How To Get Rid of a Mothball Smell (Do This!)

Patricia Oelze
by Patricia Oelze

A lot of people still use mothballs to control moths and other pests like snakes and rodents. But having that mothball smell is not pleasant for us humans either. In fact, the chemicals in mothballs are actually dangerous to humans and pets.

Mix 1 cup of white vinegar with 1 gallon of warm water and soak the clothing in it. Soak a rag in the solution if you need to scrub an area that smells like mothballs. Spray a white vinegar and warm water solution on furniture or drapes that still carry the smell.

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Get Rid of the Mothballs

The most important thing to do is to get rid of all of the mothballs and mothball residue. The chemicals that keep away the pests include two dangerous ingredients.


Naphthalene is a compound made from coal tar or crude oil (petroleum). The solid mothballs turn into a gas that kills and repels insects and other pests. When you inhale the gas from naphthalene, your body breaks it down, but it turns into other chemicals that can damage your tissues and cells. The red blood cells break apart and they cannot carry oxygen to your body as well as they should. It is also a possible carcinogen. Some of the symptoms of short-term exposure include:

  • Vomiting
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Headaches


The fumes from mothballs also contain paradichlorobenzene, which can cause many different health problems including cancer. If you breathe it in or get it on your skin, your body will break down the chemicals, which are harmful to your liver and cells. It can be serious for children or pets if they are exposed to it or eat some of it. Call poison control if that happens. But some of the short-term effects to adults may include:

  • Headaches
  • Fatigue
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Tremors
  • Abdominal pain

Cleaning it Up

Once you get rid of the mothballs and the particles and dust from the mothballs or crystals, you need to clean the area by vacuuming it and then washing the floors and the walls where the mothballs were. After you vacuum, you will have to clean out the vacuum canister and filter to get rid of the residue. Be sure to wear a mask and gloves when cleaning it up though.

Vinegar Solution

Vinegar is an excellent product for all sorts of things. It has been used for cleaning, cooking, and even as medication. It is the first go-to for getting rid of the mothball smell on any surface.

For clothing: If you are trying to get rid of the smell from your clothing, you can soak them in a bucket of one gallon of water with one cup of vinegar. Let them sit for an hour before rinsing and let them air dry. Then wash them in a washing machine with one cup of vinegar. Dry them outside or in your dryer with dryer sheets. Make sure you use white vinegar so you do not stain them.

Quick Tip: Another solution is to add one cup of lemon juice with the vinegar.

For furniture: Use the same solution and mix it in a spray bottle. Spray it on furniture and let it air dry. If possible, put it outside in the sunlight.

For flooring: Wash tile or vinyl flooring with a vinegar solution of one part vinegar to six parts water. You can add lemon juice for a fresher smell. Carpets can be sprayed with the same solution and then let it air dry.

For walls: Spray walls with the same solution used for furniture. Wipe dry with a clean cloth and then let the room air out.


Bleach is another excellent cleaner and is used in many applications. Be sure to read the instructions on the bottle before using it on any surface.

For clothing: You can use bleach to get rid of the smell. Just run the clothing through a regular wash cycle using only bleach. Just make sure your clothing is able to handle bleach.

For furniture: The only furniture you can use bleach on is plastic or glass. Otherwise, bleach is not a good choice. To was plastic or glass, use one part bleach to four parts water. Spray on and let air dry.

For floors: Bleach can be used for vinyl flooring as long as it is diluted. Use one cup bleach to one gallon of water. Wash floors and let air dry. Do not use bleach on carpets.

For walls: Use the same solution of one part bleach to four parts water to clean walls. Let air dry.

Baking Soda

Many people know about baking soda and its smell absorbing power from keeping it in the refrigerator. It can also work wonders in the wash and is commonly used in baking.

For clothing: Add one cup of baking soda to one gallon of water in a bucket. Soak clothing for one hour before hanging them outside to air dry in the sun. You can also add one cup of baking soda to the wash if that does not work.

For furniture: Sprinkle baking soda on furniture and let sit for 15 to 30 minutes. Vacuum up the baking soda. If the smell is still strong, add one part baking soda to three parts water in a water bottle and spray the furniture. Let it air dry.

For floors: Mix one cup of baking soda to one gallon of water. Wash floors as usual and let it air dry. For carpeting, sprinkle baking soda and let it sit for an hour before vacuuming.

For walls: Use a solution of one part baking soda to four parts of water in a spray bottle or bucket. Wash the walls and let them air dry.

Cedar Chips

Many people use cedar chips instead of mothballs. It can be great to keep insects and other pests out of a closet or drawer.

For clothing: Add a cup of cedar chips to a sealed container with the clothing and let them sit for three to five days. Wash as directed afterward.

For furniture: Cedar chips are not a good source for getting the smell out of furniture.

For floors: Cedar chips are not a good source for getting the smell out of furniture.

For walls: Cedar chips are not a good source for getting the smell off the walls.

Tip: You can use cedar chips to get rid of the smell in a closet or room by placing a bowl or bucket of them in the room and leaving it for several days.

Activated Charcoal

You can get sachets of activated charcoal to hang in a closet or in dresser drawers to get rid of the smell of mothballs. However, it is not a good choice for other applications.

Coffee Grounds

Another good choice for getting rid of smells is coffee grounds. Place bowls or sachets of coffee grounds around the room or near the furniture. You can also put sachets of coffee grounds in your dresser drawers for clothes that smell.

Fresh Air

The best choice for getting rid of any smell in the house is to use the fresh air. If it is a nice day, open all the windows and use fans to suck the air from the rooms to the outside by placing the fans in the windows facing outward.

If it is cold outside, turn up the heat and open the windows anyway. Close the door to that room and let it air out by using fans in the windows.

For clothing or furniture that can be taken outside, it is great to let it sit in the sun for the day. The sun and fresh air should get rid of the smell.

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Related Questions

What Else Can I Use Besides Mothballs to Get Rid of Pests?

There are quite a few alternatives to mothballs that can repel moths, bugs, rodents, and snakes. Here are some of the most popular choices:

  • Mint sachets or cotton balls soaked with mint oil
  • Cedar chips as mentioned above
  • Lavender sachets or bundles of natural lavender
  • White camphor oil
  • Eucalyptus leaves
  • Dried thyme, rosemary, cinnamon, or cloves are all great for keeping the pests at bay
  • Many kinds of essential oils are good for scaring away the pests
  • Store clothing and blankets in airtight containers like totes or vacuum-sealed bags
What About Febreze and Other Fabric and Air Freshener Sprays?

You can try using Febreze or another fabric freshening spray. While it does leave a nice smell in the room for a while, it does not typically last very long. However, it is a good choice if you cannot use any of the other methods on your furniture or floors.

These sprays typically just mask or cover the odors but do not usually remove the smell completely. It is best to keep fans pointed at the furniture or floors until they air out. Some of the best refresher sprays include:

  • Febreze
  • Scentiva Fresh Brazilian Blossoms Multi-Use Fabric Freshener
  • Biokleen Bac-Out Fresh Fabric Freshener
  • Fresh Wave Odor Eliminator Spray and Air Freshener
  • Meyer’s Clean Day Room Freshener Spray
  • Downy Odor Eliminator and Fabric Refresher
Patricia Oelze
Patricia Oelze

I am a DIYer who loves writing about anything home-related. When I am not writing, you can find me studying for my PhD in Psychology, photographing nature, and swimming at the lake with my grandkids.

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