What Are Mothballs? And When Should I Use Them?

Prevent an infestation by storing clothes and linens in a cedar chest.

Prevent an infestation by storing clothes and linens in a cedar chest.

Everyone has experienced that unpleasant moth ball smell. It is often associated with older homes. But, what are mothballs and should you be using them?


Mothballs are a chemical insecticide. There are several different kinds all made with chemicals, but they all work similarly. The chemicals change into gas and kill insects, larvae and eggs with the fumes. The best way to use moth balls is to seal them in a container with clothes that you are storing. It can work, but it is not as effective, to simply place mothballs in your closet. The build up of fumes is what causes damage to the insects. An entire closet is difficult to create enough exposure to the fumes to be effective. Mothballs are also dangerous for pets and children. Be careful not to leave them lying around within reach.

Moths are particularly attracted to natural fibers, such as wool, but they will eat any fiber that may have a food or grease stain on them as well. It is best to use mothballs when you know you have a problem with bugs. According to How Stuff Works, the chemicals used in the balls should be inhaled as little as possible to avoid any harmful effects. Hang any stored clothes outside to allow them to air out. You may even want to open the container they were stored in outdoors.


You can avoid having to use mothballs by preventing an insect infestation before it starts. The scent of cedar repels bugs. You can keep cedar chips, sachets or blocks in your closet to repel bugs. Or, you can store clothes in cedar chests or closets. Cedar can be very expensive, but it is very good at keeping bugs out of your clothes. It also absorbs moisture preventing mildew and mold smells. According to Organize Your Life, cedar trunks should be sanded with a fine sandpaper every season to release the scent.


Air tight containers can also help keep bugs out. Make sure the clothes are clean when placed in the containers so that you don’t introduce the pests into the space.

Take Care of Your Clothes

In short use cedar to keep bugs from getting in your clothes and mothballs when there is already evidence of bugs in your clothes. Cedar repells and mothballs remove. Wash and dry clothes directly before storing them to remove any hidden eggs or larvae. Taking care of your clothes and linens can help them last longer and save you money in the long run. How do you store your seasonal items?

Image: “Cedar Hope Chest” by Rich Misner

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