Naphthalene and Camphor

Naphthalene and Camphor Best 7 Difference

Introduction of Naphthalene and Camphor

Naphthalene and Camphor are two distinct chemical compounds with varying properties and applications. Understanding the differences between them is essential, as they have diverse uses ranging from household items to industrial processes and medicinal applications.

We will delve into the chemical composition, physical properties, sources, uses, health and safety considerations, environmental impact, regulation, and legal status of naphthalene and camphor.

By exploring these aspects comprehensively, we aim to provide valuable insights into the disparities between these compounds, their significance in various fields, and the implications of their use.

Definition of Naphthalene

Naphthalene is an organic compound known for its characteristic odor, often associated with mothballs. It is a white, volatile, crystalline solid classified as a polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (PAH) due to its structure comprising two fused benzene rings.

Figure 01: Naphthalene

The molecular formula of naphthalene is C₁₀H₈. Originating primarily from coal tar, it can also be derived from petroleum sources. Naphthalene’s most iconic use is in moth repellents, particularly in the form of mothballs, where it acts to deter and kill moth larvae, protecting stored clothing and fabrics.

Besides this household application, naphthalene serves as a precursor in the synthesis of various other chemicals, including dyes and resins. It has found utility in the production of certain types of plastics.

While it is useful in several applications, exposure to naphthalene can be harmful, and it is considered a possible human carcinogen, necessitating caution in its handling and use.

Definition of Camphor

Camphor is a distinct organic compound notable for its sharp, minty aroma and cooling sensation upon contact. Appearing as a white, translucent crystalline substance, camphor is chemically classified as a bicyclic monoterpene ketone, with the molecular formula C₁₀H₁₆O.

Figure 02: Camphor

Historically, camphor was extracted from the bark and wood of the camphor tree, Cinnamomum camphora, primarily found in Asia. This naturally-derived compound has been integrated into various traditional medicine systems for its therapeutic properties.

Used topically, camphor offers relief from skin irritations, itching, and pain due to its anti-irritant qualities. Beyond medicinal applications, camphor has spiritual significance in several cultures, often burned in religious ceremonies as an offering.

In the realm of industry, it has been employed as a plasticizer for celluloid production. Its multifaceted applications, spanning therapeutic, religious, and industrial realms, underscore Camphor’s broad relevance and versatility across diverse fields and cultures.

History of Naphthalene and Camphor

Naphthalene: Originating from coal tar, naphthalene’s discovery can be traced back to the early 1820s. Its unique name is a fusion of the Persian term ‘naft’, referring to crude oil or tar, and the Latin-derived suffix ‘-alene’, alluding to its unsaturated structure.

As its distinct moth-repelling abilities became apparent, naphthalene’s commercial potential was realized, leading to its widespread production for mothballs by the late 19th century. Parallel to the industrial boom and the expansion of the coal industry, the production and applications of naphthalene diversified, marking its significant imprint on the chemical industry.

Camphor: The history of camphor is rich and dates back millennia. Traditionally extracted from the wood of the camphor laurel tree native to parts of Asia, it has held a revered position in numerous ancient civilizations.

Early Chinese manuscripts and Ayurvedic texts from India testify to its medicinal, spiritual, and aromatic significance. As trade networks expanded, camphor traveled to the Middle East, from where Arab traders introduced it to Europe during the Middle Ages.

Its value in European medicine and perfumery grew steadily. With the advancement of chemical processes in the 20th century, an alternative method of producing camphor emerged. Derived from turpentine oil, this method ensured camphor’s widespread availability, complementing its traditional extraction.

Origin and Production 

Naphthalene’s origins trace back to natural sources. Historically, it was predominantly derived from coal tar, a thick black liquid produced during the coal gasification process.

Modern industrial practices have shifted towards extracting naphthalene from petroleum during its refining. As crude oil undergoes distillation, naphthalene is isolated and purified from other hydrocarbons, given its unique boiling point.

Camphor’s historical origin is deeply rooted in the natural world. It was traditionally extracted from the wood of the camphor laurel (Cinnamomum camphora), a large evergreen tree native to Asia, especially in regions of China, Japan, and Taiwan.

The extraction involved distilling the tree’s bark and branches to obtain the camphor crystals and camphor oil. In today’s age, while natural extraction continues, there’s a significant shift towards synthetic production.

Camphor is now also synthesized from turpentine oil, a resin tapped from certain pine trees. The process involves a series of chemical reactions, transforming the compounds in turpentine oil to produce synthetic camphor. This shift not only caters to the increased demand for camphor but also provides a more consistent quality and supply.

Chemical Structure and Classification

The chemical structure of a compound denotes the arrangement of its constituent atoms and the bonds between them. Naphthalene and camphor, while both carbon-based organic compounds have distinct structural differences.

Naphthalene is a polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (PAH), characterized by its two fused benzene rings. This fusion creates a planar, cyclic structure with ten carbon and eight hydrogen atoms, given by the molecular formula C₁₀H₈.

It belongs to the larger family of aromatic compounds, which contain ring systems with delocalized pi-electrons, contributing to their stability. Camphor, on the other hand, is a bicyclic monoterpene ketone.

Its structure incorporates a bridged cyclic system with ten carbon atoms, sixteen hydrogen atoms, and a key carbonyl (C=O) functional group, yielding the formula C₁₀H₁₆O. Terpenes, like camphor, are a vast class of natural compounds constructed from isoprene units and are often found in essential oils and plant resins.

Physical Appearance and Odor 

Naphthalene presents itself as a white crystalline substance, often resembling small pellets or mothballs. Its solid form is a direct result of the strong intermolecular forces between its molecules.

The most defining characteristic of naphthalene is its distinct odor, reminiscent of mothballs, which many describe as sharp and pungent. This aroma arises from the compound’s aromatic nature and is one of the reasons for its use as a repellent.

Camphor, in contrast, appears as white, transparent crystals with a somewhat granular or ‘chunky’ consistency. This crystalline nature is due to the arrangement and packing of its molecules in the solid state.

Camphor’s scent is unmistakably strong and penetrating, with a minty or camphoric aroma. This intense odor is not just a defining trait but has also been instrumental in its traditional uses, especially in medicinal and religious contexts.

What are the uses of Naphthalene and Camphor?

Both naphthalene and camphor have carved out unique niches in various industries due to their distinct properties and characteristics.

Naphthalene: Most famously known for its role in mothballs, naphthalene serves as a repellent, deterring moths and protecting stored fabrics from moth larvae. This application leverages its distinct odor, which is repulsive to many pests.

Beyond domestic uses, naphthalene acts as an intermediate in the chemical industry. It serves as a precursor in the synthesis of various other compounds, including certain dyes, resins, and surfactants.

Due to its aromatic nature, naphthalene has found applications in the production of certain types of plastics and as a laboratory reagent in academic and industrial research settings.

Camphor: With its unmistakable cooling sensation and minty aroma, camphor is a key ingredient in many medicinal preparations. Topical ointments and balms incorporate camphor for its analgesic and anti-irritant properties, offering relief from skin irritations, itching, and pain.

Camphor finds use in aromatherapy and is often a primary ingredient in inhalers for decongestion. Its cultural significance also shines in various religious rituals, especially in parts of Asia, where it’s burned as an offering, symbolizing the elimination of negative traits.

Key Difference Between Naphthalene and Camphor

Comparison Chart between Naphthalene and Camphor:

Feature Naphthalene Camphor
Chemical Formula C₁₀H₈ C₁₀H₁₆O
Classification Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbon (PAH) Bicyclic Monoterpene Ketone
Origin Derived from coal tar and petroleum Traditionally from camphor tree; now also synthesized from turpentine oil
Physical Appearance White crystalline substance White, translucent crystals
Odor Sharp, pungent (mothball-like) Strong, minty
Primary Uses Moth repellents, chemical synthesis Medicinal (topical ointments), religious rituals, plasticizer
Health Implications Possible carcinogen; can cause hemolytic anemia if inhaled/ingested in large amounts Toxic when ingested; can cause skin irritations, dizziness, and seizures if consumed in large amounts

What are the health implications of Naphthalene and camphor?

The health implications of substances like naphthalene and camphor are crucial considerations, especially given their widespread use.

Naphthalene: Prolonged exposure or ingestion can be harmful. Inhalation of its fumes might lead to headaches, nausea, vomiting, and, in severe cases, damage to red blood cells, resulting in a condition called hemolytic anemia.

When ingested, naphthalene can be toxic and lead to similar symptoms. There are also concerns about its potential carcinogenicity. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has classified naphthalene as a possible human carcinogen.

Camphor: While beneficial in specific therapeutic uses, camphor can be toxic when ingested in large amounts. Symptoms of camphor poisoning include nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, and in severe cases, seizures. Even in topical applications, excessive use can result in skin irritations.

Camphorated oil once used as a remedy, has been largely discontinued in many places due to instances of poisoning in children. Inhalation of camphor fumes in closed spaces can lead to dizziness and disorientation. Given these health implications, it’s imperative that products containing camphor are stored out of children’s reach and used as directed.

Is Naphthalene and camphor harmful to human health?

Yes, both naphthalene and camphor can be harmful to human health if improperly handled or consumed.

Naphthalene: When humans are exposed to naphthalene in large quantities or over extended periods, it can lead to several health concerns. Inhalation of naphthalene fumes can cause symptoms like nausea, vomiting, headache, and fatigue.

More severe exposure might result in hemolytic anemia, a condition where red blood cells are destroyed faster than they can be produced. Ingesting naphthalene is toxic and can lead to similar symptoms.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has classified naphthalene as a possible human carcinogen, based on evidence from animal studies.

Camphor:  While camphor is used in many medicinal products, it can be harmful if ingested in large amounts. Symptoms of camphor poisoning include nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, and even seizures in severe cases.

Topically, excessive use can lead to skin irritations. Inhalation of its fumes in confined spaces might result in dizziness, nausea, and confusion. There have been instances of poisoning in children due to accidental ingestion, underscoring the importance of storing camphor-containing products out of their reach.

What is the benefit of Naphthalene and camphor?

Naphthalene: Naphthalene is renowned primarily for its potent moth-repelling properties. Its distinctive odor effectively deters moths, making naphthalene balls a staple for protecting clothes and fabrics during storage. The prevention of moth damage is particularly important for preserving delicate fabrics and heirlooms.

Beyond its use in mothballs, naphthalene has industrial significance. It serves as an intermediate in the chemical industry, aiding in the synthesis of several compounds. These include particular dyes, resins, and surfactants.

Its role as a precursor chemical means it plays a part in the production of some plastics and solvents, underlining its versatility and importance in the chemical industry.

Camphor: Camphor boasts a wide range of benefits, especially in medicinal and therapeutic contexts. Its cooling sensation and anti-irritant properties make it an invaluable ingredient in topical creams, ointments, and balms, helping soothe skin irritations, alleviate pain, and reduce itching.

In aromatherapy, camphor oil can aid in respiratory relief, often utilized in inhalers and rubs for congestion. Beyond its therapeutic attributes, camphor has spiritual and cultural significance in various societies. It’s frequently burned in religious ceremonies, especially within Hindu traditions, symbolizing the dispelling of negative energies and invoking positivity.


Naphthalene and camphor are both organic compounds with specific characteristics that distinguish them. Naphthalene, a polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon, is best known as the primary ingredient in mothballs, while camphor, a bicyclic monoterpene ketone, is recognized for its medicinal and religious applications.

While both compounds are derived from natural sources, naphthalene primarily comes from coal tar and petroleum, whereas camphor was historically extracted from the camphor tree but is now also synthesized from turpentine oil.

In terms of health implications, naphthalene is considered a possible carcinogen and can be toxic if inhaled or ingested in large amounts. Camphor, while beneficial in topical medicinal applications, can be toxic if consumed in large quantities.

Given their respective properties and uses, both compounds hold significant importance in their domains but require careful handling considering their health implications.