Learn about non-toxic alternatives and contact a professional for infestation help
The leaves are turning, the air is chilling: Sweater weather is in sight. But if you’ve stored your winter clothing with mothballs, moth crystals, moth flakes, or moth cakes to prevent clothing moths and their larvae from chewing holes in your clothes, you may want to rethink that longtime seasonal practice.
WHAT’S THE ISSUE?
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which regulates pesticides, mothballs and similar items often contain naphthalene. A hydrocarbon distilled from either coal tar or petroleum, naphthalene is recognized as both a health and environmental hazard that has been associated with anemia, liver damage, and neurological harm, and also has been linked to cataracts and retinal damage. In addition, it may be connected to increased risk of developing laryngeal and colorectal cancer. Moth-repellent products may also contain paradichlorobenzene, a fumigant insecticide.
The health damage comes directly from breathing naphthalene or paradichlorobenzene fumes (that tell-tale old-fashioned smell remembered from attics, trunks, and other storage areas), skin contact (even with small children who have worn or used items stored in mothballs), or ingestion of the moth-repellent items, which children sometimes mistake for candy or other food products.
Beyond releasing harmful fumes into the air, mothballs and related items can cause environmental harm when used off-label to target other household pests, such by scattering them around yards or attics to deter rats, squirrels, or snakes. Not only is using these products in this way not effective, they also can endanger non-pest wildlife or even your own pets, which may smell them or even eat them.
Although several countries have banned or are considering banning anti-moth products containing these toxic substances, some still are sold in the United States; however, moth-repellent products sold here containing these two substances must comply with strict EPA labeling and direction requirements. Any use of these products in a way that is not outlined on the EPA-approved label—including trying to use them to kill other types of pests—is illegal. If your anti-moth product contains naphthalene or paradichlorobenzene and does not have an EPA registration number on the label, steer clear and report the product to a regional EPA office.
Instead of turning to toxins to ward off clothes moths from your sweaters, woolens, and other favorite natural-fiber clothing, try some of these healthier alternatives from Healthline:
- Use cedar chips or blocks when storing clothing. Moths and other insects are repelled by the pheromones in cedar. You can also use cedar oil in a spray bottle diluted with water or in a diffuser that can spread the scent of cedar.
- Combine dried, crushed, and powdered herbs. Combine these items in a bag that you can hang anywhere you keep clothes or food: lavender, bay leaves, cloves, rosemary, and thyme. Moths dislike the odors of these herbs. You can also dilute the essential oils of these herbs and spray them on your clothes and belongings or use a diffuser with one or more of these oils.
- Use a sticky trap. Sticky traps specific to clothes moths come with moth pheromones to attract them and get them stuck to the surface. Once they’re stuck, they can’t escape, and they eventually die.
- Keep your floors, carpets, and moldings vacuumed and dusted. Try to clean your home with a vacuum, dusting cloths, and eco-friendly cleaners to keep it free of dust and dirt, which can draw moths into your home. Be sure to empty vacuum contents and wash dusting cloths regularly so eggs and larvae don’t grow and develop.
- Freeze any clothes or belongings that show signs of moths. Keep these items in the freezer for at least 24 hours to make sure any larvae are killed off.
- Wash clothes that contain larvae or eggs. Use hot water and high heat in the dryer, if possible. For clothes that can’t be washed or dried hot, put wet clothes in the freezer for a day to kill larvae and eggs.
- Use vinegar. Wash and scrub any areas where you found larvae or eggs with a vinegar and water solution.
- Call a professional. Sometimes, removal and prevention techniques just aren’t enough.
For assistance with clothes moths and other common household pests, contact a licensed professional from the Department of Consumer Affairs’ Structural Pest Control Board. Find out more about their services at www.pestboard.ca.gov, and to check a pest-control professional’s license, visit https://search.dca.ca.gov.