How to Rescue Fabric and Clothes from the Stench of Mothballs

I love fabric and fine textiles of all kinds, but mostly I love cotton goods—cotton sheets, cotton quilts. You might say I am a collector, but only in the best sense of the word. My friends know me as a recovering fabricholic. That’s why I was particularly drawn to a letter that hit my inbox recently. When I read the sender’s dilemma involved fabric, I was on it.

Dear Mary: I was recently given some fabric that had been stored in mothballs. Any advice on how to get the smell out? I tried washing and ended up with a whole load of laundry that smelled of mothballs. Thanks, Lucille


Dear Lucille: This a tough problem. So difficult, I called in the pros for advice on how to rescue your fabric and that load of laundry. Here’s what I learned:

Mothballs are small balls of chemical pesticide used to protect clothes from hungry moths and other insects while in storage. The active ingredient, depending on the age of the mothballs used, is either naphthalene or paradichlorobenzene, both of which are petroleum-based and toxic to both people and pets.

Typically, one puts clothes, or in your case fabric, in an airtight container so that the fumes are trapped and build up to a level that kills pests. There’s no doubt that mothballs do that, but the unintended consequence of the resulting odor, as you have learned, is .

The only way to get rid of that horrid smell is to oxidize it—transform the odor causing chemicals into something harmless that has no odor.

Nok-Out (soon we’ll get used to its new name SNiPER) is the only thing I know of that will effectively eradicate the smell of mothballs. Here’s how to do it:

[callout]Note: Don’t forget to use coupon code DPL when checking out at for 10% off your order[/callout]

Spray the fabric and clothing items with enough Nok-Out (or SNiPER) to make them completely wet. Next, massage it in so that the item becomes uniformly damp, but not dripping wet. Turn the item inside-out and repeat. Allow to dry fully. Repeat until the odor is gone. For really tough situations, it may three to four cycles to reach success.

Another option is to treat with Nok-Out in the washing machine, following these instructions. You may want to increase the amount of Nok-Out used in your washer when treating mothball odor.

Here’s some good news: While in the process of consulting on this with Ted Price at Nok-Out, he offered to host an Everyday Cheapskate Nok-Out Giveaway. And what a Giveaway it is!

  • 1st Prize: 1 Gallon SNiPER disinfectant and Odor Eliminator
  • 2nd Prize: 2 Quarts SNiPER
  • 3rd Prize: 1 Quart SNiPER

Enter the Giveaway below (or directly on the blog if you are reading this via your email inbox). In one week we will select the winners by random drawing and contact them directly for shipping information. You just might be the lucky winner of enough Nok-Out, uh, I mean SNiPER, to take care of this mothball problem, plus lots of smelly stuff you’re sure to encounter in the future. Unlucky entrants can still get a 10% discount on SNiPER products when they use the code DPL at checkout. Good luck to you and all of my lovely EC readers.

One last thing: For those who just happen to have a supply of mothballs, there is one good use for them. Provided there are no children or pets around in the area, spread them in your garden. Rabbits and deer are repelled by that smell just as much as Lucille and I are!

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  1. Lisa says:

    I love Nok-out and have recommended it to others. It would be great to get it for free as a winner in the give-away. Thanks!

  2. Linda says:

    When you start pressure canning don’t go with a cheap gasketted canner…I used them for years….inherited and from garage sales. The best advise I have for someone starting to can is buy the canner with a machined fit and wing nuts. This canner is easier to control temperature and it allows you to fit in the most jars. I bought the second biggest….the next size up cost a hundred do,Lars more and didn’t allow you many more jars.

    Once you have had home canned tuna you will look at the cans from the store as cat food. Beef and pork are wonderful canned….quick meals for the working wife. When turkey is cheap I can that…add chicken broth for moister results. Remind people not to throw away the juice from the jars, mix it back in.

    Going to make your bacon jam for Christmas baskets.

  3. Jennie M says:

    After all the hub-bub about Sniper, I’m anxious to try it. We have 3 animals in the house & 2 teenagers. I’ve wanted to try it since you first posted, but since I don’t buy things online, that’s kind of tough. I think you’ve find a miracle here!

  4. Beth says:

    I’ve been wishing we had a supply for our front-loading washer, and the many odors our littles produce. I want to test it’s efficacy on eliminating odors from my DH’s favorite clothes, too!

  5. Cathy Mortensen says:

    Mary, thank you for the many ways to use Nok-Out. I have tried this product and it works great. We have a pet in the house. Nok-Out really saves me. Thanks for introducing your readers to this product. I love your column.

  6. gayle says:

    My daughter was cleaning out the pantry for me recently and accidentally dropped a bottle of orange blossom water (a gift I never figured out how to use). Wow, was it strong. I sprayed Nok-Out on it and the smell decreased by about 90%. Thanks for introducing me to this great product!

  7. Marg says:

    Help! Can you recommend how to rid a wooden trunk of the smell of mothballs? Have you heard of ozone producing machines for home use? The results sound miraculous but I don’t know anyone who has used them who can verify results.

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