Best Clear Cedar Finish For Outdoors

Regarding outdoor woodworking projects, nothing matches cedar’s natural elegance and durability. Yet, without proper care and maintenance, even this robust wood can succumb to the elements.

Enter the best clear cedar finish outdoors—a game-changing solution that helps preserve cedar’s beauty while significantly extending its lifespan. Now let’s delve deeper into this fascinating topic.

The Properties of Cedar

Cedar, a wood species with inherent allure and strength, is a favorite among builders and artisans.

It’s relatively easy to work with as a dense, straight-grained wood, whether you’re crafting a rustic patio table or a charming birdhouse.

The Unique Properties of Cedar

The real magic of cedar, however, lies in its unique properties. One of these is cedar’s natural resistance to rot, decay, and insect damage. Thanks to its heartwood’s oil content, cedar can bravely withstand the onslaught of termites and other wood-boring insects.

This makes it an excellent choice for outdoor applications like:

  • Decking
  • Fencing
  • Siding
  • Furniture

Varieties of Cedar: Western Red Cedar and Eastern Red Cedar

Different cedar varieties, such as Western Red Cedar and Eastern Red Cedar, are renowned for their incredible durability outdoors.

Western Red Cedar

Western Red Cedar, for instance, showcases remarkable resistance to decay, standing up to harsh weather conditions with grace and resilience.

Eastern Red Cedar

Eastern Red Cedar, on the other hand, known for its vibrant colors and aromatic scent, offers an equally impressive defense against decay and insect attacks.

Why Cedar Needs Finishing

Despite its inherent toughness, cedar isn’t invincible. Specific environmental factors can negatively impact the wood, necessitating the application of a clear cedar finish.

The Vulnerabilities of Cedar

Unfinished cedar is susceptible to weathering, moisture, and UV damage, leading to fading, cracking, and degradation. These vulnerabilities underline the importance of a well-chosen finish:

  • Weathering: Can lead to a worn-out appearance over time
  • Moisture: Can cause warping and rot
  • UV Damage: Can bleach the wood’s rich color to a dull gray

The Role of a Clear Cedar Finish

A clear cedar finish is pivotal in preserving the wood’s natural beauty and bolstering its resistance to environmental stressors. For example, it provides a protective layer that shields the wood from moisture intrusion and harmful UV rays. The benefits of using a clear sealer include:

  • Protection from Moisture: Shields the wood from moisture, preventing warping and rot
  • UV Resistance: Safeguards the cedar against harmful UV rays that can bleach the wood’s color
  • Preserves Aesthetics: Maintains the cedar’s natural color and grain, enhancing its overall aesthetics
  • Enhances Longevity: By protecting against environmental stressors, a clear finish helps prolong the cedar’s life, creating an undeniable win-win scenario.

Choosing the Right Finish for Cedar

Navigating the sea of cedar finish options can be overwhelming, but each finish type has unique advantages and potential drawbacks.

Natural Finishes

Natural finishes, such as linseed or tung oil, penetrate the wood to enhance its natural beauty and provide moderate protection. However, these types of finishes come with their own set of considerations:

  • Enhance natural beauty of the wood
  • Provide moderate protection
  • May require more frequent reapplication compared to other finish types

Oil Finishes

Oil finishes, including Danish oil and teak oil, are great for enhancing wood grain and color. However, they also have their unique characteristics:

  • Enhance wood grain and color
  • Offer decent water resistance
  • May darken the wood over time
  • Require regular maintenance


Sealers are typically clear or lightly tinted and offer excellent protection against moisture and UV rays. On the other hand, they might have some drawbacks:

  • Offer excellent protection against moisture and UV rays
  • Some sealers can create a glossy surface that may not appeal to everyone


Coatings, such as varnish or polyurethane, create a robust barrier on the wood’s surface, providing excellent protection but often at the expense of the wood’s natural feel and look. Here are some points to consider:

  • Provide excellent protection
  • May compromise the wood’s natural feel and look

Stain or Seal?

Now, you might be asking, should you stain or seal cedar? While staining can enhance the wood’s color and provide some protection, a clear finish or sealer often offers superior protection without altering the wood’s natural color and grain.

Clear Cedar Finish: Why is it the Best Option?

Preserving the Natural Beauty

A clear cedar finish is like the invisible superhero of wood finishes. It offers all the protection you need without making its presence overtly known.

You get to seal cedar without changing color, preserving the wood’s natural beauty for all to admire.

Showcasing the Cedar’s Aesthetic Appeal

This unobtrusive finish allows the cedar’s unique grain and warm hues to shine through, creating an outdoor piece that’s as aesthetically pleasing as it is durable.

So, can you put a clear coat on the cedar? Absolutely! And you probably should if you want to keep your cedar looking its best.

Enhanced Protection

Remember that by applying a clear finish, you’re preserving the wood’s appearance and enhancing its resistance to environmental stressors.

A quality clear cedar finish shields against moisture, UV rays, and even the wear and tear of daily use. The silent sentinel keeps your cedar project looking fresh and vibrant year after year.

Application: The Key to a Successful Cedar Finish

Preparing the Cedar

Preparing the wood adequately is crucial before applying your chosen clear cedar finish. Skipping these steps can lead to disappointing results.

Cleaning the Cedar

The first step is to clean the cedar thoroughly. Any dirt or debris on the wood can mar the finish and detract from the cedar’s natural beauty. Here are some tips:

  • Use a soft brush or cloth to remove any surface dirt gently
  • A mild warm water and dish soap solution works wonders for more stubborn stains or mildew

Sanding the Cedar

While this step isn’t always necessary, it can help to create a smoother surface and allow the finish to penetrate more deeply into the wood. Here’s a quick guide:

  • Start with a coarse-grit sandpaper
  • Work up to a finer grit for a perfectly smooth finish

Drying the Cedar

Finally, let the wood dry completely. Here’s why:

  • Applying a finish to damp wood can lead to a patchy finish that won’t provide adequate protection

Applying the Clear Cedar Finish

Once your cedar is clean, dry, and sanded, it’s time to apply the clear finish. Always read and follow the manufacturer’s instructions, as application methods can vary between products.

Applying the Finish

Here are some steps to follow:

  • Typically, you’ll want to use a good-quality brush to apply the finish
  • Work toward the wood grain for the best results
  • Be sure to apply a thin, even coat, not leaving any drips or puddles

Allowing the Finish to Dry

Allow the first coat to dry fully before applying a second coat. Keep in mind:

  • Multiple thin coats often provide better protection and a more attractive finish than a single thick coat
  • Once you’re happy with the coverage, let the finish cure according to the manufacturer’s instructions before using your cedar piece.

Reviews of Best Clear Cedar Finishes

Now that we’ve explored the importance of applying a clear finish to cedar wood and the various types available, let’s dive into the top clear cedar finishes on the market.

These products offer a range of benefits and finishes to suit every preference, ensuring your cedar projects stay protected and beautiful for years to come.

Behr Natural Clear Transparent Waterproofing Acrylic Exterior Wood Finish

Behr’s Natural Clear Transparent Waterproofing Acrylic Exterior Wood Finish is a top contender for protecting your cedar wood. This product offers an acrylic-based formula that delivers a clear finish while providing excellent waterproofing and UV resistance.


  • Clear finish that doesn’t alter the wood’s natural appearance
  • Waterproof and UV-resistant
  • Acrylic-based formula for long-lasting protection


  • May require more frequent reapplication compared to other products
  • Drying time can be longer

Behr’s Natural Clear finish is ideal for outdoor cedar finishes because it enhances the wood’s natural beauty while providing excellent protection against the elements. Its waterproof and UV-resistant properties make it a fantastic option for safeguarding your cedar wood from weathering and damage.

Minwax Helmsman Spar Urethane

Minwax Helmsman Spar Urethane is a well-known name in wood finishes. This product offers an incredibly durable clear finish, making it one of the best exterior clear finishes available.

Key Features:

  • Clear finish that highlights the wood’s natural beauty
  • Durable and long-lasting protection
  • Excellent resistance to water, UV rays, and temperature changes
  • Easy application with a brush or spray


  • High-quality, long-lasting finish
  • Protects against various environmental factors
  • Available in different sheens to suit your preference


  • Longer drying time compared to some other finishes
  • Strong odor during application

The Minwax Helmsman Spar Urethane is a top choice for those seeking a high-quality, durable clear finish for their outdoor cedar projects. Its resistance to water, UV rays, and temperature fluctuations makes it a reliable option for preserving the beauty and integrity of your cedar wood.

Flood CWF-UV Clear Wood Finish

Flood CWF-UV Clear Wood Finish offers powerful UV-resistant properties that protect cedar from weathering and discoloration.

This clear finish not only enhances the natural beauty of the wood but also provides essential protection against the elements.

Key Features:

  • Clear finish that allows the wood’s natural beauty to shine through
  • UV-resistant formula to protect against sun damage
  • Penetrates deeply for long-lasting protection
  • Suitable for various wood types, including cedar


  • Excellent UV protection
  • Deep penetration for long-lasting results
  • Versatile product suitable for multiple wood types


  • May require multiple coats for optimal protection
  • Longer drying time than some other products

Flood CWF-UV Clear Wood Finish is a great choice for those prioritizing UV protection for outdoor cedar projects.

Its ability to shield cedar from the sun’s harmful rays makes it an excellent option for maintaining the wood’s vibrant color and overall appearance.

Proluxe Cedar SRD Wood Finish Transparent Matte

Proluxe Cedar SRD Wood Finish Transparent Matte offers a unique matte finish that differentiates it from other clear cedar finishes.

This product provides excellent protection for cedar wood while maintaining a subtle, low-sheen appearance.

Key Features:

  • Matte finish for a more subdued appearance
  • A transparent formula that showcases the wood’s natural beauty
  • Provides long-lasting protection against water, UV rays, and wear
  • Suitable for use on various wood surfaces, including cedar


  • Unique matte finish for a sophisticated look
  • Long-lasting protection against environmental factors
  • Suitable for various wood types, including cedar


  • An application can be more challenging than some other products
  • The matte finish might not be everyone’s preference

The Proluxe Cedar SRD Wood Finish Transparent Matte is perfect for those who prefer a more understated look without sacrificing protection.

The product’s matte finish offers a unique aesthetic, while its protective features ensure your cedar projects stay in excellent shape.

Ready Seal Exterior Stain and Sealer for Wood

Ready Seal Exterior Stain and Sealer for Wood stands out for its dual-action capabilities. This product acts as both a stain and a sealer, offering enhanced color and protection for cedar wood.

Key Features:

  • Acts as both a stain and a sealer
  • Provides long-lasting protection against water and UV damage
  • Easy application with no laps, runs, or streaks
  • Suitable for all outdoor wood projects


  • Dual-action formula saves time and effort
  • Excellent protection against water and UV damage
  • Straightforward application process


  • Color might darken over time
  • Strong smell during application

Ready Seal Exterior Stain and Sealer for Wood is a worthwhile option for those seeking a time-saving solution. Its dual-action formula enhances the color of your cedar while providing robust protection, making it an excellent two-in-one solution.

Thompson’s Waterseal Transparent Wood Sealer

Last but not least, Thompson’s Waterseal Transparent Wood Sealer is a highly-regarded product for clear cedar sealing. This product offers advanced polymers that provide fade-resistant color and waterproofing protection.

Key Features:

  • Clear finish that allows the wood’s natural beauty to shine
  • Advanced polymers provide fade-resistant color and waterproofing
  • Prevents water damage and graying caused by UV rays
  • Easy application with a brush, roller, or sprayer


  • High-quality, fade-resistant finish
  • Excellent waterproofing capabilities
  • Versatile application methods


  • It may require more frequent reapplication compared to other products
  • Some users may find the finish too glossy

Thompson’s Waterseal Transparent Wood Sealer offers excellent waterproofing capabilities, ensuring your cedar projects stay safe from water damage. This product is a fantastic option if you’re looking for a clear cedar sealer that offers robust protection and a glossy finish.

Best Practices for Applying Clear Cedar Finish Outdoors

Applying a clear cedar finish outdoors is an art that requires attention to detail and a bit of know-how. Let’s walk through the process, from preparation to maintenance, and provide tips for the best result.

How to Finish Cedar for Outdoor Use: Preparation, Application, and Maintenance


Before diving into the finishing, ensure your cedar surface is adequately prepared. Starting with a clean, dry, and smooth surface is vital.

Remove any dirt, dust, or old finish using a brush or sandpaper. If your cedar is grayed from weathering, you may need a wood cleaner or brightener to restore its natural color.


Once your cedar is prepared, it’s time to apply your chosen clear cedar finish. Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions for the best result.

Typically, you’ll apply the finish with a brush or sprayer, ensuring an even coat. Remember, less is more when applying finish; applying thin, multiple coats is better than one thick one.


Maintaining your cedar finish is crucial for longevity. Regularly inspect your outdoor cedar for any wear or damage, and touch up as needed. It’s also a good idea to clean your cedar regularly to prevent the buildup of dirt and debris.

Sealing Cedar without Changing Color

If you love the natural color of cedar and want to maintain it, choose a clear cedar finish or a product designed not to change the wood’s color. Some finishes can darken the wood, so always test a small area first to ensure you’re happy with the result.

Ensuring the Best UV Protection for Cedar

UV protection is crucial for outdoor cedar. Look for finishes that offer UV inhibitors or blockers to prevent the sun’s rays from graying and damaging your cedar.

Regular maintenance and reapplication of the finish can help maintain its UV protection capabilities.

Sealing Outdoor Cedar Furniture

The process of sealing outdoor cedar furniture mirrors the steps involved in finishing other cedar objects. You should commence by cleansing and prepping the furniture, then applying your selected finish. Pay extra attention to all the tiny recesses, as these spots can be especially susceptible to weathering. Alongside this process, it’s a good strategy also to learn how to seal wood for outdoor use, enhancing your overall wood maintenance skills.

Oil Finishes for Outdoor Cedar Furniture: An Alternative

While clear cedar finishes are excellent, oil finishes can be a superb choice for outdoor cedar furniture. They penetrate the wood to provide protection and can also enhance the wood’s natural beauty.

Oil finishes, such as linseed or teak oil, nourish the wood while providing protection. They can help to enhance the natural grain and color of cedar, giving your furniture a warm, rich finish. Oil finishes are also easy to apply and maintain, making them popular among many woodworkers.

Best Oil Options for Outdoor Cedar Furniture

Two excellent oil options for outdoor cedar furniture are linseed oil and teak oil.

Linseed oil is a traditional wood finish that has been used for centuries. It penetrates deep into the wood to provide protection and reveals the grain’s pattern and character.

Teak oil, on the other hand, is specifically designed for dense hardwoods like teak, but it also works wonderfully on cedar. It provides UV protection and resists moisture, making it ideal for outdoor furniture.

How Cedar Wood Treatment Oil Works

Cedarwood treatment oil works by penetrating the wood fibers and hardening them. This helps to repel water, resist rot, and prevent the wood from drying out.

The oil also provides a barrier against dirt and grime and can help prevent mold and mildew growth.

At the same time, it enhances the natural beauty of the cedar, enriching its color and bringing out the grain.

The process of applying oil treatment is relatively simple.

First, make sure the wood is clean and dry. Then, apply the oil liberally to the wood using a brush, rag, or garden sprayer. Allow the oil to soak in — this could take a few minutes to a couple of hours, depending on the wood’s dryness and viscosity.

Once the oil has sufficiently soaked in, wipe off any excess with a clean, dry rag. Applying at least two coats of oil is generally recommended for the best protection. Remember that the oil will darken the wood slightly, so do a test patch first to ensure you’re happy with the color.


The journey of preserving and beautifying outdoor cedar pieces involves more than just picking out a random finish from the store. The best clear cedar finish for outdoors improves the aesthetics of the pieces and guarantees longevity.

There are a variety of products to suit different needs and preferences, such as Behr Natural Clear Transparent Waterproofing Acrylic Exterior Wood Finish, Flood CWF-UV Clear Wood Finish, and Proluxe Cedar SRD Wood Finish Transparent Matte.

Oil finishes such as Star Brite Premium Golden Teak Oil and Watco Danish Oil can provide robust protection while enhancing the cedar’s grain.


Can you put a clear coat on the cedar?

Absolutely! Applying a clear coat on cedar is a great way to preserve its natural beauty while protecting the elements.

What is the best clear treatment for cedar?

The best clear treatment for cedar largely depends on personal preference and specific needs. However, some top contenders include Behr Natural Clear Transparent Waterproofing Acrylic Exterior Wood Finish and Minwax Helmsman Spar Urethane for their durability and protective qualities.

What is the best exterior clear finish?

Minwax Helmsman Spar Urethane is a top choice for a clear exterior finish due to its durability, clear finish, and resistance to water, sunlight, and temperature changes.

What is the best treatment for exterior cedar?

There are several excellent treatments for exterior cedar. The Flood CWF-UV Clear Wood Finish offers excellent UV protection, while the Proluxe Cedar SRD Wood Finish Transparent Matte provides a unique matte finish. Oil treatments like Star Brite Premium Golden Teak Oil can offer robust protection.

What is the best waterproofing for cedar?

Thompson’s Waterseal Transparent Wood Sealer is a popular choice for waterproofing cedar. It’s designed to repel water, protect against harsh weather conditions, and resist mildew — all crucial for maintaining the integrity of outdoor cedar items.