Cedar chests have a unique style that seems to appeal to everyone. While they may seem a bit historical or rustic, there are several ways to modernize the chest to fit any decor. This versatility means that many people choose cedar chests to store items special to them, but that might not be such a good thing.
The problem is that cedar chests emit gasses over time that can break down materials and discolor them. The acidity of the cedar also brittles things over time. While certain items like glassware are not affected, this means that most of the items you want to put in your cedar chest will be better off stored somewhere else or in a specific way.
You might be surprised to learn that you should not store photographs in a cedar chest but over time the acid in the chest can damage the photographs.
Storing them in a photo album is even worse. The sleeves are not usually made acid-free, and the plastic and adhesive produce acidic gases that will damage the photographs and anything else you have in the cedar chest.
If storing photographs in a cedar chest is important to you, then you can store the photographs in an archival box with acid-free paper. As long as they are not coming into contact with the wood they should be fine, but you should still pull them out and check on them annually.
On this same train of thought, any documents that you deem important can be damaged by the acid and oil in a cedar chest.
If the documents are necessary for modern life, you should store them in a file folder. If you are looking to mimic the water and fire resistance of a cedar chest, then use a document safe with the same capabilities.
If the papers are memorabilia like newspapers, then you can store them in the same manner as the photographs. Consider adding alkaline buffering tissue between pages to prevent ink transference.
Collectible trading cards like sports cards or game cards have plenty of sentimental value that would be a shame to lose to the oil and acidity inside your cedar chest.
The best way to preserve your collectible cards is by setting up multiple lines of defense. This means utilizing the following barriers simultaneously:
- Penny sleeves
- Top loaders
- Storage boxes
Even with those to block the acidity, it is not suggested you store the cards in your cedar chest. The materials used to preserve the cards do not mingle well with the environment inside the chest.
Books are a recipe for disaster when it comes to preservation. Storing paper is hard enough, especially when you have to care for the ink on that paper. Books have both these problems, and on top of that, all the pages are bound together and touching each other.
You cannot stack them up in a cedar chest and expect them to be okay over time. A better way to store a book is by putting it in a polyethylene bag that is archival quality. Ensure that you do not seal the bag so the book can breathe, and then store it inside an acid-free box in a cool dry area.
While most of your artwork will be on display, there are plenty of times when you would want to store smaller pieces. Unfortunately, you should look for other ways to store them before putting them in a cedar chest. The acidity and oil could easily destroy the artwork.
Depending on the surface material and medium, there are dozens of definitions of what conditions are ideal. In general, though, you want to store them somewhere upright where there is no moisture and no direct sunlight. Avoid putting them directly on the floor and cover them with a lightweight cloth to protect them from dust and grime.
There is no reason you cannot store breakable items in a cedar chest, but take the time to ensure they are properly secured. If the chest is moved, the delicate items can easily fall on the inside and break. If the items are heavy enough, they can damage the softwood.
Securing them may be more difficult than you think. Normally you can store breakable items by wrapping them in newspaper or bubble wrap, but those are two other things not to put into your cedar chest (more on them later).
You can still use paper, but you need to make sure it is acid-free. Fabric like cotton or muslin is another great choice for padding, but be aware that the cedar will probably stain that fabric.
Watch out for Batteries in a Cedar Chest
While you probably are not intending to use your cedar chest as a battery storage container, you should take care not to forget about any batteries in items you are storing.
Batteries that are stored incorrectly can leak and even explode, making them a danger to your chest and anything else you have stored.
Commonly stored items that have batteries include:
- Seasonal decor
- Backup technology
You can avoid any problems here by removing the batteries or finding another place to store them.
Moisture in the slightest can be trapped by your cedar chest. If you are choosing to store fabric, you need to make sure that it is thoroughly dry before shutting it in the chest.
Storing liquid in the chest is also a liability. This may not immediately seem like something you would store, but plenty of people like to hold on to perfume, cologne, or even drinks for nostalgic reasons.
Desiccants provide an extra measure of protection against the moisture inside your cedar chest, but they need to have acid-free paper packaging to also be safe in the chest.
Plastic is known to produce acidic gases over time. Beyond this, plastic is great at retaining moisture, and even the slightest bit can upset the environment inside your chest and lead to mildew.
Petroleum specifically is known to produce chemical vapors that erode yellow fabric, even if it is not in direct contact with the fabric.
Plastic items that you may overlook before storing include:
- Zipper bags
- Dry cleaner bags
- Plastic sheets
Plastic does better out in the open than it does locked up in storage.
It may not be immediately evident, but styrofoam dissolves when it comes into contact with cedar oil. This means that any styrofoam stored in your cedar chest may not come out intact.
You probably are not storing styrofoam itself in your chest, but take care to avoid it when securing items inside the chest.
Items like paper bags or craft paper can release acidic gas in your cedar chest if they are not acid-free. Beyond that, paper is a horrible culprit for retaining moisture. When it has nowhere to go inside the chest, the damp paper is prone to mildew.
Do not use paper inside your cedar chest unless it is specified to be acid free. If you must use paper in the chest, then make sure you use something to help control moisture in there.
This deals specifically with metal that rusts or metal that is often overlooked, like:
- Safety pins
Metal breaks down over time, and it can rust over time. On top of that, aging metal tends to leave colorful marks on objects, mostly in black, green, or the brownish-red of rust.
Remove metal before storing anything in the chest, even for a short period. If the metal cannot be removed from the item, you will be better off searching for somewhere else to store it that has more airflow.
Using Sachets in a Cedar Chest
Sachets themselves are not an issue. In fact, they can be a great addition if you are not a fan of the smell of cedar.
The problem comes in when the sachet is made up of other materials that are not appropriate to put in a cedar chest.
Make sure that they are wrapped in an acid-free paper if they will be coming into contact with anything inside the chest. This is to maximize the durability of the sachet and minimize the possibility of the sachet coming into contact with other objects that might damage it.
You should also consider checking in on the sachet pretty often. While you might enjoy the scent when you buy it, storing items for extended periods can cause the scent to dig its claws in and become overbearing.
Avoid moth balls at all costs. There is no workaround for this one, though there are some other things you can try to achieve the same effect.
They have a strong and offensive odor, and while that is good for warding off moths the smell can stick around in your chest for years after they are removed. Even sanding the inside of the chest seems to do very little to get rid of the scent.
Beyond this, the items stored with the mothballs are haunted by it too. This can ruin the very items you were trying to protect. Instead, you should regularly check for any signs of insect activity inside the cedar chest. Lavender sachets will also help a bit in warding off destructive critters, and the residual scent is much lighter.
Certain metals like gold and silver will not be as much of an issue inside cedar chests, though you should still check on them often and keep up with routine maintenance.
The issues with jewelry revolve around softer settings like:
These are more prone to discoloration, especially when stored improperly in a cedar chest. You would be better off preserving their color by wrapping them in jeweler’s tissues and storing them in a cool, dry area. Make sure they are not touching while they are stored.
The most immediate concern when storing leather in a cedar chest is that the cedar smell will easily overpower the leather smell. Many people who own leather are familiar with the scent and even come to adore it, so the idea of losing it to cedar is enough.
It just gets worse from there. The acidity in the cedar chest is known to set creases in fabric, and there is very little you can do to avoid creases when storing leather. Creasing is inevitable.
Beyond this, leather brittles easily inside the cedar chest, leading to cracks and rapidly accelerating the deterioration of an otherwise hardly material. In all, storing leather in your cedar chest can be a nightmare, and you are better off storing it in an area with proper airflow. Take time to condition leather often.
While most think of cedar’s ability to absorb moisture as a benefit, it can actually be harmful to any fur stored in the chest.
Fur is subject to all the harmful effects previously listed with leather, but there is more. The absorbent nature of cedar increases humidity enough to break down the fur you are trying to preserve. It is also known to draw natural oils from the fur, oils that are necessary to its appearance and preservation.
A better way to store fur is by hanging it in your closet. Of course, you should also use a garment bag for extra protection. Just make sure the garment bag allows for proper airflow.
Cedar chests are popular for several reasons, but one of the biggest ones is their insect repellent capabilities. This is moderately true, but most of the oils that are necessary for repelling and killing insects are dried out by the time you get the chance to use the cedar chest.
While much of the fabric that you need to store will be difficult to wash, skipping the washing process means you are leaving material that will attract bugs like moths, crickets, and silverfish that will eat holes in the fabric.
Beyond washing the fabric you should also ensure that it is free of:
- Laundry detergent
- Fabric softener
These things also attract insects, but they can react poorly to the environment inside a cedar chest and lead to discoloration or deterioration of your fabric.
When you store fabric in your cedar chest, it should be rolled or at least loosely folded.
This is suggested because the creases that come from folded can easily set into hard crease lines over time. On top of being unappealing, crease lines are more prone to breaking down or tearing over time as the fabric fibers are stressed.
You should be airing out the contents of your cedar chest at least once a year. When you do this, take the time to unfold or unroll fabrics to avoid creasing (yes; they can have creases when rolled). Take care to fold or roll them back in a different way so the creases will now sit somewhere else.
Any fabric that you store in a cedar chest should be properly protected.
As mentioned before, make sure the fabric is freshly laundered and free of any residual cleaner. It is important to do this even if the fabric should be otherwise clean. Dust attracts insects too.
Wrap the fabric with acid-free paper. You can also slip that into a cotton pillowcase for extra protection before putting it in the cedar chest. You might even want to line the entire cedar chest with a bed sheet or even Tyvek (just make sure the words are not on the fabric side).
The Worst Fabrics to Store in a Cedar Chest
Despite your best efforts, certain fabrics just will not do well in a cedar chest, wool, and silk to name a few.
Wool is more difficult to properly launder, and it seems to be especially attractive to insects like moths. For long-term storage, you should look into airtight containers that will keep the bugs out.
Silk is especially prone to breakage. Instead of stowing it away in your cedar chest, you will want to gently fold it and put it away in a breathable container or bag. Acid-free paper can help protect it from discoloration or creasing.
Can You Store Quilts in a Cedar Chest?
Quilts and cedar chests seem to go hand in hand, but that is not true in actual application. While quilts can be stored using the guidelines just mentioned, a cedar chest is nowhere near the best option for storing them.
It can be difficult to store a quilt in a chest without folding it because of its size, but the numerous components that go into a quilt mean there are folds built into its structure. These creases do not move, so extended storage will almost guarantee wear along the quilt squares, seams, and corners.
Instead, the best option for storing a quilt is on a vacant bed. If you do not have one available, you should look into quilt stands. However you decide to store them, make sure there is plenty of airflow. An airtight bin or vacuum-sealed bag will deteriorate your quilt in no time at all.