down walls, and clean off furniture that smells like mothballs with the solution. Baking soda and vinegar will neutralize the odor and remove the mothballs’ chemicals from your home. 
  • Use an air purifier. Depending on what you have in your house, you can use an air filter, a dehumidifier, air fresheners, scented candles, odor foggers, or another odor-neutralizing treatment to get rid of the mothball chemicals from the air. You can also leave bowls of vinegar or activated charcoal in rooms to remove the odor. 

How To Get Rid of Mothball Smell in Furniture?

How To Get Rid of Mothball Smell in Furniture

Since you can’t just throw furniture into a washing machine, it may seem impossible to remove mothball smells from your furniture. However, there are several ways to remove the mothball chemicals from couches, dressers, and other furnishings and neutralize the odor. 

To get rid of mothball smells from furniture:

  • Air out your furniture. Since mothballs release chemicals into the air, putting your furniture outside for a day or running a fan over the furniture will help push away the odor. 
  • Treat furniture with baking soda. Baking soda is a powerful odor neutralizer. Sprinkle some of it over your furniture and leave it for several hours or overnight. Then, vacuum the baking soda up to remove most of the mothball smell. 
  • Use heat. When you apply heat to mothballs, they release their chemicals faster, which you can use to get rid of the smell. Use a hairdryer to speed up the mothballs’ dissolution. You may need to use the hairdryer every day for a week or two to eliminate the smell. 

How To Get Rid of Mothball Smell in Camper?

How To Get Rid of Mothball Smell in Camper

If you have a strong scent of mothballs in your camper, you must get rid of it to protect your health.

To get rid of the mothball smell in the camper: 

  • Ensure that all the mothballs are gone. If there is a possibility that there are any mothballs in your camper, remove them. Make sure to check under beds, in cabinets, and in hard-to-reach crevices where a mothball might have gotten stuck. 
  • Air your camper out. Open all doors and windows to increase airflow, which will push the mothball’s toxic chemicals out. Repeat the process every day for a few weeks for the best results. 
  • Neutralize the odor. Pour baking soda on carpets, upholstered furniture, and fabrics. Leave it to sit for several hours and vacuum it off.
  • Use vinegar. Clean hard surfaces and walls with white vinegar to neutralize the odor and remove any traces of mothball chemicals. 

How To Get Mothball Smell Out of Wood Chest?

How To Get Mothball Smell Out of Wood Chest

Wood chests are a great place to store clothes, but they are prone to moth infestations, and many people use mothballs to fight against these pests. Mothball smells can linger in wood chests for many years unless you know how to eliminate them. 

To remove mothball scent from wood chests:

  • Air out the chest. Empty the chest of all of its contents and take it outside on a warm, breezy day. The heat from the sun will release the toxic mothball chemicals, and the wind will blow them away. 
  • Use baking soda to neutralize the smell. Dust the inside of your chest with baking soda and leave it overnight. Then, vacuum or brush the baking soda out. 
  • If the smell persists, sand the interior of the wood chest. Sometimes the mothball chemicals are far too concentrated to remove them from a wood chest without sanding it. Use a sander or sandpaper to remove the porous surface of the wood and use a vacuum cleaner to get rid of the mothball-smelling dust. 

How To Get Rid of Mothball Smell in Attic?

How To Get Rid of Mothball Smell in Attic

Many people put mothballs in their attics to get rid of pests, but the smell can persist for years and spread to other areas of your home.

To get rid of mothball smells in your attic: 

  • Remove all of the mothballs. Mothballs dissolve over time, and they are easy to miss if they have rolled into a small crevice, vent, or crawlspace in your home. Use a flashlight to inspect your attic and dispose of any leftover mothballs. 
  • Blow away the bad smell. Use fans to freshen the air and open windows if you can. 
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How To Get Mothball Smell Out of an Old Trunk?

How To Get Mothball Smell Out of an Old Trunk

Old trunks often have musty, chemical mothball smells. Removing them can seem like a challenge, but your old chest will smell brand new if you follow these simple steps. 

To get rid of the mothball smell: 

Step 1: Remove everything from the trunk. 

Step 2: Vacuum or sweep out the inside of the trunk, removing any traces of mothballs in the process. 

Step 3: Pour a box of baking soda into your trunk and close it. 

Step 4: Let the trunk sit for at least a day before vacuuming or sweeping the baking soda out. 

Step 5: Leave the trunk open for several days, keeping it in an area with circulating air or outside on a breezy, sunny day. 

If you let the trunk air out for long enough, the mothball smell should completely disappear. 

How To Get Rid of Mothball Smell in Car?

How To Get Rid of Mothball Smell in Car

If you want to get rid of the smell in your car: 

Step 1: Open all of your car windows and doors. 

Step 2: Pour baking soda all over your car’s carpets, seats, and in the trunk. 

Step 3: Allow the baking soda to sit for as long as possible, airing out the car whenever you can while the baking soda absorbs the mothball odor. 

Step 4: Clean hard surfaces like your dashboard, air vents, glove box, cup holders, and doors with white vinegar. 

Step 5: Vacuum all of the baking soda up. 

Keep a cup full of vinegar, baking soda, or activated charcoal in your car to absorb any lingering odors. 

How To Get Mothball Smell Out of Shoes?

How To Get Mothball Smell Out of Shoes

To get the mothball smell out of your shoes, you can: 

Step 1: Clean the outside of your shoes with white vinegar, wiping a thin coating on them. 

Step 2: Pour ½ cup (115.20 g) baking soda into your shoes and allow it to sit for as long as possible. 

Step 3: Tap out the baking soda after letting it sit. 

Step 4: Spray the inside of your shoes with a bit of isopropyl alcohol to remove any stubborn smells. 

This method isn’t just excellent for removing mothball smells. It can also get rid of almost any foul smell that accumulates in your shoes. 

Related: Bed Bugs in Shoes | Tips for Prevention and Treatment

How To Get Mothball Smell Out of Clothes?

How To Get Mothball Smell Out of Clothes

To get the unpleasant mothball smell out of clothes, you can soak them in water with vinegar or baking soda or wash them in non-chlorine bleach to neutralize the odor.

It is never good to wear clothes that smell like mothballs. Not only is the odor unpleasant, but it can be harmful to your health. Luckily, removing the smell from your clothes is simple. 

So, what about non-washable or delicate clothes? Let’s talk about how you can get rid of mothball smells from those garments, too.

Related: Can Bed Bugs Live in Clothes?

How To Get the Mothball Smell Out of New Jeans?

How To Get the Mothball Smell Out of New Jeans

If you’ve ever gotten a new pair of jeans that have a unique and unpleasant smell, you need to know this pro tip for getting the smell of mothballs in jeans and other denim items.

  •  Make a vinegar and water solution. Mix one part vinegar with three parts water in a large bowl, sink, or plastic container. 
  • Soak your jeans. Put your jeans in the vinegar solution and let them sit for two to three hours. 
  • Rinse your jeand with water. Run clean, cool water over your jeans to remove some of the mothball smell and excess vinegar. 
  • Air dry your jeans. Preferably, hang your jeans outside on a breezy day to allow the vinegar and mothball chemicals to evaporate. If you can’t hang them outside, hang them in a bathroom with the air vent turned on or in another area with well-circulating air. 

How To Get the Smell of Mothballs Out of Wool?

How To Get the Smell of Mothballs Out of Wool

Moths love to eat wool, but if you use mothballs on woolen textiles, it can be challenging to remove the smell from the dense fibers.

To remove the smell of mothballs from wool fabrics:

  • Air the wool out. Place woolen items outside on a breezy, warm day. Repeat until the smell is gone. 
  • Use baking soda. Baking soda will not damage the wool, but it will absorb some of the mothball smell. Lightly dust your woolen items with baking soda. Then brush or vacuum the powder off. 

How To Remove Mothball Smell From Leather?

How To Remove Mothball Smell From Leather

Removing bad smells from leather can be a challenge, especially stubborn mothball smells. Still, if you follow these steps, your leather will smell as good as new. 

Step 1: Make a vinegar and water solution, mixing 1 cup (230 g) white vinegar with 3 cups (711 g) of water. 

Step 2: Use a clean rag to rub the solution on the leather, ensuring that you coat all seams and corners well. 

Step 3: Allow the leather item to dry. 

Step 4: Use a fresh, damp rag to wipe away excess vinegar and mothball chemicals. 

Step 5: Use saddle soap or another leather soap to clean the vinegar and mothballs off of the leather. 

Step 6: Allow the item to dry, then use mink oil, leather conditioner, or mineral oil to remoisturize the leather. 

Related: Can Bed Bugs Live on Leather? | Know What to Look For

How To Get Mothball Smell Out of Silk?

How To Get Mothball Smell Out of Silk

Getting stubborn smells out of silk may seem impossible since you can’t wash silk in a washing machine, but it is pretty straightforward if you know what to do.

To eliminate mothball smells from silk: 

Step 1: Pour a generous amount of baking soda into an airtight bag or sealable container. 

Step 2: Put your silk garment or fabrics into the container or bag with the baking soda and seal it. 

Step 3: Leave the silk and baking soda to sit for three days. 

Step 4: Remove the silk item and rinse it. 

Step 5: Hang your silk to dry, preferably in a windy or breezy area. 


Mothball smells are tough to get rid of, but allowing them to linger can be harmful to your health. Luckily, if you know how to treat specific items like furniture, rooms, and clothes, you can get rid of the harsh, chemical odor of mothballs in a matter of days.

List of Sources

NPIC. (2010). Naphthalene General Fact Sheet. ‌National Pesticide Information Center.

‌DPH. (2011). Moth Balls Can Be Dangerous to Children. Connecticut Department of Public Health.

Bultemeier, B. W. (2015). The Facts about Mothballs. University of Florida.

‌Smithsonian Institution. (2006). Museum Conservation Institute Insects and Wool Textiles. The Smithsonian Museum Conservation Institute.

Watkin, K. (2014). Mothballs = Poison. Museums of Saskatchewan.

Thomas Matthews
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