If you're looking for an actual animal-friendly (translation: humane) way of getting rid of rats, mothballs are not going to be your answer. These are commonly marketed as an all-natural way to get rid of rodents and other pest animals who break into your home, alongside the moths that they're actually intended to repel, but there are a few things that you should know about them before you go rolling them around into the deepest, darkest recesses of your home.
In small amounts, using mothballs probably won't be overly dangerous, but when you start using boxes and boxes of the stuff, you're endangering the lives of not just yourself, but the other people and animals that live or work inside the building.
The way that mothballs work is very simple. The chemical that is contained within the ball turns into a vapor, slowly and over a long period of time. The smell that they give off is the active chemical itself, and although different brands of mothballs will have slightly different ingredients, there are two that are commonly used, alone or together: paradichlorobenzene or naphthalene. When the chemicals turn to vapor after being exposed to the air, those chemicals (or one of) will enter the area and make the air toxic. The more you can smell it, the more toxic it usually is.
Mothballs are round, can look a little bit like candy, and despite being relatively uninteresting, seem to attract the interest of kids and other animals alike. A couple of mothballs in the same room as a child or pet probably won't do them any harm, but the more mothballs you add, the more the risks go up. If the mothballs are ingested, they can be very dangerous and it is wise to seek medical advice. The longer those mothballs are left lying around, the smaller they will get and the more likely they are to be eaten.
You should never put mothballs in places where children and other animals can get to them, including wild animals. Accidentally poisoning the wildlife around you is not an animal-friendly way to get rid of rats.
Will mothballs work to get rid of rats?
This is big question — mothballs probably won't harm local animals and people if they are used safely and in small amounts, but do they actually work to repel rats?
The answer, in many cases, is no. Very few things have actually shown to repel rats and, even if they were to repel rats, the shelf life of that repellent would be short. It wouldn't take long for the mothballs to shrink to a point where they no longer fill quite so much of the air with the toxic vapor, and rats are not stupid animals — if they learn that no harm comes to them when they can smell mothballs, they'll just dart around them or move them out of the way.
If mothballs to encourage the movement of rats, it will usually only be to another part of the same building — where the mothball stench can no longer reach. You don't have any control over where the rats go, and you also can't guarantee that they'll actually leave the building.
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