AskDefine | Define mothball

Dictionary Definition

mothball n : a small sphere of camphor or naphthalene used to keep moths away from stored clothing [syn: camphor ball] v : put into long-term storage

User Contributed Dictionary


Alternative forms

  • moth ball
  • moth-ball


moth + ball


  1. a small ball of chemical pesticide and deodorant placed in or around clothing and other articles susceptible to damage from mold or moth larvae in order to protect them from this damage; mothballs have either naphthalene or paradichlorobenzene as their active ingredient.

Derived terms



  1. to store or shelve (something that is no longer used)
    They mothballed the old version after the new one came out.


Derived terms


Extensive Definition

Mothballs are small balls of chemical pesticide and deodorant used when storing clothing and other articles susceptible to damage from mold or moth larvae (especially clothes moths like Tineola bisselliella).
Their use when clothing is stored out-of-season gave rise to the colloquial usage of the terms mothballed and put into mothballs to refer to anything which is put into storage or whose operation is suspended.

Composition and safety

Older mothballs consisted primarily of naphthalene, but due to naphthalene's flammability, modern mothballs use 1,4-dichlorobenzene instead. Both of these ingredients have a strong, pungent odor often associated strongly with mothballs. Camphor, an insect repellent, can be used in mothballs also.
The idea with both chemicals is to kill moths and moth larvae with the fumes. Both naphthalene and paradichlorobenzene sublimate, meaning they transition from a solid straight to a gas. The gas is toxic to the moths.
For either of these chemicals to be effective, they need to be placed with the clothing in a sealed container so the fumes can build up and kill the moths. In a sealed atmosphere like this, the fumes are not harmful to people because they are contained. The main threat would occur when opening the containers, or from wearing clothes immediately after opening (especially a problem for infants). A solution is to open the containers outside and let the clothes hang and air out for a day before wearing.
Adolescents have recently been found to use mothballs for huffing. Mothballs have also been found to be a carcinogen (i.e. a cancer-causing agent).

Other uses

Mothballs can also be used as a snake repellent. Mothballs (or sulfur) is usually used along with the aid of naphtha for these purposes. When mixed together, the snake sampling the air senses its acrid stench and its scent sampling is overloaded by the stench. It can't sense prey or danger as well with this smell, so it turns away. Put the mothballs around the perimeter of your yard leaving an "escape" for the snakes to get away or they will be locked in your yard. Caution should be exercised, as mothballs are not child or pet friendly and they can kill some types of plants. Rain or water will disintegrate the mothballs, so frequent reapplication will be necessary.
Mothballs are also said to keep silverfish away from wall paper by placing in 4 corners of a room, and/or mice away from composts (the latter unverified).

See also

mothball in German: Mottenkugel
mothball in Luxembourgish: Mattekugel
mothball in Dutch: Mottenbal
mothball in Japanese: 防虫剤
mothball in Simple English: Mothball
mothball in Tamil: அந்துருண்டை
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