Mothballs have long been used as a fumigant to drive off pests such as mice and silverfish, or to kill cloth-destroying moths and their larvae. Naphthalene was the most common primary ingredient of mothballs. Because of its flammability Naphthalene has been largely replaced with para-dichlorobenzene (p-DCB) – commonly used in urinal cakes for toilets. It also helps fight against moulds and mildew.
Both chemicals have a pungent smell, are highly volatile but will eventually evaporate away at room temperature. Naphthalene mothballs can take many months while p-DCB usually evaporates away within a month.
Although paradichlorobenzene does break down in about a month, it still can be harmful. From Wikipedia: The US Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) has determined that p-DCB may reasonably be anticipated to be a carcinogen, although there is no direct evidence. Animals given very high levels in water developed liver and kidney tumors.
We have customers who have battled attic odors. In one case the homeowners had mice problems so the exterminators suggested mothballs. You guessed it. After driving off the mice the attic filled up with mothball odor which ended up permeating the entire house. Mothball odor is a common complaint for attics.
How to Remove Mothball Odor
If you can, first remove the mothballs. Coconut activated charcoal will effectively remove mothball odor, but it will not entirely eliminate the odor until the mothballs have been removed or until they have completely evaporated away. The activated charcoal works by adsorbing the chemical odor to itself. As a mothball slowly evaporates away the charcoal will continue to adsorb the odor, but it has no effect on the mothball itself. Eventually the mothball will shrink away completely. Only then will the activated charcoal be able to capture the last remaining vapors and totally eliminate the odor. Finding and eliminating the mothballs as soon as you can will dramatically speed up the process.
The two main factors to eliminating the mothball odor are time and air circulation. The above customer did report that the charcoal did help to control the mothball smell but the odor did linger for some time. The main reason is lack of air movement in an attic or other confined space.
Activated charcoal is used in thousands of different industrial air filtering applications, but they all use some form of air movement over or through a bed of granular charcoal or activated carbon cloth (ACC).
So, for mothball odors in a closed air space such as an attic, by far the fastest and most efficient way to capture the existing odor of mothballs and keep up with the generation of more odor is an air purifier that quietly draws in the pungent air through one end and pumps clean air out the other. We highly recommend the AllerAir 5000 EXEC Air Purifier.
The next best solution is to buy a high activity coconut granular charcoal. The customer above did say it worked well but it took some time because there was no air circulation in the attic. We recommend our Pure Non-Scents®. You can place it on flat trays around the attic or tie it up in sachets and hang them from the rafters. They will work better if you can place a fan in the attic to help move the air.
Remember, the coconut charcoal will only absorb the odor, it does not get rid of the source. Only sometime after the mothballs have completely evaporated away, will the charcoal be able to eliminate the odor completely.
Whether it is attics and mice, sweaters in trunks, suits in garment bags, or cars in storage, the main solution to controling the odor of mothballs is coconut activated charcoal.
As a substitute for mothballs when storing clothing items maybe try cedar balls.