When selling a house, a closet that smells like mothballs is a big turnoff for many buyers, said Fabienne Lecole, an associate real-estate broker at William Raveis in New York.
“It’s not attractive at all,” she said. “It’s a very strong and unusual smell that reminds me of my great-great-great-grandmother.”
And it could make your entire home seem just as dated. Beyond objections to the smell, buyers might also have health concerns. Mothballs are usually made with naphthalene or paradichlorobenzene — pesticides that can be harmful to people and animals.
Unfortunately, eliminating the odor isn’t simply a matter of removing the mothballs. Even after they’re gone and the clothing that was stored with them has been cleaned, the smell can linger.
“It’s actually really hard to get rid of it,” said Lecole, who encountered the problem in an apartment she listed as part of an estate sale. Her solution? A deep cleaning, scented candles and lots of patience.
There are more reliable ways of eliminating the odor.
If you’re considering renovating the closet, removing the existing fixtures and drywall will immediately solve the problem, said Melanie Charlton, CEO of the New York closet design company Clos-ette.
But you needn’t go to such lengths. “If you’re not demolishing and taking shelves out,” Charlton said, “the most effective way to remove the smell — and it’s the simplest thing ever — is lavender oil.”
Scatter lavender sachets around the space and dab lavender essential oil directly on the shelves with your fingertip or a cotton swab.
“It won’t hurt the wood,” she said. “It’s actually moisturizing.” The oil is “so aromatic and antiseptic that it will take out that smell” in a matter of days, she said, leaving a scent that most people find pleasing.
The oil also offers continued protection against moths, she added. “And it’s not poisonous. You can forget moths and any other bugs that might be there.”
It might sound too good to be true, but when it comes to closets, Charlton said, lavender is ” the most amazing essential oil there is.”