Can You Put Food in a Cedar Closet?

Wait! Let me guess – you either need the pantry space and are eyeing that extra lined cedar closet you have OR… you have a pantry moth infestation?

I cannot fault your creative brainstorming, but putting food in closets is different than clothes.

Cedar chests do one thing and they do it well: deterring moths that are attracted to wool and other fabrics. The strong smell of Red Cedar is the scent that fabric-loving insects avoid. That’s why cedar planks are popular for lining closets.

It’s true that insects that munch on clothing are not the only critters that avoid cedar closets, other pests avoid them, too.

Storing food in a cedar closet

Not all food can be stored in a cedar closet. Canned food is fine, the scent of the cedar cannot penetrate metal cans. Any food packaged in paper or cardboard, or even thin plastic can absorb the smell of the cedar and affect the flavor of the food.

You’re just asking for trouble having a bag of navy beans in a thin plastic bag, or spaghetti or egg noodles in a sealed plastic bag.

Brand new cedar closets will be more aromatic than cedar closets that are several years old, making them an even worse choice for food storage. Cedar-lined chests and trunks seem to really hold on to the power of the cedar aroma. Open the lid and you get a big whiff of the strong woodsy gases.

can you store food in a cedar closet

Cedar products are readily on the market to deter pantry moths and clothes-eating moths from destroying fabric and food.

The folks over at Amish Handcrafted do a nice job of answering questions about cedar chests. They don’t go into detail about storing food, but it was highlighted that the gases emitted from cedar do react with printed photos and paper, and “can react to the cedar and cause the cedar to “bleed” a gooey substance that can be very damaging.”

I speculate that food packaged in cardboard boxes would not fare well inside of a cedar chest, based on the above information. The potency of the cedar may vary in a cedar-lined closet that may have opportunity for more ventilation than a closed-up tight chest.

It’s simply stacking up into a strong argument not to store food in a cedar closet.

But cedar will keep the pantry moths away!

You’re probably wondering if cedar repels pantry moths, why wouldn’t I want to line my entire pantry with cedar?

First of all, pantry moths and the moths that eat clothes are two different kinds of moths. And yes, cedar wood repels both types of moths (and cedar spray products and cedar balls, etc).

However, it is imperative that pantries are designed in a way that makes them easy to clean and wipe down. Keeping a clean pantry is the key to staying ahead of pest infestations. This means all kinds of pests, not only moths.

Cedar is not easy to wipe because it is unsealed wood. It has to be unsealed to do its job. Cedar is not a bright, white surface. Having a lighter, interior pantry surface makes it easier to see all the nooks and crannies and do a better job wiping it down.

Pantry moths often come in with the groceries, or they flock from other parts of the house to find the food. Their behavior is different that the cloth-eating moths which are just happy to stay put and eat fabric. Pantry moths travel further.

The compromise is “sprinkling in” the effective and natural cedar products on the market in order to reap the benefits of cedar’s natural pest repellent qualities. Using products like cedar balls, or sachets and sprays can help deter moths from the main food pantry. To me, this is a dicey thing to do – I don’t want my food smelling like cedar!

Is cedar toxic?

Your biggest concern of storing food in a cedar closet is if cedar will potentially have a toxic affect on food. Cedar is a known allergen, but it appears to be more potent in dust form and in frequent occupational exposure.

According to Pierce Conservation District, “Eastern Red Cedar is actually quite toxic if ingested. Be sure to know the difference between the two trees if you’re planning to use for medicinal purposes.” It is true that you probably are not planning on eating your closet!

The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety notes that the dust from cedar can be irritating, and have the side affects of “Asthma, allergic contact dermatitis, sensitizer, decrease in lung function, eye irritation and conjunctivitis, rhinitis.” 

In the study, The toxicity of constituents of cedar and pine woods to pulmonary epithelium, the study confirms that “Occupational exposure to cedar and pine woods and pine resin (colophony) can cause asthma and chronic lung disease.”

What cedar is good for

Cedar deters moths that like to eat fabric. Cedar chests are popular for storing heirloom quilts, clothing, uniforms, wedding dresses, etc. and can do a great job protecting fabric from moths. In addition, cedar is a natural water repellant and fire resistant. Cedar chests are the perfect container for cloth fabric possessions.

In case you were wondering, clothing stored in a cedar closet will smell like cedar, but the smell will dissipate. Not so with food. 

In conclusion

Given the fact that cedar is potentially irritating to humans, it isn’t a wise choice to store food in a cedar closet. Even though cedar is a natural product, it can be compared with household chemicals.

You wouldn’t store food around chemicals, so why would you store food in your cedar closet?

About the author 

Renee Matt

Renee is an Iowa farmwife with a background as a former kitchen designer. Supporting the family farm with hearty meals has been key to Renee's pantry readiness. She uses her professional IT background and expertise to bring the Everything Pantry website to life. Read more about this farmwife on her about page.

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