The use of mothballs, flakes, or blocks in a tightly closed container will eradicate clothes moths. But if the containers are not airtight, the pesticide fumes accumulate in living spaces where people and pets can breathe them in for long periods of time. This can lead to long-term exposure, which may cause toxic poisoning. There are better ways to protect stored clothing from insects.
The Problems With Mothballs
Mothballs have been used for generations to prevent infestations of moths and insects in stored clothing. However, mothballs, which are regulated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA,) contain strong chemicals like naphthalene or 1,4-dichlorobenzene that can be harmful to humans. Lung tissue can be damaged if the fumes are breathed in or skin can become irritated if moth ball-stored clothing comes in direct contact with skin. Plus, they smell really terrible and removing the odor from stored clothes is time-consuming and can be expensive.
There are lavender-scented and cedar-scented mothballs available. However, the pronounced heavy odor of the chemicals is still there.
Another common mistake is the practice of using mothballs in home attics or crawl spaces, gardens, or other outdoor locations to control pests like squirrels, insects, snakes, or deer. Using mothballs outside can harm children, pets, and other animals if ingested. If mothballs are used outdoors they can also contaminate soil, plants, and groundwater with toxic chemicals.
Removing Mothball Odors From Clothes
Musty and mothball odors can be difficult to remove from stored clothing. But there are several things that can be done to speed the process. For washable clothes, add one cup of baking soda to the wash cycle along with detergent. Mix well and allow the clothing to soak for at least one hour before completing the wash. Add one cup distilled white vinegar to the final rinse for even more freshness.
Hang the freshly washed clothing outside to dry. Fresh air is, perhaps, the best refresher of all.
Clothes made from dry clean only fabrics can be hung outside away from direct sunlight to air, but most will require a trip to the dry cleaner to remove the odor. You can try placing the smelly garment in a large, sealable plastic tub or large sealable plastic bag with an open box of baking soda. Let the garment remain sealed for several days as the baking soda absorbs the odors. You may need to repeat this several times (with a fresh box of baking soda) before all of the odors are gone.
Use Lavender Instead of Moth Balls for Clothing Storage
For a more environmentally-friendly insect deterrent, use dried lavender. Lavender is non-irritating and has a pleasant smell. You'll find that your clothing if properly stored is just as protected from most insects and is ready to wear when you remove it from storage.
Lavender can be purchased already dried or you can dry fresh lavender yourself. It is best to make sachets or place the dried lavender in a potpourri ball to prevent any possible staining of the fabrics. The ball or sachet should then be hung in closets or placed in drawers.
Because the scent fades over time, dried lavender sachets should be replaced seasonally to keep clothing protected. If you do not have freshly dried lavender, you can refresh the older lavender by adding purchased essential oils. Start with only a single drop because the oils are very potent and work in small batches so that you can mix it in well to distribute. If using essential oils, you should add a fixative that will help the oils cling to the plant material. Orris root or calamus root are a good fixative choice. For each pint of dried lavender, use about one tablespoon of fixative.
For the longest-lasting scent, especially if using essential oils, mix everything well and then let the mixture sit in a closed container in a dark, cool place for two weeks. Shake the container every week to mix the ingredients and then fill sachet bags.
How to Prepare Clothing for Storage
- Wash or dry clean all pieces before storing to remove stains that attract insects.
- Thoroughly clean the storage area by vacuuming.
- Select the correct type of storage containers.
- Maintain an optimal temperature and humidity control in the storage area.
Naphthalene. WHO Guidelines for Indoor Air Quality: Selected Pollutants, World Health Organization; 2010.
There Are Alternatives to the Dangers of Mothballs, OSU Extension,