Naphthalene: what is it for

Naphthalene, if we know the smell it is usually due to the "moth balls”That we use in wardrobes to protect woolen garments. In fact, this is the substance contained in the balls and which gives off a smell to which one cannot remain indifferent. But there are also other ways of using naphthalene and its characteristics that, not knowing, maybe we are not exploiting.


It is read in some documents of early 1800 of the existence of a solid described just like mothballs: white and with a pungent odor, derived from coal tar. In 1821, thanks to John Kidd, this white solid was better described and its properties and production method began to be known.

Shortly after came the proposal for the name that sounds like this because it wants to remind everyone that this substance was a derivative of naphtha, or at least what was generally called naphtha in those days.

There mothballs is the trade name, more common than what we may hear also called naphthalene, it is polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbon and its chemical formula is C10H8. Among all polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons it is the simplest, its structure is that of two fused benzene rings, which share two carbon atoms, and its molecule is planar.

Naphthalene: uses

If in the past it was used as fuel in the automotive and railway fields, today this substance is used as well as in our wardrobes, also in the chemical industry, as a raw material for the synthesis of phthalic anhydride and dyes (Acid H). In the house it is also used as an insecticide, especially against moths, but it also drives away many other animals as we will see shortly.

Observing the behavior of mothballs it is noted that burns with sooty flame e which, if too much exposure to it, can destroy red blood cells e cause some damage and ailments such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, passing blood in the urine and pale skin.

Today it is considered a suspected category 3 carcinogen, in the classification of the European Community (EC)), or "substance to be considered with suspicion for possible carcinogenic effects in humans, for which, however, the information available is insufficient to carry out a satisfactory evaluation".

Mothballs: pigeons

In addition to moths, pigeons also shy away from mothballs and there are many people who they use it to chase them away or to keep them from approaching their roof or their area which can also be a garden or a patch of soil. L'such acrid smell does not like these birds at all who will leave indignant when they realize that we have scattered mothballs here and there in cloth bags.

There are softer natural methods to keep pigeons away, for example the colored pinwheels to be inserted in the vases, but they do not have the same effectiveness as the bad smell we have mentioned.

Mothballs: cockroaches

The cockroaches in the house are a great drama, especially for those who do not like the dark and begin to imagine these "big" animals roaming around the house. Mothballs, as well as camphor, are an excellent "weapon" to chase these unwanted guests out of their rooms. Also in this case, there are softer and less smelly natural methods such as bay leaves in drawers, wardrobes, closets, or tansy and rosemary, in pots on windowsills and near windows.

Mothballs against wild boars

The wild boars are particularly sensitive to the smell of mothballs and if he gets mad near the tool shed or the garden one can hope that these animals will not come near. It is not a proven remedy, because these animals are known to be very stubborn and aggressive when it comes to invade other people's territories.

Mothball sublimation

Mothballs can easily sublimate. This is not its only particular feature, it is also poorly soluble in water while it dissolves well in ethanol, very well in organic solvents.

At room temperature it is a white crystalline solid with an intense and characteristic smell, as we know it when we put it in balls in the wardrobe.

In nature there are traces of naphthalene such as products of magnolia and some species of deer, is also produced by the termites of Formosa and by some varieties of the endophytic fungus Muscodor albus. On an industrial level it is obtained for distillation from tar, coal and oil.

Naphthalene and Camphor

Mothballs and camphor can be used for some common purposes, they are both gods cheap remedies to hunt moths from home and protect our wool sweaters. A pack of natural camphor 70 grams in Amazon it costs 9 euros and is almost fallible.

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