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10 Ways to Get Mothball Smell Out of Clothes (Step By Step Guide)

10 Ways to Get Mothball Smell Out of Clothes

So you pulled your favorite sweater out of storage, only to be hit with a pungent mothball smell reminiscent of your grandma’s attic? Well, mothball stench is an utterly formidable opponent, clinging to your clothes like a tenacious ex-lover, but don’t worry, we’ve got your back.

It’s time to stop smelling like a walking ball of naphthalene because we’ve gathered 10 tried and tested ways to banish that musty mothball smell and make you feel like a million bucks. So roll up your sleeves, and let’s get to work. But first, let’s know our enemy a little more.

Why Is Mothball Stench So Hard to Get Rid Of?

Why Is Mothball Stench So Hard to Get Rid Of

Mothballs typically contain either paradichlorobenzene or naphthalene, chemicals that repel and kill moths, larvae, and other pests. They work through a process called sublimation, where they turn from a solid state to a gas without first becoming a liquid.

This gas is toxic to insects but is also super pungent to the human nose and clings to clothes, linens, and other fabric items for a long time, even after removing the mothballs.

Unfortunately, the smell of mothballs isn’t just unpleasant; it’s also potentially hazardous. Inhaled in high concentrations, it can cause headaches, dizziness, nausea, and other health problems in humans and pets. And we definitely don’t want that!

So let’s go ahead and use one (or more!) of these tried-and-true methods to make sure that mothball smell no longer lingers in your wardrobe.

1. Air It Out

Air It Out

The most straightforward way to get rid of the mothball smell is to simply hang your clothes out in the fresh air for a few hours. It works best on sunny days; the UV rays will not only break down the chemical but also help to freshen your clothes.

You’ll need:

  • Cloth line or hanger
  • Sunny day

How to do it:

  1. Choose a sunny day when the weather is dry and warm.
  2. Find a place outside where you can hang your clothesline. Make sure it’s in direct sunlight.
  3. Shake out your clothes, then hang them on the line nicely spread out.
  4. Leave the clothes to air out in the sun for several hours, ideally all day.

2. Febreze Fabric Freshener

Febreze Fabric Freshener

Fabric fresheners can quickly deodorize clothing without waiting for hours. Febreze fabric freshener is a popular choice, but several other brands are available on the market.

You’ll need:

  • Febreze fabric freshener

How to do it:

  1. Hang your clothes on a hanger or lay them flat.
  2. Spray fabric freshener generously onto the clothes, covering all surfaces.
  3. Allow it to sit for 5-10 minutes to allow the freshener time to absorb the smell before using the clothes.

Note: People with allergies or sensitivities to fragrances may want to take precautions. Make sure you read the labels for any warnings before using a fabric freshener.

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3. Vinegar and Baking Soda Spray

Vinegar and Baking Soda Spray

These two simple and inexpensive household items can do wonders when it comes to removing odors. When combined to make this DIY spray, they make a great eco-friendly alternative to commercial fabric fresheners.

You’ll need:

  • A spray bottle
  • 1/4 cup white vinegar
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 2 cups of water

How to do it:

  1. Combine all the ingredients in a spray bottle and shake until everything is dissolved.
  2. Lightly mist the clothes with the vinegar solution, covering the entire garment.
  3. Leave the clothes to air dry.
  4. Once dry, check the clothes to see if the mothball smell has dissipated.
  5. If the odor is still present, repeat the process.

Alternatively, you can also soak the clothes in the vinegar solution for 30 minutes if the smell is too strong.

Note: We’d not recommend this method for delicate clothing or items you have to wear immediately because the vinegar can itself leave a smell.

4. Coffee Grounds

Coffee Grounds

Coffee grounds have a strong overpowering scent that can easily mask any odor, including mothballs. Plus, they absorb moisture like a sponge.

So if you don’t mind smelling like a fresh-brewed cup of joe, which we’re sure you don’t, try this clever hack.

You’ll need:

  • 2 tbsp of unused coffee grounds
  • Baking Tray
  • Oven
  • A cloth or mesh bag
  • A sealed plastic bag

How to do it:

  1. Prepare a baking tray and spread the coffee grounds onto it.
  2. Roast the grounds in a preheated oven for 10-15 minutes at 250 degrees Fahrenheit (120 Celsius).
  3. Allow the grounds to cool completely.
  4. Place the cooled coffee grounds in a cloth or mesh bag and tie it closed.
  5. Put the mesh bag in a sealed plastic bag and the clothes needing deodorizing.
  6. Leave the bag for at least 24 hours in a cool, dry place.

5. Citrus Peels

Citrus Peels

Another natural and surprisingly effective way to eliminate the mothball smell is using citrus peels. They’re not only great at absorbing odors, but the citrusy scent they leave in the clothes is refreshing and subtle, unlike coffee grounds.

You’ll need:

  • Citrus peels (lemon, orange, lime, or grapefruit)
  • Mesh bag
  • Plastic bag

How to do it:

  1. Collect the citrus peels and place them in a mesh bag. Or if you have a dehumidifier, dry the peels for about 4 hours before bagging.
  2. Put the mesh bag in a sealed plastic bag and the clothes needing deodorizing.
  3. Make sure the peels aren’t in contact with the clothes, as they can release oils that may stain the fabric.
  4. Leave the bag to sit for at least 24 hours in a cool, dry place.
  5. Remove the peels and enjoy the fresh, citrusy smell of your clothes.

If you have particularly stubborn odors, you can also prepare a homemade citrus spray and spritz it onto the clothes. To do that:

  1. Grate the peels of lemon, lime, or orange into a bowl.
  2. Boil 2 cups of water and add the grated peels to it.
  3. Allow the mixture to simmer for 30 minutes.
  4. Strain the liquid into a spray bottle and spritz it onto the clothes.
  5. Leave the clothes to air dry completely and enjoy a nice, refreshing scent.

This organic method may take a little extra time and effort than other fabric fresheners. But you can rest assured knowing you’re not exposing yourself to any allergens or chemicals used in commercial fresheners.

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6. Activated Charcoal

Activated Charcoal

Charcoal absorbs things like a charm, and that’s exactly what it does when you use it to get rid of the mothball smell. It acts as a natural, non-toxic air freshener and deodorizer, absorbing all the nasty odors you don’t want around.

You’ll need:

  • Activated charcoal Sachet
  • Plastic bag

How to use them:

  1. Buy activated charcoal sachets or make your own by filling a cotton muslin bag with activated charcoal.
  2. Place the sachets in a sealed plastic bag along with the clothes. Or just leave the clothes with charcoal in a closed wardrobe.
  3. Let the charcoal work for at least 24 hours (or more if you have enough time).
  4. Remove the charcoal sachets and enjoy the fresh smell of your clothes.

Note: Charcoal works better as a preventative measure against the mothball smell than as a remedy. So it’s best to use it as soon as possible and not after the smell has already started settling in.

7. Essential oils

Essential oils

Essential oils are the secret weapon for naturally removing odors from clothes. Think of them as anti-odor perfumes because the fragrance they leave is no less than expensive scents.

Plus, there are hundreds of different essential oils to choose from—lavender, peppermint, lemon, eucalyptus, etc.—so you can customize the scent according to your preference.

You’ll need:

  • Essential oil of your choice
  • Spray bottle
  • Water

How to do it:

  1. Fill a spray bottle with 1 cup of water and add 10-15 drops of essential oil to it.
  2. Shake the bottle to mix the water and oil.
  3. Lay the clothes out flat and mist them with the essential oil spray.
  4. Hang the clothes in a well-ventilated area to air dry.
  5. Repeat if needed until the mothball smell is completely gone.

8. Dryer Sheets

Dryer Sheets

Although the primary purpose of dryer sheets may be to reduce static cling, the scented ones do a really good job of removing the mothball smell. The menthol aromas in the sheets can effectively neutralize odors and leave a pleasant scent behind.

You’ll need:

  • Dryer sheets

How to do it:

  1. Tear the dryer sheet into smaller pieces and spread them over the clothes that need deodorizing.
  2. Leave the clothes overnight or for at least 24 hours.
  3. Vacuum/remove the dryer sheets of the clothes in the morning and enjoy the fresh, minty scent of your clothes.

This method works great for removing smell from carpets or furniture too. You can also put a few dryer sheets in your wardrobe or drawers to prevent the mothball smell from settling in.

9. Baking Soda or Borax

Baking Soda or Borax

Baking soda or borax are both natural, non-toxic products that can absorb mothball odors, but we’d recommend this method only on strong multi-fiber fabrics like cotton and linen only. And make sure the cloth is not wet or damp; otherwise, the baking soda or borax can leave a stain.

You’ll need:

  • 2 cups of baking soda or borax
  • Vacuum cleaner
  • Vacuum attachments, like a nozzle or hose

How to do it:

  1. Lightly vacuum the clothes to remove any remaining dirt and mothball particles.
  2. Sprinkle the baking soda or borax over the clothes in a thin layer.
  3. Leave for a few hours or overnight.
  4. Once you think it has been long enough, carefully vacuum the clothes again.
  5. Make sure you don’t leave any residue, as the soda can irritate if rubbed into the skin.
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10. Wash and Dry

Wash and Dry

If nothing else removes the mothball smell from your clothes, you can always put them through a cycle in your washing machine. Make sure you use a detergent specifically designed to eliminate odors, and then let the clothes dry.

You’ll need:

  • Detergent (for odors)
  • Washing machine

How to do it:

  1. Put the clothes in the washing machine and set it according to the type of fabric and level of dirtiness.
  2. Add a scoop of detergent designed for odors.
  3. Let the washing machine cycle through and then dry as per usual.

And that’s it! With these ten easy ways, you can now forever say goodbye to mothball odors.


Mothball smell can be challenging to eliminate, but with the right tools and methods, you’ll have your clothes smelling fresh in no time. Whether you choose to go natural, like with coffee grounds or baking soda, or opt for store-bought products like Febreze fabric freshener or dryer sheets, make sure you read the instructions carefully and follow them closely to achieve the best results.

And remember, you need to give enough time for the product or method to work, so patience is key.


Q: How long do mothballs smell last on clothes?

A: It depends on the fabric, the type, and quantity of mothballs used, humidity levels, air circulation, and other environmental factors. But usually, it can last anywhere from a few weeks up to several months.

Q: Will the mothball smell dissipate over time?

A: Probably yes; the mothball smell will eventually dissipate over time. But it may also stay for quite some time if the clothes are stored in a closed space with minimal air circulation.

Q: Is it safe to wear clothes that smell like mothballs?

A: Although mothball fumes are harmful when inhaled in concentration, wearing clothes with a slight mothball smell is usually safe, except for sensitive people, who may still experience headaches, nausea, and other symptoms if exposed to mothball odors.

It’s best to air out the clothes and use an odor-removing product to eliminate any lingering smell.

Q: How can I prevent the mothball smell in my clothes?

A: Mothballs almost always leave a pungent smell on clothes. To avoid this, don’t use mothballs and go for alternative methods like cedar blocks, lavender bags, or essential oils. Also, ensure your wardrobe and drawers are well-ventilated and clean your clothes before storing them.

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