The Methodical Misuse of Moth Balls

Chicken soup is good for a cold, a spoon full of honey helps a sore throat, and hundreds more home remedies and treatments have been passed down through our culture.  While the true medicinal nature of these are studied and disputed, for some they work and are shared.  The same happens in the home and garden and many of these treatments are either inefficient or potentially harmful to your plants, people, or the environment.

Only use moth balls as the label instructs, not in the landscape or under the sink.  Source: UF/IFAS

Probably the biggest standout from these dangerous practices is the use of moth balls.

What are Moth Balls

Moth balls are a federally regulated pesticide, for the use of controlling clothes moths and there eggs.  That is what the label says; that is the only legal use.  Always read the label as it is the law and is there to keep you and others safe.  This label will also give you information such as safety, first aid, and directions for use.

Most of these labels then state that the products are to be used in in sealed containers so vapors do not build up in enclosed spaces such as the home.  Why?  This is because they will either contain Naphtalene or Paradichlorobenzene, which break down from a solid into a gas, fumigating the area.  So what’s the big deal with moth balls under a sink or in the landscape?

Health Effects of Moth Balls

Let’s say you put some moth balls under your sink to repel mice or out in the landscape to keep snakes away, what will happen?  As it turns into a vapor in enclosed spaces, Naphtalene can cause nausea, headaches, dizziness, and or vomiting.  If eaten children, it can diarrhea, fever, abdominal pain, and urinary issues while pets can get tremors, nausea, vomiting, lethargy, and diarrhea.  It can also cause the breakdown of red blood cells in humans if ingested.

Paradichlorobenzene has similar effects, but can the vapors can also inflame eyes and nasal cavities and can cause a burning sensation when handled.  Pets will also have similar symptoms but with an additional chance of liver and kidney damage.

If a human swallows a mothball, contact the poison control center at 1-800-222-1222 and contact a veterinarian if a pet makes that mistake.

What about wildlife?

You may even find wildlife deterrent products, which are largely ineffective, that contain naphthalene and are labeled for outdoor use to repel wildlife.  However, the formulation and strength is different.  In the end, any use of a pesticide that is not directly stated on the label is illegal and can be reported by others to the EPA.

The health effects on wildlife are mostly unknown but both active ingredients are known to potentially harm fish and it is best not to chance them being eaten by other animals.

From now on, use products specifically labeled for the pest you are trying to control and check with your local UF/IFAS Extension Office for details on effective products and methods for controlling animal pests in the home and garden.

For more information visit the UF/IFAS Fact Sheet on Moth Balls here: http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/pi254