Naphthalene: Uses, Hazards & Safety

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  • 0:02 Naphthalene
  • 0:36 Uses
  • 1:32 Hazards & Safety
  • 3:46 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Artem Cheprasov

Artem has a doctor of veterinary medicine degree.

This lesson goes over a very smelly and potentially very toxic compound that's used to manufacture a lot of things we've all heard of. It's naphthalene. You'll learn about its uses, hazards and safety concerns in this lesson.


Perhaps one of the most offensive odors known to man (and moth) comes from naphthalene. If you haven't smelled it before, consider yourself very lucky and healthy. Naphthalene is the major ingredient found in traditional mothballs, and its stinks partly of tar. That's because it's found in and made from coal tar, so no surprise there, and like you probably know that tar isn't healthy for you, neither is naphthalene.

An image of some mothballs
Some mothballs

This lesson will review naphthalene's uses and its hazards and safety concerns.


So you already learned the most famous use of naphthalene. It's used in mothballs. It's also used to manufacture something called phthalic anhydride. This chemical is used to make, among other things, artificial resins, like glyptal, and pharmaceuticals, too. Naphthalene also helps manufacture a very famous kind of plastic, that of polyvinyl chloride (PVC), as well.

An image of PVC plastic pipes
PVC Pipe

It's also used to help make insecticides (insect killers), artificial tanning agents, and dyes, and if you've ever wondered why a public bathroom (especially the men's one) sometimes smells really similar to mothballs, it's because naphthalene is used in some kinds of toilet deodorant blocks. Not sure what smells worse though, that or the bodily wastes.

Other places you may find naphthalene being used include:

  • Abrasives
  • Fuels
  • Agricultural chemicals, other than pesticides
  • Paint additives
  • Adhesives

Hazards & Safety

And that's sort of where the problem lies, the fact that naphthalene is used in so many places to make a lot of different products. This means that employees involved in the manufacture of these products and end users, like consumers, can be exposed to naphthalene's potentially harmful effects.

People exposed to naphthalene, especially in large amounts or over a long period of time, may suffer from one of many different types of adverse effects, including:

  • Hemolytic anemia - this is where your red blood cells pop like a balloon. This includes hemolytic anemia in infants who were born to a mother who either ate or sniffed mothballs while she was pregnant.
  • Liver damage
  • Damage to the nervous system
  • Allergic skin reactions
  • Cataracts, thus limiting your ability to see

What it is like to see with cataracts
cataract image

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