A cedar chest usually keeps the items within it free from insects and funky odors. Even a cedar chest isn't exempt from stinky odors, however. If kept in a damp, dank location, such as a basement, it could end up smelling downright musty. Restore the chest's original cedar odor by airing it out, cleaning it and refreshing it with sandpaper and cedar oil.
Air It Out
Excessive moisture or humidity can make any piece of wood furniture smell foul after a while. Vacuum inside the chest, and wipe the inside and outside with a lint-free dust cloth. Air the chest out, ideally outdoors, on a non-humid day. A screened porch is perfect, as it helps keep the chest as clean as possible. The fresh air and daylight will help banish musty odor. Leave the chest outside all day. This may be enough to remove the bulk of the odor.
Dry Odor Absorbers
Several household materials excel at absorbing odors. Place your choice of wadded-up newspaper, a bowl of dried coffee grounds or a bowl partially filled with baking soda inside the chest. Feel free to try a combination of such materials. Place some of the odor-absorbing material inside any trays within the chest as well. Close the lid and wait several days, keeping the chest in a non-humid area that receives daylight. Remove the materials, let the chest air out for an hour or so, then sniff it again. If necessary, repeat the process.
Vinegar to the Rescue
Vinegar is great for cleaning on two fronts: it removes mold or mildew spots, as well as odors. Wet a lint-free white cloth with white vinegar, wringing out excess moisture. Wipe down all interior surfaces of the chest, then let the chest air dry while open. Repeat if needed to remove any remaining spots or slight odors. If the chest still smells musty, pour vinegar on a sponge, wring out most of the moisture, then set the sponge in a bowl. Place the bowl in the chest and close the lid. Remove the bowl and sponge after a few hours and let the chest air out.
Sand to Refresh
Unfinished cedar wood naturally repels insects and moisture, which is why this wood is prized for chests and wardrobes in particular. Over time, cedar loses its fragrance. Once you've vanquished the offensive odors, refresh the wood and its scent by lightly sanding the inside of the chest. Start with a fine-grit sandpaper and wear a dust mask or respirator, vacuuming the particles as you work. Sand until the wood smells fragrant or turns redder; you may need to upgrade to a coarser grit.