Many people, especially members of the senior population use moth-balls to deter insects or more commonly moths from feasting on clothing, linens and other textiles. Mothball manufacturers use naphthalene or paradichlorobenzene as the main ingredient in these insect repelling balls or flakes.  both naphthalene or paradichlorobenzene are highly toxic and create dangerous fumes. Many may chuckle because they can smell Grandma or Great Aunt Susie coming at a hundred paces, but the reality is they may be slowly poisoning themselves with moth-balls.

Safe handling of moth-balls includes using gloves during handling to prevent naphthalene or paradichlorobenzene from entering the body through the skin. High amounts of exposure to moth-balls also requires the use of a respirator. Unfortunately Grandma or Aunt Susie use neither meaning they are handling and breathing in toxic levels of naphthalene or paradichlorobenzene.  

Many senior store clothing, linens and textiles with a good dose of moth-balls in closed boxes, in closets or all over their homes. If Grandma, Aunt Susie or some other person you know reeks of a moth-ball odor, they may be in danger of moth-ball related health issues. Naphthalene is a greater danger to health and well being than paradichlorobenzene, but both are highly toxic.

moth-balls – Symptoms of Poisoning

Loss of appetite



Difficulty sleeping or insomnia

Low red blood cell count

The skin takes on a yellow tone with gradually increases over time

The skin begins to look "waxy"

Nausea and upset stomach






Anorexic-like physical symptoms

Chronic cough

Difficulty taking a deep breath

Liver damage, which is what causes the yellow appearance to the skin

Kidney damage




These are the symptoms of moth-ball poisoning which are caused by living in a moth-ball rich environment. Ingestion of moth-balls is a medical emergency for people and pets. Never allow children to play in an area where moth-balls are used frequently because they may put them in their mouth and become quite ill. Ingestion is hallmarked by seizures, coma and death. If a child goes to visit Grandma, who always smells like moth-balls, you are putting the child in danger.

moth-ball poisoning is significant and often strikes the senior population, young children and babies. Many elderly people still hold firm to old beliefs that mothballs will keep all types of insects from invading their homes and damaging their property. While that may be true, they are putting themselves in harms way. Many seniors use mothballs not just in closed boxes and stored containers, but sprinkle them around the house, under furniture, in closets and cabinets. Mothballs release toxic and potentially deadly fumes. Breathing in a mothball laden environment causes a wide range of irreversible health issues. If your grandmother, aunt or elderly neighbor whose house reeks of mothballs, they are living in a toxic and danger and dangerous environment. Cleaning the environment is required to restore the home to a safe place to live, breathe and eat. Mothball fumes can also leach onto foods, making them unsafe to eat.

Safe Mothball Removal

Put on a respirator, safety goggles and rubber gloves. Do not handle mothballs with your bare hands as the naphthalene or paradichlorobenzene can be absorbed through your skin.

Open all of the windows and doors in the house. Set up fans aimed at the doors and windows to push the mothballs fumes out of the home.

Collect the mothballs in plastic garbage bags and place each bag into a second garbage bag. Contact your local health department and inquire about safe disposal of large amounts of mothballs.

 Getting Rid of the Mothball Odor in the House

Hang all clothes, linens and textiles outside on a line to help remove the mothball odor. Remove curtains and drapes from windows, take area rugs outdoors. The textiles may have to hang outdoors for quire sometime because the odor does not dissipate easily or quickly.

Wash all dishes, utensils, pots and pans with hot soapy water to remove the mothball residue.

Completely removing a mothball odor from a house can take several weeks.

Wash the walls and ceilings with white vinegar. Pour white vinegar into a bucket and submerge a sponge mop. Wring out most of the excess vinegar. Run the mop across the ceiling and up and down walls. Rinse the mop often in a second bucket of hot water.

Allow the ceilings and walls to dry completely.

Apply one to two coats of an odor blocking primer or sealer. Follow with one to two coats of an odor blocking paint. In most cases the odor blocking primer and paint will rid the house of a majority of the odor.

Wash windows with white vinegar.

After bringing textiles indoors, set the washing machine on a cycle with an extra rinse. Wash the clothing and linens in the washing machine with 1 cup of white vinegar. Add 1 cup of baking soda to the second rinse. Hang the clothes and linens outside, preferably on a windy day.

Wipe down all hard surfaces including furniture and floors with a white vinegar soaked sponge.

Carpeting may need to be replaced. Some carpet cleaning professionals can successfully remove the mothball odor. If the carpet is very old or valuable, it may be worth salvaging. If the carpet has seen better days – get rid of it.

Outside of the fact that mothballs release dangerous fumes, naphthalene can be a fire hazard. Naphthalene’s flash point or the point at which it will burn is only 170 degrees Fahrenheit. So if Grandma or Aunt Susie stores mothballs near the stove or hot water heater, they can easily start a fire.

Plan of Action for Senior who Reek of Mothballs

Have a talk with elderly relatives and neighbors about the dangers of mothballs. If that doesn’t work, express your concerns to their doctor.

If a friend or relative smells of mothballs or their home has a strong mothball odor and has any of the above symptoms, talk to their doctor.

Tell mothball users about safe and effective alternative moth and insect control such as cedar.