Matt is a professional painter and freelance writer, sharing his knowledge, house-painting tips, and product reviews.
Painting Cedar Siding vs Staining
Cedar siding is often favored for its natural beauty and rustic aesthetic, but the number one downside is the maintenance that comes with it. If you own a cedar sided home, you cannot ignore painting, or staining, the siding every five to ten years to keep the wood protected from the elements.
When paint starts chipping and falling off, the wood becomes exposed and at the mercy of mother nature. If the paint on your siding is faded and starting to chip, it's time for a redo. The next important step is determining whether to paint, or stain, your cedar siding.
Should You Paint Your Cedar Siding?
You can paint cedar siding, but that doesn't mean you should. Whether or not you paint it depends on your unique situation. If the siding was originally prepped and painted correctly and showing only minimal signs of wear, I would repaint, but for siding that was stained previously, I would use stain again, not paint.
I prefer staining unpainted cedar with an acrylic solid stain versus painting it. Unlike some exterior paints, the solid stain I use doesn't require primer over bare wood spots. When exterior stain starts to go bad it doesn't peel from the surface as badly as paint. I find too that solid stain doesn't mask the natural beauty of cedar as much as paint does. Stain is definitely the way to go if you want to minimize future prep work and preserve the natural beauty of the cedar.
What About Badly Peeling Paint on Cedar?
In the unfortunate case of paint peeling like crazy all over your siding, you have a lot of work ahead of you. The loose paint must be totally removed and sanded down before re-coating with anything. Determine what caused the paint to peel in the first place. Maybe the surface wasn't primed, low quality paint was used, or a repaint was neglected for far too long.
If the paint is peeling so bad that power washing alone removes most of it from the surface, I would remove all of it from the siding and start over with two coats of exterior siding stain, not paint.
Painting Weathered Cedar Siding
Surface preparation is critical when painting weathered cedar siding. When I say "weathered", I mean siding with color fading and paint peeling in random spots, not all over the house. As I explained earlier, if the paint's peeling horribly all over, I would really consider removing all of it and re-coating with two coats of acrylic siding stain.
- Power wash your cedar siding. You won't know the true condition of your painted cedar until you start power washing and removing the loose parts. Use a gas-powered pressure washer with at least 3,000 PSI to make the siding prep faster and easier. I own and use the Simpson MegaShot for all of my power washing, including siding and decks. Use siding cleaner with the power washer too to remove mildew and dirt. The product I've used successfully for many years is Jomax House Siding Cleaner. The cleaner is awesome for removing mildew and won't harm plants.
- Sand off the remaining loose paint. A good power washer will remove most of the peeling paint, but not all of it. The rest will have to come off through the fun task of sanding and scraping. Sanding is important too because it removes splinters created from power washing and smooths out rough spots. The absolute best tool to remove peeling paint fast from wood siding is the Wagner Paint Eater. It is actually a paint remover, not a sander, but it's an awesome tool that uses an extremely coarse disc to grind off loose paint fast. I've used mine for many years on multiple exterior painting and staining projects.
- Prime. Priming is important for bare wood spots, but using the right primer is key. Cedar is loaded with tannin, a problematic sap that bleeds through paint, resulting in hideous brown and yellowy stains, especially around wood knots. You will see these stains a lot more through white paint and other light colors. Do not use latex primer. The best way to prevent cedar tannin from ruining your painted siding is to prime with oil-based primer meant for exterior wood. Apply one coat over bare wood and the wood knots.
- Paint. Don't paint until the surface is carefully prepped without any signs of loose paint remaining. Make sure any bare wood has been primed with oil-based primer. Use an extension ladder to paint the siding, starting at the top, working from one side of the wall towards the other side. Use a bucket hook to hang your paint container from the rung of the ladder. For the paint roller, I recommend using one with no less than 3/4-inch nap. A roller with 1-inch nap will work even better. Cedar is very porous. My favorite paint brush for exterior painting is the Purdy Pro Extra with the blue bristles.
Spray Paint Your Wood Siding
I highly recommend using a paint sprayer to paint your cedar siding instead of doing the work with only a brush and roller. Personally, I can't imagine painting house siding without my sprayer. Siding takes forever to paint without one. You will shave a few days, or more, off your project using a good airless paint sprayer. You can even rent one from a paint store.
Sprayer recommendations: I use my Graco 495 Ultra Max and my Titan 440 Impact interchangeably for different exterior painting projects, including siding. If you're looking for a professional paint sprayer that can do it all at a price lower than similar sprayers of its class, I recommend the Titan 440 Impact. I own the skid model and use it a lot for deck spindles and siding. The compact size makes it fit perfectly in my truck.
Spray tip sizing: The best tip size for spraying exterior paint onto siding is a 515, or a 517. The tip produces a 10-inch spray fan to cover siding boards fast. I use the Graco RAC-X tips. Note: The point of spraying your siding is to get the paint onto the surface quickly instead of having to manually dip the paint roller over and over, but you still have to roll the sprayed paint, or stain, to force the material into the pores of the cedar.
The Best Paint for Cedar Siding
Always use high quality paint, or stain, when you paint the outside of your home, even if you have to spend more money. Premium paint holds up longer and extends the time when a repaint's due again. Cheap paint doesn't cover the surface as good as a premium one, or last as long, and the color will fade faster.
Paint recommendations: The best paint for cedar siding is one that's acrylic-based, but remember, bare cedar spots should be primed with oil primer before applying any paint. My two favorite exterior paints for painting exterior siding are Duration and Super Paint from Sherwin Williams. If you have moisture problems with the siding boards, I recommend Super Paint because it's less thick and less likely to trap moisture underneath. Duration is very thick, yet flexible, to help resist the common problem of cracking and blistering. The paint boasts a lifetime warranty, which I've never had to use. Both of these paints are good choices.
Stain recommendation: The best stain I've used multiple times in my painting career for cedar siding is the acrylic Woodscapes from Sherwin Williams. This product is formulated for use on cedar and lasts several years before needing a re-coat. I have returned to homes where I had used this product years prior and the stain still looked brand new. With Woodscapes, you don't have to prime bare wood. This stain looks best after two coats have been applied. The finish is flat and dull, but accentuates the natural beauty of cedar.
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.
© 2021 Matt G.