Did using mothballs to protect the clothes ruin them?

Eliminating Mothball Odors from Clothing

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Oh, the Smell

When we packed our son's "keeper" clothes into a box for storage, we put some mothballs in the bags to keep the bugs away. Well, we recently took them out and after washing everything two times, the smell is still very strong! Does anyone have a suggestion on how to rid these beautiful clothes of such a horrendous smell?
Please help.

Vinegar Helps With Mothball Smell

I have found vinegar to be the best to remove odors. I've used it for mildew smelling towels, stinky socks, my daughter's work uniforms from a fast food restaurant with a heavy grease odor, and just general body odor.

Put about 1 cup in the wash cycle at the beginning. Only once have I had to wash a load of clothes more than once.

Natural Moth and Odor Repellant

I have no immediate solution to rid your clothes of the mothball smell other than airing them out, but using this home made moth repellant will eventually kill the smell over prolonged storage, and is a long term solution to this problem:

  • lavender blossoms
  • whole cloves
  • cedar chips, the kind used for pet bedding

I use a large bottle of cloves, a handful of lavender blossoms, and two or three handfuls of cedar chips. The proportions are not that important. Use your judgement. I like lots of lavender smell. You can introduce other herbs too, for a different scent, but this basic mix is a winner, and has never failed me. I stuff old knee highs, or make pouches from cheese cloth, and tie either of these packages with string or even pretty ribbon.

Eliminating Mothball Odors from Clothing

A Simple Solution for Mothball Smell

The best tip I received when I had the same problem a few years ago was from a dry cleaner. He advised me to air the clothes outside for a few days and then wash. Worked like a charm!

Related: Eliminating Musty Smells

Cool Breeze

I, too, had a problem with a lingering mothball smell. I had used cedar strips, squares, etc. before to protect my clothes, but didn't have any spares for the trunk so I used mothballs to protect my wool clothes in storage one summer. In the fall, when I unpacked my clothes, the mothball smell was overwhelming. I tried airing the clothes and the trunk numerous times in the early fall when the weather was still warm, but the smell still lingered. I hung those clothes on the line for days but still they smelled like mothballs.

So one evening in late fall when the weather was cooler, I set the clothes and the trunk out in our screen room to air overnight. The screen room protected the clothes and trunk from the damp air but allowed the cooler air to circulate.

The cooler air worked! The clothes and trunk were then odor free. Ryan may have to repeat this airing again depending on the strength of the mothball smell. But this worked great without adding any chemicals or sprays to the clothes and trunk. Now I use cedar all the time and have never again purchased mothballs. The cedar strips work very well and are a natural solution, especially important for people with allergies or chemical sensitivities.

"Biological" Mothball Smell Killers

This isn't an inexpensive solution, unfortunately, but it should work. From a hardware store or home center, you need to purchase some type of "biological" odor killer or odor eater. Odors Away is one. I think Odors Begone might be another. Something of that nature, but the words "biological" must be in the description somewhere.

This is expensive stuff, but it works! They're odorless; you can use them on your skin, your pets, in your house, all over. They remove cigarette smoke, skunk odors, septic odors - you name it! Great stuff. Save up your pennies and try some. You should just be able to spray the clothes and air them out or you might even pour some solution into the wash when you try again. It might take several applications to remove the entire odor, but it will work!

Dryer Warning

I had the same problem with some clothing that was free, handed down to my daughters. The clothes had been stored for about 6 years with mothballs. I used plain old white vinegar and washed them about 6 times, not using the dryer but hanging to dry since the dryer heat could set in the smell permanently.

I used about 1 1/2 cups of vinegar and my regular detergent in each wash load and didn't load the washer very heavily so the water could circulate freely. Try doing a double wash with vinegar, then hanging them to dry for about 3-5 days (preferably outside if possible). The air circulation helps to take out the smell as much as anything. I had fairly good success with this method. However, it depends a lot on the fabric. Some fabrics may never release the smell.

Absorbing Odors

Take a large trash bag and put your clothes in it along with dryer sheets (like Bounce). Let them sit for 48 hours (or longer if needed). Your clothes will smell great! I used this method when I took my belongings out of storage after 3 years!

I washed the sheets, pillowcases, curtains and clothes but still had moldy or mothball smells. They disappeared when I put them in trash bags with the dryer sheets. It seems to absorb and remove the odors.

Reviewed January 2018

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