Dear Straight Dope:
I read that cedar does NOT deter insects, but Mom always assured me that we were a moth-free family thanks to the good old cedar lined chests. What gives?
The whole concept of insect “repellents” is a confusing one, as is the concept of “deodorizers.” The two are related. Household deodorizers work by (in essence) keeping your sense of smell so preoccupied by the deodorizer that you don’t notice the bad odors THAT ARE STILL THERE. (Cecil has written about this.) The odors don’t go away, you just can’t smell them any more. Same thing with most insect "repellents." It preoccupies their sense of smell, and they don’t respond properly to the odors that they would normally respond to. Clothes moths have to smell your clothing in order to find it. That’s harder to do when it’s in a smelly cedar chest.
Send questions to Cecil via firstname.lastname@example.org.
STAFF REPORTS ARE WRITTEN BY THE STRAIGHT DOPE SCIENCE ADVISORY BOARD, CECIL'S ONLINE AUXILIARY. THOUGH THE SDSAB DOES ITS BEST, THESE COLUMNS ARE EDITED BY ED ZOTTI, NOT CECIL, SO ACCURACYWISE YOU'D BETTER KEEP YOUR FINGERS CROSSED.