Cottage Q&A: Staining cedar, yes or no?

Published: October 14, 2020

Close-up of deck boards with water drops on them By tab62/Shutterstock

I have a question about staining cedar. My deck was built with white cedar 15 years ago. I power clean it every two years with water, and over the years it has turned a nice grey colour. I have—rightly or wrongly—stained it after cleaning with a clear water-based stain. Can I now leave it alone—just clean but not stain, or should I continue what I have been doing?—Don Whelan, Lake Huron, Ont.

Unless you particularly enjoy the business of staining it every two years, sure, leave the deck naked. Changing your biennial routine won’t have a negative effect on durability, says Rod Stirling of FP Innovations in Vancouver. It also won’t make much difference in the look of the wood: stains with pigment can keep the wood from weathering to grey, but clear products such as the one you used don’t block as much of the UV light, which is why your cedar still changed colour.

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To stain or not “is a very personal kind of choice,” says June Scouten, the co-owner of Scouten White Cedar in Smiths Falls, Ont. “Some people like the look of a stained deck. But there comes a point when people can’t or don’t want to put in that much effort.”

Don’t stop with the cleaning, though. If you need to tackle tough algae or fungal buildup—more common in decks that get a lot of shade—Stirling recommends that you use a scrub brush rather than cranking up the PSI of your power washer or holding the wand closer to the wood. Cedar is soft, and a powerful spray could tear the wood fibres.

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This question was originally published in the Fall 2018 issue of Cottage Life magazine.

Got a question for Cottage Q&A? Send it to answers@cottagelife.com.

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