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Mothball types, odors, chemistry, remediation

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Mothball odor removal & mothball chemical & gas hazard Q&A:

Frequently-asked questions (and answers) about using mothballs: the different types of mothballs, para-dichlorobenzene mothballs, napthalene mothballs, moth ball odors, the sublimation rate of mothballs, how to get rid of mothball smells, and the health hazards of exposure to the offgassing or sublimation products of mothballs.

In this article series we describe the detection of and risks of exposure to mothball chemicals & odors when moth repellent products are applied indoors in buildings.



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Mothball Odors & Chemicals, Hazards, Exposure, Health Effects, Odor Removal

Moth (C) Daniel FriedmanThese questions & answers about the hazards of using mothballs or exposure to the offgassing fumes from moth balls were posted originally at MOTHS, MOTHBALL ODORS

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On 2017-05-19 by (mod) - how long do I need to keep mothballs in the closet to get rid of moths

Morgan

While both types of mothballs are pesticides, in common usage mothballs may not so much kill moths as make the environment one that they prefer to avoid. So usually they're used over long term - but you may be overdosing the area by putting in more mothballs than are needed. Try removing most of them.

On 2017-05-19 by Morgan

I am using mothballs to get rid of moths, but I really dislike the smell - how long do I need to leave them in my closet in order to ensure that they're gone/dead? I caught the moth problem very early on

On 2017-05-05 by (mod) - could my illness have come from working around mothballs?

Angie,

Ask your doctor if plastic odors or naphtha odors could explain your medical complaints.

If the odor of the plastic didn't dissipate in the time you've had the containers I would get rid of them in any case.

Use the search box just above to search for PLASTIC ODORS to see more.

On 2017-05-05 by Angie

I worked in a home that had moth balls stored in plastic containers, the homeowner didn't want them, I took them and I thought I got rid of the smell, but I opened one today and it smelled of moth balls. I am concerned now because I've been having health problems, awful headaches and terrible sinus issues.

Thinking back back it all started around the time I brought these containers home. I've had every blood test you can imagine, plus scans, I have an enlarged liver and spleen, could it be from having these containers in my home?

On 2017-04-06 by (mod) - benefits of lime wash to get rid of mothball odor

Thanks, that's interesting.

Usually simply leaving such furniture outdoors in sunlight on a warm dry sunny day will be sufficient to drive out the mothball odor.

I'm surprised that mothball odors would linger on shellaced or varnished wood furniture but those gases might permeate and hang on to upholstered goods or possibly un-finished softwoods.

On 2017-04-06 by Ellie

I purchased two stools for a foyer. They were new but imported and the mothball smell was sickening. I purchased new upholstery fabric and took the chairs to a man who did upholstery and restoration. He did a lime wash of the furniture wood. It was AMAZING!

Of course the new upholstery was fine but there was not once bit of lingering mothball oder. I'm getting ready to see if I can salvage an old 1917 Outdoor Life magazine cover for framing. I'm going to just sift powdered lime over the paper and hope for the best. It's worthless in it's current condition. Since I can't use a lime wash, I'm just going to let the lime rest on the paper (both sides) in a sunny garage window for a few days and hope for the best.

On 2017-03-14 15:33:13.307357 by (mod)

If you have removed the mothballs, the odors will dissipate; you can speed the process by both heat and ventilation.

On 2017-03-14 04:33:52.381669 by Alison

Opened and threw boxes under trailor and porches. My dog was freaking out and I realized how bad, pulled out half, didn't help went and collected every one I could find, air out, must have got wet stinks really bad again, am very worried.

On 2017-02-20 by (mod) My landlord put a full box of mothballs with naphthalene in our attic to repeal rodents.

Sabrina

So we have two concerns here, I think:
1. rodents in an attic are a health hazard
2. high levels of naptha may be a respiratory irritant or worse.

It can take months for mothballs to disappear. But there may be a workable alternative:

1. hire a pest control expert to deal with the mice or other rodents, including sealing their entry points, trapping, etc.

2. ventilate the attic, perhaps with a small exhaust fan. You don't need much exhaust, just enough that attic air is at a lower pressure than air in the occupied rooms below - that'll minimize the odors.

On 2017-02-20 by Sabrina - When the heater kicks on, I can smell mothball odor from the vents

My landlord put a full box of mothballs with naphthalene in our attic to repeal rodents. He scattered them throughout the insulation. My husband was able to pull out a bunch but white mothballs in white insulation makes it very hard to locate them. Our landlord will not remove them.

He is attempting to seal up the attic. When the heater kicks on, I can smell the odor from the vents in my 4 yr olds room. We have had the heater turned off for almost a week. I have a 4 yr old, 2 yr old and 7 month old. Their pediatrician said not to have them around the odor. But my landlord is not going to remove them.

We are staying in a hotel, but with three active kids and two big dogs, it is very cramped. without removing the mothballs, how long until it is safe to return home? I cannot smell anything with the heater off. My husband says he can, but I don't. It's winter in IL and unseasonably warm, but it's going to get cold again in a few days and we'll need to turn the heat on.

Will the heat/air spread the vapors from the attic to the house? I've read that naphthalene mothballs can take 6 months to dissolve. Can we return to the home safely at six months or before?

On 2017-01-23 by (mod) - how to get rid of mothball odors

Someone will need to

- remove the mothballs
- when weather permits, open and ventilate the area both below the home and in the home

- heat and air circulation help dissipate mothball odors
- discuss possible health concerns with your mother and her doctor, pointing out that she may not notice the strength of odor as when we remain around an odor source for some time we become desensitized to it - that doesn't mean it's not there.

On 2017-02-03 by Laura Riviello

we are buying a house that used moth balls in the closet. How do I get rid of the smell?

On 2017-01-23 by Anonymous

I have read many comments that I can relate to. My mother has had several mothballs thrown under her mobile home and now her house reeks of this now I am concerned for her health. I can't even go over there and stay but for a short period of time. So what do you do?

On 2017-01-13 by (mod) low blood oxygen level complaint

Bob,

Sorry that you're finding low O2 in your blood, though I'm not sure about the measurement and the standard you report.

You really want to discuss this with your doctor. I've seen some research that discusses napthalene and oxygenation (Frank 1962) but nobody can conclude anything solid by a mere e-text, an unknown exposure level, and unknown other health conditions that would affect blood oxygen levels.

I've experimented with blood oxygen levels myself - as an AMATEUR - and notice that simply breathing rapidly for a few minutes moves the O2 level up from 95 to 98 or 99. It's variable.

On 2017-01-12 by Bob

Unfortunately I used too many mothballs in a confined crawl space of my small cabin. It took several months this Fall to get rid of MOST the odor. Before it was a terribly strong odor.

We did inhabit this area at it's strongest point.

Lately I have physically shown a very low oxygen count in my blood,88-90 when normal is 98-100 on one of those finger oxygen level testers. Additionally my inhaling and exhaling is diminished. Could this be the result of overexposure? What should I check or do about my physical status?

On 2016-12-31 by (mod) Is smelling moth balls harmful to ones health?

Lynette

Possibly, yes. The hazard varies by individual and of course by the level and duration of exposure to mothball sublimation fumes.

Please see the section titled HEALTH EFFECTS of EXPOSURE to MOTHBALLS and let me know if questions remain.

On 2016-12-31 by Lynette

Is smelling moth balls harmful to ones health?

On 2016-05-26 by Anonymous

I put moth balls under my shed as there was a family of possums staying there and I was concerned my little dogs would get in a fight with them

Now the possums are gone but I keep smelling moth ball order

I have heard coffee grounds , vinegar or activated charcoal works

The coffee grounds seem like putting garbage out I tried the vinegar with not much help I can't find a powdered activated charcoal to fling under there

Is just airing it out the best

On 2016-05-15 2 by (mod) mothballs in a closed area causing me to get nauseous

Paul please check HEALTH EFFECTS of EXPOSURE to MOTHBALLS that discusses the health effects of breathing mothball odors. Also see the source citations in the REFERENCES section of this article (at the end of the page you can click-to-show the references).

On 2016-05-13 by Paul

Large amounts of mothballs are being place in a closed area right outside my doorway causing me to get nauseous and making my house smell very badly. How bad are they for humans and animals??

On 2016-04-14 by (mod) mothballs under the floor, partner is wheezing

Louise,
This question seems to confound multiple concerns: mothballs and health effects of exposure to naphta, physical health complaints of tiredness and wheezing, "dampness odors", and persistence of odors in hair and clothing.

1. Mothballs will never "fix" an undelying problem of dampness in a building, nor of mold contamination (that is related to dampness or leaks), nor of other odors from other sources. Mothballs are useful, if properly handled and placed, as a repellant against moths.

2. Prolonged exposure to the volatiles exuded from mothballs may be irritating or cause other health complaints as we cite in the article above, but your partner should ask these questions of his doctor.

3. If the house smells "damp" it may indeed be suffering from water entry, poor ventilation, and even of mold contamination that is encouraged by indoor leaks or moisture. To address that one would investigate the home, its leak and moisture history, its level of mold contamination, and perhaps one would investigate further into building cavities that are most-suspect of being wet now or in the past.

4. If your partner has placed an inappropriate amount of mothballs in and around the home, thinking that magically that substance is going to fix other house problems, he is mistaken, and is probably causing the very complaints you describe.

On 2016-04-14 by louisecarruthers1965@icloud.com

my partner bought a house 26 years ago. the couple he bought it from used moth balls. my parther uses them himself, they are in tubs with no lids.

the mall balls are also under the flooring. he complains he is tired all the time. and has a wheez sometimes. lovely big house, but smells to me like damp. when i have stayed there at the weekend i smell like damp or something in my hair and on my clothes.

On 2015-04-07 by (mod) odor adsorbents won't remove a mothball smell

Brooke,

For odors in a very small, enclosed space, an absorbent material will help but it cannot possibly remove the odor source itself. Luckily since some odor sources ultimately dissipate enough that they no longer contribute much smell, time itself is also a cure. In sum, time plus ventilation with fresh are are often quite effective at correcting some smells. Everything depends on just what is the actual odor source, its size and durability.

The underlying concept is that removing a smell from air does not remove the source of the smell.

On 2015-04-07 by Brooke

I tried the charcoal in an egg cart - left in drawers for a week...totally absorbed the smell for $10.

On 2015-01-23 by Richard T. - This is what the mothball maker (Enoz) recommends to remove mothball odor in washable clothing:

Sorry I forgot to put my name on the comment, busy copying below directions for you.

This is what the mothball (Enoz) maker recommended to me to remove mothball odor in washable clothing:

Air out for 2 days, stick in washer let it fill. Add 1/2 cup baking soda, 1 1/2 cups of Clorox #2 (non-chlorine),1 cup regular detergent,1 cup white vinegar. Let machine run for a few minutes to stir everything up, then shut off and let clothes soak for 2-3 hours. Run machine through to the rinse cycle, then add an additional 1/2 cup baking soda, 1 cup vinegar, and 1 capful of Downey. Let machine run a few minutes to mix, shut washer off to soak for 30 minutes more. Let that cycle finish, then run through a rinse cycle with just water.

As for the odor in the home, using activated charcoal is their best recommendation. Also it may take several weeks or more of regular replacing of trays of charcoal. They suggested putting about a cupful on a paper plate in each corner of the problem rooms, changing often with fresh charcoal, usually when the smell gets strong again. Purchase the activated charcoal at a pet supply shop, getting the largest pellets available. These suggestions were for the naphthalene type mothballs, hope it helps. Richard

On 2015-01-21 23:54:51.248110 by Richard T. - bad chemical smell after storing clothes enclosed with naphthalene mothballs

We stored wool and cotton-polyester blend clothing in sealed LDPE low density polyethylene "rubber maid" containers with several naphthalene mothballs between each layer of clothes. After being stored for about one year, we opened the containers to discover a very bad chemical smell. It seems that the naphthalene reacted with the plastic and/or the polyester to create a very bad chemical smell. Since many of the items were quite valuable we attempted to save them. We contacted the mothball manufacturer for advice, their cleaning remedy was not successful with the polyester blends.

We were successful with the wool and pure cotton items. The big problem now is the order is present in the whole house. It seems to be attracted to other polyester/ plastic materials in the home such as the carpet, drapes, furniture cushions, polyester blend clothing, and dust that was in the heat vents.

Unfortunately we had several of the contaminated clothing items and containers open and exposed inside the home for a several days while waiting for the mothball manufacturers advice. It now has been several months without a successful solution. We have removed furniture, carpet, clothing, aired out the house daily, tried air purification, washed floors....etc. and the smell keeps returning.

Since the smell migrates it is difficult to pin point what is next to be discarded or cleaned. I question if anyone else has had a problem like this and have the found a solution. My advice is to never use naphthalene products in your living space.

Question: trouble getting rid of mothball odors in the building

(June 9, 2014) Vicki Livingstone said:
I put my woolens in a bag with mothballs and it permeated my bedroom. I have removed the bags but the room still smells. I have all the windows and doors open to circulate the air. Is it now safe to sleep in the room as long as I keep the windows and doors open to the outside?

(June 29, 2014) Ocean said:
I had a few mothballs in both our tiny bedrooms for only a few hours before we both started choking. Got them out and now the place is permeated bad. We are both in the living room now as we can't go in there. HELP! What is the best cleaning solution to use to clean the walls and closets.

I already purchased activated charcoal and Smeleeze but have not received them yet and now I read here that they are no good! Someone please reply. We are getting headaches, sore throat, and tingling in body.

Reply: activated charcoal or similar odor remedies won't remove an odor at its source

Ocean

As the odor you cite is in a gaseous form I'm not sure that surface cleaning will be as helpful - unless you can identify and correct by removing or sealing actual materials that have become permeated with the mothball odor - as opening windows and doors and getting fresh air into the bedrooms where you have the odor complaints.

Activated charcoal won't hurt but just consider that you can't vacuum up dust bunnies in the living room by standing in the kitchen waving a vacuum cleaner wand in the air; in other words one needs to find and remove the odor source.

Just exposing a few ordinary mothballs indoors for a few hours sounds like an unlikely cause of severe persistent odors indoors. I'd also check for some other problem.

Question: difficulty removing mothball or napthalene odors

21 January 2015 Richard T. said:

We stored wool and cotton-polyester blend clothing in sealed LDPE low density polyethylene "rubber maid" containers with several naphthalene mothballs between each layer of clothes. After being stored for about one year, we opened the containers to discover a very bad chemical smell. It seems that the naphthalene reacted with the plastic and/or the polyester to create a very bad chemical smell.

Since many of the items were quite valuable we attempted to save them. We contacted the mothball manufacturer for advice, their cleaning remedy was not successful with the polyester blends. We were successful with the wool and pure cotton items.

The big problem now is the order [sic] is present in the whole house. It seems to be attracted to other polyester/ plastic materials in the home such as the carpet, drapes, furniture cushions, polyester blend clothing, and dust that was in the heat vents. Unfortunately we had several of the contaminated clothing items and containers open and exposed inside the home for a several days while waiting for the mothball manufacturers advice.

It now has been several months without a successful solution. We have removed furniture, carpet, clothing, aired out the house daily, tried air purification, washed floors....etc. and the smell keeps returning. Since the smell migrates it is difficult to pin point what is next to be discarded or cleaned. I question if anyone else has had a problem like this and have the found a solution.

My advice is to never use naphthalene products in your living space.

Reply:

Richard,

Based on field experience and reader reports I agree that it can be quite difficult to completely remove napthalene odors from some fabrics or other materials in buildings or in clothing. At some point the cost of cleaning attempts may exceed the value of some clothing items.

For indoor building surfaces you might want to try the low-cost and easy SMELL PATCH TEST to FIND ODOR SOURCE we have documented in order to pinpoint the primary odor reservoirs.

Once those are identified you can decide to remove materials or to try applying a sealant paint such as the odor-suppressing paints used in building restoration following a fire.

...


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