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What Are Moth Balls & How Do You Use Them?

Not sure what moth balls do or how to use them? Read our guide to moth ball uses, for tips on getting rid of your moth problems - and that moth ball odour!


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If you have clothes made from natural fibres, moths love them as much as you do! This can be a problem if you don’t want holes in your favourite sweater, but this is where moth balls come in handy. These small discs made with insecticide are easily available from stores and effective at getting rid of moths, but how do moth balls work, and are they safe to use in your home?

Always read the instructions on the product label before use. Moth balls contain chemicals that give off fumes and should be handled carefully, so work in a well-ventilated area and wear rubber gloves.

Why are moths such a pest?

Moths and carpet beetles lay their eggs in warm, quiet corners of our homes, where there’s plenty of food for the larvae when they hatch. Moth larvae feed on natural materials like hair, pet dander – and your woollen garments! So how can you use moth balls to prevent your clothes being riddled with holes?

What are moth balls and what do moth balls do?

While many people have come across moth balls, there are still many people who ask ‘what are moth balls’ or aren’t sure exactly how they work. Moth balls are actually small round discs of solid chemical pesticide, usually made of naphthalene or para-dichlorobenzene.

If you’re wondering what do moth balls do, the answer is simple: they help protect your clothes from moths! Moth balls use the gas which evaporates from the chemicals they contain to kill off moths and moth larvae.

If placed in a sealed container, should protect your garments from moth damage.

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How do moth balls work: How to use moth balls in a closet or drawers

  1. Use moth balls on clothes which you won’t be wearing for a month or more; it’s a good idea to moth-proof winter garments at the beginning of the summer to protect them while they’re in storage.

  2. Place your clothes in an airtight container, such as plastic laundry bags, plastic storage boxes or trunks, not straight into your closet or drawers. This helps the moth balls work efficiently, and prevents any fumes from getting into the rest of your home.

  3. When it’s time to wear your clothes, air them outside for a day or more first to eliminate any traces of gas or odour, then wash as normal with detergent and fabric softener.

  4. Don’t place the clothes straight in your washing machine, as the smell can transfer to your other garments.

  5. There is no need to use moth balls to care for synthetic garments, as moth larvae generally only feed on natural fibres.

How to use moth balls safely

You can use moth balls safely, provided you take some precautions:

  • Always wear rubber gloves when handling moth balls.

  • Take your clothes out of the moth ball container outside, in a well-ventilated area.

  • When disposing of moth balls, place in a sealed garbage bag.

  • Consider using a face mask if you are going to be in prolonged contact with chemicals.

Alternative moth ball uses

Moth balls can be used to tackle other pest problems, such as repelling mice or snakes. As with learning how to use moth balls in a closet, this use of moth balls is only effective – and safe – if you seal off the area or container where you have a pest problem. Moth balls should not be placed loose in areas of the home or outside where pets or children could pick them up.

Keeping your outfits clean and pest-free when you’re not using them can feel like a challenge, but we’ve got lots more expert cleaning tips to make caring for your clothes easier. Browse through more laundry advice from Cleanipedia or search for your household problem in the search box above!

  • Make sure the container is airtight when using moth balls, so fumes don’t escape.

  • Air your garments outside before washing to get rid of the smell.

  • To eliminate all traces of moth ball odour, be sure to wash your clothes regularly with a good quality detergent. Look for one with added scent or fabric softener, such as Surf Blossom Fresh.

Do you want to learn which household cleaning tasks cause the most stress?  Then read our Heated Household data analysis. 

Frequently asked questions on using mothballs

How long do mothballs take to work?

Mothballs get to work as soon as you place them in the area you wish to protect, and will work best in an enclosed area where the moths are trapped with the fumes. They can protect your clothing from moths and larvae for up to 3 months.

Are moth balls harmful to humans?

Mothball chemicals are toxic to humans and pets, and if children or pets mistake the mothballs for food and ingest them, they can cause serious side-effects. Less serious, reversible health effects include headaches, eye and nose irritation, and coughing. Extended exposure could cause liver and kidney damage, so mothballs should always be used with care.

Are camphor balls safer than napthalene moth balls?

If you're wondering, “are camphor balls safe?” the answer is yes! This natural, aromatic plant can be an effective choice to keep moths and other pests away from your clothing storage. Whilst it is a safer option than mothballs, the medicinal qualities of camphor oil and balls mean that you should still use them with caution.

What are the best alternatives to mothballs?

The best alternative to mothballs can include products such as lavender sachets, cedar chips or blocks, cloves, rosemary, and thyme – all of which are natural and effective alternatives.

Originally published