Cedar is a natural material that is preferred by many for use in the exterior of a home not only as part of the construction but also as furniture and fixtures like siding, decks, etc. Owing to its various properties, it naturally prevents the formation of fungus and other microbes.
Moreover, cedar is a durable and strong wood that strengthens the structure of any building and also adds to the beauty, thanks to its natural and warm tone.
Cedar outdoor furniture is used in all kinds of climates as they add character to your home exterior. However, if left without a protective film, the cedar color fades away and is also susceptible to rotting.
You shouldn’t compromise when it comes to protecting your cedar furniture and fixtures. Only choose the best clear cedar finish for outdoors. With the right finish, your furniture and fixtures be able to retain their natural beauty and prevent absorbing moisture and rotting away.
To help you do that, this article has been put together so that you can make an informed choice.
Minwax 63210444 Helmsman Clear Semi-Gloss
5 out of 5
Ready Seal Stain and Sealer for Wood
5 out of 5
Cabot Australian Timber Oil
4.5 out of 5
#1 Deck Premium Semi-Transparent Wood Stain
5 out of 5
THOMPSONS WATERSEAL Transparent Waterproofing Stain
4.5 out of 5
Benefits Of Using Clear Finish On Your Outdoor Cedar Furniture
The following are the key benefits of using a clear finish on your outdoor cedar fixtures and furniture.
A clear varnish on the cedar furniture that you keep on the patio or for your cedar siding and deck will enhance the natural beauty of the wood by highlighting its warm glow. It will not hide the natural color of the wood, thereby showing it in all its glory.
Cedar furniture that you place outside will change its color if continuously exposed to the ultraviolet rays of the sun. These rays cause the natural color to become faded and thus, your cedar outdoor furniture will lose its luster if not given clear coats.
Protection Against Termites
The clear cedar finish is also used to protect your cedar furniture and fixture from mildew and termites. Once these set in, it becomes very difficult to restore the original condition of the wood as it starts to rot. Hence, clear finishes with mildewcides prevent the rotting of the wood.
The clear cedar finish on your outdoor furniture protects against water as you may accidentally spill water and there may be sudden showers. Water will get absorbed by the untreated wood and cause rot and damage.
Clear coatings also protect your cedar furniture and fixture from chemicals found in household cleaning agents and daily wear and tear.
Our Top 10 Best Clear Cedar Finish For Outdoors
1. Minwax 63210444 Helmsman Clear Semi-Gloss
If you live in a climate with extreme temperatures, then this finish for your cedar outdoor furniture is the right protection.
The special oils in this product allow the furniture and fixture made from cedar to expand and contract with the change in seasons and temperatures. Thus, your outdoor fixtures and furniture will retain their natural beauty.
Moreover, it provides superior protection against moisture and rain, thus keeping the wood free from mildew and fungal growth that can cause damage from within and result in rot.
Although you should keep your cedar furniture away from direct sunlight, this protective film comes armed with UV blockers to prevent the yellowing and graying of your precious cedar tables, chairs, sidings, and decks.
Besides using this product on outdoor furniture, you can also apply this generously on kitchen countertops, bathroom cabinets, doors, windows, and trim and get more value for money for its all-purpose property.
This is the best exterior finish for cedar as it can be used on light-colored wood and over stains. It finishes crystal clear, giving you none of the yellow tints. Therefore, the natural beauty of your wood shines through the finish.
It’s easy to apply and it’s recommended to use a natural bristle brush. The coverage provided by this finish is 125 square feet per quart.
It dries quickly and the finish has a gloss, semi-gloss appearance. You should wait for 4 hours before reapplication. The recommended number of coats is 3. Cleaning up is simple with just warm water or mineral spirits.
Allow 24 hours to dry completely before you start using the surface.Highlighted Features:
2. Ready Seal 112 1-Gallon Can Natural Cedar Exterior Stain and Sealer for Cedar
You love your log home for a getaway but you're worried about giving it the proper protection from mildew and rot. Here’s a solution for you to enhance the beauty of your log home and retain its beauty for years!
This is easily the simplest product to apply to your outdoor cedar furniture and decks. As it requires no primer, you can apply it straight out of the can. However, do not apply on recently stained or painted surfaces as that would make the product ineffective as it won’t be able to penetrate the wood.
Use a brush, sprayer, or roller to apply the finish as per your convenience. You don’t need to do any back-brushing and the product will not leave any drips or streaks on the surface. If you are using a sprayer for application, you need not thin or dilute the finish. Remember to clean the surface before application.
Suitable for application in any type of climate and temperature, the finish blends itself without the requirement of the wet-line application. The product is at its darkest at the first coat but shows its true hue within a fortnight. Don’t forget to cover nearby plants and shrubs before spraying.
The coverage provided by a gallon of finish ranges from 125 to 150 square feet, depending on whether you are staining decks, fences, sidings, or furniture. A minimum of 2 coats is recommended and you need to wait for at least 45 minutes between the application of these coats.
The total drying time will vary between 48 and 72 hours, depending on the humidity, how porous the surface is, and the general weather conditions. Cleaning up is easy using mineral spirits or thinners.Highlighted Features:
3. Cabot 140.0003400.005 Australian Timber Oil, Quart, Natural
If the clear cedar finish does not contain penetrating oils, chances are your furniture and fixtures outside your home will not get full protection. Hence, this product.
This natural wood colored finish contains an oil penetrating formula to nourish the cedar from within and keep it protected against mildew and rot. It also prevents discoloration from long exposure to the UV rays of the sun.
How the final finish of this product will look depends on the color and porosity of the wood. To ensure you have the desired tint, always test on a small part of the substrate before full application on the entire project.
Make sure the wood surface is dry and free from fibers, dirt, and mildew before application. Use a bristle brush or you can also sand the surface. The ideal moisture content should be less than 15%, otherwise, you need to expose the surface to dry weather for 3 to 5 days.
The application can be done after shaking and stirring the product thoroughly. Take care not to overapply the finish as that would lead to drying problems and a glossy result. Try to use a pure lambswool applicator for the optimum results.
If one container is not enough for your project, mix the contents of all the containers so that you have a uniform finish. Only one coat of the finish is recommended and apply it on small sections to prevent lap marks.
Depending on the temperature and humidity, the treated surface will need 24 to 48 hours to dry completely. While coverage on rough surfaces is 250 to 350 square feet per gallon, on smooth surfaces it is 400 to 600 square feet.Highlighted Features:
4. #1 Deck Premium Semi-Transparent Cedar Finish For Outdoors
You get the most from this product as it is both a stain and a sealer for your cedar furniture that you like to keep on the patio. It also protects decks, fences, sidings, and all other fixtures made from cedar.
This dual-purpose finish both adds color and protects the wood from moisture penetration that might cause mildew and rot. The semi-transparent finish is available in 5 warm colors to enhance the natural beauty of wood and leave a matte look.
It prevents the UV rays of the sun from discoloring and damaging your cedar furniture by penetrating the wood and keeping it protected, hence extending the lifespan.
As the product works well on damp wood, you can save time and speed up your project by cutting down on cleaning and staining time. This is a water-based finish that makes it very easy to apply.
Before application, make sure the surface is clean, reasonably dry, and free from stains and dirt. After using a cleaner and a brightener, allow the substrate a couple of hours of drying time before applying the finish.
Use a high-quality nylon or polyester brush for applying. You can also use a sprayer or roller. Before spraying, always back brush the surface to ensure uniform application and the maximum capability of the surface to absorb the stain.
Two coats are recommended with a waiting time of 30 minutes before reapplication. Apply on vertical areas first and work on the horizontal bits last to prevent drips. Take care not to over-apply as this will not be absorbed fast enough and will, later on, lead to peeling.
Per gallon of the finish will cover an area of 100 to 150 square feet for two coats. Wait for 24 to 48 hours before using the surface.Highlighted Features:
5. THOMPSONS WATERSEAL Transparent Waterproofing Stain
If you want to lengthen the beauty and durability of your outdoor furniture, fences, and decks made from cedar, then this product will help you do just that!
With the advanced polymers included in this finish, your valuable patio furniture will never lose their natural color and luster as it will prevent discoloration from UV rays and damage from mildew and moisture.
Specially formulated for exterior usage on wood, this product is a transparent finish that shows off the natural wood grains to their optimum advantage.
Before you apply this product, clean the substrate from all dirt, stains, and grime. If it’s wet or damp after cleaning, allow it to dry for 48 hours before the application of the finish.
Mix the product thoroughly by shaking and stirring. If you need more than one container, mix the contents of all the containers for an even finish. The application technique can range from using a brush, roller, sprayer, or a painting pad.
Be careful not to over-apply the finish as it won’t be absorbed fast enough and will cause peeling and flaking. It will also affect drying time. Either wipe away the extra finish before it dries or redistribute to the untreated areas of the wood.
Being the best finish for outdoor cedar furniture, just one coat of it will give you the desired result. However, if you want a darker tone, you can apply a second layer.
You should wait for 2 hours for the first coat to dry and apply the second coat after 4 hours. It takes two hours for the finish to become dry to the touch. Each gallon of this finish will give you a coverage of 150 to 400 square feet.
Cleaning up is environment-friendly as you do not need mineral spirits or thinners but a simple soapy water solution.
6. General Finishes Exterior 450 Water Based Topcoat
Outdoor furniture, entrance doors, fences, and garage doors – surfaces that face the most wear and tear outside your home. Let this product take care of them so that they retain their pristine cedar beauty and their durability.
This finish is a water-based clear-drying one that’s suitable for all vertical surfaces you have outside your home. Fortified with UV absorbers, this product will keep the original beauty of your wood but it will not prevent it from turning yellow.
It also contains mildewcides to prevent the growth of mildew that can rot away the wood and damage it from within. It acts like a topcoat for light-colored wood and can also be used on dark-colored types.
Sanding and cleaning the substrate before applying this product is mandatory. Mix the finish well before use. You can use distilled water to thin the finish. The recommended number of coats is between 2 and 3 with a waiting time of 2 hours in between.
By using a synthetic bristle brush, you can apply this finish manually. You may also use either a roller or a foam brush or a pad applicator as per your preference and convenience.
Use a generous amount and don’t do excessive back-brushing of the surface. It’s also advised not to apply pressure. You will get a coverage of 140 to 160 square feet per quart.
If you are using a sprayer for the application, you should take a fine-mesh strainer to strain the finish. After the application, you can clean up with a simple soap and water solution.
After your project has been finished, you should put it outdoors after 5 to 6 days as that’s the required curing time.Highlighted Features:
7. Thompsons WaterSeal TH.A21711-16 Advanced Natural Wood Protector
If you want to avoid the hassle of multi-coat application but strong protection for your outdoor cedar furniture, this product meets your desires!
A waterproofer and protector for your wood is what this finish is. It’s a water-based solution for easy application and easy clean-up. With low volatile organic compounds or VOCs, it has a low odor and provides superior protection against moisture and the damaging effects of UV rays.
As the coating lasts for a long time, it resists the growth of mildew and thereby keeps the chances of rotting at bay.
Any exterior project is a one-day one with this product, saving you oodles of time and increasing your efficiency. Just one coat is all it takes and you can apply it on either dry or damp wood. Newly pressure-treated wood can also be immediately treated with this product. Credit goes to its special formula.
Always test out on a section before applying on decks, furniture, and fences. The initial color will be quite dark but will change after drying completely. If your area is expecting rains within the next two days, you should not apply this product.
If the substrate had been treated before, make sure to use a deck cleaner to clean it. Also, the substrate should be free from all dirt, grease, grime, wood fibers, stains, and mildew.
Shake and stir the contents for 2 minutes before applying. Use a paint pad or brush to apply. You could also use a sprayer but remember to back-brush before spraying. A roller is not recommended at all. There’s no need to thin the product.
Applying more than one coat will cause puddling, difficulty drying, and it won’t improve the appearance. You will get 200 square feet per gallon coverage and it will take 24 hours to dry.Highlighted Features:
8. SEAL-ONCE MARINE - 1 Gallon Penetrating Wood Sealer, Waterproofer & Stain
Guaranteed to protect your outdoor wood furniture for up to 10 years, this product lives up to its name and provides relief to those living in marine areas.
In high-moisture areas, wood is more susceptible to mildew growth, rotting, and damage from water and UV rays. This product uses a proprietary nanotechnology formula to provide superior protection against all these conditions.
It penetrates the wood and gives protection from within, down to the cellular level of the wood. Nanotechnology also allows water vapor to escape instead of trapping it below the surface. The breathable barrier it forms helps the wood to expand and contract when weather and temperatures change.
The sealer brings out the natural beauty of the wood as it doesn’t form a film and allows it to age naturally. It’s environment-friendly and does not harm marine life, pets, and plants. Therefore, you can apply this product over and around fresh or saltwater.
11 color tints are available and hence, this acts as a stain also. You can add any of these stains to the clear finish and give a boost to your wooden fixtures and furniture. The tinted formula provides extra protection against the discoloring and damaging effects of UV rays.
You can use a sprayer or a synthetic brush for applying this finish. Before application, use a cleaner to get rid of all dirt, grime, stains, mildew, algae, and other contaminants. A coverage of 250 to 350 square feet per gallon should be expected.
2 coats are recommended and you should apply the second coat within an hour of the first. Make sure the first coat has penetrated the wood but is still wet. Choose a shady spot away from direct sunlight for application. With a simple soap and water solution, cleaning up is a no-mess process.Highlighted Features:
9. RUST-OLEUM WATCO 67741 Exterior Wood Finish
Unlike other clear cedar finishes, this product hardens within the wood, not on the wood, thus protecting wood from inside.
The deep-penetrating oil formula goes within the cells of the wooden grains to give exceptional protection and extend the natural lifespan of the wood. There will be no warping or swelling with a change in the temperature. Moreover, the wood is changed to make it more resistant to moisture and damage.
The product also protects the cedar from the discoloring effects of UV rays. Its mildew-resistant formula protects against the growth of this damaging organism that can lead to rotting.
It’s not recommended to apply this finish on previously painted or primed surfaces. Choose a dry day for application when the temperature is not below 50 degrees or above 95 degrees Fahrenheit.
The substrate should be cleaned of all contaminants like dirt, mildew, stains, grease, or paint and varnish. You can sand the surface if you want a smooth surface. And always be careful about the varnish brush before using them.
Make sure to mix and stir the contents of the container thoroughly and test out on a hidden section. If you are satisfied, apply a generous amount with the use of a cloth, sprayer, brush, or roller. Wait for 30 minutes for the finish to be absorbed.
After half an hour, apply the second coat and wait for 15 minutes for this to be absorbed. Wipe away the excess finish with a dry roller or cloth. Total drying time is between 8 and 10 hours although this could increase if the temperatures are cooler.
The expected coverage is 150 – 200 square feet per quart. Use mineral spirits or a paint thinner to clean up after application.Highlighted Features:
10. Rust-Oleum Corporation Zinsser 00903 Clear Wood Preservative
Classic cedar furniture adds strength of character to your home exterior and speaks well of your aesthetic sense. This clear-drying finish will ensure a long life of your wood exteriors.
Suitable on treated wood, this finish is meant for application on fixtures above ground. It’s a superior formula that protects cedar against staining fungus, mildew, and mold that can decay and damage your patio furniture.
Say goodbye to warping, chipping, and splitting as this is the best clear cedar finish for outdoors with exceptional protection against moisture and hence, prevents peeling and flaking.
With its 100% clear formula, it lets the natural beauty of the wood show through and also allows its natural aging. Besides furniture, you can also this product on fences, decks, porches, gazebos, and storage sheds that have long exposure to the elements.
The water-based finish is easy to apply and dries fast. It’s also easy to clean up with soap and water.
Make sure to prepare the surface properly to permit maximum absorption and adhesion. Any standing water, dirt, stains, mildew, grease, and grime should be removed thoroughly before the finish is applied.
Cover adjacent plants and shrubs as well as glass, vinyl, brick, and aluminum siding before you start the application process. Choose a well-ventilated area where humidity is below 85% and the temperature is between 50 – 90 degrees Fahrenheit. Each gallon covers 150 – 250 square feet area.
Without thinning, shake and stir the content thoroughly. Using a synthetic bristle brush or a roller or a sprayer, apply the finish. 3 coats are advised with a waiting time of 1 hour between each. Allow 24 hours for drying completely.Highlighted Features:
Comparison Chart Of Finish for Outdoor Cedar Furniture
Time Before Reapplication
Total Drying Time
Number Of Coats Required
125 square feet per quart
Ready Seal Cedar Finish
48 to 72 hours
125 to 150 square feet per gallon
Cabot Australian Timber Oil
24 to 48 hours
250 – 350 square feet per gallon
#1 Deck Premium Semi-Transparent Wood Stain
20 – 30 minutes
24 – 48 hours
100 – 150 square feet per gallon
THOMPSONS Waterproofing Stain
150 – 400 square feet per gallon
General Finishes Exterior 450 Water Based Topcoat
7 – 10 days
2 - 3
140 – 160 square feet per quart
Thompsons Natural Wood Protector
200 square feet per gallon
SEAL-ONCE MARINE - Penetrating Wood Sealer
250 – 350 square fet per gallon
RUST-OLEUM WATCO 67741 Exterior Wood Finish
8 -10 hours
150 - 200 square feet per quart
Rust-Oleum Corporation Zinsser 00903
150 – 250 square feet per gallon
What To Look For Before Buying Clear Finish For Outdoor Cedar Wood?
Once you’ve decided to buy a clear cedar finish, then half the problem has been taken care of. However, there are a couple of factors to keep in mind before investing in a clear cedar varnish.
With temperature changes, the wood also expands or contracts. Besides temperature changes, sunlight and humidity also affect cedar. To keep these effects at bay, you should select a clear finish that contains special oils that enable the wood to expand or contract according to temperature changes.
The finish should also contain UV absorbers so that the fading and discoloring effects can be prevented.
Depending on how much usage the furniture and fixtures are likely to be subject to, choose a clear cedar polish. Some provide greater protection which is needed for furniture like tables and counters which usually come under heavy-duty usage as you are likely to put food and drinks on these places.
Tone Of The Finish
Some clear finishes are crystal clear while others have an amber hint that lends a warm and rich tone to the wood. With a light-colored cedar that’s either stained or unfinished, it’s better to choose a crystal clear finish.
How user-friendly the finish is will be determined by the ease of its application. Some can be applied with a cloth without the fear of leaving brush marks or making drips and they dry naturally. Others may dry very fast and need a soapy water solution or mineral spirits for cleaning up.
Tips to Take Care of Your Outdoor Cedar Furniture
By following the tips mentioned below, you can maintain your outdoor cedar furniture properly and extend their lifespan.
- Cleaning – Clean periodically with a solution made from water and mild detergent. Use a cloth for cleaning and a hose for rinsing. Using a pressure washer is not recommended as it may damage the wood.
- Mildew Removal – To remove stains or mildew, use a solution of water and bleach and apply to the affected area with a cloth. Allow to stay on for a bit but don’t let it dry there. Follow up with a rinse and allow it to dry naturally in a well-ventilated space.
- Sealing – Applying a sealant will keep the cedar protected from dirt and moisture that can cause rot. Also, it prevents the wood grain from rising and helps to keep its original warm tint.
- Staining – By using a clear or colored stain every two years, you can protect your cedar outdoor furniture from rotting. Paints are not advised as they lead to peeling by trapping moisture inside the wood grain.
- Dust Prevention - To prevent dust from settling on your cedar furniture, don’t use a finish that contains oil as that would attract dirt and grime.
- Off-Season Maintenance – Put away your patio cedar furniture in the garage during the winters and check for loose screws and bolts every season.
- Keeping Away From The Sun – It’s a good idea to put your furniture outside but choose a spot that doesn’t get the direct sunlight throughout the day. It will save your furniture from premature greying.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
1. What Happens If Cedar Outdoor Furniture is Not Given a Coating?
Answer: Untreated or uncoated cedar outdoor furniture will gradually lose its original color and assume a silver-grey tone. Though the tone looks great, the grain of the wood raises when left untreated, and hence, the furniture surface becomes uneven. Moreover, some strong stains begin to show.
2. What Type of Finishes are Not Recommended for Cedar?
Answer: Varnish, shellac, urethane, and lacquer are the types of finishes not recommended for outdoor cedar fixtures and furniture. That’s because they are transparent and will not be able to block the discoloring effects from the ultraviolet rays from the sun.
No matter the number of coatings you may apply, these finishes will eventually lead to cracking and peeling of the wood.
3. What Are the Factors That Affect the Application of Clear Cedar Finish?
Answer: The application of the clear cedar finish will have a direct impact on the result and performance of the finish. The surface should be clean and dry before application. The application can be done by using a spray, a brush, a roller, or a cloth. Hence, this will impact the result.
Moreover, the amount of the finish used and its quality along with the weather during the application will have a long-term effect.
4. What’s the Difference Between Latex and Oil-Based Finishes?
Answer: Oil-based finishes penetrate the wood and keep it nurtured and protected from within. These finishes last longer and keep the cedar protected for a long time. However, the application can be somewhat messy.
Latex finishes are of a thin consistency and hence, easy to apply. However, they do not penetrate the wood and therefore, do not provide a long-lasting effect.
5. What Are the Positives and Negatives of Clear Cedar Finishes?
Answer: Clear cedar finishes do not change the original appearance or color of the wood. Also, they come with anti-fungal ingredients to discourage the growth of mildew. Another advantage is that it requires very little surface preparation before application.
However, the downside is that they don’t give protection against the UV rays that causes the wood color to fade away. That’s why you need frequent applications of a clear cedar finish for outdoor furniture.
As you have figured out by now, purchasing cedar furniture for outdoors is not enough as you need to ensure they serve your purpose for a long time by taking care of them properly.
Putting a finish on your outdoor cedar fixtures and furniture is the main part of overall maintenance. No matter how often you dust and clean them, nothing will retain their natural beauty than putting a coat of a clear cedar finish.
A clear finish will penetrate the wood and keep it strong from within and maintain its natural goods on the outside. Moreover, the finish will discourage mildew growth and hence, keep rotting of the wood at arm’s length.
We hope this article will help you select the best clear cedar finish for outdoors so that you can enjoy the summer on your favorite furniture without getting concerned about its durability.