Cotton fabrics close up

This is the Most Reliable Way to Eliminate Mothball Odor in Fabric

I love fabric and fine textiles of all kinds, but mostly I love cotton—cotton yard goods, sheets, towels, and 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 writer’s dilemma involves fabric and mothballs odor, I was on it.

Cotton fabrics close up


Dear Mary: Recently, I was given the most gorgeous assortment of cotton fabrics that have 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: Let’s not kid ourselves. This is 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, someone who believes in using mothballs 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—specifically moths.

There’s no doubt that mothballs do that, but the unintended consequence of the resulting odor, as you have learned, is unbearable.

The best remedy for mothball odor

The only way to get rid of that horrid smell is to oxidize it—transform the odor-causing chemicals of mothballs into oxygen—pure, harmless oxygen, which has no odor.

Unfortunately, baking soda won’t do that. Laundry detergent, as you’ve learned, won’t do that. There are some who suggest soaking your items in vinegar will help, but may require repeated treatments with no guarantee that it will be successful.

Nok-Out is the only product or method I know of that will effectively eradicate and eliminate the smell of mothballs. It is a true odor eliminator that absolutely will oxidize the harmful chemicals and their odor, leaving your items odor-free. 

Treat mothball odor by hand-washing

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

Treat mothball odor in the washing machine

Top-loading washer

  1. Add cold water to the machine, stop the cycle temporarily, add 1/2 to 1 cup of Nok-Out to the water and swish it around.
  2. Add the item(s) or clothing making sure they are completely saturated.
  3. Allow soaking for 20 – 30 minutes minutes.
  4. Restart the cycle and proceed with a normal wash cycle set to cold
  5. Do not add any detergent or other laundry products.
  6. Repeat, as necessary. A severe situation could require additional treatment(s).

Front-loading washer

  1. Use 1 cup Nok-Out as part of a pre-wash cycle set to cold.
  2. Use cold water and a normal wash cycle.
  3. Do not add any detergent or other laundry products—only Nok-Out.

De-odorize the dryer

Spray the interior of the dryer tub with Nok-Out. Pay attention to the holes, seams, baffles, etc., making sure you are hitting every single surface inside the dryer. Spray the door, the rubber seals, and into the filter, if possible. Leave the door open and allow the machine to air dry.


You can purchase Nok-Out direct or at Amazon.


There are affiliate links in this post. If you click through and make a purchase, we may receive a small commission at no additional cost to you. Thanks! Read more here.



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8 replies
  1. DEN says:

    I agree one hundred% with Lois and Cathy – mothballs are first-rate for removing skunks which have decided to stay underneath your own home or porch. possibly exceptional to throw a handful of mothballs in the ones areas when the skunks are away Works perfectly.

  2. Linda D Radosevich says:

    And I agree 100% with Mary and I love the selection and the ‘board’ where you can save images of your favorite fabrics and patterns, to see how they will look together.

  3. Linda D Radosevich says:

    I agree 100% with Lois and Cathy – mothballs are great for getting rid of skunks that have decided to live under your house or porch. Probably best to throw a handful of mothballs in those areas when the skunks are away…

  4. Lois says:

    As a whiff of mothball hit me while I turned out of my parking lot the other day and I felt a surge of joy, I reflected on how context can completely change things. I, too, used to hate the smell of mothballs. That was until last year when the very aggressive squirrel population in my condo property decided my engine was a perfect place for them to nest and play. The second time this occurred the mechanic who cleaned it out and inspected the wiring suggested I place a bag of mothballs in a corner near where the nest had been. Apparently rodents abhor the smell too, and stay clear. Every time I smell them now, they are a delightful reminder that my engine is safer from the squirrels, and that they are still there. Other residents have had their wiring chewed through at a cost of $300 an incident to fix. After one man had it happen three times he bought a garage, but even then the squirrels can find a way in.

    • Cathy says:

      I’ve had a trailer in a seasonal campground for a couple of years and sprinkle mothballs all around the skirting and deck to sway critters from living underneath or getting into the trailer. So far no critter problems!

  5. Lorriw says:

    The other product which removes Mothball odors is sunshine! Take your garments and expose them to several hours of sunshine. Works perfectly. But hard to do today for folks without clotheslines, or lawn space.


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