Cedar is a popular wood for a lot of reasons. First of all, it is softwood, which makes it extremely easy to work with. However, even though it is softwood, it is relatively durable and mold and pest resistant.

This makes it ideal for lots of different applications, both indoors and outdoors.

Although it is resistant to wear and tear, it will start to age rapidly if it is not properly treated. That means that any cedar wood should be stained. However, you want to make sure that you use the best stain for cedar.

Otherwise, you might be left with a previously beautiful wood project that is now unrecognizable.

We have put together a list of the 10 best stains for cedar, looking at exterior and interior options.

This article will also give an in-depth review of what we found to be the top three choices for cedar wood projects.

Our Top Pick

In a hurry to apply a stain? Choose Ready Seal Stain and Sealer. It is easy to apply and dries quickly. It penetrates the wood to give it a natural appearance.

Top 10 Stains for Cedar Comparison Table

PictureNameInterior or ExteriorPriceRating (1-5)
Picture
Name
Interior or Exterior
Price
Rating (1-5)
1. Ready Seal 512 Natural Cedar Exterior Stain and SealerExterior$$$$4.7
2. Minwax 222304444 Wood Finish Penetrating Interior Wood Stain, 1/2 pint, Colonial Maple Interior$4.5
3. Minwax 67000000 Antique Oil Finish Natural, quart Interior$$4.8
4. Cabot Wood Toned Deck & Siding Low VOC StainExterior$$$4.1
5. AMTECO DIVISION OF GEMINI INDUSTRIE TWP-1501-1 Gallon Cedartone VOC StainExterior$$$$4.8
6. Rust-Oleum 211755 Varathane Oil Base Stain, Half Pint, Natural Interior$4.5
7. OLD MASTERS 11916 Wip Stain, Cedar Interior$$4.3
8. ZAR 12006 Wood Stain, Teak Natural Interior$4.2
9. THOMPSONS WATERSEAL 042851-16 Semi Transparent Stain, Cedar Exterior$$$4.5
10. THOMPSONS WATERSEAL 041851-16 Transparent Stain, Cedar Exterior$$4.5

Tips That Will Help You Find a Quality Stain for Cedar

Whenever you are looking to stain a woodworking project, it is best to know what types of stains work best for your type of wood and what types of conditions your project will be subjected to; this is also true when you are looking for the best stain for cedar.

  • Interior or Exterior. Depending on where your project will be located, you want to make sure that you choose the proper type of stain. If your project is outside, you want to make sure that you use an exterior stain. If you will be keeping your project inside, you can use either stain.

Just be sure that if you select exterior for an interior project, that you apply the stain in a well-ventilated area, as it usually has a sealant component as well. Once this is dried, it will be just fine indoors.

  • Stain Color. All of the stains that were selected for our table are a natural color to allow the beauty of the wood to show through. However, if you would like, you may select a different color stain for your project.

Be sure to read the label on your stain container carefully and test it out on an inconspicuous spot before doing the whole project.

  • Oil-Based. For cedar, which is a dense softwood, you want to make sure that you use an oil-based stain that is designed to deeply penetrate the wood fibers.

Do not use a gel or water-based stain, as they will not penetrate the wood deeply enough, and could result in rapid color fading and damage to the wood.

  • Finish. For the exterior stains we highlighted, there are several different choices for the finish type. Each one is designed to give an extra layer of protection and to help waterproof the wood. Depending on the finish type, it may make the wood seem shiny. The different types of finish are:
  • Clear. This will look the most natural.
  • Transparent. Still will look relatively natural, a bit of shine.
  • Semi. Will start to darken the wood with moderate shine.
  • Solid. Will darken the wood greatly and have the most shine.

If you use an interior stain, you will need to use a separate finish to help protect the wood. The glossier the finish, the more protected the wood. These can be purchased separately and come in the following:

  • Clear. This will allow the stain to stay true to color with very little shine.
  • Satin. This will make the stain somewhat darker and give a moderate shine.
  • Semi-Gloss. The stain will appear darker and will have pretty much shine.
  • Gloss. This will darken the stain the most and will have the most shine.

Top 3 Best Stain for Cedar Reviews

1. Ready Seal 512 Natural Cedar Exterior Stain and Sealer

Specifications:

  • Size: 5 Gallon
  • Color: Natural Cedar
  • Material: Oil based
  • Pattern: Stain and Sealer

The Ready Seal 512 Natural Cedar Exterior Stain and Sealer was found to be extremely effective at staining cedar.

It is a deep penetrating oil-based stain that went on smoothly. In our tests, we put on two coats and let them sit for the recommended drying time.

Once it was dry, it did not have an odor or feel tacky to the touch. The natural cedar color that we selected highlighted the grain in the wood well and brought out its natural beauty.

This is a semi-transparent stain and sealer. It comes in various colors such as Natural Cedar, Golden Pine, Mahogany, Redwood, Pecan, Burnt Hickory, Dark Walnut, and Light Oak.

When you first apply the stain, it may look darker than what it should be but that is fine. It takes 14 days to show the true color.

The only perceivable drawback to this product was that it does not come in an interior finish. However, as we laid out for you above, you can still use it for interior purposes.

It will just require a bit more ventilation and drying time but would provide excellent durability to your interior cedar finishing project.

The stain went on easily and dried quickly. As an oil-based formula, it deeply penetrated the wood, giving it a beautiful, natural appearance.

While it is made for exterior projects, this is what we consider to be the best stain for cedar because it can be for both exterior and interior applications.

Pros
  • Does not need a primer
  • Can be used for both exterior and interior applications
  • Easy to apply and dries quickly
  • Penetrates the wood rather than just coat it
  • Protects from UV rays
Cons
  • Does not come in an interior finish

2. Minwax Wood Finish Penetrating Interior Wood Stain

This is an interior stain that performed well in our tests. It is oil-based and deeply penetrated the wood fibers, giving them a beautiful natural look. It dried quickly and was easy to apply.

However, since it is made for interior applications, it does have some drawbacks that our number one choice did not have.

Since it is made for use on interior projects, we had to use polyurethane to finish sealing up our work. While this is also relatively easy to do, it takes double the time as the exterior product did.

It also means that, even after the poly had been applied, you would not be able to take your project outdoors; this makes it ineffective on something like siding or a deck.

While this went on quickly and easily and will give a beautiful look, there are some drawbacks. Since it is an interior stain, you will need to finish it with some sealant, which adds time. Even after has been sealed, it cannot be used outdoors.

Pros
  • Easy to apply
  • Dries fast
  • Gives a beautiful natural look
  • Penetrates deep into the wood
Cons
  • Not suited for exterior use

3. Minwax 67000000 Antique Oil Finish Natural

Minwax Antique Oil Finish gives a beautiful finish to our wood project. Its oil-based formula penetrated the wood fibers deeply and quickly, allowing the natural wood grain to show through.

This stain is easy to apply. It goes on smooth without being sticky. It is true to color so it doesn’t change the color of your wood.

However, since it is made for interior projects, it has the same drawbacks as our number two selection.

You would need to use another finishing project to completely seal the wood, and even then, it would not be able to be used in an exterior application.

This product gives a beautiful look to your interior projects. However, you need to make sure that you seal them up with another product, and even then, they can’t be used outdoors.

Pros
  • Easy to apply and dries quickly
  • Penetrates the wood rather than just coat it
  • Gives a beautiful natural look
Cons
  • Not suited for exterior use

4. Cabot Wood Toned Deck & Siding Stain

Cabot Wood Toned Deck & Siding Stain can be applied to all natural wood species such as cedar, fir, pine, cypress, spruce, redwood, or composite materials that contain wood granules.

It penetrates deep into the wood fibers and seals them with a clear finish that protects all natural wood species for years to come.

Cabot stain achieves an authentic wood tone and texture without changing the natural characteristics of the wood grain with its unique blend of polymers and pigments.

Select from ten unique tones, and combine them to create an unlimited number of beautiful effects. Cabot stain protects exterior wood for decks, siding, or any outdoor surface.

Cabot stain brings out the natural beauty of your wood surface while protecting it from the damaging effects of sun, salt, and moisture.

Pros
  • Easy to apply
  • Penetrates deep into the wood fibers
  • Gives an authentic wood tone
Cons
  • May require multiple coats

5. AMTECO DIVISION OF GEMINI INDUSTRIE TWP-1501-1 Stain

The TWP-1501-1 is a 1-gallon container of TWP translucent waterproofing stain. This stain protects your deck from sun, rain, and snow for years with a single application.

Built to last, the best part is the maintenance-free protection that you’ll enjoy for the life of your project.

This oil-based, low VOC stain goes on smoothly and dries quickly, with a beautiful finish. It produces a long-lasting waterproof surface as well as an improved appearance.

It is easy to apply and can be used on both new and existing decks. Not only does the coat enable your deck to withstand different weather conditions but it also greatly helps in preserving the natural beauty of the wood.

Pros
  • Easy to apply
  • Waterproof stain
  • Low VOC
Cons
  • A bit pricey

Frequently Asked Questions

Do You Need to Treat Cedar For Outdoor Use?

If you intend to use cedar for outdoor use, coat it with a light seal to guard against moisture and sunlight. In direct sunlight, cedar retains its natural color for only a few months.

To avoid the ultraviolet sunlight breaking down the surface fibers, finish it with a seal listed above.

Can Cedar Wood be Stained?

Cedar is naturally resistant to rot and decay when used as a deck or a fence. Depending on the moisture and sun exposure, cedar can show deterioration from the weather and develop a gray appearance.

To maintain its natural appearance, cedar should be stained especially if it is used as a siding. By staining, you provide water and UV protection and prevent cracking.

How do you Prepare Cedar for Staining?

Before staining the cedar, wash it with soap and water to remove accumulated dirt or dust. After you have washed it, wait for it to dry before you stain the cedar.

Remember to wash the cedar before you paint it, not after — because if you wash off your paint job before it’s dry, you may end up washing away all of your hard work!

How Often Should you Stain Cedar?

Staining your cedar fences, deck, and outdoor structures are recommended to protect them from the weather. A high-quality stain should last five to seven years.

The frequency that you should stain your cedar depends on many factors, including the type of wood you have, your climate, and your usage of the decks.

Depending on the weather conditions, you may want to apply a clear coat every two years. Be sure to remove the loose or damaged wood before applying the stain.

What is the Best Primer For Cedar?

Use an oil-based exterior wood primer. If you use the Ready Seal 512 Natural Cedar Exterior Stain and Sealer, a primer is not needed which will save you a lot of time.

How Do You Stain Rough Cedar?

To treat rough-sawn wood, you can choose between a brush and a roller. A brush is better for corners and for cutting in along edges.

If you want to choose the rolling option, use a ¾” napped roller in order to push the stain deep into the grain. Don’t stain in direct sunlight because uneven absorption of the stain will cause blotching.

Should You Sand Cedar Before Staining?

If your cedar deck is new and you just finished it, then you better sand it before staining. If your cedar deck is a few years old and in great shape, you could possibly get away without sanding before staining.

If you live in a cold and snowy climate, then you need to sand your cedar deck before staining it. Cold weather can cause the wood to swell slightly, which will leave gaps that a stain color can’t disguise.

On top of that, a new stain application will fill in any voids and cracks for better wear resistance over time.

How Do You Keep Cedar From Turning Gray?

Staining a cedar fence can be challenging. You want the wood to look natural, but you also want the fence to last long. If you just allow the cedar to fade to a gray color as it ages, it will look very weathered and unappealing after several years.

The main reason cedar fences fade to gray is because of the ultraviolet light that’s present in sunlight. This type of light causes the wood to turn gray as it ages.

Instead, you should choose a transparent or semi-transparent oil-based stain that protects the wood from ultraviolet rays and mildew without obscuring the natural coloring of the cedar.

Can Cedar be Stained Dark?

To get dark-stained cedar, use either polyurethane or lacquer. If you go with a longer-lasting exterior polyurethane coating, you can get a darker shade more than if you choose lacquer. It will also take longer to penetrate the cedar pores with lacquer.

Therefore, if you are going to put a darker stain on cedar decking, we recommend using clear coat polyurethane and doing it in multiple coats instead of lumping it into one coat.

Remember that your deck is still cedar, and the results from a single-coat attempt are difficult to achieve.

How Long Does Cedar Wood Last?

If you are building a deck, a patio, or adding a pergola, you will want to choose cedar. The reasons for this are because cedar is one of the most durable woods available while also having the added benefit of resisting water.

And, as you probably know by now, staying dry is one of the best ways to increase the lifespan of any wood item.

Cedarwood lasts longer than most other woods because it’s naturally resistant to water, decay, and insect attacks. And, its low water absorption rate keeps the wood from cracking or swelling when exposed to wet weather.

Cedar is a durable wood, which adds to its longevity. The combination of these factors makes for a deck that can last 15-20 years (or more) without needing much maintenance.

What Lasts Longer Cedar or Pressure Treated Wood?

It is possible for a pressure-treated wood deck to last over 20 years when high-quality wood is used. But the fact remains that cedar decks generally last longer (15-20 years) than their pressure-treated counterparts.

Are Cedar Posts Rot Resistant?

Western Red Cedar is a slow-growing, long-durability wood that is naturally resistant to insects and rot. It may be subject to damage by decay fungi but is resistant to most insect attacks.

If you’re looking for rot-resistant fence posts, Western Red Cedar is the best choice over pressure-treated posts. It provides beauty and value to your log cabin, garden fences, and more.

Is it Better to Stain or Paint Cedar?

You can help protect your cedar wood siding by either staining it or painting it. Painting is easier and less expensive, but sometimes not the best option.

If your home gets a lot of direct sunlight, the paint will eventually fade and crack. Stains, however, are far more resistant to ultraviolet rays.

Ultraviolet rays will cause the paint to fade and will deteriorate the cedar boards. Paint protects against UV rays, but stain protects against it even more.

Stain is more resistant to ultraviolet rays, ensuring that your siding looks great for a longer time period.

Final Thoughts

A lot of people like to work with cedar for decking, furniture, and siding. All of these uses make it a popular choice, but once it has been used, the wood becomes stained.

Some stains work better than others. Some stains might just be expensive mistakes that you will end up being forced to replace at a certain point in the future.

But if you want your cedar furniture to last some time, you need to understand how to properly take care of it. Stains are going to play an important role in its upkeep.