Most people remember mothballs as the little white
balls in the bottom of their grandmother's closet.
The iconic smell reminds many people of childhood
and days spent with grandma.
But what are mothballs, really?
Mothballs are chemical insecticides that are typically shaped into small balls. Currently, most mothballs are made of paradichlorobenzene, however, they can also be made of naphthalene or camphor. In order to dispel moths and moth larvae, the mothballs go from solid form into a toxic vapor. This vapor is what kills off the pests and gives off the memorable mothball scent.
Regulation and Proper Use of Mothballs
What many people don't realize is that mothballs are a pesticide, which means they are regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). What this means for consumers is that any use of the mothballs that is not written on the packaging is actually illegal. Typically, the directions on the package will say to place the mothballs inside of an airtight container with the clothing you want to protect from moths. That’s right...airtight. To be most effective and prevent unwanted exposure, ensure that the container is airtight to prevent the escape of the toxic mothball vapor. Using them to attempt to repel non-moth pests is illegal, ineffective, and dangerous.
Mothballs are far more dangerous than people realize. Long term exposure to the gas they put off can lead to health problems down the road. Far too commonly, people attempt to use mothballs to repel pests around the house or in their gardens. Despite what some people say, mothballs CAN NOT be used for repelling snakes, mice, raccoons, or any other wildlife pest. Many popular websites suggest leaving an open container filled with mothballs in cabinets for cockroaches or scatter a few around your garage to repel snakes. This is dangerous for a number of reasons.
To children, mothballs can look like candy. If ingested, they can cause vomiting, abdominal pain, seizures, and even coma. Pets who ingest mothballs can experience vomiting, weakness, labored breathing, tremors, seizures, and lasting damage to the liver or kidneys which can be fatal. Long term exposure to mothball vapors is especially dangerous for small children and animals, but there are known cases of adults suffering from exposure as well.
Mothballs are also notoriously dangerous for the environment. They contaminate soil and water sources, causing them to become toxic. This can poison and kill any plants in the area. Imagine if you were using them around your garden. Despite common belief, mothballs do not really repel snakes or any other pests. There are lots of anecdotal tales of using mothballs to keep away mice successfully, but there’s just as many stories of nuisance animals completely disregarding the presence of mothballs and found literally sitting on top of them without care.
If you find yourself with a pest problem, please turn to local wildlife control experts before attempting any possibly dangerous methods like mothballs. Don't risk your family's safety by using mothballs to repel pests.