Mothballs may seem relatively harmless when you purchase them -- after all, they are easy to obtain -- but in reality, they contain pesticides made from toxic, harmful chemicals. These chemicals -- naphthalene or paradichlorobenzene -- are considered household toxic waste and are not meant to be discarded in the regular trash or flushed down the drain. Instead, you must drop them off at a household hazardous-waste collection site.
Gathering the Mothballs
Whether the mothballs are loose or in their original box, wear rubber gloves to avoid getting any of the chemicals on your hands. Scoop up loose mothballs with a plastic spoon -- even while wearing rubber gloves -- and place them in a sealable plastic bag or disposable container with a lid. Open the windows and wear a respirator to avoid breathing in the fumes. If you can smell the mothballs, you are breathing in their fumes. While limited exposure to the fumes is generally considered safe, these gases contain toxins that can be harmful.
Finding a Disposal Facility
Contact your local city hall, or visit a city or county website and search for a page dedicated to waste management. Information may be listed online under residential trash and recycling information, or under household hazardous-waste management. Because mothballs are considered a hazardous substance, as are other insecticides and pesticides, they require a special disposal method. Some regions set aside one or two days a year for residents to take hazardous materials to a designated drop-off site; read up on your local information for specifics regarding dates and locations, as these vary by region and by year.
Dropping Off the Mothballs
If your community only accepts household toxins once or twice a year and there is no nearby facility that will accept them soon, store the collected mothballs in an airtight container well out of the reach of children and pets. Clearly mark the container as "mothballs" or "poison" so you do not forget what's inside. Gather the container, along with other toxic household goods you may want to discard, inside a plastic storage bin or large cardboard box, lining the bottom with plastic bags to ensure no leaks occur. Bins and boxes protect your vehicle and ensure you and the waste facility representatives won't have to touch the actual toxic materials as you drop them off. The facility will likely be able to accept your box or bin as well; if not, recycle it.
Removal from Fabrics
Mothballs used to get rid of moths may leave a residue behind on the clothing or textiles they have treated, because mothballs break down over time. Wash the items thoroughly according to instructions on the care tag. Avoid touching the residue or breathing it in -- wear rubber gloves and a respirator, if necessary. It may take more than one washing to thoroughly get rid of the chemicals. If the washed items still smell of mothballs after several washings, you may wish to discard them. Or you can air them out on a clothesline on a sunny day for at least several hours, and then wash them again. Do not wear or use textiles that still smell of mothballs, as the chemicals can be absorbed through your skin or by breathing in the fumes.