ISSUE 27  |  Summer Bunkhouse

DIY: Modern Mothballs (No Chemicals Included)

July 09, 2014 4:00 PM

BY Erin Boyle

Summertime shouldn’t be synonymous with the pungent smell of mothballs, but for anyone lucky enough to have a summer house, it too often is. People use mothballs to protect woolen clothes and blankets in winter storage from being eaten by moths, and the mothball odor tends to linger in cottages, suitcases, and other places that are only used part of the year.

Here’s how mothballs work: Solid chemicals–usually napthalene or paradichlorobenzene–are formed into marble-sized balls. The chemicals slowly become gas when exposed to air. That toxic gas kills wool-eating moths–and makes everything in the vicinity stink to high heavens.

The National Pesticide Information Center tells us not to use mothballs outdoors because they can contaminate soil, plants, and water; harm wildlife; and pollute the air. If mothballs aren’t safe for Mother Nature, I’m guessing they’re not safe for me.

The good news is that herbs can keep moths away from your woolens just as effectively. With this simple DIY, you can swap your mothballs for sachets that are not only sweet-smelling but pleasant to look at, too.

Photography by Erin Boyle.

moth sachets and wool blanket

Above: To begin the project, I bought some small muslin spice bags (I found mine at my grocery store’s spice section). If you have old handkerchiefs around and you’re handy with a sewing machine, you can sew your own sachets. If you don’t sew, you can just create little bundles and tie the ends together. I made seven bags this time around; a packet of 25 Mini Cotton Muslin Drawstring Bags is available from Celestial Gifts for $4.75.


Above: Next, I gathered dried herbs known for their ability to ward off clothes moths: lavender, spearmint, thyme, rosemary, cloves, and cinnamon. Mountain Rose Herbs is a terrific online resource for bulk herbs, or you can buy smaller quantities at your local natural-foods store. Other herbs known for repelling insects include tansy, ginger, and citronella.


Above: Red cedar is an old standby when it comes to warding off moths–which is why entire closets are sometimes lined with the wood. If you’re not ready for a closet renovation, cedar shavings will do the trick. A five-cup bag of Organic Red Cedar Shavings is $4.99 from Stress Tamer Spa.


Above: I put the cedar shavings into my spice bags before adding the herbs.


Above: I blended the herbs in equal proportions (to make my seven bags, I used about 4 tablespoons of each herb) and then spooned the mixture into the bags.


Above: As I worked, I kept tapping each bag on the table to let the herbs settle down around the cedar shavings.


Above: To finish, I slid a stick of cinnamon into each bag.


Above: Then I tied each bag closed and gave the outside a squeeze to crush the cedar and release the herbs’ essential oils.


Above: The bags should last a season or more, especially if you keep squeezing them occasionally to release the essential oils. I leave a sachet in each of my clothing drawers year-round, just to be safe.

If you really want to go all DIY with this, you can grow (and dry) your own herbs. Get started with this DIY: Instant Indoor Herb Garden. Are mosquitos, not moths, getting to you? See DIY: Bug Repellent Balm.

This is an update of a post originally published July 16, 2013.