The Dangerous Myth Of Mothballs

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by The Bug Doctor

When you think of mothballs do you associate them with pesticides or more of a harmless home remedy that gets rid of just about any unwanted creature you could imagine? I’m thinking most of you feel this pearly white marble or flaked product must be as harmless as dishwashing soap because I see it used in some of the craziest ways. From whole boxes dumped into fireplaces to keep the chimney pest free, to hundreds of little white marbles encircling a house to stop unwanted snakes. What duct tape is to the husband who insists on fixing any household item on his own, mothballs are to that same DIY who has ANY kind of pest control issue.

Mothballs are a pesticide no ifs, ands or buts! Naphthalene is an active ingredient that is commonly used in mothballs and paradichlorobenzene is the other. Both are used in high concentrations in the making of mothball products. Let’s take a minute and see what these chemicals are;

Naphthalene was first registered as a pesticide in 1948. It is a solid that turns into a gas and it indeed kills insects and repels some animals. It is made from coal or crude oil but can also be produced when things burn. Cigarettes, exhaust from cars and forest fires all produce naphthalene. The main routes of exposure to naphthalene are inhalation and skin contact. Once inside your body this chemical breaks down and effects the liver, lungs and kidneys. Common symptoms of exposure are dizziness, headache and nausea. Children that may eat the mothball may have diarrhea, abdominal pain and painful and discolored urination. If someone breathes in enough of the vapor or eats a mothball containing naphthalene, they might develop hemolytic anemia. This is when red blood cells break apart, and no longer carry oxygen the way they should.

Paradichlorobenzene was first registered as a fumigant for moths in 1942. It too, goes from a solid to a vapor and poses many of the same risks as its cousin naphthalene. Irritation of the eyes and nose, nausea, dizziness and vomiting are signs of over exposure but paradichlorobenzene seems less likely to stay in the body as up to 50% can be excreted in one hours time with urination.

So Why Mothballs

Most mothball labels are pretty explicit about not breathing in vapors and avoiding skin contact. They also require that they be used inPicture 26 300x190 The Dangerous Myth Of Mothballs sealed containers where the gas cannot escape. I’ve not read any directions where it allows for using them in gardens, open areas or attics yet I see this way to often. Whenever you smell the strong odor of mothballs you are breathing in pesticides which in todays society I would think is strictly taboo. The little white marbles are pretty tempting to children as well- they pick them up out of curiosity and even eat them thinking they are some sort of candy.

Still the lure of a wonder product that has the reputation of chasing away pests and is not some sort of toxic spray must be comforting to some people. So many are absolutely convinced that mothballs are the answer to almost every pest control situation and are even less concerned about any hazards. I see it used for mice, squirrels, rats, snakes, roaches, unwanted dogs or cats, flies, fleas, ants and oh yes, even for moths. People with second homes such as snowbirds often sprinkle whole boxes around their home as they lock the door and head north for the summer. I have a few customers whose home wreaks so strongly of mothballs that we wear masks when we go in to perform service while they’re away. I’m guessing that most folks don’t even know that mothballs are pesticides and if they do, they are convinced they are fairly harmless. Besides, the ease of just throwing a 1/2 box out in the garage or up in the attic and letting the smell chase away their troubles is so much more simple than breaking out the spray.

Is there a myth associated with mothballs? Sure there is and I’ll bet you thought I was gonna shoot down everything that they are NOT good for- I might just do that but not today. The myth I’m exposing is one you’ve probably never thought of consciously or passed off with little concern. The myth that mothballs are safe little white marbles and Ok to walk over and around everyday-the myth that mothballs are not pesticides. That is the dangerous myth I want you to be aware of and the one I wish you’d avoid.

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  • Keith

    I’m amazed at what people will use and how much, I mean when you read reports of people using gasoline on bedbugs you know there is a problem. Read and Think before you use a product, I wonder just how many read the label or use directions before they use the product? Not many I’ll bet…

  • http://pestcemetery.com The Bug Doctor

    Not many indeed– but when the negative light shines, who does it shine on? Need I say more?

  • mothy

    well i like to sniff em…dont know why but they just smell soooo good 2 me!!  i literally crave the smell. i crush em up and keep them in the original box they come in and just shake it around a lil and breathe deep into the box, the high is instant and the watering  eyes and mouth are aweme and the high is even better. I pray that I havent damaged my lungs to much. I PLAN to stop asap. as in NO MORE. I just flushed ALL of them down the toilet, AFTER i got my last inhalation high. now dont confuse this….i dont “snort” them like cocaine per say, but i just like to loosen the white powder and breathe it in until my mouth and eyes water then i wash my gave and clean out my nose with a tissue and enjoy my buzzzzz

  • http://pestcemetery.com The Bug Doctor

    I’d delete your comment but it does illustrate why mothballs are so dangerous– because of nuts like you.

    Thanks for sharing Kristie

  • Hannah

    HELP! My mother was putting things in an offsite storage place so she used a zillion mothballs in tons of her boxes. She probably didn’t know it was dangerous, plus nobody was living in the storage facility. The problem is that in order to help her save money, I just moved the contents of my mom’s storage to my unfinished basement this week. I didn’t notice the smell until everything was stacked in my basement. (There are 50-75 boxes and they are behind her furniture- not easy to get to.) The mothball smell was coming into the first floor of my house, so I went and bought the thick plastic sheets/tarps that contractors use. I used it to section off that part of the basement. It made a huge difference, but then the scent was building up enough that it was starting to come up through the floor (I might have just been paranoid). Now I have a fan in the window in the sectioned off area of the basement set on exhaust. Air is getting sucked over my plastic sheet in the one area where it wasn’t sealed, and getting pushed out of the house. When I’m outside near the fan I can smell it. Do you know how long it takes for normal mothballs to sublimate down to nothing? (Her stuff was in storage for 6 years. Maybe the mothballs are coming to an end soon?)  

  • http://pestcemetery.com The Bug Doctor

    Oh Boy Hannah that falls under the “no good deed rule,”

    I would if I were you start removing the boxes outside and then going through the m and removing the mothballs. Make sure you wear rubber gloves and go and buy yourself a respirator from Lowes, Home Depot or Harbor Freight if you have one. Put the mothballs all in one plastic bag lined box and then do another bag around that box.
    For the boxes with contents that you just took the moth balls out of– put a tarp over them and leave them outside… On a good day you can pull back the tarp and let things air out. The smell will still be there but you should be able to start to bring stuff back down to the basement in 5 days or so. Don’t bring it all back at once-little at a time and if it (the smell) builds back up then haul it back outside.
    It sounds to me like the stuff stored in the boxes is pretty permeated but I can’t imagine that a couple days outside wouldn’t air it out sufficiently.

    That said- if the smell persists in an over powering way then seek some advice from someone who can assess the situation first hand–perhaps a local bug man.

    Ps.. mothballs shouldn’t have lasted 6 years

  • Awerty7

    Hey I threw a bunch of mothballs under my house to stop a mouse problem.  I thought maybe I had used too many (nearly the whole box) and took out around 20 -30. I’m still paranoid that there are too many left under there, and I”m going to get as many more out as I can tomorrow.  They are not bagged, but freely laying out.  Just put them out today.  I’m hoping that they don’t give off too much chemical smell tonight so I don’t up and kill myself if inahaled.

  • http://pestcemetery.com The Bug Doctor

    In the future I’d say use mouse control products for a mouse problem. For now you might want to think about hiring out to remove the moth balls or at least wearing a mask when you go under.

  • Awerty7

    The smell is actually getting pretty strong in the house now. Leaving fans on for the night to keep air circulating. First light, I’m going to get ALL of them out! Thanks for your reply. 

  • Stephanie

    My house recently got broken it so i moved in with some family. I stored my bed in their barn outside which had moth balls all over the floor. They laid a blanket down over them and put the bed on top of it. Well we finally brought the bed in the house and set it up and it smells strongly of moth balls. Ive slept in it for 4 nights now and from the first night ive had bad headaches. I have an almost 2 year old son that sleeps in the same room with me but in his own bed. Problem is now the whole room smells like moth balls. from what ive read on your site im pretty sure my headaches are coming from the smell so what can i do about it? I dont want my son to suffer from this either so i could really use some advice. Thank you!

  • http://pestcemetery.com The Bug Doctor

    Hey Stephanie,

    I think you need to remove that bed and air out your room. I’m not sure I’d bring that bed back in without it being aired out for a long time. It’s hard to say how long it’ll take to have the smell removed but I wouldn’t sleep on it until it was gone at least. You could try to call your local Serv Pro– they do fire and flood type restorations and they can also do smell remediating. Not sure if moth balls is a smell they can do-but it’s worth a call. Here is their link. http://www.servpro.com/

  • Danny Wingard

    I put some mothballs in the holes were baby mouse were and I started wondering , what happens if a mouse eats a piece of a mothball?

  • http://pestcemetery.com The Bug Doctor

    He or she most likely won’t eat it but my guess is if it does, it will get sick at least.

  • Deborah

    My mother-in-law had my husband throw a box of mothballs in the attic this past weekend. The problem is she has started experiencing health issues and the doctor yesterday said it was due to the mothballs. Who can we hire to go up in her attic(Crawlspaces) and retrieve all of these mothballs? UGH

  • http://pestcemetery.com The Bug Doctor

    You could call a local pest company–they would have respirators to protect them from breathing in the vapors. I’m not sure how many takers you’ll get however since most companies may be afraid of legal fall out if they missed any. Short of that there is HAZMAT but the price for their service is HUGE.

  • Desperate mummy

    Hi i accidentally threw three moth balls on the side of my built in wardrobe I have tried everything to get them out as the fumes are just awful now. I have a two year old and 3 months pregnant. Pls help how can I solve this if I can’t reach the moth balls

  • http://pestcemetery.com The Bug Doctor

    Febreeze is said to help with smell and a cup of white vinegar and real charcoal bricks can also help absorb it. I’d also leave the windows open as much as possible and hopefully it won’t be long till the smell dissipates.

  • Carlo

    I have hung four Smelleze packets in my attic to get rid of the smell and fumes that have given me headaches, and caused embarrassing events when company visits, but so far the fumes remain. I cannot get to all the mothballs so how long does it take for the fumes to dissipate?

  • http://pestcemetery.com The Bug Doctor

    It can be literally weeks for the odor to die down and then months for the active ingredient to finally dissipate. Perhaps you can hire someone (wh wears a mask) to get up there and root em out for you.

  • Mr. smith

    I handled moth balls with my bare hand and I had a open blister on my hand. it was raining and my hands were wet too, so my question is, will that cause any harm to me? I did wash my hands afterwards.

  • http://pestcemetery.com The Bug Doctor

    Eh, hard to say. I’m not a medical Doctor but I’d think it would’ve burned and irritated you first. If you have any symptoms, (headaches, dizziness, discomfort) I’d see your Doctor.

  • Susan

    Hello! I’m having a bit of a frog problem. If I flushed mothballs down the toilet would that repel the frogs from entering my house? I don’t have any ponds or lakes, my grass stays cut low. I do live in FL though. It is a pain to catch these in the middle of the night-seems like they always appear at 4-5am!

  • http://pestcemetery.com The Bug Doctor

    I doubt highly the frogs are coming from your commode — besides– flushing pesticides down the toilet or drain id NEVER a good idea… it has to end up somewhere…like those lakes ands ponds you mentioned===Not good

  • KSA01

    Have a question for you…The deck to our place fell off 2 years ago and my Dad once told me that Mothballs prevent rodents and since we had a opening directly into the house I threw some in hoping to prevent rodents from being sealed in once deck repairs have been made. Now we have an issue of the neighbors complaining of mothball odor in their home once they started complaining we removed them from the home, as we live in a condo but I can’t see how the smell would travel from one unit to the next.

  • http://pestcemetery.com The Bug Doctor

    Smell travels with more ease than liquids. Plus it’s not bound by the laws of gravity…. You were wise to remove them. (also, mothballs do not ward off, deter or repel rodents–just an old wives tales)

  • d.m.bellow

    moth balls will evaporate in a few days

  • http://pestcemetery.com The Bug Doctor

    Uh…… not

    Moth both ball stench can last (and does) WEEKS or longer, especially with the amount I see put down. Whole boxes or even say 6 or 7 put in one place or close proximity will wreak for a very long time…..

  • James

    A friend of mine loaded her house up with mothballs for months & months.She developed serious health problems mentally & physically from smelliing the mothballs in her home. Thousands of $$$ spent on medical bills and damaged lungs for rest of her life…all because she didn’t want to spend money on an exterminator. Another possible candidate for Darwin award.

  • http://pestcemetery.com The Bug Doctor

    Oh man–that is terrible. I wish she would’ve gotten some advice BEFORE she used them–or if she did….I wish she would’ve listened..

  • Michelle D.

    Thank you for this article – it confirmed my fears. My garage had an infestation of mice this past winter, and after setting traps and clearing it out, I’m paranoid they will come back. So I bought a box of moth balls and put some on the floor some inside the garage on either side of the door, as well as into the holes under the shrub just outside of the garage. When I enter the garage, I make sure to roll up my windows. I don’t think I will take these up, but I will not buy the product again.

  • http://pestcemetery.com The Bug Doctor

    I have MANY customers who do the same and then swear off them because of the smell and exposure.

  • callie

    My 81 year old mother has filled her car with moth balls as mice have been coming into it through the air cabin filter. She drives around in a car full of mothballs in Texas, where the heat of a parked car increases the vapors. I can’t get her to stop, even though the mice continue to destroy the car. Frustrating to say the least.

  • http://pestcemetery.com The Bug Doctor

    Moth balls do nothing against a mouse that it won’t do to a human– it’s an insecticide. Try this product, all natural and smells good too. http://pestcemetery.com/repelling-rodents-without-baits-it-really-took-a-block/

  • Stephanie

    I’m remodeling my bathroom and I have a rodent problem, since I’m going to gut my bath is it okay if I spread out a whole box of mothballs under the flooring, to clarify put the mothballs under the floor then the ply wood then ceramic tile? Basically open mothballs under ground! Is this okay? Wouldn’t the odor of the balls be covered over the layers of flooring?

  • http://pestcemetery.com The Bug Doctor

    Personally, I’d advise against it. It ‘may’ be that the odor and fumes will be totally encapsulated….but…it may just as well be that the smell finds its way through and wreaks for weeks or months after the floor is down and set. In the case of the latter, you’d be forced either close the bthrm door and abandon it for that time or rip up the floor to remove the balls. In either case, moth balls don’t serve as a good deterrent for mice anyway. There is a product called Fresh Cab that is proven to work and won’t harm you at all. I have the link right on the page you’re on now (to the right) It won’t last forever but neither will the moth balls.

  • Zaara

    I accidentally ate a mothball, I had painful urination, but after a day it went away. I read about the other effects of mothball poisoning, but since the painful urination went away. Do you think the posioing went away as well.

  • http://pestcemetery.com The Bug Doctor


  • Dawn

    Hi, My name is Dawn and my hubby and I were trying to get rid of roaches that have become a completely overwhelming problem. I have read a lot on them lately, online. We decided to go with the “mothball” solution and as soon as my husband got them home; he opened three 14oz boxes and started putting them all around the house. He focused mainly on the kitchen, utility/wash room and our bedroom and bathroom/walk-in closet. The smell was so overbearing that I asked him to immediately collect them into ziplock bags. The main problem being that we have two 4 yr olds and one 1 1/2 yr old in the home right now. I have opened up windows and doors to help air out the smell but I am terribly concerned about the babies and my daughter (who is currently at work) who has a baby due in 1 month! I am terrified and to make matters worse… my granddaughter came to me with 2 in her hands. We are not sure whether she put them in her mouth but I washed her thoroughly with Dawn dishwashing detergent on her hands, up her arms and around her mouth. My husband then gave her milk and now we await the illness. What are the possible repercussions of this if she did/did not lick one and the fact that she was holding them for at least a full minute. My other question is… we are obviously desperate to get rid of these insanely nasty and disgusting pests that our neighbors infected us with. HELP… Please give us some advice on how to SAFELY (7 QUICKLY) get rid of them. I am to the point that I just want to move out of our home and leave everything behind so that we don’t have them anymore. :( Desperately needing safe and effective advice. Dawn & Family

  • Dawn

    PS. We had a gentleman exterminator coming in and the problem seemed to be dissipating but all of a sudden they came back with a vengeance. He said it was something on our end. Nothing changed on our end except to fix some tiny water drips and to keep all boxed food in ziplock bags. I do not understand what happened.

  • http://pestcemetery.com The Bug Doctor

    Dawn, please seek medical attention if you at all suspect the little one ate a mothball.

    For the house you’re just gonna have to collect all the balls and air out the house until the vapors are gone (shouldn’t be long- an hour or so maybe) As far as your roach problems, please check out my roach topic section and I’m positive you’ll find the direction you need. http://pestcemetery.com/category/roaches/

  • Dawn

    Thank you very kindly. My granddaughter did not eat one, she didn’t even get it to her mouth. I inspected it very carefully and the only “dings” in it were from me throwing them in the sink after grabbing them out of her hands. She is onery and playful as usual. Thank our awesome Lord above! :) I truly appreciate all of your wonderful advice on other’s comments and am going to your link directly. Again, thank you! I now have you bookmarked for future reference instead of google/other search sites. :)

  • Dawn

    PS. We do still have a bit of a lingering smell. Should we be concerned about my daughter and babies being here? My daughter is the one who is 8 months pregnant.

  • Rick Faust

    Hi – I recently bought about 30 vintage 1950′s magazines off ebay, and they came in a box with a huge mothball and/or old odor stench. I’m assuming its at least part mothball smell. As I was filing each magazine away the other day, I felt a little light-headed, my body had a light feeling like it had the flu, and my breathing got a little labored. Could this be due to the strong stench of possible mothballs? I sometimes get these symptoms when I eat foods that I’m allergic to. I keep my rooms well-ventilated, but wondering if I should put the stack of mags out in the garage. Any suggestions would help. Thanks very much! —–Rick

  • http://pestcemetery.com The Bug Doctor

    It could very well be since this sounds like the common denominator to when you started feeling bad… I’d say put them out just to play it safe.

  • Kaytoyia Walradt

    We have a mouse problem and my Dad didn’t know about mothballs being dangerous. He just thought they would be a harmless repellant. He put a dozen or so in my room. We’ve tried to retrieve as many as possible, but there is still a semi strong scent of mothballs, even a few hours later.
    Is there a chance that there are a few mothballs hanging around if the smell hasn’t completely gone away?
    If there are some left, will two or three mothballs be all that dangerous?
    Also, I have a pet Tarantula, so I’m worried.
    (Note:My dad found these mothballs in a VERY old package that had already been opened for I don’t know how long. So every mothball were half decayed and falling apart.)

  • http://pestcemetery.com The Bug Doctor

    Hi Kaytoyia,
    The smell lingers with those things even after removal. It varies as to how long- Did you count the ones he found and took out? if less then 12 I’d keep looking. I’d maybe not sleep in there as well and ventilate the room by opening a window and put a fan on if you can…..Also, about the spider. If you can’t remove it I’d place a damp towel over the top of the cage.. BE CAREFUL if you have heat lamps or lighting as this could cause a problem like fire…best to remove it…. I can’t say about the strength of your moth balls nor if one, two or three would be a problem. It may not be for you but some are very sensitive and may get headaches or worse… My advice is to scour the room and find them until you have 12 or more and continue to air it out til the smell goes away… Also–to deter mice, there is a product called Fresh Cab that works well and will not harm you….look on the right panel of my site page and you’ll see the banner,.. click it to find out more… (It’s not an ad that I make any $$$ on) I put it there for free for people in need like you….

    Good luck, stay safe

  • alop

    In November my neighbors rented the condo underneath ours to people who for some reason claim to have bedbugs. Since we were not familiar with mothballs or the smell, we thought it was mold or something in the walls. We had restoration companies come out and look for the mold, until a few of them said it was mothball smell. We immediately left the apartment, but had already been smelling this a few months before and could not tell what it was. The smell seemed to be coming from the ac unit and the vents. We were trying to resolve this situation peacefully with the neighbors. We requested they please stop using them and remove them. They said they did but the gas was continuos through those months. Like I said we had to move out and were waiting for them to stop.We had an air quality test done recently, it came back negative, but we still smell the odor…of course they only tested for Naphthalene. I am very concern that even though we have opened windows, left the fans on for months, the smell is still there. My biggest concern is that I have a 2 year old child and I am concern of the effects. If the smell is still there, doesn’t that mean that the chemical is still there? Could the furniture, floors and walls have absorbed it. Please advise on what can I do to remove completely.

  • http://pestcemetery.com The Bug Doctor

    I’d think that the smell would have been gone with all that… It may be that some were missed with removal..hard to say. I have a customer who used to put baggies of mothballs under her cars in the car port..she’s removed them but months later I can still smell it every time I walk through. others however have had them in their home similar to you and after a few short hours the smell went away. If the mothballs have been removed then the source is no longer there is the general thinking..coupled with your air test I’m inclined to say the smell is just a lingering nuisance. I don’t think it would hurt to get another test done and actual ‘eyes’ on the situation.

  • tommie huizar

    my husband wants to put mothballs in the towelette bowl for freshness when it is flush is this save

  • http://pestcemetery.com The Bug Doctor

    Not safe at all. For you or for where the moth balls end up down the line.

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