Can You Stain Cedar Wood? (& How To)

Cedar wood develops a greyish tint after some time due to weathering effects, but can you stain it to prevent it from weathering? 

You can stain cedar, but you need to sand it beforehand. Sanding creates tiny pores in the wood that improves stain absorption. However, Cedar is a softwood and won’t absorb wood stains evenly. So, you should apply wood conditioner to ensure a smooth and even finish.

Staining Cedar prevents UV degradation and improves the beauty of the surface. Water-based stains work better on Cedar because it gives a rich deep color that beautifies the wooden surface.

Is Staining Necessary?

Cedar wood isn’t durable if you don’t apply stain. It is known to develop a greyish tint after some time 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 stain finish will protect it from UV degradation. That’s because the wood stain has UV blockers that will protect it.

Staining also protects it from scratch marks, dents, and surface cracking. Cedar isn’t durable, so after some time, you’ll start to notice scratches and dents on its surface. High foot traffic, furniture stand, weight, and dropped objects can dent it.

To prevent this, you can apply exterior-grade wood stain. The stain will withstand the traffic and protect the wood. 

Pro Tip: To ensure your Cedar remains durable, it’s advised to refinish it at least once a year.

Does Cedar Stain Well?

Ordinarily, Cedar doesn’t accept wood stains well because it’s a softwood. Softwoods have tight or closely-packed grain that prevents proper stain absorption.

They are stainable but the result is often patchy and uneven, so wood conditioner is applied over them to ensure even stain absorption.

Sanding also creates tiny pores in the surface that aids stain absorption. If you don’t sand and condition the wood, Cedar will not stain well.

Also, Cedar wood has to be stained within the first 2-3 months after installation.

Types of Stain to Use

Water-based stain is the best stain for Cedar wood because it’s easier to use, dries faster, and gives a richer color tint. Use semi-transparent water-based stain as it’s water and UV-resistant and also allows the natural grain of the wood to show while giving a colorful tint. They are also easier to clean and maintain. 

You can also use oil-based stains because they provide terrific protection and weather resistance. However, you’ll need a coat of Zinsser shellac sealer before you can apply an oil-based stain. This is because Cedar has a tight grain structure that will prevent proper absorption of an oil-based stain.

How to Stain Cedar?

To stain Cedar wood, you’ll need the following tools and supplies:

  • 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

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 1 or 2 Coats of 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. 

Colors To Use

Most homeowners use a natural color, such as brown or beige, for Cedar wood because it matches its natural color. Bright colors, such as green and yellow, don’t always give the best finish.

You should keep the colors toned down to get a beautiful finish. Aside from brown, other colors that are perfect for Cedar include grey, tan, and off-white.

Aside from the stain color, you should also consider the type of finish that you want. You have 3 options to choose from; solid or opaque color, semi-transparent color, and transparent or natural finish.

The solid finish contains a high level of pigments (or wood dye) that gives you a colorful finish that hides the grain and imperfections on the wood. It also offers the most protection against the elements.

The semi-transparent finish gives you 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. When its surface starts to chip or peel, you need to apply fresh coats of wood stain. If the wood is cleaned and maintained regularly, the finish will last longer.

When you stain cedar wood outdoors, the finish doesn’t last very long because it is subjected to harsh conditions and exposure to the elements. On average, a stained Cedar deck will last about 2 years before it starts to peel off. 

When cedar wood is applied indoors, it is not subjected to the elements or as much traffic as outdoor furniture, so it will last longer. On average, it will last about 6 years on indoor wood, and even longer on decorative furniture.

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

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 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 DIYGeeks.

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