House Suddenly Smells Like Mothballs? (We Have a Fix!)

Upgraded Home Team
by Upgraded Home Team

Many homeowners must use mothballs to keep moths and other pests out of the house. Mothballs produce a distinct smell that can be off-putting for anyone. So, what does it mean when your house suddenly smells like mothballs?

The naphthalene in mothballs evaporates and the odor can remain in the air in your home. Moths avoid areas with naphthalene in the air, and your house may smell like mothballs for 3 months. You may also smell tobacco if your house suddenly smells like mothballs but you don’t currently have any because cigarettes contain naphthalene.

Luckily, you can use household items such as vinegar, baking soda, and charcoal to get rid of the mothball smell. You don’t generally need to worry if you suddenly smell mothballs in your home. Follow along as we explore why your house suddenly smells like mothballs.

Do You Need a Maid Service?

Get free, zero-commitment quotes from pro contractors near you.

Why Do Mothballs Smell?

Mothballs smell strong because they contain naphthalene. Naphthalene has a strong odor that dissuades pests from entering the area, but it can smell unpleasant for humans as well. It is dangerous for humans to ingest the naphthalene found in mothballs.

However, the naphthalene in mothballs evaporates at a rate that is safe for humans. It is still inadvisable to get too close to mothballs because naphthalene exposure can be dangerous. The naphthalene within mothballs typically evaporates over 3 months and keeps insects away during that time.

Mothballs smell much stronger if you place them in a confined space such as a closet or small bedroom. Small spaces also increase the chances that the naphthalene will irritate your eyes or cause the odor to linger.

Quick Tip: Don’t mistake mothballs for mold or mildew. The musty, sour smell of mothballs is often mistaken for mold or mildew. Make sure to rule out the presence of mold in your home first. If the scent is strongest in your kitchen, bathroom, or basement, you may have to worry about getting rid of mold rather than mothballs.

How To Get Rid of Mothball Smell

There are various ways to get rid of the unpleasant scent of mothballs, depending on where the smell is concentrated and how deeply set it is in your house. If you live in an old home, it’s likely that the source is coming from present or previously dissipated mothballs.

If you live in a new home, it’s likely the smell is coming from another source of naphthalene, your own breath, or from a completely different issue entirely.

1. Remove Mothballs

The first thing you should do is locate any mothballs and dispose of them from the home. The places you will want to search are closets, attics, chests, drawers, basements, wardrobes, old garment bags and storage containers. They are typically small and white, and often tucked away in hard-to-reach crevices.

2. Put Out Cedar Chips or Charcoal

There are far safer and equally effective alternative to mothballs. Put out a bowl of cedar chips or activated charcoal in any small storage spaces, closets, or clothing drawers to ward off insects. A bonus is that activated charcoal also absorbs unpleasant odors. If you don’t have cedar chips or charcoal, dried mint or lavender will also do the trick.

3. Ventilate the House

Now that you’ve removed and replaced the mothballs, it’s time to destroy that lingering odor. The first thing you should do is ventilate your entire home so the odor particles can dissipate faster.

Open all the windows and doors, strategically place box fans to push the air outside, and turn on your house fan if you have an HVAC system. You can also place an air purifier in the rooms that smell the worst.

4. Deep Clean

A deep cleaning of clothing, drawers, storage spaces, and rooms is often necessary to remove mothball smells that have been sitting for months or years.

First, clean any affected clothing. You can soak them in a bucket of equal parts vinegar and water solution. You can also wash a load in the washing machine using a cup of vinegar only. Then follow this up with another cycle using regular detergent.

Next, clean the floors. For hardwood or tile floors, mop them with a solution of baking soda and vinegar. For carpets, try applying a solution of equal parts vinegar and water then going over the area with a wet-vac to lift any odor. Note: In bad cases, you may have to get your carpet professionally cleaned or replace it completely.

To gradually remove odors over time, set out a bowl of activated charcoal or cedar chips in your storage spaces to absorb the smell and prevent insect infestations. Dried mint and satchels of lavender are also effective in drawers, garment bags, and chests.

It Still Smells…Now What?

Eliminating the scent of mothballs can be tricky, evasive, and frustrating. Mothballs themselves can be hard to locate. Sometimes their smell still lingers years after they dissolve.

This can make it difficult to remove the smell of mothballs from your home. Make sure you have deep cleaned your carpets, mopped the floors, properly ventilated the whole house, and washed your fabrics multiple times before losing hope.

If you’ve spent a couple of weeks trying to neutralize the odor with no success, you might have to seek out a professional odor removal company to get the job done. Check this out if your house smells like chlorine.

Don’t forget, your issue may not even be mothball related. The chemical naphthalene may be infiltrating your home from a different source like the air in a highly polluted city, a nearby factory that produces with inks, dyes, coal and tar, or leather, or even from tobacco smoke.

How Often Should I Change Mothballs?

Change your mothballs every 3 months so that they are still effective. The naphthalene within mothballs generally fully evaporates after 3 months, so they will lose their efficacy. Mothballs can last for up to 2 years if you don’t take them out of the box or bag.

Do You Need a Maid Service?

Get free, zero-commitment quotes from pro contractors near you.

Related Questions

Is Mothball Smell Dangerous?

Mothballs are traditionally made of chemical pesticide. The primary ingredient is the chemical naphthalene. When naphthalene is exposed to air, it becomes a gas that irritates the eyes and lungs, and can cause dizziness, nausea, and headaches.Naphthalene, just like other pesticides, are evidenced to cause cancer and respiratory problems. Exposer to this chemical is especially dangerous for children and infants. While some companies still sell them, they are gradually being banned in places like the EU.

What Can I Use Instead of Mothballs?

If you’re worried about larvae or moths getting into your clothing, there are much safer alternatives to mothballs. Try placing some of these affordable and natural options in your storage spaces: cedar chips, a bowl of activated charcoal, satchels of lavender, or dried mint. You can also place your clothing in air-tight storage containers.

Related Articles

Upgraded Home Team
Upgraded Home Team

We are a team of passionate homeowners, home improvement pros, and DIY enthusiasts who enjoy sharing home improvement, housekeeping, decorating, and more with other homeowners! Whether you're looking for a step-by-step guide on fixing an appliance or the cost of installing a fence, we've here to help.

More by Upgraded Home Team