The Trouble with Moth Balls

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The following is a guest post from Jakob Barry:

Let’s face it, mothballs are pretty old school, but upon discovering half-eaten clothing in your closet, many people still consider them an option.

The main problem, however, is the little white spheres are dangerous to all living things including people, pets and beneficial insects.

For starters, it’s important to note that moth larvae are the main problem; not the moths themselves. In other words, killing moths isn’t as important as keeping them away, but mothballs will usually do both.

Made from naphthalene, an odorous and flammable white chemical that studies have shown is carcinogenic, mothball fumes can cause terrible sickness when inhaled, or even death if mothballs are digested. A separate ingredient, 1,4 Dichlorobenzene, is also used in some versions and produces similar effects.

That’s why if you’re worried about clothing being damaged by moths but don’t want to take risks with these noxious substances exterminators may spray in your living space, there are plenty of recommended green alternatives:

  • HERBS:  Like many insects, moths don’t like the smell of most fresh herbs, especially lavender, mint, rosemary, thyme, cloves and cinnamon. While branches of herbs can simply be cut and placed wherever clothing is stored, it may be more practical to fill little packets or sachets with the leaves. That way the herbs won’t dirty your outfits.  Tea bags are a great reusable item for making the sachets, but any old fabric will do. Just make sure it’s made of a breathable material allowing scents to exit from all directions.  Also, remember that fresh leaves will have better potency against moths so be sure to change the contents every few months.
  • CEDAR WOOD:  Another natural odor moths have a great disdain for comes from cedar wood. In fact, people used to have closets made from cedar for just this reason –it protected cloths from moths.  However, an entire closet isn’t necessary as cedar wood chips, cedar moth balls, or essential oil from cedar wood poured on cotton balls are also good options.  As with the herbs, eventually cedar will also lose its potency, but the odor can be reignited by rubbing or scrapping the wood, and reapplying essential oil.
  • BETTER STORAGE:  If using herbs or cedar isn’t your preference, there’s always proper storage of your clothing.  Just remember that if moths laid eggs in sweaters or jackets prior to putting them away, the larvae will still have a chance to eat three meals a day.  A good tip before storing is to wash clothing at high temperatures or dry clean (at an organic, perc-free cleaner), which will kill larvae that may be waiting to hatch and feast on the wardrobe.

Jakob Barry writes for, a growing community of homeowners and contractors getting the most from their resources by sharing and monitoring projects together. He covers various eco-friendly home improvement topics including green living.

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Tag(s): Going Green, Greening the Home, Hazardous Products / Health Issues


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