Definition of mothball in US English:



usually mothballs
  • A small pellet of a pungent substance, typically naphthalene, put among stored clothes to keep away moths.

    • ‘Every time she moved a book, the scent of dead trees and mothballs wafted out from the bookcase.’
    • ‘The stench of mothballs enveloped the store as she pried off the lid, revealing a stack of carefully packed leopard skins.’
    • ‘As it was, she had a thin, lumpy wool cloak, riddled with holes despite its distinct, musty smell of mothballs, to prop up her head upon.’
    • ‘It smelled of mothballs and camphor, the elemental scent of my homeland, and out came crumpled wads of tissue paper containing miniscule treasures.’
    • ‘‘Six more packets of mothballs please,’ she said, prompting this reply from a surprised assistant: ‘You must have a lot of moths.’’
    • ‘For optimal protection, store in acid-free, nonplastic containers, or in garment bags with mothballs or cedar chips.’
    • ‘Avoid using electronic repellent devices, mothballs or other unregistered products.’
    • ‘To the uninitiated, mothballs are marble size balls of a campher-like substance that one puts in drawers or presses to prevent moths eating holes in clothes.’
    • ‘I can assure you that none of my carpetbags have mothballs in them.’
    • ‘Inside the store were shadows and smells: leather and fresh denim, gun oil, grease, and the distinctive odor of mothballs and linseed.’
    • ‘Seated next to me was a darling old woman who smelled of mothballs and whose red lipstick was slightly askew.’
    • ‘Oh, man, the old lady that boarded the bus is crocheting, annoying, and smells of mothballs.’
    • ‘As she became hot under the collar of her polyester blouse, the smell of mothballs became over-powering and I started to sneeze.’
    • ‘With all the warm woollies tucked away in your wardrobe along with mothballs for company, it is time you get yourself a brand new wardrobe.’
    • ‘Instead of using mothballs, which are made with a chemical that can cause headaches and irritate your respiratory tract, employ a natural option.’
    • ‘A smell of mothballs overcame her, and she almost gagged.’
    • ‘In a house that reeked so badly of mothballs, the desperate fragrance of preservation, I was surprised at how negligently my grandmother treated her furniture.’
    • ‘I have tried using mothballs, blocks of cedar wood and regularly vacuuming the egg cases but to no avail.’
    • ‘Other hazardous items in the bathroom or linen closets include dietary supplements, nicotine gum, mothballs, soap and chemical cleaning agents.’
    • ‘You can almost smell the mothballs on their costumes.’


[with object]
  • 1Store (clothes) among or in mothballs.

    • ‘When temperatures plunge to 15°C, São Paulo’s citizens generally shiver and reach for their mothballed woollens.’
    • ‘He left muttering something about mothballing the suit until next year.’
    defer, shelve, hold over, suspend, put on ice, mothball, set aside, put off, put aside, put out of one's mind, wave aside, put back, adjourn
    View synonyms
    1. 1.1 Stop using (a piece of equipment or a building) but keep it in good condition so that it can readily be used again.
      • ‘A psychiatric rehabilitation service opened by Scotland's health minister two years ago is being mothballed to save cash.’
      • ‘Other mothballed military facilities are available if the number of detainees continues to rise.’
      • ‘There has been a concerted effort to match supply to demand, with plants being mothballed and mines on temporary shutdown.’
      • ‘Factories have been closed and department stores mothballed as confidence in making major purchases has fallen.’
      • ‘The US Navy decommissioned them in the late 1990s and mothballed them.’
      • ‘When world demand rose, packaging companies would recommission mothballed plants, flooding the market with excess supply.’
      • ‘But he now concedes that the mothballed factory would be outdated and uncompetitive. Machinery has gradually been removed from the site and little of the original plant remains.’
      • ‘Along with a cancellation of the Shuttle NASA should mothball the space station.’
      • ‘These submarines, built in the early 1990s, were mothballed in 1994 by the Conservative government as surplus to requirements.’
      • ‘Given the current depressed state of the international airline industry, many airlines are selling off passenger aircraft or mothballing them.’
      • ‘The announcement raised hopes that their mothballed Dunfermline factory might be used for the faster and cheaper production of microchips for the next generation of lightweight electronic gadgets.’
      • ‘According to him, the return to service of the three mothballed stations means the utility will not run out of access capacity by 2007.’
      • ‘Recently a Baptist minister in San Francisco suggested that a mothballed Navy ship could be refurbished to serve as shelter for that city's thousands of homeless people.’
      • ‘But not all of the new industries were lasting successes - the oil refinery was mothballed in 1981, and the heavy-water plant shut down in 1986.’
      • ‘Now, the experts are warning that all we Brits should be prepared for such emergencies this winter because lots and lots of power stations have been mothballed.’
      • ‘This resulted in the plant being mothballed in March 2000.’
      • ‘Earlier this month, however, it emerged that Chivas has mothballed several distilleries in Scotland due to over-capacity.’
      • ‘Yesterday, Virgin chief Sir Richard Branson attacked the Government as ‘cowardly’ for standing aside while British Airways mothballed the last passenger planes capable of flying faster than sound.’
      • ‘The notion that the country can sustain a capable defence force by mothballing equipment is laughable.’
      • ‘Could it be that the Navy, like its American cousins, is so anxious to get rid of at least a dozen mothballed warships that it will give them away?’
    2. 1.2 Cancel or postpone work on (a plan or project)
      ‘plans to invest in four superstores have been mothballed’
      • ‘Earlier plans were mothballed when fund managers lost their appetite for another semi-state sell-off.’
      • ‘The company is still grappling with extensive industrial unrest, its flotation plans have been mothballed and it is projected that profits will drop 75 per cent this year to just £15 million.’
      • ‘In addition, promising scientific and technological developments are being mothballed because the funds and personnel needed to develop them are no longer there.’
      • ‘As a result, vital projects will be mothballed.’
      • ‘The slowing economy is beginning to be felt in another major sector as huge building projects are delayed or mothballed.’
      • ‘The project was mothballed in May 1990 and financing was limited.’
      • ‘By November 2001 the project was mothballed, pending a Government decision.’
      • ‘However, financial constraints have led to that project being mothballed and the Mourne sides are left with facilities that are certainly not adequate for the modern local game.’
      • ‘There have even been rumours that the bank may mothball the plans out of spite alone.’
      • ‘When market forces caught up with the Soviet Union in the early 1990s, many of its research-cum-defense projects were mothballed.’
      • ‘His untimely death meant the project was effectively mothballed, although it toured as a series of exhibitions during the 1970s.’
      • ‘Other technology companies have also mothballed their plans to float stock.’
      • ‘The supplier battled heroically to provide an acceptable system, until finally the project was mothballed.’
      call off, abandon, scrap, drop
      View synonyms


  • in mothballs

    • Unused but kept in good condition for future use.

      • ‘Built in 1991, it spent six years in mothballs - as the former USSR fell apart - before coming to Australia and has only done 200 hours in the air (making it a child in aircraft years).’
      • ‘During March one of the last Harrier Jump Jet Squadrons of the Fleet Air Arm was disbanded and at the same time it was announced that HMS Ark Royal was to be put into mothballs.’
      • ‘After six years in mothballs, the building is to reopen as an ‘entertainment city’.’
      • ‘‘I have to say your decision to leave the ramp in mothballs is extremely disappointing, and will be to the disadvantage of local youngsters,’ he told town councillors at their meeting earlier this month.’
      • ‘Britain's one commercial wood-burning power station is in mothballs, starved of a small amount of cash to get it going, and with the farmers who were growing the coppicing willow to fuel it deprived of an income.’
      • ‘He said: ‘Unfortunately, most of my treasures have to go now, and I'm putting everything else in mothballs.’’
      • ‘The NSW Opposition's justice spokesman says the Bathurst Jail will be in mothballs once the new Wellington prison opens.’
      • ‘As of this writing it's without an American distributor - which is a shame; such a vivid mass of celluloid deserves a fighting chance to engage a living audience before a sect of art-house obscurists put it in mothballs.’
      • ‘There will be nothing there but cruise ships - all in mothballs as a result of $200-a-barrel oil.’
      • ‘All three facilities, built by the Soviet Union, have been in mothballs or lightly used in recent years.’