Staining Pressure Treated Wood to Look Like Cedar

Homeowners and DIY enthusiasts alike highly seek a beautiful, natural-looking cedar finish. But cedar wood can be expensive and not always the most practical choice for every project.

The solution? Staining pressure treated wood to resemble cedar. In this article, we’ll explore the reasons behind creating a cedar-like appearance, the differences between cedar and pressure-treated wood, and how to achieve that highly desired cedar finish on pressure treated wood.

Comparison between Pressure Treated Wood and Cedar

Before diving into the staining process, let’s first understand the characteristics of cedar and pressure-treated wood.

Cedar wood’s characteristics and disadvantages

Cedar is a popular choice for woodworking projects because of its attractive reddish-brown color, pleasant aroma, and natural resistance to rot and insects. However, cedar has disadvantages, including a higher price point and a tendency to split or crack over time. Additionally, cedar’s natural resistance to weathering and decay may diminish over the years, requiring more maintenance than other options.

Pressure treated wood’s characteristics and benefits

Pressure treated wood, on the other hand, is a more economical choice for many projects. It is treated with chemicals that protect it from rot, decay, and insects, making it highly durable and long-lasting. The treatment process also helps to prevent warping and twisting, which can be issues with natural cedar. However, the appearance of pressure-treated wood can be less desirable, as it often has a greenish hue due to the treatment process.

Comparing the longevity and cost of cedar vs. pressure treated wood

Regarding cost, pressure treated wood is generally less expensive than cedar. Also, pressure-treated wood often has a longer lifespan due to its chemical treatment. In terms of aesthetics, though, many people find the natural appearance of cedar more appealing. This is where staining pressure treated wood to resemble cedar can provide the best of both worlds: the durability and affordability of pressure treated wood, combined with the beautiful appearance of cedar.

Can you stain pressure treated wood to look like cedar?

Achieving a cedar-like appearance on pressure treated wood is possible, but there are some factors to consider and techniques to master.

Factors to consider when staining

Wait for the right time: Pressure treated wood needs time to dry out before staining. You also need to understand how to dry pressure-treated wood properly. Depending on the climate and humidity levels, this may take several weeks to several months. It’s essential to wait until the wood is dry, as staining wet wood can result in uneven stain absorption, leading to a blotchy appearance.

Prepare the surface: Pressure treated wood often comes with mill glaze or other surface contaminants that can prevent proper stain absorption. Sanding the surface with medium-grit sandpaper will remove these contaminants and ensure a smooth, even finish.

Choose the right stain: To achieve a cedar-like appearance, select a semi-transparent or semi-solid stain in a cedar-tone color. These stains allow the wood grain to shine while providing a rich, warm hue miming natural cedar.

Techniques to achieve a cedar-like appearance

Test the stain: Always test it on a small, inconspicuous area before applying it to the entire project. This will give you a better idea of how the finished result will look and allow you to adjust the stain color or application technique if necessary.

Apply the stain: Use a high-quality brush or paint pad to apply the stain evenly, working in the direction of the wood grain. Be sure to maintain a wet edge as you work, blending any overlap marks to prevent streaking or uneven color.

Apply multiple coats: Depending on the desired level of opacity and richness, you may need to apply multiple coats of stain. Allow each coat to dry according to the manufacturer’s instructions before applying the next one. Remember that more coats will result in a darker, richer color, so adjust the number of coats based on your desired outcome.

Seal the wood: After achieving the desired cedar-like appearance, it’s essential to seal the wood with a high-quality, water-repellent sealer to protect it from the elements and ensure its long-lasting beauty.

Choosing the Right Stain Color for Pressure Treated Wood

Selecting the perfect stain color is crucial for achieving a cedar-like finish on pressure treated wood. Let’s explore some popular stain colors and how they can help mimic the appearance of cedar.

Understanding wood tones and cedar’s natural color

Cedar wood typically has a warm, reddish-brown hue. When choosing a stain color, consider the natural color of cedar and look for a stain that closely resembles it. However, remember that the pressure treated wood’s initial color and grain pattern can also impact the final result.

Gray stain for pressure treated wood

A gray stain can give pressure treated wood an aged, weathered look that resembles the patina cedar develops over time. This can be stylish for outdoor furniture or decking, providing a rustic and timeless appearance. When selecting a gray stain, choose one with a warm undertone to help mimic the warmth of natural cedar.

Black stain for pressure treated wood

While black may seem like an unconventional choice for mimicking cedar, it can provide a striking and dramatic appearance. A deep black stain with a hint of brown can give the wood a rich, luxurious look that captures the essence of cedar without trying to be an exact match. This option can be particularly stunning for outdoor structures and accents, such as pergolas and privacy screens.

What color stain matches pressure treated wood?

Ultimately, the best color stain to match pressure treated wood to cedar will depend on your personal preferences and desired outcome. A cedar-tone semi-transparent or semi-solid stain is the most popular choice for achieving a natural cedar-like appearance. However, gray and black stains can also provide unique and appealing results, giving pressure treated wood a cedar-inspired look with a twist.

Preparing the Pressure Treated Wood for Staining

Can you stain pressure-treated wood immediately?

While it might be tempting to stain your pressure-treated wood immediately, it’s generally not recommended.

Pressure-treated wood contains moisture from the treatment process, which needs to evaporate before applying stain. Staining wet wood can result in uneven absorption, a blotchy appearance, and poor stain adhesion.

What happens if you stain treated wood too soon?

Staining treated wood too soon can lead to a host of issues, such as poor stain penetration, an uneven and blotchy finish, and reduced durability of the stain.

This is because the moisture in the wood interferes with the stain’s ability to penetrate and adhere to the wood fibers properly.

Appropriate waiting period for staining

The waiting period for staining pressure-treated wood varies depending on climate, humidity, and the specific wood treatment. Generally, it’s best to wait at least a few weeks to several months for the wood to dry.

You can test the wood’s readiness for staining by sprinkling a few drops of water on the surface. If the water beads up, the wood is still too wet. If the water is absorbed, the wood is ready for staining.

How to Stain Wood to Look Like Cedar

Prepare the wood: Begin by sanding the pressure-treated wood with medium-grit sandpaper to remove any mill glaze or surface contaminants. Wipe the surface clean with a damp cloth to remove any dust.

Test the stain: Apply your chosen cedar-tone stain to a small, inconspicuous area to ensure the desired color and appearance.

Apply the stain: Using a high-quality brush or paint pad, apply the stain evenly in the direction of the wood grain. Maintain a wet edge to prevent streaks or uneven color.

Allow the stain to dry: Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for drying time between coats. Depending on your desired opacity and richness, you may need to apply multiple coats of stain.

Seal the wood: Protect your stained wood with a high-quality, water-repellent sealer to ensure long-lasting beauty and durability.

Tips for achieving a realistic cedar appearance

Choose a semi-transparent or semi-solid stain in a cedar-tone color to allow the wood grain to show through.

Test different stain colors and brands to find the one that best matches your desired cedar appearance.

Apply thin, even coats of stain, allowing each coat to dry before applying the next.

Mix two or more stain colors to achieve a more nuanced cedar-like hue.

Best material for fence posts: pressure treated wood or cedar?

Both pressure-treated wood and cedar have their advantages and disadvantages when it comes to fence posts. Pressure-treated wood offers superior durability and resistance to rot, insects, and decay.

Cedar, on the other hand, has a more attractive natural appearance and a pleasant aroma.

The choice between the two materials ultimately depends on your budget, desired maintenance level, and aesthetic preferences.

Mixing Cedar and Pressure-Treated Wood

When mixing cedar and pressure-treated wood in a project, consider the following design aspects:

Color consistency: Ensure that the stain used on the pressure-treated wood closely matches the natural color of the cedar to create a cohesive look.

Structural integrity: Consider the structural requirements of your project and use the appropriate wood type for load-bearing components.

Maintenance: Keep in mind that cedar may require more frequent maintenance than pressure-treated wood. Plan accordingly to maintain a consistent appearance over time.

Ensuring a cohesive look between cedar and pressure treated wood

To achieve a cohesive appearance between cedar and pressure-treated wood, follow these tips:

Use the same stain color and finish for both wood types to create a uniform look.

Consider the wood grain patterns and direction when combining the two materials to create a harmonious visual flow.

Pay attention to the design elements, such as trim, accents, or decorative features, and ensure they are consistent throughout the project.

Can you use pressure treated posts with cedar fence?

Yes, you can use pressure-treated posts with a cedar fence.

This combination is quite common as it offers the durability and rot-resistance of pressure-treated wood for the posts in direct contact with the ground and the attractive appearance of cedar for the fence panels.

This approach can prolong the fence’s lifespan while maintaining its aesthetic appeal.

Garden Beds and Pressure Treated Wood

When it comes to garden beds, both pressure-treated wood and cedar have their pros and cons.

Cedar is naturally rot-resistant, making it a popular choice for garden beds. However, it can be more expensive and may require more frequent maintenance.

Pressure-treated wood is more durable and cost-effective, but there are concerns about the chemicals used in the treatment process leaching into the soil and potentially affecting plants.

Using pressure treated cedar for garden beds

Pressure-treated cedar combines the natural beauty and rot resistance of cedar with the added durability of pressure treatment.

This wood type can be an excellent option for garden beds, as it offers a long-lasting, attractive, and relatively low-maintenance solution. However, ensure that wood treated with non-toxic chemicals is safe for gardening.

Why not use pressure treated wood for garden beds?

Some people may hesitate to use pressure-treated wood for garden beds due to concerns about the chemicals used in the treatment process.

However, newer pressure-treated wood products use safer, non-toxic chemicals less likely to leach into the soil and harm plants.

If you use pressure-treated wood for garden beds, ensure it’s labeled for use in residential gardening applications and follow any additional safety guidelines.

Pressure Treated Wood Maintenance

Sealing pressure-treated cedar can help prolong its lifespan and maintain its appearance.

A high-quality, water-repellent sealer can protect the wood from moisture, UV damage, and general wear and tear.

It’s important to wait until the wood is fully dry before applying a sealer and follow the manufacturer’s instructions for application and maintenance.

Staining pressure-treated wood offers several benefits, such as:

  • Enhancing the wood’s appearance and mimicking the look of other wood types, like cedar.
  • Adding an extra layer of protection against moisture, UV damage, and general wear and tear.
  • Increasing the wood’s lifespan and reducing the need for replacement.

However, staining pressure-treated wood also has some downsides:

  • Additional cost and time required for the staining process and ongoing maintenance.
  • Potential for uneven or blotchy appearance if not properly applied or maintained.

Comparison of stained and unstained pressure treated wood

Stained pressure-treated wood offers a more polished and visually appealing appearance than its unstained counterpart.

Additionally, staining can provide extra protection against the elements and prolong the wood’s lifespan.

On the other hand, unstained pressure-treated wood may have a more natural, rustic look but may be more susceptible to moisture damage, UV fading, and general wear and tear over time.


Staining pressure-treated wood to look like cedar involves several steps, such as waiting for the wood to dry after installation, preparing it by sanding and cleaning the surface, applying the stain evenly, sealing it with a high-quality sealer, and achieving a cedar-like appearance with the right stain, technique, and patience.

Comparing the two materials can be a viable option for achieving both aesthetic appeal and durability, but it also has some limitations, including the potential for chemical leaching and a less attractive natural appearance.

Choosing wood products treated with non-toxic chemicals and following proper maintenance practices are important to ensure the longevity and safety of wood projects.