moth·​ball | \ˈmȯth-ˌbȯl \

Definition of mothball 

(Entry 1 of 2)

1 : a ball made formerly of camphor but now often of naphthalene and paradichlorobenzene and used to keep moths from clothing

2 mothballs plural : a condition of protective storage put the ships in mothballs after the war also : a state of having been rejected for further use or dismissed from further consideration


mothballed; mothballing; mothballs

Definition of mothball (Entry 2 of 2)

transitive verb

1 : to deactivate (something, such as a ship) and prevent deterioration chiefly by dehumidification

2 : to withdraw from use or service and keep in reserve : put aside

Examples of mothball in a Sentence


Many navy ships were mothballed after the war.

Recent Examples on the Web: Noun

Applied Iguana Rid and placed mothballs and sprinkled a concoction of garlic, lemon juice and chili powder (only worked temporarily). Linda Robertson, miamiherald, "South Florida is suffering from an iguana infestation. A solution? Think barbecue.," 11 July 2018 Heck, Jack Nicholson might even come out of mothballs at 81. Greg Cote, miamiherald, "LeBron James has only 1 choice if he wants to meet the challenge of his legacy head-on," 30 June 2018 One is a bond that resembles a mothball, called aromatic carbon, while the other resembles grease and is called aliphatic. David Grossman, Popular Mechanics, "The Milky Way Is Full of Potentially Toxic "Space Grease"," 28 June 2018 Researchers believe that about half of the carbon remains in its pure form while the rest of it binds with hydrogen, creating either greasy aliphatic carbon or gaseous naphthalene, the stuff used in mothballs. Jason Daley, Smithsonian, "Our Galaxy Is Really Greasy and Smells Like Moth Balls," 28 June 2018 Jeff Green had 16 points and Tristan Thompson - who, as recently as a week ago, was in mothballs at the end of Cleveland's bench - chipped in 14 points and 12 rebounds, including nine offensive boards, in 26 minutes. Tim Bontemps,, "Dragging these flawed Cavs to the NBA Finals would be LeBron James' most remarkable feat," 2 May 2018 The companies have mismanaged their nuclear power plants to the point that one of the two plants has been prematurely shut down and the other will soon be in mothballs. Michael Hiltzik,, "Big utilities are desperately trying to stick customers for the bills from California wildfires," 4 May 2018 The air was thick with the smell of mothballs, used to protect specimens against insect damage. National Geographic, "How an Obsession With Rare Bird Feathers Turned Criminal," 23 Apr. 2018 Clear out the mothballs, because this Cold War relic has a new mission: to serve the people of Cleveland as delightful 50-seat bistro and lounge. David Grossman, Popular Mechanics, "Cold War Plane Gets New Life as Cleveland Restaurant," 5 Feb. 2018

Recent Examples on the Web: Verb

DeLuccie said one of the positions contemplated in the cuts was overseeing the tear-down of the Missouri City Power Plant, a facility IPL mothballed. Steve Vockrodt And Mike Hendricks, kansascity, "Acting director of Independence Power & Light to resign after fractious city meeting," 27 June 2018 But Malaysia’s probe, led by an anticorruption commission, was mothballed, and overseas investigators complained that Malaysia dragged its feet in assisting them. Yantoultra Ngui, WSJ, "Najib Razak, Malaysia’s Fallen Leader, Is Arrested and Charged in 1MDB Scandal," 4 July 2018 Smart cities mothball such treasures and play for time. Blair Kamin,, "Evanston plan to demolish Harley Clarke mansion: Public vision or hidden agendas?," 13 July 2018 Many communities have removed Confederate statues from public parks and mothballed them or moved them to cemeteries. Stephen Hudak,, "Confederate general statue headed to Lake County museum stirs passions, opens old wounds," 29 June 2018 While making a furniture run, for example, with a friend — Danny had mothballed a bedroom set at his mother’s house and needed a hand getting it into his truck. Longreads, "The Cold War and its Fallout," 16 June 2018 The third and fourth floors of the building, which were labs, were mothballed because of building, fire and Americans With Disabilities Act code problems, documents submitted by the university to the Arizona Board of Regents show. Rachel Leingang, azcentral, "See what Arizona's universities are building with millions in new money from the state," 15 June 2018 To begin with, North Korea’s nuclear program dwarfs the program that Tehran had and agreed to mothball. Tracy Wilkinson,, "Would a North Korea nuclear deal be better than the one Trump just abandoned with Iran?," 8 June 2018 In addition to firing the attorney general, Mr. Najib mothballed a 1MDB investigation by the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission, which had recommended his arrest for corruption. Bradley Hope, WSJ, "Inside Najib’s Circle, Shock and Bewilderment at Malaysia’s Era-Ending Election," 10 May 2018

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'mothball.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of mothball


1892, in the meaning defined at sense 1


1926, in the meaning defined at sense 1

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Dictionary Entries near mothball





mothball fleet

moth bean

moth borer

Statistics for mothball

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Time Traveler for mothball

The first known use of mothball was in 1892

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More Definitions for mothball



English Language Learners Definition of mothball

 (Entry 1 of 2)

: a small ball that contains a strong-smelling chemical and that is used to keep moths away from stored clothing



English Language Learners Definition of mothball (Entry 2 of 2)

: to stop using (something) while keeping it to be possibly used in the future

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Comments on mothball

What made you want to look up mothball? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


noxious or harmful

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