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#62 Moth Balls

Posted April 21st, 2008 by Peter · 48 Comments

When you walk into any asian fabric store, you will be greeted by the all-too-familiar scent of Moth Balls. Why do asians love the Moth ball so much, though? Get ready. This is post two of a two day posting marathon!

“I think mothballs should be on the list. What is up with the obsession with mothballs? I have loads of childhood mothball memories”¦ at every relative’s house, but I’ve never met a white person who smelled like mothballs”¦ so I think it must be Asian grannies that keep the mothball industry in business”¦”
- HapaGirl

“Moth Balls are an Asian’s best friend” -Marilyn Monroe (lol)

In Asia, temperate weather conditions and marshy rice patty fields have prompted an alarming rate of insect infestation. In the states, Asians know that insects are the least of their problems. Due to their pre-existing fears, however, they are motivated to keep their valuable possessions insect-free. It also doesn’t help that Asians have excellent heat regulating techniques (continuous sweating) in order to cool themselves off after a hard day of work. To suppress both the odor and the annoying insects, asians have passed on many natural remedies including incense, potpourri, and in some cases, dung.

Enter, the Moth Ball: an ingeniously minuscule invention uniting the power of sulfur, dichlorobenzine, and naphthalene. At this moment, you’re saying, “Hey Peter.. spare me the scientific mumbo jumbo.” All I can say is, “you’re absolutely right.” Asians still love the moth ball despite its carcinogenic qualities because of what it does for them.

Says one of our readers, “I kept the kitchen really clean, especially around the sink. That helped, but it didn’t get rid of them. So finally I just put out moth balls and that took care of it. Moth balls are great. I don’t like the smell much, but you can use them for so many things! I really like moth balls.”

The secret behind moth balls isn’t their odor killing ability or their exterminating eminence. The truth lies in the fact that Asians are all exterminators at heart. That’s why they have been of the select few “ethnic” groups to wage war on their own kind. Though the battle with creepy crawlers is not as heated as, say… the Korean or Vietnam War, Asians still hold extreme pride in their ability to keep their homes free of infestation.

In order to do so, they use moth balls. Yes, moth balls. Asians know that insects procreate quite rapidly. “This is my third reincarnation of fruit flies,” says Colorblind Cupid. The fact of the matter is that when the insects breed, they grow immune to the moth balls. In turn, this creates a super race of moth ball resistant moths that… yes, only asians can destroy. That’s the asian entrepreneurial gene kicking in once again. You better watch out for asian extermination companies, which will be popping up in the next few years!

Asians love Moth Balls because they keep their clothing free of moths and insects by releasing hazardous fumes that kill larvae. Moth Balls are also used to cover up the horrible stench of perspiration and other bodily odors. The third, but more obscure reason is the obvious entrepreneurial potential that breeding moth-ball resistant moths. For those reasons and an obviously larger amount of reasons that will be mentioned in the reader comments, asians love moth balls.

P.S. My mom smashes cockroaches with her bare hands.

Last 5 posts by Peter

Tags: Activities · Chores · Customs · Environment · Habits · Hobbies · Medicine · Products

48 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Stacy // Apr 22, 2008 at 10:58 am

    I have to say.. I really love the post script.

  • 2 Anonymous // Apr 22, 2008 at 7:18 pm

    It hits home!!!

  • 3 nanheyangrouchuan // Apr 22, 2008 at 10:55 pm

    And this is done neglecting the dangers of the fumes.

  • 4 anonymous // Apr 23, 2008 at 9:14 pm

    I do not think Asians are alone in this! I know blacks that do this! Smart idea anyway! If Asians came up with it I am not surprised! Asians come up with alot of stuff. I do not mean it in the ‘model minority’ way but the commonsense smart way! If I possibly offended, sorry!

  • 5 jonny // Apr 28, 2008 at 6:24 am

    my granny crushes roaches with her bare hands…

  • 6 Ica // May 2, 2008 at 12:33 am

    i crush roaches with my bare feet. to use hands are beyond ick…(but then again, some people might think using feet are ickier). and of course, i buy mothballs in bulk. when a big bag of moth balls is halfway finished, i went out and bought not one, but TWO big bags.

  • 7 Justin // May 2, 2008 at 3:07 am

    wow, i give u props

  • 8 Maggie // May 10, 2008 at 5:27 am

    LOL! @ the last comment.

    You’re very amusing. Even though it’s sort of an serious subject, you can like inject humour into it while still maintaining the serious point of the topic~!

  • 9 DG // May 22, 2008 at 11:07 am

    Finally!! this mystery is settled. For years I have gently, and in the most politically correct way, tried to find out why some asian people had that weird smell.

    It started when I arrived from Europe to go to UC Berkeley ten years ago. I had a Korean flatmate who kept to himself, but when I passed his door that strange odor was there.

    Years passed, and every so often I would notice that smell when out and about. I wasn’t obsessed about this so it took a couple of years until I noticed the pattern, i.e. that smell and an asian person in the vicinity. I hate to say it but I think that smell is quite bad, not unclean, but similar perhaps to smelling like chlorine.

    I would sometimes ask my caucasian friends and some of them would agree that they had noticed it, but they had no idea what the deal was. Some suggested it was the spices in their food that made their whole houses smell this way. I doubted that. I never got to know an asian person closely enough that I could find out what the reason was by asking directly.

    The breakthrough was when my brother was visiting from Europe three years ago. While in a Chinese owned store I asked him if he noticed this peculiar smell. He immediately said that this was like the smell he had noticed from old clothes that had been exposed to some bug repellant. Further investigation led us to discover that the smell was of mothballs. We concluded that this must be a habit of the older generation of Chinese/Asians and some of the younger ones were picking up the habit (or had no choice if they were living with their family).

    Last night I was helping my Chinese neighbor and got an intense dose of mothballs, this prompted me to finally go online to look into this matter. I found this posting and can now check off one of life’s mysteries…

    I mean it in the kindest and friendliest way when I say that the smell is not pleasant to non-asians. My girlfriend just got her clothes back from a chinese cleaner that was recommended to her (by an asian). My girlfriend was impressed by the friendly service and good cleaning, but told me she can never go there again since all the clothes came back smelling like mothballs… One question, could she ask the cleaner to not give the clothes the “mothball treatment” or is the whole operation just infused?

    Finally, for asians wanting to date non-asians, I can say with high confidence that you need to let go of any “mothball lifestyle” to maximize your chances with the opposite sex.

    I hope I am not offending anyone, if I did, I apologize.

  • 10 anonymous // Jun 2, 2008 at 12:42 am

    For the record, I prefer a moth ridden smelly place to a roach, moth, and rat infested one anyway! Anyway, I am sure non-Asians have things that smell not so pleasant!This is just IMHO.

  • 11 DG // Jun 5, 2008 at 11:34 pm

    Hmmm, looks like I managed to offend the above “anonymous”. That’s unfortunate and I re-iterate that no malicious intent is meant with my post on mothballs.

    It is correct that I can think of smelly things unique to my non-asian culture. However, I can’t think of any that are infused into my clothes at the moment, or I may not be aware of it…

    I have no mothballs in my home and my place is not infested with roaches, moths, and rats. I think it is common knowledge that these are not needed anymore (there are basically other more effective and less smelly options). However, we should consider that if the cultures that constitute a large fraction of this planet considers this a smell pleasant, then perhaps this smell is pleasant (based on majority opinion).

    All I know is that I want my friends to tell me if I smell weird to them. I don’t need any more things to repel girls with… got enough already… :)

  • 12 new to SF // Aug 4, 2008 at 10:46 pm

    I was riding Muni today, noticed the same odor from the HAIR of a elderly woman. Is it possible she stored her wig in mothballs?? Or maybe i was a towering 5’8″ white person so that a tornado of all her smells circled upward into my nose.

  • 13 mark // Oct 3, 2008 at 2:05 pm

    I must agree… for years riding the bus, going to school, walking around that smell plagued me. To be perfectly honest I cannot stand it at all, it makes me gag. As a kid I always just called it “the asian smell”… I just thought that’s what asian people smelled like, similar to how asians think white people smell like dairy or cheese. But it’s way more powerful than any natural body odor smell…

    Seriously asians! Enough with the mothballs it’s absolutely awful!

  • 14 Lilly // Jan 24, 2009 at 9:56 pm

    My BF used to smell like moth balls, his mom uses them for everything! He even convinced me to put them around the house to keep the cats out of my room. It drove my mom nuts!

    LOL once my mother in law tried to cover the whole lawn in moth balls to keep away stray dogs!

  • 15 Peter // Apr 6, 2009 at 6:18 am

    you stink

  • 16 Dave // Apr 7, 2009 at 12:08 pm

    hahaha so true! my chinese ex g/f once unloaded an entire box of moth balls in our closet! It stunk up the whole house and made me wanna puke, i threw them all out while she was sleeping.D

  • 17 Nathan // Apr 23, 2009 at 12:10 pm

    Okay, here is a surprise for you.

    I came across this site by accident finding out what the deal with moth ball is. Believe it or not, I am Asian and don’t like anything about moth balls. It’s quite unfortunate that somehow using moth ball is stuck with being Asian. Please remember. As I remember I learned from a sociology class, there is no absolute.

  • 18 Gary // May 18, 2009 at 7:06 am

    This post has finally laid to rest a great mystery for me. After smelling this disgusting smell on the trains in Sydney I had narrowed it down to Asians, then I found it the smell was similar to mothballs. I just googled ‘why do Asians smell like mothballs’ and this site came up. I feel vindicated! I can now move on to another mystery, like why females put the toilet roll on the holder the wrong way. Just for the record, an observation of a trait of a race is not rascist, and I think it makes sense that I would smell of dairy (being Caucasian). It’s all part of understanding different cultures I guess. No more mothballs though please, it smells like museums.

  • 19 Walter Ying // Aug 26, 2009 at 2:01 pm

    My mother used to cook with mothballs.

  • 20 Janelle // Dec 22, 2009 at 11:56 am

    My co-worker (from china) tortures me daily with the dang moth ball smell. I am sooooo sick of it that I dream about fighting him. LOL! Seriously, it effects our entire office. I have a Glade plug-in and potpourri and it does nothing to combat the smell. I’m in hell!

  • 21 Mitchy // Feb 13, 2010 at 5:55 pm

    God now I know what that smell is in my house!!!! I have overseas students stay all the time and none have been more smelly that the 16 year old girl who just left my house this week. She stunk – she rarely showered, never washed her clothes, slept on the same sheets for 5 months and hardly washing them and then left all of her dirty clothes and posessions in my house to stink it up more. I found moth balls wrapped in tissues all through my wardrobe and am still trying to get rid of the smell!!!!

  • 22 carol shelley // Mar 4, 2010 at 3:02 pm

    please help me find bulk moth balls to purchase

  • 23 DailyBento » Blog Archive » Stuff Asian People Like #62 – Moth Balls // Mar 18, 2010 at 1:01 pm

    [...] Source: Asian Central [...]

  • 24 Dude // Jul 7, 2010 at 12:18 pm

    Old Chinese people like mothballs because they are ignorant about safety and health. Their noses are immune to bad smells.

    How can you enjoy a meal smelling that stuff? If you eat foul crap, it doesn’t matter.

    They wear polyester clothes which moths don’t want to eat, yet put these foul smelling balls into their closet!

    Chinese are also dirty. They’d rather fumigate than keep pests away through cleanliness.

    In Vancouver we have lots of Chinese businesses, such as restaurants. They are gross inside. And don’t even mention the upkeep of the back alleys. *retch*

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  • 26 jack // Oct 20, 2010 at 3:35 pm

    Here’s a tip for asians. if you want white people to like you, don’t use the goddamn mothballs! we don’t have that problem over here! And personally, I find mothball smell to be the single most offensive smell i can imagine and I know most people think the same way. I’d rather smell your sweat than disgusting moth ball stench which is so powerful that it can take over an entire house just by one person wearing clothes they keep in a mothball-having closet… no more mothballs! thats why asians have the rep for being stinky, not because of sweatiness.

  • 27 Tim // Dec 8, 2010 at 10:08 am

    @Janelle, Hilarious you mention this. I have a roomate from China who is driving me absolutely crazy with the smell. I’ve learned there is no scent in the world that can overpower the smell and I too have fantasies of choking him strictly for the smell that I’ve learned I’m just going to have to live with for the next year. Aside from that we get along well. lol

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  • 30 Brtona // Feb 18, 2011 at 7:46 pm

    Based on some comments here, no wonder they say the whites are stupid. Oh, especially the dumbass dude who claims the ‘Chinese are also dirty’. What an ignorant nincompoop. There are probably 100,000,000 things in the world that smells unpleasant yet useful. Rather than writing a piece of crappy racist article, you should probably thank the english chemist john Kidd who discovered napthalene which contributes to that pungent offensiv smell in moth balls also repels insects

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  • 36 anon // May 19, 2011 at 2:47 am

    I love mothballs too, and I’m black

  • 37 Cyn // Oct 5, 2011 at 6:09 pm

    Oh the memories of the moth balls, they’re everywhere!!!
    P.S: so does my mom….are asian moms just invincible or what O-o

  • 38 SC // Jan 9, 2012 at 9:13 am

    Oh my God!!!! Thank you so much for writing this post I have asian roommates now and that smell is all over the house even my room! And I use febreeze and fabric deodorant like crazy every day!
    Now, does anyone have an idea how to ask asian people to stop using moth balls??? I am in Canada where there are barely any bugs and living on high rise brand new building so there is not real need to have that stinky thing!

  • 39 LM // Jun 20, 2012 at 7:36 am

    I would love to have mothballs banned. I am part Asian and 3rd generation Australian. Mothballs is very harmful to everyone’s health (can cause cancer) and smells terrible. There is actually a perfume out at the moment which smells a little like mothballs so gets a little confusing making the matter even worse. I have a son who was born with a medical condition called G6PD. He has a whole list of things to avoid and mothballs (napthalene) is one of them. It is actually the hardest to control as it is designed to go into the air. If my son comes into contact with anything on the list, his red blood cells smash up (haemolysis) and once the reaction starts it can’t be stopped and is life threatening. He has 8 hours to get to a hospital for a full transfusion or he could die. The times we come across mothballs, we whisk him away quickly but then need to watch him carefully for 24 hours to make sure the haemolysis doesn’t start. There are hundreds of thousands of people worldwide who are born with this G6PD condition. How can we get it banned? Any ideas?

  • 40 Dale // Jan 18, 2013 at 1:18 am

    My son just brought some friends over after schoo . They dropped their backpacks and went upstairs. I have a very good sniffer and soon there was the unmistakable smell of mothballs. The bags are now outside. It’s an awful smell and completely unnecessary. I have lived in three different continents, have never used mothballs and never had a bug problem because of it. STOP using Mothballs!

  • 41 Shan // Jan 28, 2013 at 4:16 am

    I actually am white and I learned to use moth balls from my grandmother. I lived in a complex where everyone had bed bugs but me because I use moth balls. Moth balls have a clean smell. I’d rather smell like moth balls then to have bugs and rodents . It also keeps in wanted odors away. I am a person who don’t like bugs, odors , or germs. I don’t have a problem with moth balls.

  • 42 Lauren // May 2, 2013 at 9:50 am

    I must say, moths are the least of my worries in Asia! Renting an apartment in Hanoi and every time I walk into the bathroom, I’m greeted by the lovely mothball fragrance. My apartment is really clean and on the 7th floor, so I’m fortunate enough to have hardly any bugs. Nevertheless, I still can’t totally understand why that mothball in a little cage, perched in my bathroom is here. Well, like they say, “when in Rome,” or in my case, when in Asia! (And I am not nearly as strong as your mother in regards to killing bugs!)

  • 43 Laurel // May 5, 2013 at 12:24 am

    Thank you! I was forwarded a beautifully written letter from Japan and it smelled strongly of mothballs, so much so the letter was removed but the room still smells of mothballs seven hours later! I was worried the letter contained something else but thanks to your website I have learned its primarily a cultural thing and I don’t have to stress it’s some toxin. (Though I wouldn’t have mothballs in my house anyway, even without the smell)

  • 44 Jimmy // Jan 23, 2017 at 7:16 am


  • 45 Ginny // May 30, 2017 at 8:05 pm

    Wow, I didn’t know so many non-Chinese people dislike the smell of mothballs so strongly, for me, it is comforting, smells like my grandparents and childhood.

    I switched from mothballs to bars of soap years ago, I do know imothballs is poison (and so easy to swallow!), so I think it’s risky to have it lying around and forgotten especially given my family’s tradition of passing around hand-me-downs sweaters. I use bars of lavender soap for clothes I regularly wear, and red carbolic soap for winter coats – carbolic has a rather distinctive medicinal smell… Moth is not a huge problem in Canada, but carpet beetle is!

  • 46 You may guest // Aug 25, 2018 at 3:27 am

    My house have mothballs too XD
    Its true that I am asian, but ….. yeah………..

  • 47 You may guest // Aug 25, 2018 at 4:07 am

    I don’t think I know anybody who smell like this or even heard of it. I know a lots of asian and myself is an asian too. I have Chinese friends, Korean friends, Japanese friends…..none of them have that smell .

  • 48 Mike Boddington // Sep 17, 2018 at 8:07 pm

    Well, we have to distinguish between naphthalene (poison) and camphor (natural, non-poisonous).

    Personally, I am Caucasian (whatever that is, not coming from the Caucuses) and live in SE Asia: I have never associated the smell of mothballs with this part of the world, or its inhabitants, and am unable to get them here.

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