Q. We have an older friend who has a thing about mothballs. She uses them extensively throughout her house in every closet and around all the baseboards. When you walk in the door the smell is very strong. Can excessive mothball exposure be toxic? She is losing weight inexplicably and we are worried.

A. Mothballs used to contain naphthalene. Because this chemical was flammable, it has been phased out in favor of 1,4-Dichlorobenzene (para-Dichlorobenzene). A mothball is a compressed ball of chemical pesticide. As it volatilizes (turns into a gas) it liberates a chemical that is highly toxic to moths.

Mothballs can be toxic in excess. If children or pets swallow mothballs, poisoning may result in serious consequences including jaundice, anemia and kidney damage due to destruction of red blood cells. Parents must keep mothballs out of reach.

Long-term exposure to fumes is harder to assess. At high concentrations, symptoms such as eye irritation, weakness, dizziness, weight loss and liver problems have been reported.

What is less clear is lower-dose, chronic exposure. The Environmental Protection Agency states that:

“The primary exposure to 1,4-dichlorobenzene is from breathing contaminated indoor air. Acute (short-term) exposure to 1,4-dichlorobenzene, via inhalation in humans, results in irritation of the skin, throat, and eyes. Chronic (long-term) 1,4-dichlorobenzene inhalation exposure in humans results in effects on the liver, skin, and central nervous system (CNS). No information is available on the reproductive, developmental, or carcinogenic effects of 1,4-dichlorobenzene in humans. A National Toxicology Program (NTP) study reported that 1,4-dichlorobenzene caused kidney tumors in male rats and liver tumors in both sexes of mice by gavage (experimentally placing the chemical in their stomachs). EPA has classified 1,4-dichlorobenzene as a Group C, possible human carcinogen.”

We suspect that if you can smell the distinctive aroma of mothballs when you enter your friend’s house, she is exposing herself to too much pesticide.

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  1. sana

    hai all ,
    I have been smelling the mothballs since 10 years I got addicted badly ,I feel I cant live without smelling , now I need help please suggest me how I can stop this addition .

  2. dana henning
    petaluma ca

    bought 2 boxes today at dollar tree for rats in our garage-opened 1 box and put it on washer where I see rat droppings–rats immideatly started scouring around to find a way out–I smelled the moth ball ordor coming in the house—immediately got them prepared for taken them to dumps in morn-sealed in tight bags and in recycle bin for overnight–I got overwhelmed and light headed

  3. Sherry-Ann
    Trinidad.West Indies

    I do know that lots of folks in my country still use moth balls in their closets!I used to also,but would tie the balls in a thick piece of cloth and keep it away from actually touching the clothes, sheets,towels,etc.
    Is this still considered dangerous?

  4. momie

    Hello! I am a teenager.last week a rat came in my house and i had a feeling it was inside my closet.so i put lots of moth balls in my closet.but since that i was feeling extremely light headed and dizzy.i mean through out the day it ws like i hvnt slept for days.in the starting i did’nt knw the real cause but later i found out.now i hv opened all the windows and fans of my bedroom but i still cant get rid of the feeling.i cant concentrate on my studies.can anyone plz tell me how to get rid of dizziness and light head! I will be very thankful!

  5. Laura
    NSW AU

    My grandmother thinks she has snakes in her house but there is no snakes and it is getting whers I would like to know if moth ball would do this to her

    Thanks Laura

  6. Kay
    Stockton, Ca

    I got sick from moth balls before. I got headaches also. Traveling sickness medicine helped me feel better. I switched to cedar instead which may not work as well, but there are no side effects that I am aware of.

  7. Angela

    I’m 37 weeks pregnant with PICA. I crave the smell of moth balls. I carry a box around just to take some deep breaths from the box. Been going on about 2 weeks now. My skin has become extremely itchy especially at night but my skin isn’t touching it. I try to walk away from smelling them but I can’t. My mouth waters so bad when I think about them. Smelling them helps. I’d love to be able to eat them but obviously I know it’s way to dangerous. This sucks.

    • Rich


      • Shelley

        I do too. It started when I was pregnant 17 years ago.

    • nazeera

      Yeah, Angela, I too feel the same but speaking the truth its better for u to stop smelling these moth balls and definitely I support u not to eat them. U can divert ur craving sensation towards something that’s healthier even if you smell it hard or if u get addicted to it after starting to smell it, like lemon, which is good for ur health and the best part is, since ur pregnant u have vomiting sensation right!!!

      This lemon is the best cure for preventing vomiting sensation. Cut a small slice on top of the lemon so that u can get the smell. That’s it!!! U can just be happy for the smell and also be healthier.

  8. Byron

    Our pest control person suggested we put mothballs in a long wire mesh roll and place it under the eaves to keep rodents out. It seems the only way. If we’re gone for more than a week, we have to put them in the garage to keep rodents from eating the wires in our vehicles. We live in the country and have no more rodents than the average but boy are they destructive. And the smell is awful!

  9. Christie

    I am house/pet sitting at my moms house and removed two boxes of moth balls from two closets. I seriously feel sick and have a headache. It has been one week and I still can smell them and get a headache at this house. Ugh I talked to my mom and told her that this is bad and how awful her house smells and her friend that is letting her dog out during the day is gassed out too. My mom said I can throw them away. I told her I noticed this when we came to visit last month but only was here an hour and could not wait to get out. It is horrible. She said she can’t smell them. We have the windows open now in July 109 out and a few fans with AC at night to try and help get the fumes out. BAD stuff.. When you read about how to use Moth balls your only supposed to use a few in a closed container with clothes in it for moths not the whole box open in your closets. so toxic.

    • Maritz
      Brooklyn, New York

      Yes!.. I agree on the skin itching!!!!:( even my scalp, face and neck, it’s very annoying. I thought I had some other type of disorder. My undergarments had a strong scent of mothballs… I much rather a natural fresh smell than to be scratching from head to toes, I also felt a notious feeling, as if I had eaten something unhealthy. I will be very cautious not to let mothballs touch my clothing…

  10. G

    I did not know that moth balls are dangerous to ones health. Yes, I used some a few days ago. I noticed that my eyes, throat, was bothering me. I checked on the web on the effects on moth balls. I quickly removed the moth balls and my breathing got better. However, my throat still feels funny. So, out to the Doctor’s office tomorrow.
    Be careful of the use of moth balls.

  11. MaK

    HaHa I didn’t know about moth balls if it is danger, then why our government can allow to use mothballs?

    • Shawn

      Are you Serious? How can the Government possibly regulate every use of every product that the public has access to? People need to grow a brain and use a little common sense, start by reading the labels and following the directions! Just about every product is dangerous if used improperly… the Government can’t possibly regulate every minute of every person’s life and who would want that anyway?

      • Yvette

        Obviously common sense is not so common

      • Charlottehughesrn@yahoo.com

        So true!

  12. Michelle
    United States

    I have the worst of it all. I am staying with a family friend for the next few months. I found out she keeps mothballs all over the house, including the fridge! I didn’t notice the effect it has on the food, but the first day I took my lunch to school I noticed that my food basically tasted like mothballs and definitely had the smell. Now I am worried that I am being poisoned anytime I eat. But, I don’t have another choice.

    • Charlottehughesrn@yahoo.com

      Do not eat food from that refridgerator! It emits fumes in gases. Very toxic. Call your local poison control now. I am a nurse. Please don’t eat there and throw these out and get your friend help.

  13. Bessie S.

    My mother in law put mothballs all over the garage, most of the time the garage is closed. Since the day my husband used it, I inhale it accidentally after 2 days I got headache, I feel nauseated and my eyes got irritated, I tried to tell them that its dangerous to the health but they are not listening to me.
    My husband and mother in law are both love the smell. Recently they both having nausea and headache too, but myself is the worst, I can’t stop coughing when my throat starting to itch. do I got the poison in my system? I’m getting worried

    • Aulia

      Hi, I know it has been 2 years. But I think I feel the same. So what did you do? Did throwing away the mothballs make you feel better

      I haven’t used mothballs for some time. Not a fond of it I think. But I found a moth after leaving my house for a month in my wardrobe, so I used it extensively (probably, I use for about 16 medium sized in my wardrobe, well cause it has 8 boxes. I put 2 in each, and then a big one in my bathroom.)
      I’ve been coughing. I feel itching in my throat. Sometimes I cough outside house. But coughing is worse at house.

  14. Sandra Walker

    I just put moth balls in my attic to run off squirrels. The smell is all through the house, but the squirrels are gone. My eyes are very irritated. Feel like sand in them, but that’s my only problem. Will the smell eventually go away? It’s like choosing the lesser of two evils. Lord help.

  15. lester

    I got a couch from my uncle. It was my grandma’s I picked it up. He had it in his garage. He had moth balls in his garage the odor was very strong. Since then I was the only one that ever sat in it. But I notice I’ve been feeling weird lately. My eyes are bothering me a great deal. Really bad headache, nauseous dizzy, extremely light headed. wtf. Why did he keep this in the garage of mothballs. My wife is sick now I am sick been sick since the couch came in the house. I just washed it, but right now I want it out of my house. Can’t risk my family being sick.. I can’t breathe. We all are sick.

    • kim kusserow
      fort pierce, fl

      you will not get rid of the smell, I got a quilt and sheets and it had moth ball smell I tried washing it. did it 2 time and it did not come out so I ended up throwing it away.

  16. GA

    Is there a safe product that, unlike cedar, does not have an odor that permeates clothing but prevents moth destruction?

  17. jml

    Leslie, I have a 70+ lady friend and every time I have slept over at her house I have a headache, and can smell mothballs as I enter the house. This time another lady and I were both aware of the smell and had headache next day. In all my research on line since home, your note was the clearest and helped me realize that she has lost weight has major health issues and will not listen to me. So I will copy off your note… were you ever able to help your friend realize the problem?

  18. Cindy B.

    Geez – my mother did that too. Mothballs everywhere (yuck!) And my mother, though charming, was definitely mentally ill, a manic depressive stuck most of the time on the manic side. Who in their right mind would want to inhale a snootful of bug poison with every breath…

  19. CNW

    Sad, but true. My mother used mothballs with increasing vigor as her dementia progressed. The sense of smell diminishes in some cases of dementia. She had no idea that her house smelled like a chemical plant.

  20. Leslie N.

    It’s quite possible that both the mothball obsession and the weight loss are warning signs of dementia.
    The weight loss – because the awareness that it’s time to eat and the ability to choose and prepare food are often compromised early in the disease
    The mothballs – because wildly extreme concern about a minor issue – mothballs everywhere – is often a sign that judgement and cognition aren’t what they used to be.

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