Steer Clear of Mothballs: Safety and Health First

Do you remember that smell in the unused closets or in the attic rooms at your grandparents' house? The odor was rather pungent and had a sickly-sweet quality with a lingering-in-the-nostrils effect? Nothing else smells quite like it. The first time you smelled it, you might have liked it—similar to gasoline—and then you associated it with some kind of "off" feeling.

That smell was naphthalene or paradichlorobenzene—aka mothballs. The word mothballs sounds so benign, but these active ingredients are anything but benign. Your grandparents brought them in as solid white, crystalline balls and hung them in some kind of air-permeable bag. When exposed to air, the balls evaporated, which is why you could smell the insecticide in the air.

moth bThe purpose of the mothballs is to deter and kill the small moths that feast on natural fibers, especially wool. The EPA has listed napthalene as a potential human carcinogen, but the list of other ailments and effects is long and gruesome, including coma! And tan lovers, beware! Napthalene is also used as a synthetic tanning agent.

These days, however, mothballs are made with paradichlorobenzene. Paradichlorobenzene has chronic, noncancerous effects on the liver, skin, and central nervous system. It is also used as a deodorizer block in toilets and garbage bins.

Okay, the purpose of this post isn't to depress you. And I'm sure by now you've gotten rather tired of the sickly-sweet odor of mothballs and have rid your home of them. If not, it's highly recommended that you do.

But don't be concerned about your clothing as you have natural—neutral (to you)—options! One solution is to wash and thoroughly dry cottons and woolens to remove any existing moth eggs and store them in airtight containers. For natural fibers that can be hung, try the zipper bags that pull over several hangers of clothing at once.

For a fragrant and natural approach, try CedarGreen oil spray. If you like DIY projects, you could also formulate your own spray with a high quality cedarwood essential oil. Citronella is said to have a deterrent effect, but cedarwood will be a more pleasing aroma than citronella for your clothing and linens. Cedarwood also has the benefit of supporting your respiratory and nervous systems—quite unlike mothballs!

Moth repellent herbsSmall air-permeable sachets of fresh herbs will reduce the number of times that you need to spray. Herbs such as lavender, cinnamon, rosemary, sage, cloves, dried ginger, eucalyptus leaves, bay leaves, and/or peppercorns. Chop up these herbs, and if you can source some red cedar shavings, add those to the blend. If you can't find any locally, you can buy shavings in bulk. Citronella oil is nice when blended with other herbs. Camphor oil has traditionally been used as a moth deterrent.

The web has numerous pages for alternative recipes; however, the most important things to know are as follows:

• You have healthy alternatives that support your health rather than oppose your health.
• Removal of mothballs from your home, especially if you have small children or pets, is highly recommended.
• Ensure that linen or clothing, which have been stored with mothballs, are well aired—washed if possible—before use.
• Pass on this link or others like it to people you know who still use mothballs.

 
 
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