Best Stain for Cedar

I Tested 5 Stains for Cedar: Here are the Best (2024)

Cedar is one of my favorite woods to work with for a few reasons. It’s easy to work with and it looks amazing.

And since cedar has such distinct natural beauty, finding the best stain for cedar can be a little challenging. But that’s exactly why I put this list together—to help you find the best cedar wood stain for your project!

In a hurry? Ready Seal Cedar Exterior Stain is the best stain for cedar because it has a well-balanced color and delivers first-rate durability. Plus, it’s cheaper than other top-tier cedar wood stains.

Best Stains for Cedar

1. Ready Seal Cedar Exterior Stain – #1 Best Overall

Ready Seal Deck Stain
Sale
Ready Seal 512 5-Gallon Pail Natural Cedar Exterior Stain and Sealer for…
  • Requires no primer. Ready Seal is darkest when first applied. It reaches its true color in approximately 14…
  • May be applied using sprayer, roller or brush onto the woods surface.
  • Requires no back brushing and will nerver leave runs, laps, or streaks.

Over the years, I’ve used many wood stains on cedar, and what I’ve found is nothing can beautify and strengthen cedar quite like Ready Seal Cedar Exterior Stain. Additionally, it’s easy to use and relatively affordable!

This oil-based wood stain is for exterior use only, and it can be applied with a brush, roller, or sprayer. And unlike other oily wood stains, you don’t need to thin before spraying, and that’s a big plus in my book.

Also, you don’t need to use a primer before putting it down, and just two coats will form a seal after 48-72 hours of drying time.

It’s a semi-transparent stain with a rather matte sheen, so it’s great for decks, stairs, and other outdoor wooden surfaces that see a lot of foot traffic day in and day out.

And since it’s a stain and sealer, you won’t have to put down a coating of polyurethane or another varnish.

It can be applied regardless of atmospheric temperature, and I like how you don’t have to keep a wet line or back-brush—the application process is so much easier this way.

As far as maintenance is concerned, you don’t need to sand or strip to touch it up, and annual maintenance is usually enough.

If applied right and maintained properly, it can last 1-3 years on horizontal surfaces and 3-5 on vertical.

For cleaning, mineral spirits will do, and since it has a minimal amount of volatile organic compounds (VOC) it’s less toxic—it’s even biodegradable!

Finally, it comes with a warranty, so if you don’t like how the stain came out—and it was applied right—you can get new stain or a full refund.

What I Liked:

  • Its color blends well with cedar wood over time, so it beautifully highlights the wood grain.
  • It doesn’t take long to apply since it’s a two-coat wood stain that dries in under 45 minutes.
  • It’s less toxic and biodegradable, so you don’t have to worry about it harming nearby plants, grass, or soil.
  • It’s designed to withstand prolonged exposure to harsh UV rays, so it won’t fade or discolor.

What I Didn’t Like:

  • It takes 14 days for this stain to reach its true cedar-like tone.
  • You’ll need to mix two containers to achieve a darker tone.

My Thoughts:

There are so many quality wood stains out there, but none knock things out of the park quite like Ready Seal Cedar Exterior Stain. This cedar wood stain is great in all the ways a wood stain should be. Specifically, it’s visually stunning, durable, easy to apply and clean, and more versatile than other oil-based wood stains. Also, it’s pretty affordable when compared to other high-quality products. Sure, it takes a couple weeks for its true color to be reached, but that’s a small price to pay for all its benefits.

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2. Defy Extreme Transparent Exterior Wood Stain – Highest Quality

DEFY Wood Stain
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DEFY Extreme 5 Gallon Semi-Transparent Exterior Wood Stain, Cedar Tone
  • Water-Based Semi-Transparent Wood Stain – This water-based deck stain allows the wood grain to show through with a beautiful semi-transparent, natural matte finish. It’s great for…
  • Fortified With Zinc Nano-Particle Technology – It’s like sunscreen for your wood. Tiny zinc particles dispersed throughout the stain reflect damaging UV rays, preventing…
  • Durable Quality That Lasts – DEFY Extreme wood stains are made with the highest quality resins available that have better resistance to fading and darkening.

Defy Extreme Transparent Exterior Wood Stain is a top-notch wood stain for cedar surfaces, and it distinguishes itself from the rest by being the most durable and longest-lasting. That’s pretty impressive for a two-coat water-based stain!

Another semi-transparent stain with a matte sheen, it can be brushed, rolled, or wiped on. As far as sprayers go, both pump-up and airless sprayers can apply this wood stain without issue.

Most outdoor wood surfaces should get two coats, and it takes 2-6 hours for a coat to dry; I’ve found that it usually dries in four hours.

And unlike other wood stains, it cures in just 24 hours, so long as atmospheric conditions remain ideal.

This container can cover 500-750 sq ft, but how much coverage you get is largely determined by the cedar surface’s porosity.

Once it’s fully cured, you can use soap and water to keep it clean; warm, soapy water will also remove this wood stain from any applicators.

Zinc nanoparticles ensure superior UV ray protection, and high-quality acrylic resins will keep its awesome color looking brand new for years.

And since it penetrates deep into wood pores, it can highlight natural wood grain exceptionally well while ensuring first-rate protection.

Finally, this product is proudly manufactured in the USA, and it’s backed by a pretty standard warranty.

What I Liked:

  • It cures much faster than other cedar deck stains, so you won’t have to wait long to use the surface.
  • Its color, opacity, and sheen allow it to subtly yet effectively bring out all of cedar wood’s best qualities.
  • It’s designed to ensure superior UV protection, so it can withstand hours of direct sunlight.
  • It’s versatile and easy to apply, as you can use any applicator and only two coats are needed.

What I Didn’t Like:

  • It can only be applied to cedar wood that’s been properly treated and prepped.
  • It requires yearly maintenance to ensure maximum effectiveness.

My Thoughts:

They definitely got a lot right when they designed Defy Extreme Transparent Exterior Wood Stain, and I can say with 100% confidence that it’s the strongest wood stain for exterior cedar surfaces. But the most unbelievable part is it’s a water-based stain! So you don’t only get superior durability but less toxicity and easy application too. And, of course, it looks great and will stay looking great for years. If you didn’t have to do a lot of surface prep beforehand, this brilliant product would be at the top of my list.

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3. Thompson’s WaterSeal Waterproofing Stain – Best Value

Thompson WaterSeal
THOMPSONS WATERSEAL TH.042851-16 Semi-Transparent Waterproofing Stain,…
  • Color: Woodland Cedar
  • Semi-Transparent
  • Wood sealer and stain, all in 1

When you don’t want to spend a lot but you still want awesome results, you can’t go wrong with Thompson’s WaterSeal Waterproofing Stain, as it’s a pretty reliable stain and sealer that enhances cedar’s visual appeal.

Designed for exterior use, this semi-transparent, water-based stain will last five years on decks and seven years on siding (if it’s applied properly), and it not only waterproofs cedar but makes it UV-resistant as well.

The manufacturer says only one coat is necessary, but I’ve found two to be the magic number. It takes 2-4 hours for a coat to dry, and after the final coat you should allow for 24-48 hours of drying time.

And this product isn’t just affordable—it’s cost-effective too! After all, it’s a long-lasting wood stain that can cover 150-400 sq ft; that’s first-rate value in my book.

Lastly, the product is backed by a warranty. So if you don’t like the finished product, chances are you can get either a refund or new stain.

What I Liked:

  • It’s a stain and sealer all in one, so you don’t have to spend on varnish.
  • It’s a one-coat solution, so you can easily complete the staining process in under 24 hours.
  • It beautifully highlights woodgrain without raising it.
  • Its matte sheen and durability make it great for decks that are used frequently.

What I Didn’t Like:

  • It must be thoroughly mixed or else the pigments won’t disperse evenly.
  • It must be applied to totally dry wood, otherwise it’ll peel off once semi-dry.

My Thoughts:

I often say you don’t need to spend an arm and a leg to get wonderful results, and Thompson’s WaterSeal Waterproofing Stain is proof of this. This is one of the most affordable and cost-effective cedar wood stains available now, yet it’s also reliable and just as appealing as stains that are much more expensive. And since it’s a one-coat solution, application takes no time at all. Again, perfect prep is essential, but with a little patience you can take advantage of everything this fantastic wood stain has to offer.

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4. Cabot Semi-Solid Deck Stain – Best Color

Cabot Wood Stain
Cabot Wood Toned Stain + Sealer, Exterior Natural Wood Stain, Cedar, Quart
  • PROTECT WOOD – Cabot Wood Toned Stain + Sealer is specially formulated with a unique blend of resin and oil to…
  • BEAUTIFY – This natural wood sealer seals in and enhances the natural beauty of your outdoor wood projects….
  • WATER REPELLANT – As a wood protector for outdoor items, this wood stain is mildew resistant and…

When it comes to natural beauty, cedar is one of the best woods. And to bring out this beauty, you can’t go wrong with Cabot Semi-Solid Deck Stain, as it highlights even the minor details and ensures a rich finish that’s truly second to none.

As an oil-based wood stain for exterior use only, this product by Cabot is deep penetrating, and this is the main reason why it makes cedar eye-catching and strong.

And since it’s semi-transparent with a muted sheen, I can use it on outdoor furniture without worrying that it’s going to be too shiny.

This is another stain-sealer product, and usually one coat will do. However, I’ve found that two coats is best for cedar siding, especially if you live in an area that gets a lot of rain.

It’s UV-resistant too, of course, and you won’t have to worry about it fading or discoloring because it’s designed to keep its fabulous color for several years.

As far as drying time is concerned, it takes 4-6 hours for a coat of this cedar wood stain to dry; you should allow 48 hours of drying time after the final coat is down before resuming normal use of the surface.

It can be brushed, rolled, or wiped on, but unfortunately it’s a little too viscous for spraying.

Finally, it comes with a pretty generous warranty, which is definitely an advantage if you’re picky like me.

What I Liked:

  • Its color blends well with any cedar surface, so it’s hard to tell there’s stain down.
  • Its ability to repel moisture means it’s mold- and mildew-resistant too.
  • It doesn’t need perfectly prepped wood to work well, so it’s ideal for the inexperienced.
  • Its pigments disperse well upon mixing, so you can count on a rich, consistent finish.

What I Didn’t Like:

  • It’s too viscous to be sprayed.
  • Its viscosity makes achieving a 100% smooth and even surface somewhat difficult.

My Thoughts:

If you’re staining cedar solely to enhance its natural beauty, I highly recommend Cabot Semi-Solid Deck Stain, as it works magic on cedar decking, cedar siding—pretty much any cedar surface! And since it’s one of the most reliable oil-based stains, you can count on a consistently rich finish. Moreover, it resists all the elements that wear down wood surfaces outdoors, so its color will stay eye-catching for years. If it was just a little thinner, it would be in the running for the top spot on my list.

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5. #1 Deck Premium Semi-Transparent Wood Stain – Most Eco-Friendly

#1 Deck Stain
#1 Deck Premium Semi-Transparent Wood Stain for Decks, Fences, & Siding – 1…
  • PROTECTS AGAINST COLOR FADE AND PREVENTS GRAYING – #1 Deck Protects Wood From Damage Caused By Exposure to the…
  • BOTH A DECK STAIN & DECK SEALANT IN ONE – #1 Deck Stain Is a Dual-Purpose Stain & Sealer. It Adds Color to…
  • ALLOWS THE WOOD GRAIN TO SHOW THROUGH – Available in 5 Beautiful, Semi-Transparent Deck Stain Colors That Dry…

Beautifying your deck shouldn’t come at a cost to the environment, and with #1 Deck Premium Semi-Transparent Wood Stain it doesn’t have to, as this is one of the most eco-friendly wood stains designed specifically for cedar decks.

It’s another water-based, semi-transparent stain with a more muted sheen, but it can still bring out all the elements that make cedar wood unique.

Like other stains, it can be brushed, rolled, wiped, or sprayed on, but I’ve found that spraying is best—there’s no clogging and it comes out smoothly.

Only two coats are needed to form a durable yet attractive finish on a wood deck, and it only needs 24 hours of drying time before it’s ready for regular use.

All you need to clean it is warm, soapy water, and it can adequately cover a cedar surface that’s 100-150 sq ft.

And since it waterproofs wood like other stain-sealers, you won’t have to worry about mold or mildew defacing this wood deck stain.

But what’s really remarkable is it can be applied to damp wood; I’ve been staining for years and I’ve only come across a few stains that can do this.

What I Liked:

  • You don’t have to worry about overspray killing nearby grass or plants, as it’s virtually non-toxic.
  • Its muted sheen is anti-slip and non-blinding, so it’s one of the safer wood stains for cedar decks.
  • It’s thin and water-based, so it’s easy to spread evenly and clean up.
  • It’s designed to resist UV fading and peeling, so it’s great for decks that have no shade.

What I Didn’t Like:

  • Annual maintenance is required to keep it strong and looking good.
  • It takes 48-72 hours for the cedar shade to come through.

My Thoughts:

Fortunately, you can make your cedar deck a sight to behold without tossing your values to the wayside. Just use #1 Deck Premium Semi-Transparent Wood Stain! This is one of the most eco-friendly deck stains for cedar wood, but it’s also efficient and reliable. And since it’s easy to apply, maintain, and clean, it’s ideal for DIYers who don’t have much staining experience. Sure, it takes a few days for its true color to manifest. But when this is the only downside, you know it’s a phenomenal product and one of the best semi-transparent deck stains you can buy.

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What to Consider When Buying a Stain for Cedar

Durability

Sure, a stain that’s designed for cedar wood has to have a first-rate color and sheen, but it also needs to be durable.

That is, the stain should be able to protect the wood surface from moisture, mold and mildew, temperature fluctuations, pests, and UV rays.

The best wood stains for cedar, as far as durability goes, are oil-based stains that double as sealers.

Appearance: Color & Sheen

Whether you’re using stain for a cedar deck or cedar siding, it must be visually appealing.

Generally, semi-transparent stains are best for cedar woods, because these highlight the wood’s natural colors as well as the grain and other features.

Solid stains, on the other hand, would cover up cedar’s unique elements.

To ensure a cedar surface looks simply brilliant after staining, thoroughly prep the surface before applying. Then, take your time when applying.

Are you looking for a gel stain? Check out the best gel stains in 2023!

Ease of Use

It’s not enough for a wood stain to be attractive and strong—it should be easy to use as well.

That is, you shouldn’t have to thin it beforehand, and it shouldn’t be hard to spread. If it’s self-leveling, consider this a bonus.

And if only 1-2 coats are needed to protect an entire deck from UV light, moisture, and the other things that can diminish wood’s natural beauty, it’s most likely an easy-to-use wood stain.

Are you wondering how to stain & finish wood? Check out the video down below.

Drying Time

Water-based cedar stain usually dries in under an hour, whereas oil-based stain takes 4-6 hours to dry.

And regardless of which wood stain you choose, you should allow at least 24 hours of drying time (post-application) before resuming normal use of the surface.

Coverage

A first-rate stain will cover at least 100 sq ft. And generally, the more coverage a product delivers, the more cost-effective it’ll be.

That said, just because a stain for cedar covers a lot of area doesn’t necessarily mean it’s good.

Eco-Friendliness

Water-based stain is the most eco-friendly option for a cedar wood surface, as it has less VOC.

That said, some oil-based stains are relatively eco-friendly too—Ready Seal Cedar Exterior Stain is even biodegradable!

Cost

The price of cedar deck stain is determined by a range of factors, including strength, appearance, ease of use, composition, and demand.

If a cost-effective stain for cedar wood is what you’re after, look for something long-lasting that can effectively stain hundreds of square feet.

Warranty

Most wood stains come with a warranty or satisfaction guarantee.

Of course, the terms vary from brand to brand, but usually a wood stain warranty will provide recourse if you applied the product right but don’t like the results.

Final Thoughts

To recap, Ready Seal Cedar Exterior Stain is the overall best stain for cedar because it delivers in all the ways a superior wood stain is supposed to deliver, i.e. it’s visually attractive, tough, easy to apply and maintain, less toxic, and quick-drying.

Defy Extreme Transparent Exterior Wood Stain is definitely the strongest stain for cedar, so it’s ideal for a wood deck that gets battered by the elements routinely.

And when you’re looking to save some money without sacrificing quality, Thompson’s WaterSeal Waterproofing Stain won’t let you down, as it’s a reliable, easy-to-use product that’s not only affordable but cost-effective too.