Some scents are immediately recognizable: Freshly cut grass, bread baking in the oven, and mothballs. If you’ve come in contact with clothing or any type of textiles that have been stored for long periods of time—and they haven’t been completely destroyed—chances are you’ve encountered (and smelled) mothballs.
And while the unmistakeable aroma of mothballs is often associated with the homes of our grandparents or other older adults, they remain in use today for one simple reason: They work.
Fortunately, there are ways to get that odor out of those vintage scarves you picked up at a flea market, the suitcase from your parents’ attic, and those heirloom tablecloths that have been sitting in the same drawer since the Eisenhower administration. Here’s what to know.
How to get mothball smell out of clothing and textiles
It’s best to embark on your quest to remove that musty mothball smell from items of clothing or other textiles knowing that there’s a good chance it’ll be an uphill battle—that scent has some serious staying-power. For this reason, you may have to try more than one of these methods to ditch the stench:
Hang the clothing or textiles outside for a few hours, ideally on a day with a gentle breeze. You may need to do this for several days.
Store with cedar or charcoal
Remove the items from the closet or container where they have been stored, and put them in a different closet or container (that doesn’t smell like mothballs). Then put a cedar plank or sachet and/or some charcoal in with them to absorb the odors.
Wash with vinegar
If the item is washable and not too delicate, follow the care instructions on the label to either machine- or hand-wash it. Either way, start with vinegar. Add one cup of white vinegar to your washer (in lieu of detergent), or mix a solution of one part white vinegar to eight parts warm water, and let the items sit in it for an hour before rinsing.
After the vinegar cleanse, run it through the washing machine or hand-wash using your usual detergent or soap. Once that’s finished, smell the fabric. If it still smells like mothballs, try soaking it in the vinegar and water mixture again and rewashing. The important thing is that you don’t allow the clothing or textiles to dry with the odor still attached, or it’s not going anywhere.