Aromatic cedar-lined closets and trunks have long been a popular means to keep moths and other critters away from clothing. Some like the cedar scent even when bug control is not a concern.
Fortunately, DIYers can cover the walls and ceiling of a closet with tongue-and-groove planks that can be installed in a day or less with small nails and adhesive. You can find the milled cedar planks online (search for "cedar closet liners") or at home improvement and hardware stores.
The most common product is 3/8-in. thick and 3 3/4-in. wide. Wider and thinner planks are also available. Prices run around $2 per square foot.
Begin by calculating your needs. Measure the height and width of all surfaces you plan to line. Round up the dimensions to the nearest foot, then multiply the two numbers to find the square footage. For example, a closet that is 2-ft. deep, 6-ft. wide and 8-ft. high would have a total of 80 sq. ft. of wall space and another 12 sq. ft. of ceiling space.
Once you've bought your cedar planks, remove them from any packaging at least 24 hours before installing and let them acclimate to the climate indoors.
Begin the job by clearing out the closet. Remove clothes rods, loose shelves and any hooks attached to the wall. If the baseboard can be removed easily, go ahead and take it out. Just keep in mind that you will have to trim the baseboard when you reinstall it.
Next you will need to find the studs. Use a stud finder to locate studs in the walls and ceiling. Then draw lines to indicate the stud centers on all surfaces. (Note, a 2- or 4-ft. level is ideal for this job. See Before You Buy a Carpenter's Level for more on levels.) If you are uncertain about the studs, keep in mind that there will usually be studs behind each corner, with others centered every 16 (sometimes 24) inches apart.
Start at the bottom of the back wall. The first plank should be installed with the groove down (tongue up). Set the planks against either the floor or baseboard. Make sure the plank is level. If it isn’t, you could trim the plank with a jigsaw so that it rests in a level position. Once you are sure the bottom plank is level, you don’t need to worry about the rest of them.
Apply a thin zig-zag bead of construction adhesive on the back of the plank. Press it in place, applying pressure along the whole plank to help spread the adhesive. Then drive nails through the plank at each stud location.
Note that manufacturers often do not mention using adhesive. You should certainly skip this step if you expect to want to remove the liner someday. But using adhesive will better bond the planks to the wall than nails alone.
Most manufacturers recommend 1 1/2-in. colored panel nails when attaching over drywall and 2-inch panel nails over plaster, but be sure to follow the instructions provided with your planks. Drive the nails through the face, taking care not to damage the plank. If nailing is difficult, drill small pilot holes first to help guide the nails.
Once the bottom row is attached, you can proceed to cover the rest of the wall. Walls can sometimes be a bit crooked, so measure the length before installing each row. Cut the planks to fit. For best appearance, try to stagger the joints between planks in a random order. You may need to trim planks for the top row, although if you are adding molding it is fine to leave a small gap.
Though it is not required, molding can help hide the edges, cover small gaps and give a nice professional look to your closet. Most manufacturers of cedar closet liners also sell moldings to match the planks. You may need a miter box and coping saw to create neat corners with molding.
Be sure to buy the right type of wood. There are many types of cedar tree, but only Eastern red cedar provides the scent that repels moths.
This "how-to" explains how to install cedar closet liners horizontally, which is the easiest technique. You can, however, install them vertically or horizontally. You will have to decide for yourself if the extra effort is worth it for a closet.
Rather than nailing through the face of the plank, you can “blind nail” the planks to the wall, just as hardwood flooring is usually installed, by nailing at a diagonal through the tongue. Once the next layer of planks is installed, the nails will be concealed. This can be tricky on thin panels--less so if you have a pneumatic brad nailer at your disposal.
Lining the ceiling is optional step, and one you may particularly want to skip if you have to deal with a light fixture. If you do plan to cover the ceiling, do so before you start on the walls, using the same technique.
What You Need
- Cedar closet liner planks (tongue & groove)
- Molding (optional)
- Colored panel nails (1 1/2 in. for drywall; 2 in. for plaster)
- Construction adhesive (optional, but recommended)
- Fine-tooth handsaw
- Miter box (optional)
- Stud finder