What Types of Stain to Use on Cedar?


Applying a coat of stain to cedar decks, fences or siding is a wise strategy. Stain will help preserve the beauty and extend the life of cedar. Depending on the look you wish to achieve, there are several types of stains available. Some stains have been specifically formulated for use on cedar siding or fences.


  • Opacity is the term used to classify various stains. The lower a stain is on the opacity scale, the more the natural cedar color will show through. Minimal opacity is achieved by using a clear stain, which repels water but contains no color. Clear stains are either oil-based or water-based.

Translucent Stains

  • Translucent stains are next up on the opacity scale. With minimal amounts of pigmentation, translucent stains color cedar wood but still allow the grain lines to be clearly visible. These stains are also produced in oil- and water-based formulas.


  • Semitransparent stains are in the center of the opacity scale. They have higher levels of pigmentation, but still allow a little of the cedar grain to be visible. They offer superior protection against decay and UV damage. Semitransparent stains are also available as water-based or oil-based products.

Semisolid Stains

  • Semisolid stains, farther up the opacity scale, offer a greater level of protection against decay and UV damage. Like semitransparent stains, they are available in a wide range of colors. Semisolid stains are typically linseed oil-based. Many of these cedar stains are recommended only for exterior applications, such as staining clapboards, shingles or fences.

Solid Stains

  • Solid stains are at the top of the opacity scale. These oil- or acrylic-based products will provide cedar with the maximum level of protection against decay. Some solid stains are specifically formulated for use on decks. They are available in a vast array of colors.

Sample Cans

  • Good quality stains can be quite expensive. Before you spend a great deal of money on several gallons, invest in 4-ounce sample cans with different opacity levels. Brush them on a few pieces of cedar scrap and see which produces the most pleasing results.

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