Does Cedar Need to Be Sealed? (Find Out Now!)

Michael Oconnor
by Michael Oconnor

Cedar is a versatile, common wood that is used in many homes. Its durability and affordability make it a great option for outdoor use. However, you may be wondering if cedar needs to be sealed to be protected.

You don’t need to seal cedar, but sealing it can protect it from damage and change its appearance. Sealant can alter cedar’s appearance and darken it. Cedar is naturally resistant to damage, but sun exposure and moisture can wear it down without sealant.

In this article, we will cover everything regarding sealing and protecting cedar. While it is a matter of personal taste, it is best to know all the facts. Then you can make an informed decision on whether or not to seal the cedar in your home.

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Typical Uses of Cedar

Cedar is typically used in outdoor applications. Due to its naturally weather-resistant makeup, it is perfect for surviving the elements. It is also highly sought-after for its lightweight and stable makeup that is more durable than fir or pine.

Cedar is most often used for outdoor decks. Because it is soft and durable, it is a perfect material for walking on. It is also much less likely to crack or break like some other, harder woods.

Many fences are also made of cedar. Fences tend to be exposed to wind and sun more than other parts of the house. Because of this, Cedar is a perfect material for fences, gates, and other outdoor applications. If your home has any of these things, odds are they are made of cedar.

Types of Cedar

There are many types of cedar woods. They have a wide variety of applications and can all be left unsealed if you so desire and if it fits the project.

Western Red Cedar

This is the most common type of cedar for household applications. Almost all decks and fences are made of Western Red Cedar. It is easy to find and accessible to most homeowners.

Northern White Cedar

Northern White Cedar is the strongest variety of cedar woods. It is mostly used for things like posts and shingles. Due to its hard, light properties, it is also used by many boat makers.

Eastern Red Cedar

This variety is often called Aromatic Cedar. This is due to its strong smell and aromatic oils. It is often used for indoor applications such as closets or dressers. This is partially due to the fact that the smell acts as a natural insect repellent.

Yellow Cedar

Yellow cedar is much more difficult to find than other varieties of the wood. Because of this, it is highly sought-after and often used for ornamental purposes and for accents in fine woodworking projects. It is also used in musical instruments due to its resonant, lightweight qualities.

Spanish Cedar

Spanish Cedar is different from the other varieties in that it is considered a hardwood. Because of this, it is often used in furniture building and other applications that require density and strength. It is also the most expensive out of all the different varieties of cedar.

When to Seal Cedar

You should add a clear coat to cedar only if you like the look of it. Cedar is often used in things like decks and siding that tend to see a lot of abuse. A sealed deck will show more imperfections than one that is left natural.

You can also seal cedar if you wish to change the color. Many sealants and polyurethane varnishes will slightly darken the color of the wood they are applied to. This is a relatively easy way to change the color of Cedar without changing the variety.

How To Protect Cedar Without Sealing

There are many ways to protect the cedar in your home without sealing it. While cedar will not usually rot or deteriorate, it can be faded by the sun. This turns it a gray color that may be undesirable depending on the look of your home.

If you would like to keep your cedar from fading in the sun, there are things you can do. One is to get an awning to go over your cedar deck. This will keep the sun from beating down on it directly and giving it the faded gray color.

Something else you can do to protect the cedar in your home is adding a water-repellent preservative. These water repellent preservatives must be added to the cedar when it is still new and raw. This means it cannot be added to old decking or fencing.

Pressure-Treated Lumber vs. Cedar

Pressure-treated lumber is another material that is also used for decks and fences. It has a series of holes all over it to allow weather-resistant chemicals to be injected into the wood. It has similar qualities to Cedar but with some major differences.

Pressure-treated lumber is incredibly durable but it is not as nice looking as cedar. The holes in the wood have a distinct look that many people find undesirable. Cedar is just as weather-resistant as pressure-treated lumber, but looks much nicer.

What are the advantages of pressure-treated lumber is that it can be buried in soil. Any other softwood like cedar is going to eventually start to rot when buried in soil. This is where combining the two for an outdoor project like a deck or fence is a great idea.

Disadvantages of Cedar

While cedar has many good qualities, it is not going to be good for everything. Many people find the aroma of cedar to be incredibly strong. It takes a long time for the oils to completely seep out, so this might not be a great choice for indoor applications.

Cedar is also susceptible to damage if buried in soil. Because of this, it should not be used for fence stakes or other applications that require it to be under the ground. In those cases, you will want to rely on pressure-treated lumber that is meant to be buried.

Cedar is also highly susceptible to sunlight. Many people find the gray color that overexposed cedar turns to be very unattractive. Sunlight also tends to darken the wood even if you have sealed it. If you cannot keep cedar out of direct sunlight, it may be best to go with another wood.

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Related Questions

Why is my cedar deck rotting?

If you have a cedar deck that is rotting, there may be a few reasons. Your deck may have been anchored to the ground with cedar posts, which can rot. It may also be incredibly old and would need to be replaced regardless of what kind of wood it was made of.

How long should a cedar deck last?

If properly taken care of, a cedar deck should last 15 to 20 years. Proper care usually means re-sanding once every two years. It also means keeping the deck from direct sunlight and other outdoor elements as much as you possibly can. 

Will cedar keep spiders away?

The oils that are naturally occurring in cedar are also natural insect repellants. If your home has issues with spiders or other pests, a few blocks of cedar can work wonders in keeping them away. They also have the added bonus of leaving a natural wood scent behind.

Michael Oconnor
Michael Oconnor

I am a writer and editor from The Bay Area, CA. When I'm not typing, I enjoy hiking, woodworking and gardening. I love sharing tips and discovering new trends in home improvement.

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