Do Mothballs Repel Deer?

Sounds pretty cheap and easy. No mixing up smelly stuff and spraying, and since it’s not applied to plants – a lot of people think this is a great solution for the vegetable garden. Yikes! Mothballs should make you vacate the area as fast as deer do. These seemingly harmless little balls are more than you bargained for.

Mothballs contain naphthalene; a coal tar or petroleum distillate product. This ‘homemade deer repellent’ is toxic to animals and humans if inhaled, ingested, or through skin exposure. The EPA reports short-term exposure has been found to destroy red blood cells, and neurological, kidney, and liver damage. What do you suppose is happening when you’re lining the veggie patch with them? It’s not any different in the flower bed either.

They melt in the rain, or when hit by your sprinklers. Things that melt in the garden enter the soil, and in this case the dissolved solids attach themselves to the soil particles, and leach into groundwater. Which means, that if the soil is draining to where your cabbages, squash, and what-have-you can access the moisture – it’s going to get into your food.

What kind of soil do you have? If it’s sandy, mothball poison will head straight for water flowing beneath the surface, and quickly attach itself to the sediments in it. An or organic garden will have a nice population of microorganisms in residence, and some of them will attach themselves to the naphthalene and break it down, or change its chemical structure. But this process takes up to 3 months – by which time you’re already eating the harvest. Use commercial fertilizers in your garden? It will take twice as long for microorganisms to finish the process… that is if there are any microbial life left in the soil.

Mothballs can also kill cats, and dogs. It seems it’s a popular way to chase away all manner of wildlife. Pets lick their paws. All they have to do is walk across the area you placed mothballs on to keep deer out of your plants, and the next bathing session might be their last.

Got chickens? Count on your fresh eggs containing some of this poison if they scratch in your garden. Which should bring one to wonder if it is going to affect songbirds out there eating the insects your garden is attracting. And last, but definitely not the least of reasons for concern… young children have been known to eat mothballs, because they look like candy.

Not all the homemade deer repellent tips you find online are good, and as you can see here, they can be really disastrous.

image: these days of mine

Do Mothballs Repel Deer? was last modified: by


      • Anna

        I sprayed deer and bunny repellent on the flower gardens to keep them from eating them. We also have deer ticks really bad from all the deer that lay and bed in our yard. I have sprayed peppermint spray all over the place but it doesn’t keep them away. Any recommendations to keep them out of the yard with out harming them?

        • DamnDeer

          Hi Anna,
          You’re trying to get rid of deer or ticks? If it’s deer ticks, there is a “trap” affair I saw a couple years ago. Like toilet paper tubes with treated cotton balls or something similar. They enlist the help of mice building nests. Try searching for tick traps on Amazon.

  1. Susan grosser

    Our neighbor found 2 dead baby deer in her back yard preserve.Her next door neighbor put moth balls all over flower garden to keep bunnies from eating her flowers.
    We are so saddened and appalled at her act of murder.

    • DamnDeer

      That is sad. Worse still, the woman is polluting her soil and groundwater with toxins. The things people do to save a buck is ridiculous. Hope she’s not growing any veggies in the vicinity!

  2. Robert Brown

    I use mothballs and it works. I drill holes in plastic bottles and hang by strings around the garden. The last the whole season and never get washed into the soil.

    • DamnDeer

      For your safety, I certainly hope you’re right and no chemical is dripping onto your soil due to leaching when the mothballs get moist during times like heavy rainfall.

    • DamnDeer

      I fail to see why anyone would want to try mothballs given the toxicity involved. If you want something super cheap that works, use a bar of soap or stinky perfume saturated hunks of thick terrycloth (old bath towel strips).

  3. Nerbin Krindlebaum

    Mothballs can be used safely outdoors to prevent deer and other nuisance animals. They should never be placed in contact with the soil, but kept in a rain-proof container with no drain holes. The best way to use them is to place them in an open-top can, like a coffee can, and mount a vent cap over the top of the can. You can pick up a vent cap from your local orange or blue home improvement store. This will let the fumes out as the mothballs sublimate, without allowing them to get wet, or dissolve into the soil. If you choose a screened vent cap, it will even prevent flying animals like birds from getting into the can.

    Something like this:
    Or this:

    Will do the trick nicely.

    To securely mount to a wooden post, drill two holes large enough for a screwdriver shaft to fit through on one side of the can – one above the other – and on the opposite side, drill two smaller holes for screws. Screw the can to a wooden post, cover the screwdriver access holes with aluminum duct tape, then fill the can about one-third full with mothballs and mount the vent cap on top with one or two self-tapping screws to secure it. This will keep anyone or anything from knocking over the can, or otherwise being able to access the mothballs, and also keep them dry and out of the soil.

    • DamnDeer

      Thanks for the engineering. Sounds secure. No doubt the coffee cans need replacing every spring or two. They will rust after a while, especially after drilling holes in them.

    • Lissa

      While this might keep the mothballs from contaminating the ground, it won’t prevent them from contaminating the air. Basically, people could only admire those plants from afar, very afar. I know what mothballs can do to a person, I’ve dealt with the migraines, I wouldn’t want to find out what else they could do to myself or others.

      • DamnDeer

        Thanks for your input. I’m not a fan of mothballs. Fumes would be greatly diffused outdoors, but I can see where they might trigger a migraine if you were in an enclosed space – like a room inside your house.

  4. Jean Patterson

    And I can remember my grandmothers house smelling like mothballs all the time because she kept them in closets, drawers, basement, etc. due to moths getting into wool clothes and other wool blankets and such. Didn’t seem to effect anyone. But they may have changed over the years.

    • DamnDeer

      Nothing is the same as it was way back then. And whose to say that there was no ill effect from the mothballs? You’d have to compare the health of everyone in that family to one that had never had exposure to them at all.

  5. Thanks so much for your information
    I was considering using mothballs in my garden because of the deer but after reading now I’ve decided against it. Though I don’t want my plants nibbled, I love Bambi

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *