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How to Get Mothball Smell Out of Clothes

Do you remember walking into your grandparent’s house and getting hit in the face with a heavy, musty mothball smell? No one likes the smell of mothballs, but the chemical pesticide can prevent insect damage to your clothes. Fortunately, you can easily learn how to get the mothball smell out of your clothes.

The most popular way to get mothball smell out of clothes is to use white vinegar, either in the washing machine or in a presoak. OxiClean bleach can also neutralize the mothball scents, like activated charcoal tablets. Commercial deodorizers like Nok-Out also effectively remove mothball odor from clothing.

In this article, you will learn what makes mothballs smell so bad. You will discover six methods for removing the mothball smell from clothes. Finally, you will find tips for getting that scent out of your jeans and even your washing machine!

How to Get Mothball Smell Out of Clothes

What are Mothballs?

Mothballs are a type of pesticide used to repel moths from wool and other natural fibers. These tiny pesticide balls used to contain a chemical called naphthalene but may contain various other chemicals today, such as paradichlorobenzene.

These chemicals remain solid at room temperature but will eventually dissolve into a gas over time. The gas will kill any moths or larvae it comes in contact with if you use the mothballs appropriately.

Mothballs do work at protecting clothing from moths and other pests that eat cloth fibers. They have remained popular for about a century because of this!

One essential thing to know about mothballs up front is that they are toxic to humans and pets. The fumes can cause health concerns in adults, but they pose a special risk to children and pets because the gas sinks to floor level and can build up over time. Of course, if a child finds a mothball and eats it, the effects can get even more serious!

Another thing to keep in mind is that the chemicals in mothballs are highly flammable. This means you need to keep them in a cool place.

The best way to use mothballs is to place them inside an air-tight container along with the clothing you want to protect. You should never leave mothballs in a potentially hot environment like an attic or a non-air-tight setting like a closet. If the fumes can escape, they will hurt you and anyone else living in your home.

Do you need to use mothballs? Modern fashion uses many synthetic fabrics rather than more expensive natural fabrics like wool. Check the labels inside your clothes to see what fabric they contain.

If your clothes contain polyester, rayon, or nylon, you do not need to protect them from moths. Moths do not eat synthetic fabrics.

If you do not own clothing made from wool or silk, you probably do not need to worry about mothballs. If you own several nice wool coats, you may want to carefully wrap them in tissue and store them in an air-tight tote with mothballs during the spring and summer.

This will effectively prevent the possibility that you will unpack your winter clothing to find tiny moth holes all over it, which is great! Of course, it also means that you will need to combat that powerful mothball smell in your coats every spring.

Will Mothball Smell Go Away?

Best Way to Get Rid of Mothball Smell

Mothball smell will not simply go away on its own if left untreated. If you have never smelled a mothball in real life, you may find this difficult to believe. But anyone who has encountered that musty, heavy, sickly-sweet scent knows just how powerful that mothball smell can get!

Mothball smell can linger for years in a garment, closet, or home. If your home has good circulation and many open windows, the process may go faster, but you will still want to treat individual garments or areas of the home exposed to fumes.

Mothballs themselves last anywhere from three months to a year before entirely dissipating into a gaseous form and “disappearing.” Just because you can’t see the mothball does not mean it’s gone, though!

The poisonous chemical in mothballs simply switches from its solid form to a gaseous form that you can’t see. But don’t worry–you will 100% still smell it!

Can You Get Mothball Smell Out of Clothes?

Will Mothball Smell Go Away

You can get mothball smell out of clothes with the right treatment, though you may find the process somewhat challenging. The main reason for this is that most of the clothes you want to protect from moths do not allow easy washing. Wool and silk, for example, often require drycleaning and should not go in your washing machine.

Besides, mothball smell will not just wash out of clothes anyway! Soap and water will not touch these powerful fumes.

If you find that mothball smell lingers in washable clothes, you can use the vinegar or OxiClean methods in this article to treat the clothes in your washing machine. Simply laundering the garments as you usually do will not do the trick.

For this reason, check the manufacturer’s recommended care label inside a garment before trying any of the methods described in this article.

The most effective ways to counteract a mothball smell include using white vinegar, bleach, or a commercial agent like Nok-Out. You may need to try a method repeatedly to entirely remove the smell. This depends on how long the clothes soaked up mothball fumes, among other factors.

How to Get Mothball Smell Out of Clothes: 6 Methods

You can get the mothball smell out of your clothes using vinegar, oxygenated bleach, or commercial products. You can also use slow but effective scent-removing tools like cedar chips, activated charcoal, and fresh air.

1. Vinegar

VinegarWhite vinegar has a powerful ability to neutralize the odors in your clothes, including mothball smell. Soaking or washing clothe sin distilled white vinegar is the most popular home remedy for treating mothball odor in clothes, upholstery, and even in cars!

That said, even this excellent method does have some drawbacks. First, you cannot treat every type of fabric with vinegar. It may damage certain types of material.

Second, while vinegar does combat strong odors, you may still have to treat a garment multiple times to entirely remove the lingering, cloying mothball smell.

You can use the white vinegar method in a couple of different ways:

  • If you have washable clothing, add one cup of distilled white vinegar to a regular wash cycle. Use your regular detergent as well. For extra-strong results, set the machine to a presoak, add the vinegar at this part of the cycle, and then run through a normal wash.
  • For more delicate or hand-wash clothing, try setting up a bucket filled with a 50:50 solution of water and distilled white vinegar. Soak the garments in this solution for an hour. Rinse them and handwash them gently using soap and water.
  • You can also try this gentle treatment for white fabric. Mix one cup of distilled white vinegar, one cup of water, and two tablespoons of lemon juice in a spray bottle. Spritz this over a delicate white garment and let it sit for an hour. Then rinse in cool water.

2. OxiClean Bleach

OxiCleanOxygenated or non-chlorine bleach can quickly remove the mothball smell from clothes. Use this method with caution, though, as not every garment can survive exposure to bleach.

The care label inside each garment should indicate whether it can soak in bleach. If it can, make sure you use non-chlorine bleach, such as OxiClean. One of the big advantages of using oxygenated bleach is that you can safely apply it to many colorful garments and white clothes.

  1. Fill a bucket with hot water and add the recommended amount of non-chlorine bleach according to the instructions on the packet. Typically, you will add only about ¼ cup of bleach per gallon of water.
  2. Submerge the smelly garment into the water and let it soak for twenty minutes. Check on the garment every five minutes or so to make sure you do not see any discoloration.
  3. Pour the bleach and water into a sink and rinse the garment under running water.
  4. Launder the clothing as you normally would in your washing machine using regular detergent.

If you have a whole pile of mothball-smelling clothing, you can also add non-chlorine bleach to your washing machine using the timed release chute or during a presoak in the cycle. Just make sure you check all the labels first to find out if you can safely machine wash the garments before you try this!

3. Without Washing/Activated Charcoal

If your dry-clean-only or delicate clothing smells like mothballs, you may want to try using activated charcoal without washing to remove the odor. Activated charcoal, otherwise known as activated carbon, can filter all sorts of things from the air and water. This type of charcoal has a feature called microporosity which means that it has a huge amount of surface area and can quickly absorb scents because of this.

  1. Find an air-tight tote or vacuum seal bag large enough to hold your smelly garment.
  2. Place the garment inside this container.
  3. Next, add a small jar or baggie full of activated charcoal into the container. If using a jar, poke holes in the lid. If using a baggie, poke holes in that too. You want the charcoal exposed to the air inside this container so it can work, but you also do not want black streaks on your clothing!
  4. Leave the garment and charcoal sealed up together overnight.
  5. In the morning, open up the container. If you get a big whiff of mothball, replace the charcoal and leave it for another 24 hours.

4. Cedar Chips

Cedar chips offer another no-wash alternative to treat clothing that smells like mothballs. In the interest of full disclosure, this gentle method may not prove as instantly effective as using vinegar or bleach. But it is one of the safest techniques you can try, and it works over time!

Cedar trees contain a special oil that repels moths and prevents them from laying eggs nearby. Cedar wood does not kill moths, however. The smell of this oil has a pleasant and slightly sharp tang to it, making your clothes smell fresh instead of musty!

You can find cedar chips or blocks at stores like Lowes or Home Depot and places like Walmart or Target.

To treat mothball-smelling clothing with cedar chips:

  1. Get a large vacuum-seal bag.
  2. Place a handful of cedar chips and the garment inside the bag.
  3. Seal it up tightly and let it sit for two to three days.
  4. Open the bag and check to see if any of the unpleasant mothball scents remain.

5. Fresh Air

Perhaps the simplest method for getting the mothball smell out of clothes is to expose them to lots of fresh air. Mind you, this method does take time! You can’t just throw your clothes on the porch and expect the smell to dissipate overnight.

  • If you have an outdoor clothesline, hang up the clothes on a nice sunny day. Leave them in the fresh air for two or three days if possible.
  • If you don’t have a clothesline, take a drying rack outside or rig a clothesline using a piece of twine between two trees!
  • If you do not have an outdoor space to use, you can also open a window and put a large fan in front of the window. Then arrange the clothes on a drying rack so the fan can blow fresh air onto the clothes.

6. Commercial Products

SMELLEZE Urine Super Absorbent, Solidifier & Deodorizer: 2 lb. Powder Rapidly Solidifies Urine & Diarrhea in Pet Loo, Dog Litter Box, Pet Potty Trainer, Portable Urinals/Toilets, Bedpans, etc.One of the quickest and most efficient ways to get that mothball smell out of your clothes is to use a commercial deodorizer. While you do have to pay for a commercial product, it definitely works! The downside is that many of these products contain dangerous chemicals, so you will need to handle them with some safety precautions and follow the use guidelines on the packaging.

A couple of the most popular commercial deodorizer products include SMELLEZE and Nok-Out. Both products have a great reputation for wiping out any lingering mothball scent.

Is Mothball Smell Toxic?

Mothball smell is toxic and can harm humans and pets. It can prove especially dangerous for small children. The slightly scary thing about mothball smell is that if you smell it, you have inhaled the pesticide!

Some potential symptoms of inhaling mothball fumes can include coughing, eye and nose irritation, headaches, and nausea. In extreme cases, symptoms like abdominal cramping, irritation, diarrhea, confusion, or convulsions could occur.

For most people, inhaling mothball fumes does not cause permanent damage. The symptoms quickly reverse if you step outside and breathe plenty of fresh air. That said, everyone has a different susceptibility to the chemicals in mothballs, and serious reactions can happen.

You should also never touch mothballs without wearing gloves. You may accidentally ingest some pesticides if you put your hands near your face or forget to wash your hands before eating.

You should never expose children to mothballs either, as they may experience all of these symptoms more severely. Mothball fumes pose more of a risk for children and pets than adults because the gas hangs out low to the ground. Mothballs in solid form look a bit like candy, so in the small chance that a child eats a mothball, make sure you call poison control immediately!

This means that if you use mothballs, you need to use them correctly! Make sure they remain in an air-tight container and do not leak fumes into your home.

If you want to skip the danger, you can also find suggestions for mothball alternatives later in this article.

Can You Wash Mothball Smell Out of Clothes?

You cannot wash mothball smell out of clothes using soap and water, but you can add either white vinegar or oxygenated bleach to a load of laundry to counteract the odor.

One of the reasons mothballs can so effectively protect clothing from moths is the way the gas fumes can cling to fabrics. This makes it super tricky to wash away the lingering smell! You will probably find that you need to wash your clothes at least twice using the vinegar method to truly overcome the odor.

For even better results, run the washing machine twice, adding white vinegar to the machine both times. Then hang the clothes up outside to air dry in the fresh air.

How Do You Get Mothball Smell Out of:

Can You Wash Mothball Smell Out of Clothes

If your clothes or washing machine have had exposure to mothballs, you will want to know specific tricks for clearing away that strong odor!


The easiest way to get a mothball smell out of jeans is to wash them with a cup of distilled white vinegar added to the machine. Jeans contain tough cotton denim, so you do not need to worry about moths trying to eat them. You just need to neutralize the odor to keep wearing your jeans.

Another thing to note about possible mothball smells in jeans is that brand-new jeans sometimes smell like mothballs, but the scent comes from the formaldehyde used to treat certain denim finishes.

The good news is that you can still use vinegar to get rid of this smell. You can also try adding baking soda to the wash or hanging up the jeans outside to air dry.


Getting a mothball odor out of wool is one of the hardest types of scent removal simply because most wool is not washable. This means you can’t use the vinegar method or the bleach method, and you also can’t use many commercial deodorizers. This seems rather unfair since wool is the main fabric you have to protect from moths to begin with!

Instead, try sprinkling a layer of baking soda thickly over the wool garment. Let this sit overnight and then thoroughly shake out the soda outdoors. Give the wool a sniff test to see if this worked.

On a nice day, you can also try airing your wool garments on an outdoor clothesline.

The last-ditch resort for wool that persists in smelling like mothballs is to go to a dry cleaner. Ask the professionals if they can treat the garment to remove the smell.


Like wool, silk usually requires handwashing or dry cleaning, which makes getting a mothball smell a bit tricky. You should not try the fresh air method with silk either because ultraviolet rays can easily fade this delicate fabric.

Instead, try soaking silk in a basin of cool water mixed with a cup of baking soda for an hour. Rinse this out and then roll up the silk garment inside a clean towel to remove most of the water. You have to hang silk carefully, so it does not tear under its own weight, but try to set it up near an open window to finish drying.

This may remove the odor, but it might not fully solve the problem. In this case, you can also try storying the silk in an air-tight container with a sachet of cedar chips for a few days.

Vintage Clothes

In most cases, you can use vinegar to remove a mothball smell from vintage clothes. If you like to hunt for vintage finds at thrift stores or auctions, you know how annoying it is to open a bag of old clothes only to discover a powerful mothball stink! The good news is that you can try the vinegar method on any washable clothing.

If any vintage items look super delicate, such as well-worn tees, you may want to use the vinegar soak method and handwash the clothes.

Front-Loading Washing Machine

You can clean mothball smell out of a washing machine using vinegar. One of the worst results of treating mothball-scented clothes is that your washing machine may also pick up some of the scent!

The easiest way to clean out any washing machine is to put on a pair of gloves, dip a clean rag in distilled vinegar, and give the inside of the basin a good wiping down. You can also run the machine without clothes and add a cup of vinegar to the basin.

Dry Clean Only Clothes

The only safe way to get a mothball smell out of dry-clean-only clothing is to use a no-wash method like the cedar chip, activated charcoal, or fresh air techniques.

These methods take a little time but can work quite well, especially on delicates that can’t hold up even to hand washing. The other option, of course, is to take your dry-clean-only clothes to a dry cleaner and ask the professionals to get rid of the odor for you!

How to Store Clothes Without Mothballs

You can store clothes without mothballs using safer and all-natural alternatives like cloves, cedar chips, or lavender. Each of these all-natural products drives moths away or at least deters them from laying eggs on any nearby surface. That said, unlike mothballs, these products do not actually kill moths.

Check out this list of tips to help you avoid using mothballs in your house:

  • Check the label inside your garment to determine its fabric composition. Moths only eat animal fibers such as wool, leather, silk, or feathers. If your clothes contain plant-based fabrics like cotton or synthetics like polyester, you do not need to worry about moths!
  • Make sure you wash and dry your clothing thoroughly before storing it away. Moths seek out dirty clothing or clothes that contain boy oils or human odors, so putting away clean clothes can help prevent moth damage.
  • Simply using airtight containers will keep moths away from your clothes pretty effectively. If air can’t get in, neither can moths!
  • If you plan to store away wool or silk garments, try placing a handful of cedar chips inside a loosely woven linen bag or sachet. Place this in a sealed container with the garments. You can also safely use cedar chips or small cedar blocks in your closet or dresser drawers, as this all-natural scent will not harm you!
  • Likewise, you can place a handful of whole cloves (not the ground-up spice) into a small sachet. Cloves have a rather pungent scent, but as long as you like the spicy smell, this all-natural method can protect your clothes without danger.
  • The scent of lavender may seem too delicate to drive moths away, but it does work! Store dried lavender inside a small sachet with your packed-up clothes, and moths should stay away.

What is the Best Way to Get Rid of Mothball Smell?

The best way to get rid of a mothball smell from washable clothing is to use distilled white vinegar, which can neutralize many strong smells. Oxygenated bleach and commercial deodorizers can also kill a mothball odor. Delicate clothes will need a no-wash method like exposure to cedar chips, activated charcoal, fresh air, or lavender.

Mothballs prevent moths from eating animal-fiber fabrics, but they do contain harmful chemicals. If you choose to use this product, you should place the mothballs in an air-tight container with your clothing. Easy alternatives to mothballs include keeping sachets of cedar chips in your dresser and closet.