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What Are Moth Balls Made Of?

Updated July 19, 2017

Moth balls have been used for decades in connection with clothing as a mould and moth repellent. Although moth balls were originally made out of camphor, most modern moth balls consist of two chemicals: naphthalene and paradichlorobenzene.

How Moth Balls Work

In order for moth balls to be effective, they must be stored in a closed container with clothing. The fumes that are emitted by the moth balls repel moths and also cause clothing to develop a strong chemical odour.

Naphthalene

Naphthalene, a derivative of coal tar and the primary ingredient in moth balls, is a powerful chemical that exists as a white solid or a powder. The vapour produced by naphthalene is effective in repelling and killing moths; however, naphthalene has also been determined by scientists to be dangerous to humans if inhaled or ingested or if it comes into prolonged contact with skin.

Paradichlorobenzene

Paradichlorobenzene also exists in white solid crystal form, with a wet, oily surface. Its vapour is also powerful and, although believed by some scientists to be slightly less harmful than naphthalene, has been found to cause serious damage if inhaled or ingested.

Clothing After Treatment

Because of the potential harm that can be caused by moth ball vapours, it is suggested by scientists that moth ball-treated clothing be left to air out for at least one full day before being worn.

Alternatives

Many alternatives to moth balls have been suggested by scientists, as well as environmental and consumer groups. These alternatives include cedar wood blocks or chips and sachets consisting of moth-resistant herbs and spices, such as cloves, rosemary, eucalyptus, lavender, cinnamon, and bay leaves.

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About the Author

Jeff Katz has been a professional librarian, educator, historian, writer and editor for almost 20 years. He holds a Master of Library Science degree from the University of British Columbia and a BA degree in Classical Studies from Hunter College of the City University of New York.