a man in a closet

How Do Mothballs Work?

October 22, 2018

Mothballs seem to be everywhere, whether they're in your relative's closet, at work, or school, you've probably encountered them. You will almost certainly recognize the smell, but might not know where it's coming from.

What are Mothballs?

Mothballs are small pellets of pungent substance stored among clothing to kill moths and discourage them from breeding in your belongings.

There are two different kinds of mothballs used to combat moths. In one type, the main ingredient is naphthalene, and in the other the main ingredient is paradichlorobenzene.

How do Mothballs Work?

Whether the mothballs you are using contain naphthalene or paradichlorobenzene, the mothballs will sublimate. Upon undergoing sublimation, these mothballs will go from a solid to a gas, and release fumes. These fumes are toxic to moths and moth larvae, and should kill them or deter them from the area.

Unfortunately, for these mothballs to achieve the desired task, they must be stored in an enclosed environment where the moths are trapped with the fumes. It can be very difficult to trap these moths in a sealed container with the mothballs. The fumes will likely have little to no effect on the moths if they are not kept in close proximity.

Why do People Use Mothballs?

People use mothballs because moths have been known to eat through fabric in clothing and destroy the clothing items. They are used in an effort to stop the moth problem by killing or discouraging the moths from being in the area.

Serious infestations can cause significant damage to clothing, bedding, floor coverings, and other fibrous products.

Why do Moths Eat Clothing?

Female moths and moth larvae have a very particular diet.

In the wild, they usually eat sap from flowers or trees, rotting fruit, bird droppings, or animal dung.

However, when moths are forced to find food indoors, they will eat a wide range of fibers including hair, fur, silk, felt, feathers, and anything with keratin. They usually eat clothing made from animal fibers including items made of things such as silk, wool, cashmere, angora, or fur.

Are Mothballs Safe?

Mothballs can be used safely. In order to use mothballs safely, you should put them in sealed containers so the fumes can build up and become potent enough to kill the moths. When these fumes are contained in a sealed environment they are not harmful to humans or pets.

These sealed containers should be opened outdoors, where the fumes can release and dissipate in the wind. Clothing stored with these mothball fumes should not be worn for at least day; let the items air out. These fumes can be especially dangerous to young children.

According to the US Department of Health and Human Services, naphthalene may damage or destroy red blood cells and could cause cancer.

Should You Use Mothballs?

In short, no. It is not recommended to use mothballs as a means to solve any moth related problem.

Firstly, it may be difficult to effectively use mothballs, and may be more trouble than it is worth.

For any moth, or other pest related problem, the most effective way to handle the situation is to use a professional pest management company. These pest professionals will be able to identify and treat any pest problem in the most humane and appropriate way possible.