How to Remove Mothball Smell from a Room

Mothballs are used to protect stored clothing and other fabrics from moth larvae, silverfish, and other pests that may cause damage to fabrics. However, over-applying mothballs can cause an unpleasant, musty smell that is harmful to inhale. A noticeable, strong mothball scent often warrants professional odor removal, as the more prominent the smell, the more the occupant(s) are exposed to the toxic pesticides that mothballs are made of. 

Children and pets in particular are at risk of developing symptoms from inhaling noxious mothball fumes. In a worst-case scenario, they may even mistake them for candy or treats and ingest a mothball unknowingly, which can cause serious health effects. 

Here’s what you need to know about mothball odor, including what the deodorizers are made of, things to avoid when removing mothball odor, and a professional mothball odor removal method.

Why Mothballs Have Such a Strong Odor 

Mothballs are white particulate matter in the shape of small balls and are generally composed of either paradichlorobenzene or naphthalene. As they evaporate, the vapor from mothballs is heavier than air, which causes it to sink through underlying materials. And because mothballs are not water-soluble, they are resistant to most conventional cleaning processes and water-based cleaners. 

The good news is that mothballs are soluble in alcohol (denatured, ethyl, isopropyl, etc.), so there are effective ways to remove the odor on surfaces and clothes after it’s been eliminated from the air.

Things to Absolutely Avoid During Mothball Odor Removal 

Some techniques and cleaning methods should be avoided when dealing with mothballs. Some just aren’t effective, while others could make matters worse than they already are.  

When removing mothball odor, do not: 

  • Use ozone 
  • Use thermal foggers 
  • Apply enzyme deodorizers 
  • Add any products with fragrances 
  • Accept responsibility for what isn’t your problem 

Mothballs offgas and disperse naphthalene gas. Products like ozone, thermal foggers, enzyme deodorizers, or added fragrances essentially compound the problem by adding gas upon gas. They don’t fix the source of the odor and just add more chemicals into the air. 

The ideal solution is dilution! Introduce more airflow and ventilation to remove the gas, which will reduce the worst of the odor problem. If the mothball odor still persists or a large area has been affected, seek professional odor removal services.

Mothball Odor Removal Guide for Professionals 

For the best results, here’s what you’ll need for professional mothball odor removal: 

  • Activated charcoal 
  • 6-mil poly sheeting 
  • Zipwall poles 
  • Air scrubbers with activated charcoal filters 
  • Respiratory protection 
  • A spray bottle 
  • Denatured alcohol 
  • Water 

Necessary Protection for Safe Mothball Odor Removal 

Wearing appropriate respiratory protection is important when working with mothballs — not only for protection against the paradichlorobenzene or naphthalene, but the denatured alcohol that’s required in this odor removal guide. Denatured alcohol is highly flammable and poses an inhalation risk, so wearing proper protection is key. 

Make sure you have a respirator with organic vapor pesticide canisters and other ventilation equipment. 

Basic Method 

  1. Remove dried mothballs and ventilate the area by opening any doors or windows to allow fresh air inside. 
  2. Place activated charcoal in containers to maximize the surface area and position them in and around affected areas as well as the HVAC system air handler.  
  3. Set up a negative pressure containment area. Using 6-mil poly sheeting and Zipwall poles, build a containment field around the affected area. 
  4. Measure the cubic feet of your containment (length x width x ceiling height) and use a proper-sized air scrubber with activated charcoal filters. To figure this out, use the following formula: cubic feet x 4 / 60 = cubic feet per minute (CFM) needed to obtain proper negative pressure. Set up an air scrubber fitted with a carbon filter on the inside or outside the containment. Four to six air exchanges per hour is ideal. 
  5. If the HEPA air scrubber is inside the containment area, use lay flat ducting to duct the exhaust air outside the containment area. 
  6. If the air scrubber is outside the containment area, use reinforced flexible ducting to duct the air from the containment area into the intake on your air scrubber. 

Can You Remove Mothball Odor With Household Products? 

While we always recommend professional odor removal services for the best results — especially for odors that may cause adverse health effects, like mothballs — household methods may help reduce odors until proper removal is possible. 

First, be sure to remove any mothballs from the area or room. Open windows and doors and turn on fans to increase air circulation. To desorb vapors from affected materials, such as upholstery and clothing, use a denatured alcohol and water solution of 40% water and 60% alcohol. Place the solution in a spray bottle and mist contaminated areas directly.

Mothball Alternatives 

Once the mothball odor has been successfully removed, it’s best to avoid them altogether. Try these alternatives instead to keep moths and other insects away from stored clothing and fabrics: 

  • An airtight container: Storing clothing in an airtight container is great for keeping pests away without using any sort of toxic chemicals or solutions. Wash and dry clothes before storing and place the containers in a dry environment. 
  • Cedar chips: The oil in cedar wood is an effective natural moth larvae repellent. Many “organic” mothballs are just balls of cedar wood. If choosing this option, be sure to replace the chips, balls or blocks every couple of months to maintain their effectiveness. 
  • Dried mint or peppermint oil: Insects are not fond of mint. Try placing sachets of dried mint where you want to keep moths away — or, soak cotton balls in peppermint oil. 
  • Lavender: Another natural insect repellent, lavender helps keep unwanted pests away from your stored fabrics. Placing sachets of lavender in closets and storage bins will ward off moths and keep fabrics smelling fresh. 

Mothball Odor Removal Equipment and Tools for Better Results 

Air scrubbers help to remove air pollution, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), unpleasant odors and dust. Here are a few that we recommend for mothball scent removal: 

Jon-Don has everything else you need for the job, too: 

Want to learn more about odor removal? Consider taking an IICRC Odor Control Technician (OCT) seminar where professionals can learn the principles of deodorization and the chemicals, equipment and procedures used to permanently remove unpleasant odors, starting with identifying the source. Visit our course page for upcoming classes and schedules. 

Looking for something else? Check out our online training and education page for more upcoming classes on a variety of topics. 

Dri‑Eaz HEPA 700 Air Scrubber
Dri-Eaz SKU# DP-HEPA700-EA
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ZipPole® ZipWall® 12', 2‑Pack
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