Mothballs effectively prevent moths from chewing on garments by releasing a gas into the air that drives the moths away. Unfortunately, this strong odor is unpleasant and very hard to get rid of once it's in your garments or your house. If you're more worried now about a mothball infestation over a moth infestation, here's how to clear the air.
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Know what you're up against. Mothballs are made from naphthalene or paradichlorobenzene, both of which are not particularly good for humans; both of these chemicals sublimate from a solid to gaseous state, which means that the fumes built up from just a few mothballs in a confined space can permeate any porous object, from leather to linen to wood.
Avoid trying to clean the affected area with water. Though counterintuitive, water and repeated washing does nothing to remove the mothball smell, and in fact, seems to just make it harder to get rid of. Because of the nature of these chemicals, a dry heat source and plenty of ventilation seems to work the best.
Plan on spending about a month ridding yourself of mothball smell. This is about how much time it takes in a very warm, well-ventilated area for the fumes to fully disperse from the mothballed piece of furniture, upholstery, or textile. If a room or a whole house is full of mothball smell, keep airing it out and crank up the heat for a month or so and then give the house a thorough cleaning with baking soda and vinegar.
Try charcoal a few pieces of charcoal in a metal pan which may be enough to absorb some of the mothball odor, although this and many similar methods don't seem to be completely effective. Similar treatments with baking soda, vinegar, herbs, oils and even household cleaners and deodorizers seem to help at first but they ultimately cover the smell instead of removing it. However, this can make the long process of removing the smell more bearable.
Use a very hot iron on mothballed clothing that is safe to iron and then hang the garment out in the sun for a bit to breathe. If the item can't handle an iron, lay it out in the sun as much as possible over the course of a month to let the fumes dissipate.
Tips and warnings
- Don't use mothballs. It's not worth it. There are plenty of other options out there that don't stink up the house. Cedar, lavender, wormwood, rosemary and mint all seem to help repel moths, and keeping your stored clothing in sealed plastic boxes works even better.