How to Clean and Refresh Your Antique Cedar Chest?

refreshing a cedar chest from inside and outside

Cedar is one of the more desirable woods used to create chests, jewelry boxes, and cabinets.

The wood material itself is pretty durable, warp-resistant, and unlikely to rot under normal conditions.

But like any wood, a cedar trunk will have to be maintained, especially if you want to keep the smell of cedar alive.  

To do so means obtaining the right products to restore the old cedar chest’s shine, luster, and scent.

Restoring Old Cedar Chest

Cedarwood in your old chest or cigar box is known for its camphoraceous odor, much like a good aftershave.

But the wood may have lost its natural scent after seeing better days. You can give it new life by following a few simple steps to restore that old cedarwood.

Step 1- Clean Cedar Chest

Before the restoration process can begin, you will need to clean your antique cedar chest nicely from the inside.

The easiest way to get started is by using your vacuum with the brush attachment.

Of course, you will need to empty the cedar chest first of all items.

When emptied, run the vacuum inside the cedar chest until all the dust and other particles are removed.

Step 2- Sand and Vacuum

Now sand the interior of the chest gently with fine-textured sandpaper.

Vacuum out the sand particles and close the chest for about a half-hour.

When you open it again, you may discover that the unique scent of the cedar is back.

But this will depend on the age of the chest, as it’s possible that all the scent is gone.

Step 3- Use Natural Cedar Oil Inside

If your chest needs some more maintenance and additional scent revival, then using 100% natural cedar oil may do the job.

It’s somewhat expensive, so you may only want to purchase a small amount depending on the chest size.

When applied after the sanding and vacuuming process, it should restore the cedar scent of the wood very fast.

If that does not work, try some dry odor absorbers, cedar discs, or blocks. That should restore the natural scent.

Some believe that if you put old coffee grounds in a bowl and leave it in the chest for a few days, it will also help restore the scent.

Although it might smell like coffee instead of a cedar aroma, it may not be bad.

Step 4- Refinish the Chest from Outside

Start by cleaning the chest’s exterior with white vinegar using a lint-free cloth.

Then using furniture polish (thinned varnish or lacquer sanding sealer), buff lightly with a polishing rag in the direction of the grain.

Also, remember that by addressing scratches and imperfections early, you can properly maintain the appearance of the cedar chest.

So, if any scuff marks or abrasions are seen, fix them as soon as possible.

To remove minor scratches and imperfections on the exteriors, a combination of powdered pumice mixed with mineral oil will create a paste that can be applied to the affected area.

Dab the prepared paste onto the spot with an extra-fine grade steel wool pad. Then wipe it off and buff it with a dry, clean cloth.

You may also try some dried tea powder if you can match the color.

Getting Mothball Smell Out of Cedar Chest

Wooden chests smell great and are perfect for storing clothes, but they, unfortunately, are a welcome target for infestations.

Mothballs are great for garment protection but are also dangerous, and exposure to them can cause dizziness, organ damage, nausea, or fainting.

If you don’t want your clothes to smell like a mothball scent instead of a cedar aroma, here’s what you can do…

a) Use an air purifier

There are several ways to get rid of lingering mothball chemicals from the air in your home, depending on what you have available.

You can use an air filter, a dehumidifier, air fresheners, scented candles, odor foggers, or another odor-neutralizing treatment.

b) Use baking soda

To restore the pleasant cedar aroma in your chest, sprinkle baking soda inside it and leave the powder overnight. In the morning, vacuum or brush out the baking soda.

You may have to sand the wood chest if the mothball chemicals are overly concentrated.

Doing so will remove the chemically-damaged surface of the wood and create a smoother finish. Be sure to vacuum up any leftover dust afterward.

Tips for Caring & Maintaining the Smell of a Cedar Chest

Once cleaned and restored, your vintage cedar chest should be adequately maintained at least once every 2-3 months.

To maintain the cedar scent and beauty of the chest, you can use a microfiber cloth for regular cleaning.

Run the cloth around the inside, especially the corners where dust, mold, or mildew might gather.

Cotton swabs work well for areas that the cloth cannot reach.

Once the cleaning is complete, set the chest outside on a sunny day with the lid open.

That should remove any organisms that might be remaining inside the chest. But if it is raining or humid, then leave the chest indoors.

Final Thoughts

In addition to its remarkable color, the scent given off by the cedar actually drives away moths and other pests.

This is why cedar is an excellent choice for making chests and cabinets.

However, to enjoy all the benefits of the wood, proper care, maintenance, and refinishing of your cedar chest from (inside and outside) is essential.

Ensure you follow all the above guidelines correctly; that will help the aroma last longer than expected.

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