What nontoxic alternatives to mothballs can I use?

Dr. Mehmet Oz, MD
Cardiologist (Heart Specialist)

For generations it has been customary to sprinkle a few mothballs made of naphthalene in a box of sweaters to prevent moths from feasting on the fibers. Today, a better choice would be natural alternatives such as cedar chips and lavender sachets. Remember to clean clothes first then zip them up at the end of the season.

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Traditional mothballs are little balls of pesticides and deodorant made from two rather stinky and dangerous chemicals, either naphthalene or paradichlorobenzene, although the former has been mostly phased out due to issues of flammability. Both ingredients work the same way: They start out solid and turn into a vapor that’s extremely toxic to moths and moth larvae.

Both naphthalene and paradichlorobenzene are considered to be possible human carcinogens and, furthermore, mothballs can be fatal if ingested. If you have pets or young children, with their curious smell and shape, mothballs could be mistaken for candy particularly if they also contain sweet-smelling camphor. If your kids are a bit older, I should point out that solvent abuse isn’t that uncommon with mothballs. I’m certainly not suggesting that your kids, if on the younger side, will put anything in their mouths or that if they’re teenagers, that they’re potential mothball huffers. I just thought I’d cover all the bases.

In terms of nontoxic mothball alternatives, try using cedar balls, blocks, shavings, or even oil if you haven’t already. The smell of cedar is way easier on human noses than traditional mothballs plus moths hate the stuff, making it highly effective. You could also try making your own homemade sachets filled with lavender—another natural moth repellent that won’t fill your closets with toxic fumes—and place them wherever moths might be tempted to nibble on your woolens.

I think the evidence that mothballs are highly toxic, possibly carcinogenic and not to mention bad for the environment speaks for itself. It would also help to tell you that alternatives like cedar and lavender aren’t terribly more expensive than a box of mothballs. They also aren’t particularly hard to find and you could even try growing your own lavender!

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.