When it comes to understanding the world of cedar, there are few people we trust more than “Mr. Cedar” himself, Paul Mackie. He’s been with the Western Red Cedar Lumber Association—known as the “voice of the cedar industry”—for more than two decades, working to represent quality cedar producers and educate others on all things cedar. In this series, he’ll share everything cedar-related, from what exactly western red cedar is to the difference between kiln- and air-dried lumber. 

In this video, Paul walks us through best practices for pre-staining cedar decking—and keeps our expectations in check.

What’s the lowest-maintenance option for cedar decking? 

Your lowest-maintenance option is to apply nothing and let the wood weather naturally. The only maintenance you need to do going forward is to keep the deck clean and free of debris—keeping mold and mildew growth under control using a mild oxygen bleach solution to kill it when need be.

If I choose to stain a deck, what finish should I choose?

Solvent-borne, oil-based stain products should be applied to all six sides, including cut ends, before installation. That way, you’ll get the best performance. Some cedar decking sold in this market is unseasoned (or green), so you’ll need to allow the wood to dry before pre-staining on all sides and installing. Factory finishing is available in this market as well, so you can have it sent out to be stained.

What are my stain options for cedar decking?

Choose between transparent and semi-transparent stains:

Transparent stains. A good quality transparent stain should contain UV filters and fungicides to control the future growth of mold and mildew. These will last about a year and are easier to reapply than tinted stains—because all you have to do is clean and dry the deck before application. 

Semi-transparent (tinted) stains. These will last a little longer than transparent stains, but over time with additional applications, you will see pigment build and darken deck boards. When applying, you want to watch out for lap marks so you don’t double up the pigment. The best way to apply a semi-transparent stain is to apply it with the grain in full length, two or three boards at a time, all in one session. These stains may last about two years.

Should I use a water sealer?

Water sealers contain linseed or tung oil and paraffin, and most of them don’t have UV filters to protect against ultraviolet damage. While they’ll provide water repellency, they can actually accelerate UV damage by allowing water to bead and the sun to magnify through. For this reason, we don’t suggest water sealers—there are better products out there. 

Even then, though, you’ll still likely only get a year out of your transparent stain and a couple years from a semi-transparent stain, so plan accordingly.

Best Practices for Staining and Finishing Cedar Decking

Looking for more guidance on using cedar for your projects? Check out Paul’s expert advice on the best uses for western red cedarhow to maintain western red cedar siding, and the best practices for building a western red cedar fence—or catch up with the full series here.