Cedar: The pros and cons of protecting your fine wools with cedar

Every few weeks or so a client drops off an armful of sweaters and knits that developed “moth holes”.

The client is often perplexed. How could those wools and knits have developed moth holes when they’d been faithfully stored in the cedar chest she’s had for years?

Almost on cue, we ask “why cedar?”

Typically, the typical response is that cedar has "special anti-moth" properties. So it protects fine wools and knits when they're not in use.

The follow up question is obvious: if cedar has "special anti-moth" properties, how did those fine wools and knits develop moth holes while stored in that cedar chest?

Cedar isn't the solution

The truth is that cedar is not the solution to moth damage.

Here’s why...

Many believe that cedar is the ideal moth repellant. But that’s only true in limited certain circumstances.

You see, cedar itself doesn't repel or kill insects.

It’s the aroma of the oils in the wood that’s highly irritating to insects and it’s the aroma in the oils that makes those insects less likely to stay in that vicinity for a prolonged period of time.

Here's the problem: Cedar looses it’s positive repellant properties when the wood dries out, leaving your cedar chest functionally useless.

And the problem gets worse...

Not only is dried out cedar wood functionally useless, but dried out cedar wood offers negative protection.

Why negative protection?

Because cedar wood (and many other wood products for that matter) is highly acidic.

As the wood ages, it off gasses acids. And when those acids come into physical contact with your garments, the acids could possibly yellow your garments and deteriorate the fibers.

So what to do?

1. Sand your cedar

Make sure the interior of your cedar chests and closets is sanded every few years. Sanding the wood will bring out the aroma of the oils below the surface of the wood. If the wood is really dry, consider sanding and applying some cedar oil.

2. Line cedar with a barrier film

Line the inside of your cedar chest or the outside of your cedar closets with an archival, chemically insert barrier film (such as Mylar D or Mellinex 516). You can use thumb tacks to attach the barrier film to the wood.

This will provide a barrier between your garments and the wood. You get the positive protection of the aroma of the oils in the cedar and avoid the negative issues associated with physical contact between the wood and your fine garments.

3. Avoid physical contact

Never allow any of your garments to come into physical contact with cedar blocks, cedar rings or cedar chips. Avoid cedar hangers entirely. If you have them, consider eliminating them.

By the way, here’s another reason to avoid cedar (or moth balls or herbal sachets): The aroma of cedar is difficult to remove even after multiple dry cleanings.

There's a better solution 

There is, of course, a far better way to protect your fine wools during short or long term storage:

Every wool or wool-trimmed garment should be washed and/or dry cleaned prior to storage, even if you only wore the garment for a few hours prior to storage.

Here’s why....

The female adult moth can lay up to 200 eggs in a cycle, up to 5 cycles a year. When the female adult moth is searching for the “ideal” egg laying location, she’s looking for a source of nutrition for the larvae to feed on when they hatch. Those larvae must feed in order to survive and grow. Otherwise they die.

Unfortunately, garments stored without first being cleaned contain all the nutrients necessary to sustain life for those larvae. These nutrients include proteins, mineral salts, vitamin B complex and cholesterol that accumulate on your garments from perspiration, body oil, food or beverage simply by virtue of the fact that the garment has been worn.

If you clean your fine wools before you store, you’ll never have “moth damage”.

Because clean means no nutrition.

And no nutrition means no more “moth damage”.

Now, the only thing that’s left for you to do is to gather up all those pseudo moth protecting devices (cedar blocks, cedar chests, herbal sachets, moth balls, polypropylene boxes, zip lock bags, nylon and vinyl zip up garment bags) and "store" them in your recycling bin.