Is It Legal to Use Mothballs in Your Yard? Health Risks & Safe Alternatives

Paul West/ Backyard And Health, Backyard Maintenance

You might be considering mothballs as a quick fix to keep pests away from your yard. After all, they’re cheap, readily available, and seem like a no-fuss solution. But before you scatter them around your garden or under your porch, it’s crucial to understand the legal and safety implications. Mothballs are not just any household item; they contain chemicals that are regulated by federal law due to their potential health hazards.

What are mothballs and how do they work?

Mothballs are small spheres of chemical pesticide and deodorant used to protect clothes and other materials from moths and different types of insects. Traditionally made from naphthalene or paradichlorobenzene, both chemicals transition from a solid state to a gas once exposed to air, a process known as sublimation. When you place mothballs in your yard, these chemicals are released into the air, soil, and potentially the groundwater, depending on environmental conditions.

The effectiveness of mothballs stems from their ability to release toxic vapors that repel or kill pests. These vapors are especially potent in closed containers where they can build up and concentrate. But, the outdoor use of mothballs poses significant drawbacks due to the inability to contain and concentrate the vapors effectively, drastically reducing their pest control efficiency.

Even though their traditional use for warding off moths and safeguarding garments, using mothballs outdoors for pest control strays from their EPA-registered use. Mothballs are designed to be used in sealed containers so that the fumes they emit can be contained adequately. This containment is crucial not only for the effectiveness of mothballs but also for minimizing exposure to their toxic chemicals.

The primary chemicals in mothballs, naphthalene, and paradichlorobenzene, are known to pose health risks to humans and pets, including kidney and liver damage and an increased risk of cancer. So, the spread of these chemicals outside of controlled environments can contribute to unintended health hazards, further emphasizing the importance of using mothballs strictly as intended.

In environments such as yards, where containing the vapors is not feasible, the use of mothballs is not only less effective but also potentially unlawful and hazardous. This underlines the necessity of exploring alternative methods of pest control that are more suitable and safe for outdoor environments.

Are mothballs effective in keeping pests away?

Mothballs have long been used as a deterrent for pests due to their strong odor and toxic properties. But, their effectiveness varies widely depending on how and where they’re used. Here’s what you need to know about the effectiveness of mothballs in pest control.

Firstly, mothballs are designed for use in confined spaces. When placed in airtight containers, mothballs slowly release a gas that is toxic to moths and other insects, effectively keeping them at bay and protecting your clothes and fabrics. The success of mothballs in these controlled environments is largely due to the ability to maintain high concentrations of the pesticide gas, naphthalene or paradichlorobenzene, which is lethal to pests.

In contrast, when used outdoors, the effectiveness of mothballs significantly diminishes. This is because the open environment does not allow the toxic gases to build up to concentrations high enough to effectively repel or kill pests. Instead, the gases quickly dissipate into the air, reducing not only their potency but also their range of effectiveness. This dispersion means that, while you might notice a temporary reduction in pest activity, the long-term control of pests in your yard using mothballs is highly unlikely.

Besides, the use of mothballs outside of their intended purpose poses significant risks, not only to the environment but also to human and animal health. The chemicals found in mothballs, naphthalene, and paradichlorobenzene, have been linked to various health issues, including respiratory problems and an increased risk of cancer with prolonged exposure.

Summarizing, while mothballs can be effective in deterring pests within closed environments, their outdoor use is both inefficacious and hazardous. The limitations of mothballs in outdoor pest control highlight the importance of seeking alternative, more effective, and safer methods for managing pests in your yard.

The legal regulations surrounding mothballs

Before considering using mothballs in your yard, it’s critical to understand the legal framework that governs their usage. Mothballs, containing chemicals such as naphthalene and paradichlorobenzene, are regulated substances due to their potential health risks and environmental impact.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) oversees the regulation of mothballs in the United States. According to EPA guidelines, mothballs are approved only for specific uses, primarily for protecting clothing from moths and other fabric pests when placed in sealed containers. This restriction is based on the ability of mothballs to release toxic gases that can be harmful if inhaled or if they come into direct contact with skin.

Further emphasizing the legal standpoint, the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) mandates that all pesticide products (including mothballs) must be used strictly according to the label directions. Using mothballs in a manner inconsistent with their labeling, such as for repelling pests in your yard, is not only ineffective but also illegal. This law underscores the principle that the label on a pesticide product is essentially a legal document.

Enforcement of these regulations can vary by state, with certain areas imposing more stringent penalties for the misuse of pesticides like mothballs. Penalties may include fines or other legal consequences, aimed at preventing practices that could harm human health or the environment.

To navigate these legal waters safely:

  • Always read and follow the label instructions on mothball packages.
  • Consider alternative pest control methods that are legal and environmentally friendly.
  • Consult with local environmental protection agencies or pest control experts for legal and effective solutions to your pest problems.

Understanding and adhering to these legal guidelines will not only keep you on the right side of the law but also ensure the safety and well-being of your household and the surrounding environment.

Potential health hazards associated with mothballs

When considering whether to use mothballs in your yard, it’s crucial to understand their potential health hazards. Mothballs are not harmless; they contain powerful chemicals such as naphthalene and paradichlorobenzene, both of which are toxic to humans and animals when inhaled or ingested.

Naphthalene, historically the more commonly used chemical in mothballs, can destroy red blood cells, leading to hemolytic anemia. Symptoms of exposure include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and in severe cases, kidney or liver damage. Children and pets are particularly vulnerable due to their smaller size and the likelihood of accidental ingestion.

Paradichlorobenzene, while considered somewhat less toxic than naphthalene, is not without its risks. It’s been linked to liver and kidney damage in rodents, and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) classifies it as a possible human carcinogen. Prolonged exposure to paradichlorobenzene can affect your nervous system causing headaches, dizziness, and confusion.

The hazards of mothballs extend to the environment as well. When used outdoors, chemicals from mothballs can leach into the soil, contaminating it and potentially entering the water supply. This not only poses a risk to human health but can also harm wildlife.

For those considering using mothballs in their yards, it’s essential to keep these health risks in mind. Alternative pest control methods that don’t carry these risks should be explored. If mothballs are deemed necessary, ensure they’re used strictly following label directions and secured in a way that minimizes exposure to humans, pets, and the environment.

Alternatives to using mothballs in your yard

When considering the safety of your yard, especially for children and pets, it’s vital to explore safer alternatives to mothballs. These alternatives not only safeguard the environment but also protect the health of your family and pets from toxic chemicals.

Natural Repellents

Cedarwood is a natural deterrent against moths and other pests. Cedar chips or essential oil can provide a safe and effective way to keep pests at bay without the use of harmful chemicals. Similarly, lavender has a pleasant aroma that repels moths while being completely safe for humans and pets alike. You can hang dried lavender bundles or use lavender oil in your outdoor spaces.

Physical Barriers

Installing fine mesh netting around plants or areas you wish to protect can physically prevent moths and other pests from reaching them. This method is particularly useful in vegetable gardens or flower beds.

Biological Controls

Nematodes, microscopic organisms that naturally occur in soil, can target and eliminate pests such as moth larvae without harming plants or beneficial insects. Introducing nematodes into your yard provides a long-term solution to pest problems.

Chemical-Free Moth Traps

There are traps designed specifically to capture moths without the use of toxic chemicals. These traps often use pheromones to attract moths, trapping them on a sticky surface inside. They’re an excellent choice for monitoring moth activity and controlling their population outdoors.

Essential Oils

Aside from lavender, other essential oils like peppermint, eucalyptus, and citronella are effective at repelling moths and various insects. You can dilute these oils with water and spray them around the yard to maintain a pest-free environment.

By choosing these alternatives, you’re not only keeping your yard safe from pests but also ensuring it remains a healthy environment for everyone to enjoy. Remember, effective pest control involves consistency and occasionally combining different methods for the best results.


Understanding the legal and health implications of using mothballs in your yard is crucial. With the risks to children, pets, and the environment, it’s essential to consider safer alternatives. Exploring options like cedarwood, lavender, mesh netting, nematodes, moth traps, and essential oils can provide effective pest control without compromising health. By choosing these alternatives, you’re not only adhering to regulations but also ensuring a safe, healthy environment for everyone. Remember, the well-being of your family and the ecosystem should always come first.


Paul West
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About Paul West

Longstanding and passionate about really having family fun in the backyard. I'm no expert but I've picked up a thing or two along the way!