How to Get Mothball Smell Out of Clothes

Have you ever opened your closet or dresser only to be greeted by an overwhelming mothball smell? While mothballs are effective at keeping pests away from your clothes, their strong odor can linger long after they’ve served their purpose. If you’re struggling to remove that stubborn mothball scent from your garments, fear not! We’ve got you covered with a comprehensive guide on how to get mothball smell out of clothes effectively.

Get Mothball Smell Out of Clothes

The Mothball Odor

Before diving into the solutions, it’s essential to understand what causes the persistent mothball odor. Mothballs are typically made from either naphthalene or paradichlorobenzene, both of which are aromatic compounds with a distinct, pungent smell. When these compounds vaporize, they release their potent odor, which can penetrate fabrics and cling to fibers, making it challenging to eliminate the smell.

Mothballs were once a common household item for protecting clothes and fabrics from moth infestations. However, due to health concerns and the availability of safer alternatives, their use has declined in recent years. Nonetheless, if you’ve inherited or come across clothes that have been stored with mothballs, you may still need to tackle the lingering odor.

Effective Methods to Remove Mothball Smell from Clothes

1. Air Out and Sunlight Exposure

One of the simplest and most natural ways to remove mothball odor is to expose your clothes to fresh air and sunlight. Hang or lay your garments outside on a sunny day, and the combination of air circulation and UV rays from the sun can help dissipate the odor. This method may require multiple rounds of airing out, but it’s a gentle and eco-friendly approach.

Sunlight acts as a natural bleaching agent, helping to break down the odor-causing compounds in mothballs. Additionally, the fresh outdoor air can help to dilute and carry away the scent molecules.

2. Baking Soda and Vinegar

Baking soda and vinegar are two household staples that can work wonders in eliminating mothball smell from clothes. Here’s how to use them:

  • Baking Soda: Sprinkle a generous amount of baking soda onto your clothes and let it sit for several hours or overnight. The baking soda will absorb the odor molecules. After the allotted time, shake off the baking soda and launder your clothes as usual.
  • Vinegar: Add one cup of white vinegar to your washing machine’s rinse cycle. The acidic nature of vinegar helps neutralize the pungent mothball smell.

You can also create a solution by mixing baking soda and vinegar with water. Soak your clothes in this solution for a few hours before washing them. The combination of baking soda’s absorbent properties and vinegar’s acidic nature can effectively combat the mothball odor.

3. Enzymatic Cleaner or Odor Eliminator

Enzymatic cleaners and odor eliminators are specially formulated to break down and remove stubborn odors from fabrics. Look for products containing enzymes or odor-eating bacteria, as they can effectively target and eliminate the mothball smell molecules. Follow the product instructions carefully for best results.

Some popular enzymatic cleaners and odor eliminators for removing mothball odor include:

  • Nature’s Miracle Laundry Boost
  • OdorKlenz Laundry Additive
  • Zout Triple Enzyme Formula

These products work by releasing enzymes or beneficial bacteria that break down the organic compounds responsible for the unpleasant odor, effectively neutralizing the smell.

4. Activated Charcoal or Odor-Absorbing Sachets

Activated charcoal has an incredible ability to absorb odors due to its porous structure. You can place activated charcoal bags or sachets inside your closet, dresser, or storage containers along with your clothes. The charcoal will gradually absorb the mothball odor over time.

Alternatively, you can create your own odor-absorbing sachets by filling small breathable bags or pouches with a mixture of activated charcoal, baking soda, and dried herbs or essential oils. These natural sachets can help absorb and neutralize the mothball smell while adding a pleasant fragrance.

5. Essential Oils and Fragrance Boosters

While essential oils and fragrance boosters won’t eliminate the mothball odor entirely, they can help mask or overpower the unpleasant smell. Add a few drops of your favorite essential oils (such as lemon, lavender, or eucalyptus) to your laundry detergent or fabric softener during the wash cycle. Alternatively, you can create your own fragrance sachets by combining essential oils with baking soda or unscented fabric softener and placing them in your drawers or closets.

Some effective essential oils for masking mothball odor include:

  • Lemon
  • Eucalyptus
  • Tea Tree
  • Peppermint
  • Lavender

These oils not only provide a pleasant aroma but also have natural deodorizing properties that can help neutralize unpleasant smells.

6. Commercial Odor Removers

If DIY methods aren’t cutting it, consider investing in commercial odor removers specifically designed for removing mothball smells from fabrics. These products often contain powerful odor-neutralizing agents and are formulated to penetrate deep into the fibers, effectively eliminating the stubborn odor.

Some popular commercial odor removers for mothball smells include:

  • Zep Odor Eliminator
  • OdoBan Odor Remover
  • Febreze Fabric Refresher

Be sure to follow the product instructions carefully and test on a small, inconspicuous area first to ensure the product doesn’t damage or discolor your garments.

7. Washing with Borax or Washing Soda

Borax and washing soda are both alkaline compounds that can help neutralize and remove stubborn odors from fabrics. Here’s how to use them:

  • Borax: Add 1/2 cup of borax to your washing machine’s detergent drawer or directly into the drum before adding your clothes. The borax will help break down and remove the mothball odor during the wash cycle.
  • Washing Soda: Similar to borax, add 1/2 cup of washing soda to your laundry load. The high alkalinity of washing soda helps neutralize odors and lift stains.

Both borax and washing soda are gentle yet effective cleaning agents that can be used on most fabrics. However, it’s always a good idea to check the care labels and do a spot test first, especially for delicate or colored fabrics.

8. Ozone Generators or Ozone Laundry Systems

Ozone generators and ozone laundry systems are powerful tools for eliminating tough odors like mothball smells. These devices generate ozone (O3), a highly reactive gas that effectively breaks down and neutralizes odor-causing molecules.

While ozone generators can be used in various settings, ozone laundry systems are specifically designed for treating clothes and fabrics. They work by circulating ozone-infused air through your laundry load, effectively removing odors without the need for harsh chemicals.

Some popular ozone laundry systems include:

  • EcoNOx Ozone Laundry System
  • OzoneAir Laundry Sanitizer
  • PureWash Pro Ozone Laundry System

While ozone laundry systems can be effective, it’s important to follow safety precautions and manufacturer instructions carefully, as ozone can be harmful if not used properly.

Tips for Preventing Mothball Odor in the Future

While these methods can help you get rid of mothball smell from your clothes, it’s also important to take preventative measures to avoid future odor issues. Here are some tips:

  • Store Clothes Properly: Instead of using mothballs, consider alternative pest control methods like cedar blocks, lavender sachets, or airtight storage containers.
  • Air Out Clothing Regularly: Make it a habit to air out your stored clothes periodically to prevent odors from setting in.
  • Use Odor-Absorbing Materials: Place odor-absorbing materials like activated charcoal, baking soda, or silica gel packets in your storage areas to help absorb any lingering odors.
  • Clean Storage Spaces: Regularly clean and disinfect your closets, dressers, and storage containers to prevent the buildup of odors.
  • Use Natural Moth Repellents: Instead of mothballs, try using natural moth repellents like dried lavender, cedar, or mint. These can help keep moths away without leaving behind a strong chemical odor.

By following these effective methods and preventative tips, you can successfully eliminate stubborn mothball smells from your clothes and keep your garments fresh and odor-free for years to come.


Mothball odor can be a persistent and unpleasant problem, but with the right techniques and a bit of patience, it’s definitely possible to get rid of that unwanted smell. From airing out and using baking soda to investing in commercial odor removers or ozone laundry systems, there are various options to suit your needs and preferences. Remember, prevention is key, so consider alternative pest control methods and proper storage practices to avoid future odor issues. With this comprehensive guide, you can bid farewell to mothball smells and enjoy fresh, fragrant clothing once again.

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As the founder of Clean It Spotless, I am Melissa Walker, a leading expert in removing tough stains from fabrics, carpets, and upholstery. With over 10 years of experience in the cleaning industry, I have developed my own natural, non-toxic stain-fighting formulas that lift stains while preserving the integrity of the underlying material. My stain removal tutorials are widely read online, and I have appeared on local TV segments demonstrating my techniques. I also present popular stain removal workshops at community centers and schools.

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