Silent Hazards Inside The Home

Silent Hazards Inside The Home

I clean for a lot of elderly people, and for some reason they seem to just love putting mothballs everywhere. In the closets, attics and even plants around the house. 

Mothballs, moth flakes, crystals and bars are insecticides. They come in a solid form that slowly gives off toxic gas that kills moths and other insects. Mothballs in the U.S. contain very high concentrations of either naphthalene or paradichlorobenzene as active ingredients. They are meant to be used in closed, airtight containers so that the fumes they produce are trapped.

The trapped fumes build up and kill any clothes moths inside. If mothballs are used out  in the open, they can harm people, pets, or wildlife that may touch or eat the mothballs, or breathe their vapors.


Naphthalene is a toxin that is also found in moth crystals, moth cakes and toilet bowl deodorizers. Naphthalene is approximately twice as toxic as paradichlorobenzene. In many moth ball products, the use of naphthalene is being replaced in favor of paradichlorobenzene, but both are toxic substances capable of being harmful to animals.


Paradichlorobenzene – typically found in diaper pails, restroom deodorizers and moth crystals and cakes – is a type of organochloride insecticide that causes harm to animals. Ingestion of paradichlorobenzene can cause central nervous excitement, seizures and liver damage.

A story to ponder about mothballs: Andrew Segal and his young family had birds in their attic. They called the local pest elimination company. They came by and their solution was to spread about 250 mothballs free in the attic area. The mothballs, got rid of the birds, but the smell from the mothballs  were too much for the family to bear. Andrew remembers, his wife getting severe headaches, and he lost his appetite.

What bothered them both the most was their baby? She was only two-weeks old and premature, and her crib sat dangerously close to the attic stairs. The Segals read the back of the mothball box, which stated: “May be fatal if inhaled.” Andrew contacted the Georgia Poison Control Center. ” They shared the potential conditions that can be associated with exposure to mothballs such as, respiratory distress, nausea, vomiting, and prolonged exposure can cause kidney failure. Andrew said to himself, from mothballs!!

The Segals had all the mothballs removed, and needed to have all the insulation removed from the attic because of the absorbed odor from the mothballs. Andrew said, ” if the mothballs are killing the birds, what are they going to do to people breathing them.”

Moth Ball Toxicity Signs In Pets

Signs and symptoms of moth ball toxicity in dog or cats include vomiting and seizures. The animal may have the odor of mothballs around the mouth or in the breath and vomit. Heinz body anemia, a type of anemia affecting inclusions in the red blood cells, will cause an increase in heart rate and pallor. If methemoglobinemia occurs, the gums will turn blue or brown. If liver damage is sustained or liver inflammation occurs, loss of appetite, lethargy, diarrhea, vomiting and icterus or jaundice may occur. 

Taking Action

Upon suspecting moth ball toxicity in a pet, do not induce vomiting. Seek veterinary care immediately. If the pet arrives within 30 to 60 minutes following ingestion of the moth ball, the vet may perform gastric lavage, a stomach pumping or gastric irrigation technique. The vet may administer activated charcoal.

Removing Moth Ball Smell

The bad news about removing the smell of moth balls is that it isn’t easy. The only way that I know of to remove the smell (and this is confirmed by many discussions with other expects) is by putting the clothing and furniture in the sun. Keep repeating until the smell is gone.

How to Repel Clothing Moths

1. Clean woolens items before storing.

To wet clean wool: The key to not shrinking wool is to never twist it, agitate it, or wring it out. Gently swirl the wool in the water, then rinse and press the water out. Wool is an acidic material, so  use a shampoo with its acidic pH. Or an acidic detergent. Any soap or detergent with a pH above 8 will harm wool. To lower the pH of a soap or detergent. add 1 tablespoon of white vinegar or lemon juice before washing. Water temperature when washing wool should be around 100 F. Block wool – lay it flat and shape it- before drying.

2. Air dry woolen clothing in the sun for a few hours before packing them away.

3. Make your own moth ball alternatives.

Make your Own Sachets

This recipe will fill about a dozen sachets. You can buy herbs in bulk at almost any health food store:

2 ounces each dried rosemary and mint

1 ounce each dried thyme and American ginseng

8 ounces whole cloves

Combine the ingredients in a large bowl. Blend. Make sachets by choosing a 4×4 inch piece of natural fiber with a tight weave, such as silk. Sew three sides together, then fill with the herbs and sew the fourth side shut. you can adapt this pattern to any size you want (2×2) is the traditional size for the undergarments drawer, for example). A good idea for small sachets is to fill cotton teabags or muslim teabags sold in health food stores. If you are really in a rush, just tie the herbs up in a cotton bandana or handkerchief, place the herbs in the middle, gather the edges together, and tie with a ribbon.


Other herbs that are good for repelling moths include lavender, lemon, sweet woodruff, and tansy.

Completely seal woolens in air-tight containers or in cedar chests. If you see moths, freeze the item of clothing for two days in the freezer.

Wool Moth Spray

If you have wool moths already, the best spray is to make one of neem oil, adding 1/4 cup of neem oil to 1/2 gallon water, with a dab of liquid castile soap, in a spray bottle.


    1. Thank you, Cathy, for this most enlightening post. Fortunately, we do not and have never used moth balls. I love my cedar chest which belonged to my grandmother.

      You gave some great tips which I hope all your readers will follow.


    1. Wow I found this so interesting. My neighbor used to use moth balls to repel my cats from his garden, the smell was outrages throughout the neighborhood, I had no idea it was toxic. Thankfully I never got a sick cat. I always used Cayenne pepper as a repellent. Thank you for this….

    1. Michael Frank says:

      I read the article, but still need to know specifics; I have parrots, and, a moth problem from not freezing bird seed before opening. Will the fumes from a few moth balls placed around my house harm a macaw, cocketiel, and parakeets? I have no moth balls within 10 feet of them. Thank you.

        • Dear Michael,

          I wouldn’t take any chances by having mothballs in or around the birds even if it’s 10 feet. Birds respiratory system is very sensitive. For homes that have animals I would make up the sachets.


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