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Alternatives to Mothballs

- Use alternatives to these toxic materials -

Summary: Mothballs are made from two very toxic chemicals. As such we no longer recommend that mothballs be used for carpet beetle and clothes moth control because there are now safer and more effective alternatives.

Jack DeAngelis, PhD
OSU Ext. Entomologist (ret.)
my resume

Mothballs are extremely toxic!

Mothballs are made of white crystals of two very dangerous chemicals, para-dichlorobenzene (1,4-dichlorobenzene) and/or naphthalene. Both chemicals are solid at room temperature but produce very strong, toxic vapors. Mothballs are sold as flakes or pressed into cakes.

Both of these chemicals are fumigants and the vapors must be present in high concentration to be effective, and this is the problem. Concentrations high enough to be effective for pest control can be dangerous for anyone exposed to them.

alternative spelling: moth balls

carpet beetle

varied carpet beetle (magnified; ~ 1/8" long); some carpet beetles are all black

Don't use mothballs. Some people use mothballs to ward off insect pests that damage clothes, such as carpet beetles and clothes moths, and as a deterrent to some landscape pests. They are often used in excess which exposes people to hazardous compounds.

One of the ingredients, para-dichlorobenzene, may be a carcinogen and may also damage the liver and kidneys at high doses. And, naphthalene can damage the liver and cause eye injury. Mothballs can be especially dangerous if accidentally eaten. In short, mothballs should not be used by homeowners.

If they are used, and unfortunately I know that some of you will continue to use them, they should only be used sparingly and anything stored around mothballs should be thoroughly cleaned. Dry clean wool and silk articles or wash other fabrics to remove all mothball smell before use.

Alternatives to mothballs

There are alternatives to mothballs for clothes moths and carpet beetles. The most important point to remember about clothes moths is that soiled cloth is much more likely to become infested. Do not put clothes that have been worn into long-term storage without first cleaning them. Dry cleaning is the most effective method for removing eggs and larvae of insect pests.

Store clean clothes in plastic bags or boxes that are tightly sealed. Be cautious of imported wool textiles especially. Dry clean any soiled item before you bring it home. Infested drawers and closets should be completely emptied and wiped down with a mild solution of household cleaner. Dry clean all wool or silk articles, non-wool or silk articles can be washed and dried under heat. See How to Manage Clothes Moths and How to Manage Carpet Beetles for specific information about eliminating these pests in your home.

Related Site

National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (search on the term "mothballs")

Cedar chests and cedar-lined closets

Cedar oils, at concentrations present in cedar chests, closets and scented wood blocks, have almost no value as moth or beetle repellents. The value of a cedar chest is that the chest is tightly closed, thus preventing entry of moths or beetles. So enjoy the aroma of your cedar but don't expect it to chase away any bugs!

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Mission: To provide accurate, up-to-date and unbiased information for solving common insect and mite problems around your home, business and landscape using least-toxic methods.

Jack DeAngelis, PhD,  , email:  [email protected]

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