How To Seal Cedar Without Changing Color

Cedar is a wood species cherished by woodworkers and furniture enthusiasts for its rich, warm hues and natural durability. But like all woods, cedar has unique characteristics and needs that must be addressed to maintain its beauty.

One of these is the need for sealing. And while sealing cedar is essential in its maintenance, many cedar lovers are concerned about preserving its natural color during sealing.

You’re in the right place if you’re grappling with this issue. This comprehensive guide will walk you through how to seal cedar without altering its beautiful color.

What Makes Cedar Special

Cedar wood is a standout in the world of woodworking for several reasons. It boasts a distinct, attractive natural color that ranges from light tan to deep, reddish-brown. This shade versatility allows cedar to suit various aesthetic preferences and design styles.

Beyond its good looks, cedar is known for its impressive durability. Thanks to the protective oils it produces, it’s naturally resistant to decay, rot, and insect attacks. This makes cedar an excellent choice for outdoor furniture, decking, and siding that must withstand the elements.

Why Cedar Needs Sealing

Even though cedar wood boasts natural durability, it isn’t indestructible. The use of cedar indoors, outdoors, in siding, paneling, or fencing exposes it to various conditions that can gradually erode its surface.

Indoors, cedar may endure temperature and humidity shifts, leading to potential warping or cracking. Outdoor cedar confronts even more severe challenges, including rain, snow, sunlight, and extreme temperatures.

Despite the wood’s natural oils providing some safeguard against these threats, applying a sealant introduces an extra layer of defense, contributing to the extension of cedar’s lifespan and aesthetic appeal.

In addition to this practice, learning how to seal wood for outdoor use is advantageous, broadening your proficiency in overall wood care.

The Impact of Not Sealing Cedar

Without proper sealing, cedar wood may succumb to the harsh realities of its environment. For instance, outdoor cedar decking and furniture can weather and gray over time due to continuous exposure to sunlight and moisture.

This graying isn’t just a cosmetic issue; it’s a sign that the wood’s surface is breaking down, eventually leading to more severe structural problems like splitting and cracking.

The Sealing Process on Cedar

When To Seal Cedar

So, you may ask yourself, “How long should cedar dry before sealing?” The answer lies in the condition of the wood.

New cedar wood typically has a high moisture content and should be allowed to dry out before sealing. Depending on the local climate and weather conditions, this could take several weeks to a few months.

Once the wood reaches a moisture content of about 15%, it’s ready for sealing.

Choosing the Right Sealer

Choosing a clear sealer for cedar wood can be a bit of a balancing act. You want a product that will provide excellent protection without darkening or altering the cedar’s natural color.

Look for sealers explicitly designed for cedar and other redwood species, as these products are formulated to enhance the wood’s natural beauty while providing effective protection against the elements.

Step-by-Step Guide to Sealing Cedar Without Changing Color

Preparing Cedar for Sealing

Before applying a sealer, your cedar wood must be clean and dry. Any dirt, mildew, or old finish on the wood’s surface can prevent the sealer from adhering properly and may alter the final color.

Use a mild detergent and a soft brush to clean the wood, then rinse it thoroughly and let it dry completely.

If you plan to paint your cedar, seal it first; the sealer will provide a smooth, stable base for the paint and help prevent the color from bleeding through.

Applying the Sealer

Applying the sealer is a critical step in the process, and doing it correctly is crucial to preserving cedar’s natural color. Whether you’re sealing raw or rough-cut cedar, indoors or outdoors, here’s how to do it right.

First, stir the sealer thoroughly but gently to mix in any settled material. Avoid vigorous shaking, as this can create bubbles that may show up on the finished surface. Once the sealer is ready, use a high-quality brush to apply it evenly along the wood grain. Brush on a generous amount, but avoid overloading the wood to the point where the sealer pools or drips.

Remember, the goal is to create a thin, even coat that enhances the wood’s color rather than obscuring it. Allow the first coat to dry as per the manufacturer’s instructions—usually a couple of hours—and then apply a second coat. This second coat will provide additional protection and ensure a consistent finish.

And there you have it—a perfectly sealed piece of cedar wood, its natural color intact and enhanced.

Maintaining Your Sealed Cedar

Now that you’ve sealed your cedar and basked in its natural, unaltered color, you might wonder how to maintain its vibrant hue. Indeed, sealed cedar does require some care to keep it looking its best. But worry not because the tips and tricks in this section will equip you to maintain your cedar’s color and keep it in excellent condition.

Protecting Cedar’s Color

The question often asks, “What can I put on my cedar to keep its color?” The answer: a quality UV-blocking wood finish. UV rays from the sun are the main culprits behind cedar’s color fading.

A UV-blocking finish will help protect the wood’s surface from these harmful rays, preserving its rich color. Remember to choose a clear or lightly tinted product to avoid altering the cedar’s natural color.

Beyond finishes, regular cleaning is another crucial aspect of maintaining the color of sealed cedar. Accumulated dirt and grime can dull the wood’s color over time, so it’s essential to clean your cedar furniture, decking, or siding periodically.

Use a mild detergent and a soft brush to gently scrub the wood’s surface, then rinse it thoroughly with clean water.

Periodic Maintenance

Like all wood, sealed cedar requires regular maintenance to keep it looking its best. For cedar decking and fencing, you’ll typically need to re-seal the wood every 2 to 3 years, depending on the local climate and the specific sealer you’ve used.

When it’s time for re-sealing, start by cleaning the wood thoroughly to remove any dirt or mildew. Allow the wood to dry completely, then apply a new coat of sealer following the same process.

The result? A cedar surface that’s as vibrant and well-protected as the day you first sealed it.

Common Mistakes to Avoid When Sealing Cedar

While sealing cedar isn’t overly complicated, a few common mistakes can lead to less-than-ideal results. Let’s look at these potential pitfalls to avoid them in your cedar sealing endeavors.


While applying enough sealer to protect your cedar is important, overdoing it can lead to problems. Too much sealer can form a thick, glossy layer on the wood’s surface, obscuring its natural texture and color.

In addition, over-sealing can cause the sealer to bubble or peel, leaving your cedar vulnerable to the elements.

When applying a sealer, aim for thin, even coats. Allow each coat to dry fully before applying the next, and avoid the temptation to slather on extra sealer in the hopes of providing more protection. Less is often more when it comes to sealing cedar.

Wrong Sealer Selection

Choosing the wrong sealer is another mistake that can lead to disappointing results. Colored or darkening sealers can significantly alter cedar’s natural color, masking its warm hues with an artificial tone.

Instead, opt for a clear or lightly tinted sealer for cedar and other redwood species. Such a product will provide excellent protection while enhancing the wood’s natural beauty, letting its true color shine.

Best Practices for Sealing Cedar: A Quick Recap

By now, you should have a solid understanding of how to seal cedar without changing its color. But let’s quickly recap some of the essential points to make your cedar sealing journey as smooth as possible:

  1. Select a Sealer Mindfully: Always opt for a clear or lightly tinted sealer designed for cedar. It should have UV-blocking properties to protect the wood’s color from sun damage.
  2. Prepare the cedar Correctly: Clean the cedar thoroughly and allow it to dry before applying any sealer. This ensures the sealer adheres properly and performs at its best.
  3. Apply Sealer in Thin, Even Coats: Avoid slathering on thick layers of sealer. Thin, even coats provide the best protection without changing the wood’s color or texture.
  4. Regular Maintenance is Key: Clean your sealed cedar regularly to prevent dirt and grime from dulling the wood’s color. Re-seal your cedar every 2-3 years to maintain its protection and vibrancy.

Wrapping Up

Cedar is a beautiful wood species with unique properties that make it a homeowner’s dream. It needs proper care and protection to maintain its shine, and sealing it right is an art. This guide has armed you with the knowledge and tips to become a master of this art.

Sealing cedar is essential to maintain its natural beauty and enhance its lifespan. Not all sealers will change the wood’s color, and regular maintenance is the secret sauce to keep it looking fresh and vibrant for years to come.

Frequently Asked Questions

Does cedar have to be sealed?

Sealing cedar is highly recommended, especially if the cedar is used outdoors. Sealing protects cedar from the elements and helps prevent damage from UV rays, moisture, and insects.

Does cedar need to be sealed before painting?

Sealing before painting isn’t necessary unless you want to preserve the natural wood grain. Paint acts as a sealant itself. However, if you’re staining cedar, it’s best to seal it afterwards to protect the stain and the wood.

Does cedar siding need to be sealed?

Cedar siding should definitely be sealed. Given its exposure to the elements, a good sealant helps prevent UV, moisture, and insect damage, maintaining the siding’s durability and aesthetic appeal.

Does interior cedar need to be sealed?

While interior cedar isn’t exposed to harsh weather conditions, it still benefits from sealing. A sealant can prevent potential moisture damage, resist staining, and reduce the wood’s natural aromatic oils’ potential to discolor adjacent materials.

Does red cedar need to be sealed?

Yes, like all cedar varieties, red cedar benefits from sealing. It enhances the wood’s resistance to the elements and insects, prolongs its life, and helps maintain its beautiful color.

Will cedar turn grey if sealed?

Cedar will only turn grey if left untreated or exposed to prolonged sunlight and moisture. UV-resistant clear sealant helps maintain cedar’s natural color and prevents greying. Remember, sealing isn’t a one-and-done process. Regular re-sealing every few years helps keep your cedar looking its best.