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Cedar Siding Stain Recommendations and Application Tips

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Matt is a professional painter who owns and operates his own painting business, specializing in interior and exterior house painting.

A house with cedar siding I prepped and stained two colors.

A house with cedar siding I prepped and stained two colors.

Is Your Cedar Siding Stained or Painted?

Before purchasing stain for your cedar siding, it's important to determine whether the siding is currently stained or painted. If the siding was painted, a new coat of paint should be applied, not siding stain.

The thickness of paint film on siding prevents the new stain from penetrating the cedar beneath. Staining over painted wood, although doable with certain solid stain products, could lead to problems.

Can't Tell the Difference Between Stained and Painted?

The best way to determine if your siding is currently stained or painted is to look for fading. Typically, stained siding fades and flakes off more than it peels. Paint usually peels and chips a lot more easily because it's thicker and more rubbery. The added thickness of paint also hides the natural beauty of cedar that most people want to accentuate.

Avoid Painting Cedar Siding

Cedar siding should never be painted because the wood expands and releases moisture all year long, and covering the surface with thick paint can cause blistering and other problems with the finish. While solid stain does form somewhat of a surface layer too, it's not as thick as paint and still seeps into the wood. Transparent and semi-transparent stain offers the best wood penetration.

Select the Best Cedar Siding Stain

A good house siding stain will resist color fading for as long as possible, hold up to the elements, and cover wood knots in a couple coats.

Beware of tannin bleed from wood knots. It can be tricky to cover them successfully with stain alone. Bleeding wood knots are way less noticeable with darker colors, but if you're staining your cedar siding a very light color, sealing each knot with a shellac-based primer like BIN is important before staining. The primer will help hold back tannin longer and make it less noticeable in light colors.

Sherwin Williams Woodscapes Acrylic Solid Stain

Throughout my painting career, I've used Woodscapes solid stain from Sherwin Williams for my cedar siding and fence staining jobs. I've also used this product on T1-11 plywood siding with fantastic results. I spray the stain onto wood siding with my Graco Ultra Max 495 airless sprayer and back-brush it into the wood pores.

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My only complaint about Woodscapes is deeper colors don't touch-up well. I touched up siding once in a dark blue color only to see that it left some noticeable marks. With lighter colors, touch up work blends in nicely.

Cabot Solid Color Acrylic Siding Stain

Cabot siding stain works well on cedar siding and fences too. This stain can get a little expensive, but like anything else, you get what you pay for. I mostly use Woodscapes, but I stained a house once with Cabot and was very satisfied with the results.

Cabot is self-priming and covers exceptionally well over weathered cedar knots and wood. It is advertised as a one coat stain, but I always apply a second coat for durability and enhanced color.

Cabot stain can be applied over previously painted surfaces, but I've always applied it over previously stained wood. This stain resists fading and touches up well in any color.

Preparing a cedar-sided house for stain.

Preparing a cedar-sided house for stain.

Prepare the Siding Before Staining

Surface preparation is the most important part of an exterior painting and staining project. If you neglect the surface preparation, the stain won't last long, or look as nice as it would if you would have taken the time to prepare everything.

  1. Power wash. Siding gets really dirty over time. On the shady side of a house, mildew can also form. Both need to be carefully cleaned with a power washer before doing anything else. I like to clean cedar siding with Simple Green, or a bleach/water mix. For mildew, I've had good success removing the dark stains with a product called Jomax by Zinsser. I let the cleaner penetrate the mildew stains followed by a good power wash.
  2. Let the siding dry for at least 48-hours. Cedar absorbs a lot of water like a sponge and it's important to make sure the wood is totally dry before staining. Don't rush to stain your siding. If you stain wet wood you're going to have problems.
  3. Sand the surface. If the previous coating is peeling, sanding is a must, but if the surface is only faded, sanding is unnecessary. If the surface is peeling paint, everything must be sanded thoroughly to remove anything that's loose. The Wagner Paint Eater is an awesome paint removing tool for that purpose. The coarse disc removes old layers of stain and paint a lot more effectively than my regular orbital sander. I highly recommend it for badly peeling siding.
  4. Spot prime wood knots. If you don't spot prime, the knots are more likely to bleed through and become noticeable when using a light color stain. Zinsser BIN is good spot primer to use for that purpose. You should also repair wood knots in bad shape with Bondo Wood Filler. That stuff is water resistant and dries like concrete.
  5. Spray the stain. The best way to stain your cedar siding is with an airless sprayer and a brush. My Titan 440 Impact, or my Graco 495 Ultra Max, are the two airless sprayers I use for exterior projects. Mask your windows with a 3M hand masker first. For the best finish, two coats of stain should be sprayed and back-brushed into the pores and cracks of the wood. You can also use a mini roller, but brushing gives it a more natural look without stippling.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2012 Matt G.

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