Fact or Fiction: Do Mothballs Keep Snakes Away?

This article addressing if mothballs keep snakes away has been repurposed from The Antidote, a newsletter of the Blue Ridge Poison Center.

mothballs won't keep snakes away
There are better ways to keep snakes away from your house than using mothballs.

Many people still use mothballs around their home to try to keep snakes away. However, studies have shown that mothballs are not effective for this purpose.

Do Mothballs Keep Snakes Away? No

“Don’t believe everything you read on the internet!”, says Kathy Mayo, RN and Certified Specialist in Poison Information at the Blue Ridge Poison Center. “The use of mothballs as a snake repellent is an old wives’ tale that just won’t go away. When people sprinkle them under or around a house, it increases the likelihood that a child or a pet will find them and eat them. They look just like candy to young children. Also, the toxic vapors can seep up into the living spaces, sickening all of the people inside.”

The Dangers of Mothballs

There are two types of mothballs on the market. They look identical, but some are made with the chemical naphthalene, while others are made with paradichlorobenzene. Both chemicals become a gas when exposed to air and cause the strong mothball smell. Naphthalene is the more toxic of the two chemicals.

The fumes from mothballs can cause headache, dizziness and irritation to the eyes and lungs. If swallowed, naphthalene can cause a condition called hemolytic anemia. This is when red blood cells break apart and can no longer carry oxygen to all parts of the body. Symptoms of this condition may include fatigue, shortness of breath and painful urination, with discolored urine.

Call the Blue Ridge Poison Center

If you or someone in your family has eaten a mothball or is not feeling well after breathing the fumes, call 1-800-222-1222. Nurses are available 7 days a week to help you know what to do.

Kathy adds that in the warm months, when snakes are most active, the Blue Ridge Poison Center sees an increase in calls from people who have been exposed to mothballs, because they are being used as repellents.

If someone in your family swallows a mothball, or has been breathing the fumes and suddenly doesn’t feel well, nurses like Kathy are standing by at the Blue Ridge Poison Center 24 hours a day to help you know what to do.

Is There a Safe Snake Repellent?

Most snakes are harmless and provide a valuable service around your home by keeping pests and rodents away. Still, some people find the presence of snakes alarming and want to keep them away from their property. Like mothballs, commercial snake repellents have not proven to be successful at keeping snakes away. It is also never a good idea to leave any sort of pesticide lying around where children might find it.

Instead, follow this advice from The Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries:

  • Snakes are attracted to areas that provide them with cover and shelter. Remove log or trash piles close to your house. Keep the grass or other vegetation near your house closely mowed or trimmed.
  • Tight-fitting screens and doors will keep snakes out of the house. Seal off all cracks and holes into your crawl space or basement.
  • Check the roof for overhanging vegetation. Snakes are good climbers and can also enter through the attic where trees provide access.
  • Have your house checked for rodent problems. If you can eliminate the food source, the snakes will go elsewhere.

Comments (1)

  1. edward says:

    We have had snakes in the house – in a rural area – from time to time. I have a settled routine for rescuing them from the house and returning them to the natural world. One of the family will keep an eye on where she/he/they is and might go, while I put on boots, long pants tucked in, and a heavy pair of work clothes. I grab two trash cans. I get its tail and whip it into one trash can and quickly seal the can with the second can (one larger, one smaller works best). Even with heavy gloves I have had one bite (it drew blood which I washed with hot water and soap for a couple minutes). It’s easy then to carry Mr/Ms/Their Snakey outside far away from the house. We believe that generations of snakes may have found a home in or near the house. Sometimes we’ve seen them slivering out of nearby grass fields heading for the house. Then, its easy enough to grab a hoe to re-direct them away from the house (it can take minutes to re-direct them completely because they seem determined). We’ve talked with animal control and read some research that suggests that snakes may return to the place where they were nurtured as baby snakes. So, by re-directing them we hope to re-orient them to a new ‘home’. Of course, a key reason snakes come inside is because they are hunting food – that is field mice/house mice around or in the house – so managing mice is key to managing snakes in the house, it seems. We know that some snakes likely came in through open windows on second floor, acquiring the roof from trees (perhaps seeking birds’ nests?); so we ALWAYS keep second floor windows closed or screened, and keep trees, ivy vines, etc away from the roof. What other snake stories do people have?

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