Can You Stain Cedar Wood? (& How To)

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Reviewed by
Eral Kadrija

Tony Adams

Cedar wood is obtained from different species of cedar trees that are known for their durability and attractive appearance. So, can you stain Cedar wood?

You can stain Cedar wood with exterior-grade wood stain to improve its durability and enhance its natural color.

But, Cedar wood is a softwood and won’t absorb wood stain evenly, so you must apply a wood conditioner as an undercoat or sand its surface.

Water-based wood stain works better on Cedarwood and is easier to use, dries fast, and produces a rich color tint.

Is Staining Cedar Wood Necessary?

Staining cedar wood is necessary, if you don’t the wood won’t be durable and will develop a greyish tint due to moisture and UV exposure. The ultraviolet rays from the sun cause it to fade gradually until it turns grey.

A semi-transparent or transparent wood stain (with UV blockers) finish will protect the surface from UV degradation. It will also protect it from scratch marks, dents, and surface cracking.

Cedar wood isn’t durable, it will develop scratches and dents if exposed to high-foot traffic, furniture stands, or high weight. An exterior-grade wood stain will protect it from these elements.

Pro Tip: To ensure Cedar wood remains durable refinish it at least once a year.

Does Cedar Wood Accept Stain Well?

Cedar wood doesn’t accept stain well because it’s a softwood. Softwoods have tight grains (or small pores) that prevent proper wood stain absorption. Technically, they are stainable but the result is often a patchy or uneven finish.

You must apply a wood conditioner to ensure even wood stain absorption or sand the surface to create small pores for the wood stain to penetrate. If you don’t apply wood conditioner or sand the surface, the finish will be uneven or blotchy.

Note: Cedar wood must be stained within 2-3 months of installation.

Which Types of Wood Stain Can You Use on Cedar?

You can use water-based, oil-based wood stain, and gel stains on cedar wood. The best stain to use on cedar wood is water-based wood stain as it’s easier to use, dries fast, penetrates easier, and produces a rich color tint.

Semi-transparent water-based wood stain (with water & UV protection) will allow the natural grain of the wood to show while producing a color tint and protecting the surface. It’s also easier to clean and maintain this finish.

You can use oil-based wood stains too as they offer great protection and weather-resistant qualities. But, you must use a Zinsser shellac sealer as an undercoat because Cedar wood has tight grain (small pores) and can’t absorb oil-based wood stain properly.

How to Stain Cedar Wood?

To stain Cedar wood, do the following.

  1. Prep and Clean the Surface.
  2. Sand the Wood.
  3. Apply Pre-Stain Conditioner.
  4. Apply Wood Stain.
  5. Seal the Finish.

The tools you need for this project are listed below.

  • Medium-fine grit sandpaper
  • A pair of gloves
  • An electric sander
  • Pre-stain conditioner (use the same brand of wood stain)
  • Wood stain (use the same brand of pre-stain conditioner)
  • Natural bristle paintbrushes
  • Clean rags
  • Wood cleaner (or dish soap and water)
  • Paint mixer
  • Polyurethane sealer (optional)

1. Prep and Clean the Surface

First, prep the wood for staining. Start by cleaning its surface with a cleaner and rags to remove filth and grime on it.

If you don’t clean it and stain it directly, you’ll trap dust underneath the stain which will eventually cause it to peel off. You’ll also end up with a blotchy finish.

If you don’t have wood cleaner, you can use a mixture of dish soap and warm water, but ensure to rinse well after and leave it to dry for a few hours before sanding.

2. Sand the Wood

When the surface is dry, start sanding with medium-grit sandpaper and work your way up to 220-grit. Sanding opens tiny pores on the surface that will aid absorption. Sanding also removes imperfections, such as splinters in the wood, so you get a smooth finish.

For small surfaces, such as furniture, you can sand manually, but for larger surfaces, you need a power sander. Ensure to wipe off or vacuum the dust from the surface when you are done.

3. Apply Pre-Stain Conditioner

When the surface is smooth, you can apply your pre-stain conditioner. Ensure the pre-stain conditioner you use is compatible with your choice of stain. If not, the stain will not be absorbed properly.

A good way to ensure this is to buy the same brand of pre-stain conditioner as your wood stain. Manufacturers often produce them in sets, so you can buy the complete set.

You only need a good coat of pre-stain conditioner on the Cedar. Leave the conditioner to dry fully before staining. This often takes less than 6 hours.

4. Apply Wood Stain

While the wood conditioner is drying, you should mix your wood stain using a paint mixer. This helps to get even coats.

Once the conditioner dries, apply at least 1 coat of stain using a bristled paintbrush or rag. Also, ensure to cover all spots on the wood and apply the stain in single strokes from one end to the surface to the other.

You can apply up to 3 coats of wood stain if needed, but ensure to wipe off the excess wood stain within 30 minutes after application. Leave the wood stain to dry overnight.

4. Seal the Finish

It’s advised to seal the finish once it dries to give it an extra layer of protection from the elements.

You can use water-based polyurethane or wood sealer, such as Thompson water seal, for this.

What Color To Use for Cedar Wood?

It’s recommended to use a natural color, such as brown or beige, for Cedar wood as it matches its natural color. Bright colors, such as green or yellow, won’t offer a good finish.

To get a beautiful and natural finish, use toned-down colors, such as brown, grey, tan, or off-white.

The type of finish; solid or opaque color, semi-transparent color, and transparent or natural finish, is also important.

The solid finish contains a high level of pigments (or wood dye) that produces a colorful finish that hides the grain and imperfections on the wood. It also offers the most protection compared to other finishes.

The semi-transparent finish produces a mix of color and clarity. The finish shows the natural beauty of the wood grain with a slight color tint. Semi-transparent finishes are resistant to moisture and UV rays.

The transparent finish gives you the most clarity. It doesn’t color the finish. Instead, it leaves a water-resistant film on the surface that shows the wood grain and protects it against water damage.

How Long Does Stained Cedar Last?

Stained Cedar lasts between 1 to 3 years when installed outdoors, and between 5 and 10 years when installed indoors.

You must re-apply fresh coats of wood stain once its surface starts to chip or peel. The finish will last longer if you clean and maintain it regularly.

Outdoor stained Cedar wood doesn’t last long because it’s exposed to weather elements, such as rain, wind, snow, etc. Indoor-stained Cedar wood isn’t exposed to weather elements or to high-foot traffic, so it lasts longer.

Cedar wood naturally lasts a long time. On average, Cedar lasts 15 years before you’ll need repairs or replacement, but adding a few coats of stain increases its longevity.

Final Words

In summary, Cedar can be stained as long as you prep, sand, and condition it before applying wood stain.

Water-based stain works better on Cedarwood and is easier to apply than oil-based stains. Staining Cedar protects it from moisture and UV exposure, so your furniture, deck, and fence last longer.

If you use a water-based wood stain, ensure it is UV and water-resistant. It helps to apply a clear polyurethane sealer over the finish when it dries. This adds an extra layer of protection over your wooden surface.

Tony Adams

Tony Adams

Woodworker, Interior and Exterior Painter, Flooring Specialist

Tony is a professional painter and an author of DIY Geeks. Tony has completed over 1,000 painting projects for his clients. It's safe to say he knows what he Is talking about.

Eral Kadrija

Eral Kadrija

Lead Editor, Home Renovator

Eral has a passion for home renovation and repair. Over the years, he has bought, renovated, and sold 7 old homes. Using his experience from different DIY projects he created DIY Geeks.

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