I tossed mothballs in my kitchen cabinets about a month ago, now everytime I open cabinets all I smell is mothballs, and the food smells like mothballs too. Can I eat the food or should I throw it away?

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    When I saw the title, I thought that you were putting mothballs in the food. Commented Mar 1, 2017 at 16:57
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    @MarkGardner - I was wondering what kind of weird-ass recipes Vicki was into...
    – Richard
    Commented Mar 1, 2017 at 18:00
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    In the future, instead of mothballs, use pheromone-based moth traps in your pantry/kitchen cabinets. You can generally find them near the pesticides at your local home improvement store. (They only really work if you do the whole routine: throw out any food that's even remotely suspect, wash/wipe down everything, put all foods in moth-proof containers, and religiously follow the instructions on the traps for how many to put out and how often to replace them.)
    – Marti
    Commented Mar 1, 2017 at 22:47
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    The canonical way to prevent moths in the kitchen and storage rooms is to use sealed packaging (zip lock bags qualify) and to maintain meticulous cleanliness. To get rid of an infestation additionally includes identifying and eliminating infested items (some store-bought packages, e.g. for flower and other dry goods, are not moth-proof!); and finding and cleaning maggots in hidden corners. Chemical pest control is best avoided. Pesticides and humans, let alone food, don't mix well. Many pesticides are fat soluble; droplets and vapors are absorbed by fat exposed to them, and then ingested. Commented Mar 2, 2017 at 9:26
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    Duplicate of cooking.stackexchange.com/q/57061/1297 Commented Mar 2, 2017 at 13:35

3 Answers 3


Mothball is a mild poison. msds

Contamination via vapor to food may only be mildly toxic but not a good idea.

You can keep food in unopened cans and air tight glass containers. Wipe them down with a mild detergent. Sealed plastic containers is questionable. Remove everything then wipe the cupboards and walls with a light detergent. Let them dry / air out thoroughly before returning food to the cupboards.

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    I would add that the plastic containers may have grabbed some of the vapors as well, so not only would I call their contents questionable especially if thin and/or not tightly sealed, I would likely wash and air them for some time before re-using.
    – dlb
    Commented Mar 1, 2017 at 19:17
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    That MSDS is extremely misleading, to the point that I’m tempted to downvote the answer. For comparison: detergent is flammable, corrosive and and irritant. But it’s completely harmless in food, even in moderately large quantities (and have you tried igniting detergent? Spoiler: you won’t succeed). The MSDS in fact says nothing about whether vapour contamination of food from moth balls is in any way harmful. Commented Mar 2, 2017 at 12:59
  • @KonradRudolph Sorry you were extremely mislead. Nothing about inhalation or ingestion in the msds you linked so I fail to see any comparison. Have you tied ingesting moth balls? Spoiler: it won't go well.
    – paparazzo
    Commented Mar 2, 2017 at 13:05
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    @Paparazzi Placing a moth ball next to food isn’t the same as ingesting or inhaling it, and the extrapolation is simply completely invalid. MSDS need to be interpreted with care. Commented Mar 2, 2017 at 13:22
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    @Paparazzi It’s simply not enough to say “it’s a poison”. So is table salt. Surely you’ve heard the adage “the dose makes the poison”? My whole point is that you are simply using invalid evidence to bolster your claim of averse effects of mothballs on food. (For what it’s worth I honestly don’t know whether there are any. But if I had to hazard a guess then I’d say that OP’s food is completely safe to eat.) Commented Mar 2, 2017 at 13:32

Even if it safe, it is unlikely to be anywhere near palatable. Throw the food out, clean the cupboards, ventilate them well for a few days, then don't put food back in until all smell of mothball has gone


Toss contaminated food

As others suggest, toss the food as mothballs are toxic by design, being made of:

Diatomaceous earth

The safer way to fight moths in your food or cabinets is with Diatomaceous earth. This white powder is mined from ancient sedimentary rock, the silica remains of diatoms. Think of it as tiny sea shells smashed into a fine powder.

The powder particles are dry and sharp like the tiniest of shards of glass. The particles both slice and desiccate moths and fleas, as well as their eggs & larvae.

The powder is chemically inert. You can easily rinse or wipe it away. Avoid breathing any, not because of toxic reactions but because it is a physical irritant and can damage cells. If you vacuum the powder, be sure to do so well-ventilated, preferably with a HEPA filter.

You can mix the powder with food items like rice that you later rinse before cooking. The bulk bins at your food co-op or natural foods store are commonly treated this way.

You can also sprinkle powder along the edges and crevices of shelves where their eggs/larvae tend to nestle.

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