How to Get a Mothball Smell Out of Clothes

If you’ve just pulled your favourite jumper out of the wardrobe only to find that it has that tell-tale mothball smell, don’t worry.

While getting rid of this smell can be a bit challenging for certain fabrics, nothing is impossible.

Mothballs contain chemicals that release strong and persistent odours. However, there are several effective methods for getting rid of the smell and preventing it from returning.

Here are the best ways of removing the mothball smell from clothing.


The Best Methods for Getting Mothball Smells Out of Clothes

Air out the clothes

hang clothes outside to dry under the sun

If it’s a nice sunny day, you can hang your clothes outside. The sunlight and fresh air will help to dissipate the odour from the mothballs.

Leave the clothes outside for a few hours if possible, and the smell should all but disappear.

If you can’t leave the clothes outside (let’s face it, the British weather sometimes doesn’t allow for this), you can leave the clothes in a well-ventilated room for several hours.

Hang your clothes on the curtain rail or on an airer. Try to ensure that air can reach as much of the fabric as possible.

This method of airing out your clothes takes a bit longer (you may need to leave them overnight), but it can be very effective if leaving them outside isn’t possible.


Vinegar solution

damp shirt using cloth with water and vinegar solution

Mix equal parts of white vinegar and water in a bowl. Dampen a cloth or sponge with the solution and gently wipe down the affected clothes.

Hang the clothes outside to dry. The vinegar smell will dissipate as it dries and take the mothball smell with it.

Only use this method if you are confident that the vinegar solution won’t damage your clothes.

If the fabric is delicate, avoid using this method. Don’t worry; we have other methods in this list that can help.


Bicarbonate of soda

shirt, resealable bag and baking soda

Place the mothball-smelling clothes in a large plastic bag or a container. A vacuum-sealed bag will work great for this.

Sprinkle bicarbonate of soda generously over the clothes. Seal the bag or container and let it sit for a few days.

Bicarbonate of soda is really effective at absorbing odours. Shake off the bicarb and then air out the clothes.

This is an excellent method for removing smells from lots of clothes at once.

Remember, the more items of clothing you add to the bag or container, the more bicarb you’ll need. You may also need to increase the time too.


Activated charcoal

activated charcoal

Place activated charcoal in a mesh bag and put it inside a sealed bag with the clothes.

Activated charcoal is excellent at absorbing odours. Leave it for a few days before removing the charcoal and airing out the clothes.

Caution should be used with this method. Activated charcoal can stain clothing, so be very careful not to let the clothing come in contact with the charcoal.


Coffee grounds

coffee grounds

Coffee grounds can also help absorb odours. Place fresh coffee grounds in a container and put the container in a sealed bag with your clothes.

Leave it for a few days, then remove the coffee grounds and air out the clothes.

Again, be very careful that the coffee doesn’t come in contact with the clothes as it will stain them.


Lavender or potpourri sachets

lavender potpourri bags

Lavender sachets or potpourri bags can add a pleasant scent to the clothes while helping to mask the mothball odour. Place them in the bag or container with the clothes to infuse a better fragrance.

This method will only mask the smell of the mothballs, not get rid of it like the other methods.

However, this can be enough to wear the clothes before giving them a wash and getting rid of the smell completely.


Wash with vinegar or bicarbonate of soda

white vinegar and baking soda for limescale removal

For washable clothes, you can add a cup of white vinegar to the rinse cycle or a cup of bicarbonate of soda to the wash cycle. This can help neutralise the smell of mothballs very well.

Just make sure to run an extra rinse cycle to remove any residual vinegar or bicarbonate of soda.


Professional dry cleaning

dry cleaning

If the above methods don’t work for you, or your clothes are made of very delicate fabrics, consider taking the clothes to a professional dry cleaner.

They have specialised techniques and equipment to deal with stubborn odours.


In Conclusion

black shirt and mothballs

Getting rid of a mothball odour might take some time and repeated attempts, especially if the smell is deeply ingrained.

Be patient and persistent in your efforts. Give a few of the methods above a try to see what works best for you.

If moths are affecting your clothing a lot, it is also worth looking into solutions to get rid of them altogether.

Additionally, it’s always a good idea to read and follow care labels on your clothes to ensure you’re using appropriate methods for the specific fabrics. And if you aren’t sure a method is safe for a particular fabric, avoid using it.

If your clothes are now smelling fresh, why not take a look at some other articles on In The Wash? We can help remove stains from carpets, help you choose the best washing machine for your needs or save money on doing laundry.