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Mothball odor removal & mothball chemical & gas hazards: here we describe the detection of and risks of exposure to mothball chemicals & odors when moth repellent products are applied indoors in buildings.
We describe how to get rid of mothball odors in buildings, building furnishings, clothing, or vehicles.
We note the possible health hazards from exposure to mothball odors (and gases) as well as the child hazard of eating mothballs or moth repellent products. We discuss methods to reduce mothball chemical & gas exposure.
We cite authoritative sources of information about safe and proper use of moth repellents and about mothball and moth repellent chemistry, child hazards, indoor air quality and health concerns, and proper application and use of these products.
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The moth at left and all other moths shown in this article except the one at the top of this page are not clothes-attacking insects.
[Click to enlarge any image]
Some people have also tried using moth repellent products like mothballs to keep rodents and other pests out of certain building areas or out of stored vehicles.
Placing an open box of mothballs under the hood of my MG midget while it was stored kept squirrels and mice from nesting in the engine compartment, and leaving a box of mothballs inside the car was an attempt to keep the same pests out of the vehicle interior too.
Watch out: we do not recommend placing mothballs, moth cakes, or moth repellent flakes inside building rooms, crawl spaces, attics, wall or ceiling cavities, trash cans, nor inside vehicles, both because the fumes and chemicals can be hazardous to humans and because the odor can later be difficult to get rid-of. We explain this problem in detail below.
Watch out: because mothballs are a registered pesticide and because of the toxicity of their chemicals, it is illegal to use mothballs or moth crystals, cakes, etc. as a repellent for animal pests (birds, cats, deer, dogs, moles, pigeons, mice, skunks, raccoons,snakes, squirrels, etc.) 
Every registered pesticide has a “signal” word on the label, ranking the level of toxicity to humans, as follows:
Page top image of mothballs courtesy of Wikipedia creative commons. Clothes moth image shown at above left is from Stone & Stock, PNW who provide an excellent guide to moth control. 
Mothballs contain either of the chemicals paradichlorobenzene or naphthalene. Paradichlorobenzene is classified as a possible human carcinogen by the EPA, and its vapors can irritate skin, eyes, and the respiratory tract.
Large doses can damage the liver. Mothballs are not intended to be placed in open spaces such as rooms, closets, or vehicles. Rather they should be used in an airtight space such as a clothes storage bag. 
Reader Question: How can we get rid of an annoying mothball odor in our Condo?
We moved into a condo, which is a concrete block structure 3 months ago. Shortly after the move we began to smell moth balls.
After following the smell we were able to find out that the unit above us displaced several moth balls throughout there unit, tightly sealed the unit up without air conditioning on(we live in Florida) and left for the summer.
As the smell increased in our unit we begged parties involved to rid the unit of the moth balls and air it out.
Finally this was done, however even though the smell appears to be gone sometimes, other times we can still smell a bad odor, sometimes now the odor is less mothball smell and just simply a bad odor.
We have tried everything and are desperate to solve the problem. Is it possible to get rid of this toxic odor?
Any help would be greatly appreciated. - B.P. 9/22/2012
Indeed the odor from mothballs is a VOC-like substance (paradichlorobenzene or naphthalene) that quite penetrates many materials including even drywall, furnishings, carpeting, and it can take quite a while for it to diminish. And most people can smell mothballs - the characteristic odor of those chemica
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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Question: trouble getting rid of mothball odors in the building
(June 9, 2014) Vicki Livingstone said:
(June 29, 2014) Ocean said:
I already purchased activated charcoal and Smeleeze but have not received them yet and now I read here that they are no good! Someone please reply. We are getting headaches, sore throat, and tingling in body.
Reply: activated charcoal or similar odor remedies won't remove an odor at its source
As the odor you cite is in a gaseous form I'm not sure that surface cleaning will be as helpful - unless you can identify and correct by removing or sealing actual materials that have become permeated with the mothball odor - as opening windows and doors and getting fresh air into the bedrooms where you have the odor complaints.
Activated charcoal won't hurt but just consider that you can't vacuum up dust bunnies in the living room by standing in the kitchen waving a vacuum cleaner wand in the air; in other words one needs to find and remove the odor source.
Just exposing a few ordinary mothballs indoors for a few hours sounds like an unlikely cause of severe persistent odors indoors. I'd also check for some other problem.
Question: difficulty removing mothball or napthalene odors
21 January 2015 Richard T. said:
We stored wool and cotton-polyester blend clothing in sealed LDPE low density polyethylene "rubber maid" containers with several naphthalene mothballs between each layer of clothes. After being stored for about one year, we opened the containers to discover a very bad chemical smell. It seems that the naphthalene reacted with the plastic and/or the polyester to create a very bad chemical smell. Since many of the items were quite valuable we attempted to save them. We contacted the mothball manufacturer for advice, their cleaning remedy was not successful with the polyester blends. We were successful with the wool and pure cotton items.
The big problem now is the order [sic] is present in the whole house. It seems to be attracted to other polyester/ plastic materials in the home such as the carpet, drapes, furniture cushions, polyester blend clothing, and dust that was in the heat vents. Unfortunately we had several of the contaminated clothing items and containers open and exposed inside the home for a several days while waiting for the mothball manufacturers advice.
It now has been several months without a successful solution. We have removed furniture, carpet, clothing, aired out the house daily, tried air purification, washed floors....etc. and the smell keeps returning. Since the smell migrates it is difficult to pin point what is next to be discarded or cleaned. I question if anyone else has had a problem like this and have the found a solution.
My advice is to never use naphthalene products in your living space.
Based on field experience and reader reports I agree that it can be quite difficult to completely remove napthalene odors from some fabrics or other materials in buildings or in clothing. At some point the cost of cleaning attempts may exceed the value of some clothing items.
For indoor building surfaces you might want to try the low-cost and easy SMELL PATCH TEST to FIND ODOR SOURCE we have documented in order to pinpoint the primary odor reservoirs.
Once those are identified you can decide to remove materials or to try applying a sealant paint such as the odor-suppressing paints used in building restoration following a fire.
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