Top 11 Best Clear Cedar Finish For Outdoors

Most homeowners prefer Cedarwood for exterior use due to its natural beauty and ability to withstand bacteria and fungus.

With a deep-seated passion for woodworking and years of experience, I understand the intricate dance between nature and craftsmanship. This expertise has led me to uncover different finishes’ unparalleled protective qualities and enduring beauty.

I tested 9 products and found Seal-Once Marine Penetrating the best overall. This product is merely a finish; it’s a guardian against the elements, fending off the relentless forces of sun, rain, and time.

Explore the multifaceted world of the best clear cedar finish for your needs.

Our Top Picks

Top Clear Cedar Outdoor Finishes

  1. Seal-Once Marine – PenetratingBest Overall
  2. Cabot Australian Timber OilBest Bang for the Buck
  3. Minwax Helmsman Indoor/OutdoorBest Clear Clear Finish for Cedar Wood
  4. Ready Seal 112 1-Gallon CedarBest Easy to Use Option
  5. THOMPSONS WATERSEAL 21802Best Waterproof Finish
  6. #1 Deck Premium Semi-TransparentBest Semi Transparent Stain
  7. Rust-Oleum 250231 Clear VarathaneBest Multipurpose Poly
  8. RUST-OLEUM WATCO 67741 ExteriorBest UV Resistant
  9. General Finishes Exterior TopcoatBest for Durability
  10. DEFY Extreme 1 Gallon Exterior Wood S tainEasy to Maintain Option
  11. Howard CS0014 Citrus Shield Paste WaxBest for Untreated Wood

Reviews of the Best Clear Cedar Finishes for Outdoor Applications-(Updated List)

1. Best Overall – Seal Once Marine Penetrating Wood Sealer

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Seal-Once Marine Penetrating is undoubtedly the best overall wood protector on the market, and there are several compelling reasons I propose it for your cedar finish outdoors.

Its ability to create a UV-stable coating for protection against the harshest elements is second to none. This feature ensures that your wood surfaces look beautiful and untouched by the sun’s damaging rays.

Moreover, it’s water-based with ultra-low VOC. This means it is an eco-friendly choice that protects your wood and also the environment.

Because it does not form a film and enables the wood to age usually, the finest sealer for cedar wood brings out the natural beauty of the wood.

What truly sets Seal-Once apart is its fast-drying formula that penetrates wood below the surface, reaching the cellular level. This creates a long-lasting, flexible, breathable barrier unmatched in durability.

In my experience, this exceptional penetration means less frequent reapplication, saving both time and money.

You need a simple soap and water to clean it, plus it’s user-friendly with no harm to pets, plants, or people. The peace of mind that comes with knowing you’re using a safe product for all living things is invaluable.

While Seal-Once Marine – Penetrating may be on the pricier side, its value proposition is crystal clear. You’re investing in a product that ensures the longevity and beauty of your wood surfaces, reducing the need for frequent reapplication and protecting the environment. It’s worth every penny for those who demand the best wood protection.

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2. Best Bang for the Buck– Cabot Australian Timber Oil

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The best clear cedar finish should contain penetrating oils to give your outdoor fixtures a protective barrier against the elements. This is it if you need the best outdoor wood furniture sealer and other outdoor cedar that’s a bar above the rest.

Cabot Australian Timber Oil deserves recognition as the best budget option, ranking just below our first choice. While Seal-Once is the premium choice, Cabot’s Australian Timber Oil offers an excellent alternative, particularly if you want to protect your wood on a budget.

It stands out with its unique value proposition, offering superior wood stain that provides 3-way oil protection. This translates to deep penetration into dense, resin-rich woods, guaranteeing the ultimate protection and preserving natural beauty.

The rich, natural color cabot timber oil imparts to your wood is simply stunning, making it ideal for outdoor use. Not to mention, it’s highly durable, ensuring your wood surfaces remain protected even in the harshest conditions.

Here’s a breakdown of its features and benefits:

  • 3-Way Oil Protection: Deep penetration protects wood, enhancing its longevity.
  • Rich Natural Color: It enhances the wood’s natural beauty.
  • Ideal for Outdoor Use: Well-suited for all your outdoor wood protection needs.
  • High Durability: Ensures long-lasting protection in various weather conditions.

Compared to the previously reviewed Seal-Once, Cabot Australian Timber Oil is the more budget-friendly option. While it may not offer the same eco-friendliness and advanced technology, it fills the gap by providing reliable wood protection with an affordable price tag. Cabot’s Australian Timber Oil is an excellent choice if you’re looking for solid wood preservation without breaking the bank.

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3. Best Clear Finish for Cedar Wood – Minwax Helmsman Indoor/Outdoor Spar Urethane

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Minwax Helmsman Indoor/Outdoor Spar Urethane stands out as the best clear finish on the market, offering a superior protective coating for all indoor and outdoor wood projects. Its unique value proposition lies in its exceptional clarity and unmatched protective properties.

Minwax Helmsman delivers a crystal-clear finish that enhances the natural beauty of wood and forms a formidable protective barrier. This means your cedar wood surfaces will maintain their pristine appearance for years.

Whether it’s the scorching heat of summer or the freezing cold of winter, this spar urethane can weather it all. It’s effective year-round, ensuring your wood remains protected in any season.

This product’s versatility is a huge advantage. It contains particular UV inhibitors that minimize the aging and fading effects of the sun. It is the best stain for outdoor cedar furniture because it gives you a lot of flexibility.

The semi-gloss finish adds a touch of elegance to your woodwork, creating a beautiful, protective, and visually appealing aesthetic.

Minwax is renowned for producing quality wood finishes, and Helmsman is no exception. With this product, you can trust that you’re getting a reliable solution for preserving the life and beauty of your wood.

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4. Best Easy to Use Option – Ready Seal Natural Cedar Exterior Stain and Sealer for Wood

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If you need the simplest stain on exterior wood, your search ends with this product. It is the most straightforward product for outdoor furniture and cedar decks.

It does not need a primer. So, you can use it right out of the can. Also, no wet lining and back brushing or wet-lining application is necessary.

However, please do not apply to previously stained surfaces because the product will be rendered ineffective because it cannot permeate the wood.

Another aspect that makes this product easy to work with is that you don’t have to thin it to your desired consistency. The manufacturer has already taken the trouble of thinning it off your shoulders.

It is a ready-to-use formula, and there’s no need for thinning it whether you will apply it with a sprayer, a roller, or a brush.

When you apply it initially, the ready seal will be dark and will reach its authentic color after two weeks.

So, give it as much time to avoid judging it prematurely. It is the best clear cedar finish for any exterior project.  Surface preparation is crucial for professional results.

Be keen to remove the previous coating before applying this wood stain and keenly follow the instructions on the can for excellent outcomes.

It doubles up as a primer and a sealer, eliminating additional costs and saving considerable time during time.

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5. Best Waterproof Option – Thompson Waterseal VOC Wood Protector

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Thompson’s WaterSeal VOC Wood Protector is a highly effective wood treatment solution primarily renowned for its exceptional waterproofing properties.

Designed to shield your wood surfaces from the harshest weather conditions and moisture, this product offers unparalleled protection to help your wood maintain its structural integrity and aesthetic beauty for years to come.

Use it on cedar fences, outdoor cedar furniture, and other outdoor fixtures, and you will not be disappointed with the results. 

Before using this product, ensure the furniture surface is free of dirt, dust, grime, and anything else that can significantly affect the results. Allow the damp wood to dry for two days undisturbed.

If you require more than one can, combine the contents of all containers to get a uniform finish. Apply the paint with a sprayer, brush, roller, or painting pad.

Apply thin coats instead of one thick coat for maximum absorption. If you apply many thick coats, the paint might crack, rendering all your efforts fruitless. Also, it will delay the dry time, making your project take longer than expected.

Wipe away any excess finish before it completely dries, or distribute it to the untreated wood parts. We consider it one of the best clear stains for natural cedar because just one coat is enough to give you professional results.

Nonetheless, you can do a second coat if you need a darker tone. Patience pays all the time. Wait for two hours for the first coat to dry, and give the second coat four hours to dry before recoating if you need to.

Clean-up is a breeze with this product as you do not need mineral spirits. Just use warm water and soap, and you’ll be ready.

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6. Best Semi Transparent Stain – #1 Deck Premium Wood Stain for Decks

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Deck Premium is a two-in-one semi-transparent deck stain ideal for Pressure-treated pine, redwood, western red cedar, pine, and virtually all softwoods. It keeps exterior cedar surfaces from fading and moisture, extending their life.

Furthermore, it protects the wood while amplifying its natural beauty. It is one of the best transparent stains you can ever invest in as it is a low VOC ( volatile organic compounds).

It emits no strong odors and is safe for pets, humans, and kids. Cleaning up this stain will not necessitate the use of mineral spirits.

You only use ordinary soap and water because it does not stain your hands and comes off surfaces easily.

One of the most beautiful things about this product is it saves you loads of time between cleaning and staining.

After cleaning the wood in preparation for staining, you do not have to wait for it to dry completely for days or hours before staining, as it even works on damp wood. 

Apply this stain with a quality brush rather than a roller because it can get into pretty small crannies and cracks.

Since it is semi-transparent, it lets the wood grain shine through and is available in five stunning colors, so you can easily find one that will match your project.

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7. Best Multipurpose Poly – Rust-Oleum Brands 250231 Clear Varathane

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Cleaning up after using oil-based poly is not a joke, and maybe you’ve had a fair share of dramas. If you need a clear water-based polyurethane that exceeds your expectations in performance, Rust-Oleum Brands 250231 Clear Varathane is your product.

You’ll be pleased with how easy it is to apply and clean up without creating messes. It goes on a bit thinner than the oil-based polyurethane with a paintbrush.

The results you get will pleasantly surprise you. It outperforms ordinary polys as it won’t yellow or crack when you use it outdoors. It has a foamy texture but dries clear.

You need to apply to three goats to get the results you deserve. Prepare the surfaces you are working on thoroughly before using this finish. This product is water-based.

It contains low volatile organic compounds; therefore, we consider it pet safe. It also poses no danger to the user and the environment. It takes a reasonable time to dry, letting you finish your paint project earlier than expected.

When used, it produces no upsetting odors, and you will not inhale paint smell for weeks or months after use. For professional results, keenly follow the instructions on the can.

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8. Best UV Resistant – RUST-OLEUM WATCO 67741 Exterior Wood Finish

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Here is your product if you are looking for a clear cedar finish that hardens inside the wood and not on the wood surface to safeguard the wood from inside. 

This deep-penetrating oil formula penetrates the cells of the wood fibers providing superior protection, therefore, extending the life span of your wood.

There will be no deformation or swelling as the weather conditions changes. On top of that, it makes the wood resist moisture damage.

Additionally, the product shields the cedar surfaces from the fading effects of UV rays. It is a high-quality mildew-resistant formula, so it prevents the growth of this mildew which causes the wood to rot. Please be sure not to use this product on previously painted surfaces.

Apply on a dry day when the temperature range is between 50 degrees Fahrenheit and 98 degrees Fahrenheit. Surface preparation determines the results you get.

For best results, you need to go the extra mile and remove all the contaminants from the wood’s surface. For smooth surfaces, sand the areas.

Be keen to stir the contents to mix them properly.

Check whether you’ll love the results by applying the product on a scrap board or a concealed part of the wood. If you are satisfied with the results, use the product on your project.

Apply a generous first coat and give it thirty minutes to soak into the wood. Apply a second coat and come back after fifteen minutes and see the progress.

Be sure to wipe excess stain before applying another layer with a clean cloth. 

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9. Best for Durability – General Finishes Exterior 450 Water Based Topcoat

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There’s something beautiful about buying something from a brand. Since the brand has a name to protect, it manufactures high-quality products. Its customer services are always top-notch.

For decades, general finishes have been a trusted brand for producing paints and finishes. This is the brand’s ideal option for outdoor clear cedar finishes, suitable for fixtures such as cedar fences, patio furniture, cedar sidings, and entrance doors.

This incredible finish is made of a Urethane/Acrylic Blend, which you may be familiar with. It is also equipped with a UV absorber, most urethane finishes, to guard against destructive UV rays.

It also has a good dose of mildewicide to prevent the growth of mold and mildew on outdoor surfaces. In a nutshell, this finish can protect your exterior wood from any enemy.

One of the things we love most about this product is that it is tintable and gives a low VOC finish that won’t alter the natural color of the wood.

Furthermore, the finish is easily cleaned with soapy water, so you do not have to incur an additional cost of buying mineral spirits. For exceptional results, apply two to four coats.

Do not worry; each coat takes hours to dry and five days to cure completely.  Apply the finish with a roller, brush, foam brush, or pad applicator. You can easily find a color that will compliment your home decor since it is available in various sheens.

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10. Easy to Maintain Option – DEFY Extreme 1 Gallon Exterior Wood Stain, Crystal Clear

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The Defy extreme is a semi-transparent stain that brings out the natural beauty of wood by allowing the wood grains to show through.

Use it on siding, cedar decks, cedar fences, and outdoor patio furniture to keep them looking great for decades and shield them from unforgiving elements. 

This semi-transparent stain shields exterior cedarwood from harmful UV rays, such as cedar siding and fences, thus stopping premature aging.

When you use this product, you’ll have tremendous peace of mind because your expensive wood will be in good hands. For professional results, apply on cloudy days.

And, once you’ve started staining, keep going until you’ve covered the entire length of the wood to avoid ugly brush marks. Please note that this stain might appear lighter than you would expect when applying it initially.

Be patient with it, as it’ll darken over time to provide you with the desired color. Depending on where you live, you may not need more than one coat. In short, just one coat is what you need to get your dream results.

If you have to apply a second coat, do it within the first twenty minutes of finishing the first coat. Avoid working under direct sunlight as it’ll make the stain dry faster than recommended and interfere with the results.

The stain lasts a season or two longer than some oil-based products. It is effortless to maintain because you do not have to strip the cedar surface again when applying a maintenance coat.

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11. Best for Untreated Wood – Howard CS0014 Citrus Shield Paste Wax

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If you need a clear Cedar finish, wax is always one of the best options. Howard Citrus Shield Paste Wax amplifies the natural beauty of finished or unfinished wood.

It does not affect the color and even restores weathered cedar siding integrity during the conditioning phase. This top-quality product contains legit carnauba wax, which repels water, safeguards the finish color, and reduces the effects of sun fading.

This product takes considerable pride in having a durable shine. Use it on cedar furniture, concrete, marble, painted surfaces, and metal. The product is toluene-free and specially formulated as a topcoat ( final finish or a dependable conditioner.

You can even use it on newly reclaimed wood furniture. It applies easily and with the contents of this can, you can place a couple of coats on three huge credenzas.

The aroma is terrific. All your pieces will have a pleasantly smooth finish that resists scuffs and water rings. The oils in this product might darken your wood a little bit, but it will enhance its beauty by a significant margin.

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Advantages of Using Clear Finish On Outdoor Cedar Furniture

A clear finish is an ideal choice for exterior cedar furniture. Why is it so? Let’s see why the clear finish is the best stain for exterior wood.

Using Clear Finish On Outdoor Cedar Furniture

Enhances the beauty of natural cedar 

Cedar wood is beautiful even without being stained. It has natural oils that allow it to survive the harshness of being exposed to elements such as snow, rain, UV rays, mold, mildew, etc.

However, it can only fight for so long unaided. With time the elements wear out, and cedarwood starts to fade and rot. 

When you use clear stains, you bring out the natural beauty of cedar and fortify its defense against the elements simultaneously.

So, if you value your expensive wood, it is only fair that you give it a fresh lick of transparent stain and keep applying a maintenance coat as needed. 

Prolongs the life of wood

Outdoor cedar remains outside regardless of weather conditions. It is prone to insects, mold, and mildew attacks which causes the wood to decay.

Clear stains contain mildewcide and penetrating oils that protect the wood from insects, UV rays, and water damage, therefore, prolonging the lifespan of cedar.

Staining a cedar wood surface also makes the areas much easy to clean. Every coin has two sides, and everything on this planet is. 

The only disadvantage of clear stains is that they do not hold up as long as a solid. 

How to Finish Cedar Wood for Outdoors

How to finish cedar wood outdoor

You finish exterior cedar wood the same way you would finish interior wood. The only difference is to know the type of finish you are using is a water-based stain or oil-based stain.

You do not need to be too cautious with water-based stains because most are low VOCs and won’t emit pungent odors, and are safe for pets, kids, and the environment.

However, you need to be careful with an oil-based stain. If you use an oil-based stain, always wear protective equipment and work in well-ventilated spaces. 

The most important question to ask when treating cedar is, “How much of the actual wood grain do you need to conceal ?” Do you prefer the natural, weathered appearance of cedar? Or do you like a uniform but unnatural appearance?

A semi-transparent stain lets the wood grain shine through and gives the wood the much-needed protection. Solid color stains cover the color of cedar but let some grain shine through.

Here’s a step-by-step process for finishing cedar wood for exterior use.

Requirements

  • Your preferred Wood Finish
  • Cleaners/Stain Removers
  • Sandpaper
  • Brush/Roller/Pad
  • Procedure

Step 1: Sand the wood

Sand the surface and clean the wood to remove sanding dust, debris, and dirt. Avoid using a pressure washer as it may damage the wood. Wipe the wood with a clean cloth or sponge.

Step 2: Remove the previous coating

Removing old paint coating from cedar

If the wood was previously stained or it has some scratches grab fine-grit sandpaper and sand it down. Use a stain remover to remove paint finishes and stains.

step 3: Apply the finish

Apply your favorite stain with a sponge, clean rag, pad, or roller, depending on the surface you are working on. Hold it at 45 degrees and run the soft bristles across the surface uniformly and gently if you are using a brush.

Step 4: Allow the finish to dry

Let the finish dry according to the time the manufacturer stipulates and wipe away the excess finish. Sand the wood with fine-grit sandpaper before applying a second coat. Reapply the coats as needed and let the wood cure.

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Related Post: Best Cedar Finish for Indoors

FAQs

Can you clear coat cedar?

Yes, you can clear coat cedar, but you need to know a few basics beforehand. Clear coats work exceptionally indoors because they are not exposed to elements responsible for wood degradation, such as rain, algae, mold, insects, snow, and intense UV rays.

They’ll still offer considerable protection against these elements even when used outdoors. Still, they will break down faster than solid stains or paint finishes. Clear coats let the color and the wood grain shine through, therefore amplifying cedar’s natural beauty but wear out with time.

On the other hand, solid transparent stains cover the color of cedar but allow the grain to shine through and are more durable than clear stains. A paint will obscure the grain and the color of wood but painted surfaces last longer. You choose what to go with based on your needs and styles.

How do you seal outdoor cedarwood?

You seal Outdoor cedar as you would interior cedar. Just pay attention to the type of finish you are using and follow relevant safety instructions. Sealing outdoor cedar is straightforward. Sand the surface and wash it to remove dirt and debris. Apply the first coat and let it dry. Lightly sand between the coats with fine-grit sandpaper. Let the final coat cure before using the project.

Can cedar be clear coated?

Yes. You can coat cedar just like other dense wood with clear stains, paints, or shellac or use a solid stain. You need to know the pros and cons of each coating and make an informed decision based on your preferences and needs.

Should cedar be sealed for outdoor use?

Cedar is a dependable option for exterior and interior building projects because it is durable. It has natural properties such as natural oils that enable it to resist insects and rot, and decay. So, staining it is optional. It is advisable to seal it to fortify its defense against the elements. However, leave it unsealed if you need to enjoy the sweet aroma of cedar variants such as Incense-cedar and Western Red Cedar.

What is the best clear stain for cedar?

Linseed oil is the recommended finish for exterior clear cedar. It is the primary component of certain oil finishes that dry clear. Other clear water-based finishes exist, but they will not last as long as a Linseed oil-based stain.

Conclusion

We highly recommend finishing exterior cedar with clear stains because they allow the natural beauty of wood and color to show through.

A clear cedar finish also strengthens cedar’s natural defense against mold, mildew, moisture, and UV rays. The Optimal Clear Cedar Coatings for Outdoor Use should last for a while before necessitating maintenance coat application.