8 Best Clear Cedar Finish For Outdoors 2021 [Reviews & Guide]

Sad but true! No finish can last forever under the sun and the rain. But we can choose the long-lasting finish that can hold up maximum.

And you should consider that when you pick the finish to protect outdoor cedar wood. You may have heard hundred brand names of finish. But trust me all are not ideal for outdoor cedar.

So, What is the best outdoor finish for cedar?

You know; UV rays, rainwater, extreme heat, rust, mold, mildew are the main problems for outdoor cedar. And You have to defeat them with the help of your finish.

Long story short; the best finish should have capabilities to protect the cedar from these problems and provide smart appearances.

Don’t worry! In this article, I have listed and reviewed the 8 best clear cedar finishes for outdoors that can give you maximum durability and an attractive look.

Best Clear Cedar Finish For Outdoors-Comparisons

FinishRecoat AfterCure TimePrice
Thompsons Waterseal Wood Protector2 hours2 Days
Seal-Once Marine Penetrating Wood Sealer1 Hour1-2 Days
Rust-Oleum Clear Varathane2 Hours2-3 Days
LinSheen Boiled Linseed Oil16-24 Hours1-2 Days
Minwax Water Based Helmsman Spar Urethane4 Hours1-2 Days
General Finishes Exterior Water Based Topcoat2 Hours5 Days
WATCO Exterior Wood Finish1-2 Hours10 Hours
Epifanes Clear Varnish 12 Hours1-2 Days

Best Clear Cedar Finish For Outdoors-Reviews

1. Thompsons Waterseal Wood Protector

Thompsons Waterseal Wood Protector Do you know, Thompsons waterseal brand is popular for protecting the deck at Niagara Falls USA. And here is the clear water repellent preservative for cedar from Thompsons Waterseal.

This wood protector is formulated for outdoor decks, fences, and outdoor wood including cedar from some organic ingredients. So, you don’t need to worry about safety. Besides, it has no unpleasant odor.

This is a water-based film foaming finish. A clear film of this finish protects your wood in 3 ways. First, it helps you to maintain the natural color of your wood, second, prevents the wood from water damage, and lastly creates a strong coat against UV rays and mold, mildew.

Want to know the best part of this clear finish?

You don’t need to apply this finish multiple times to protect your wood. One only coat is enough for every kind of outdoor and indoor wood. And if you want to apply another coat, don’t worry, you don’t need to wait a long time.

It can dry fast. You can repeat the coat 2 hours later after applying the first coat and it will take a maximum of 48 hours to completely dry.

The versatile application process is another best part of the wood sealer. You can apply this exterior cedar wood finish with a brush, cloth, sprayer, roller, and garden pump sprayer. Sounds cool, right?

So, you can pick this clear, easy to apply, and easy to clean up wood sealer for your outdoor cedar finish to get the natural and beautiful appearance of your cedar.


2. Seal-Once Marine Penetrating Wood Sealer

Seal-Once Marine Penetrating Wood SealerSeal-Once Marine Penetrating Wood Sealer is the water repellent preservative for cedar that can give you natural aesthetic looks as well as complete protection against adverse outdoor situations.

Using nanotechnology is the most attractive feature of this finish. Want to know how can it help your outdoor cedar fixtures? Let me explain-

Because of the nano tech, the finish enters into the cellular level of wood and creates a breathable barrier to escape water vapor and protect the wood from warping, cupping, wood rot, mold, and decay. 

Cool, right? Also, it has a UV coat for protecting the wood from harmful UV rays.

It is a clear water-based penetrating finish but it is also available with 11 natural tints. You may pick a clear or other tinted finish according to your need.

What about food safety?

This is the matter that the brand doesn’t compromise. This finish is completely free from toxic chemicals, flammable and unpleasant odor. And because of the oil-free finish, it can easily clean up with water and soap.

Easy to apply and quick-drying are another features you may like. It can be applied easily with help of the synthetic brush; pump-up garden sprayer; air-assisted,airless sprayer. Generally, 2 coats with an hour interval are required to get the desired appearance and perfect outdoor protection.


3. Rust-Oleum Clear Varathane

Rust-Oleum Clear VarathaneAre you looking for the best rated clear polyurethane finish for outdoor cedar? Here is the Rust-Oleum Clear Varathane for you.

It is a clear film foaming polyurethane based finish that is only formulated for exterior uses. But you may apply the finish on your indoor wooden project.

The Water-Based Spar polyurethane is the main ingredient of this finish. Spar urethane is a type of polyurethane that is highly resistant to water, UV ray, extreme heat, insects, mold, and scratches.

And that’s the reason spar urethane is most suitable for outdoor cedar and other wood furniture and fixtures.

Wait there are more features you may like-

You know; the water based coated wood can be cleaned up easily and there is no exception to this finish. Also, it has no odor and less tendency to yellowing over time.

Many people think polyurethane has no food safety. But you will be happy to know; according to FDA it is fully safe when it is dried or cured completely.

The manufacturer claims 4 coats are required to protect outdoor wood for a longer period of time. But according to our research, a maximum of 2-3 coats are enough for your outdoor cedar. And You can apply second coat only after 2 hours interval and always use a synthetic brush.

I have picked crystal clear satin type of sheen for cedar. If you like a high luster finish, you may pick the glossy version of this finish(Check Amazon for Glossy Finish).


4.LinSheen Boiled Linseed Oil

LinSheen Boiled Linseed OilLinSheen is a popular brand that has been providing high-quality natural finishes since 1902. If you are looking for the best oil for outdoor cedar furniture, Here is the clear boiled linseed oil from the Linsheen brand.

The oil is extracted from the ripening seed of flax. The raw oil was heated for multiple days at more than a hundred degrees centigrade.

That’s how we get this clear quick drying penetrating finish. This finish gets into the wood quickly and provides complete protection from insects, mold, mildew without changing the color of your cedar.

Also, it can protect the cedar from UV rays and water but the degree of the protection is less than other film foaming finishes. So, you need to refinish your outdoor cedar every 6 months with this Linseed oil.

The oil comes with a quick-drying agent that accelerates the drying and absorbing process. You will be happy to know; your outdoor cedar wood can absorb the oil within 10-15 minutes.

2-3 coats after 12 to 24 hours intervals are required for outdoor cedar and the finished wood takes 1-2 days to fully cured.

The easy application process is the most likable feature of linseed oil. You can apply the cedar wood treatment oil with cloth, brush, and roller. Besides outdoor cedar, you can apply this finish on metal, concrete, terracotta, cork, and all kinds of indoor-outdoor wood including cedar chest(Learn more about cedar chest finish), cabinet, and so on.


5. Minwax Water Based Helmsman Spar Urethane

Minwax Water Based Helmsman Spar UrethaneHere is another best polyurethane from Minwax brands. Miniwax is mostly popular for brands in the USA for wood finish and stain.

You may already know; what is spar urethane and why is it so popular for outdoor wood? Let me remind you. Spar urethane is the type of polyurethane that will be highly resistant to hot, cold, water, UV rays, mold, and decay.

And I know you are finding the finish to protect your outdoor cedar from them. Besides outdoor fixtures, you may put the finish on your indoor wooden projects including bathroom cabinets, bar tops, and kitchen countertops.

Also, it contains some extra oil and that helps the wood to expand and contract according to the weather changes.

Like all other poly, it is also safe for pets and animals and the clear top coat can clean up easily with water and soap.

It is a semi-glossy clear finish. But if you don’t like this sheen, It is also available with a satin, glossy appearance. (check on Amazon)

A maximum of 3 coats are good enough for outdoor cedar and you can add or minus coats according to your need. Wait 4 hours to recoat and always apply a bristle brush to get the perfect finish and protection.


6. General Finishes Exterior Water Based Topcoat

General Finishes Exterior Water Based TopcoatGeneral Finishes is another name of trust for finish since 1928. And here is the clear water-based topcoat finish for exterior wood surfaces including fences, patio furniture, garage, and entrance doors.

This finish is made of Urethane/Acrylic Blend and you may already know about the Urethane.

Like all other urethane finishes, it is also fortified with a UV absorber to protect from harmful UV rays. Also, it contains a mildewicide to prevent the growth of mold and mildew. In short; this finish can protect your wood from every kind of outdoor wood enemy.

It is a low VOC tintable finish that has no tendency to change the color of your wood. Also, the finish can be cleaned easily with soapy water.

Multiple coats(2-3) are required to get the best result but don’t worry, you have to wait only 2 hours to recoat. But it will take 5 days to fully cured.

Brush, foam brush, roller, and pad applicator are convenient to apply this finish. It is available in multiple sheens. Choose according to your desire.


7. WATCO Exterior Wood Finish

WATCO Exterior Wood FinishRust-Oleum(Sub-brand: Watco) strikes again with the another best exterior wood finish for cedar. This is a penetrating finish that is specially formulated for old, new, or unfinished outdoor wood to beautify as well as protect them.

According to the manufacturer, it is an oil-based finish that deep dive into the wood and makes the wood water repellent, provides UV and mildew protection, and prevents warping and swelling due to the weather and temperature changes.

Quick-drying is the key feature of this finish. The wood can absorb the oil only in 30 -45 minutes and the wood will be ready for use only after 8-10 hours. Sounds impressive right?

The versatile application process also helps you much. You can apply this finish with a cloth, brush, roller, or sprayer. So, if you are a beginner at finishing you should go for this product.

Lastly, it is a natural finish that has no stain. So, this finish gives you durable and excellent protection but don’t change the natural color of your cedar wood.


 8.Epifanes Clear Varnish

Epifanes Clear VarnishHere is the varnish finish for your outdoor cedar from Epifanes. It is a traditional mixer of tung oil, phenolic-modified alkyd resins.

You know; only tung oil can protect your wood from dust, scratch, sun, water, and mold. Additionally, it also contains resins that make this durable for outdoor wooden fixtures. 

It is spar varnish that means it is highly protective against water, UV rays, and extreme heat. And that’s why the expert recommends it for outdoor furniture. Besides, you can use this varnish on your interior wood projects.

It is a clear varnish but the varnish has a tendency to yellowish over time and provides a glossy look. That’s why some people ignore it. But if you like luster appearance, then you may pick it. Definitely, this varnish can give 360-degree protection in outdoor adverse conditions.

You may know; vanish is a film foaming surface finish that means it can create a thin clear layer on the wood.

It can take too much time to try. Generally, 12 hours are required to recoat, and 2-3 coats are needed for outdoor old or new cedar. But too many coats make the wood super glossy. So, minimize the coat by considering this.

It is a completely safe finish and you can apply it easily with a brush, sprayer, or roller. Don’t forget to read the label before applying.


Buying Guide for Clear Finish For Outdoor Cedar Wood

Finishing is an aesthetic job. You have to choose the finish depending on the way your wood project looks like. I know you want a clear finish for outdoor cedar furniture.

Moreover, you should consider some features to pick the right finish, and here are the features you may consider-

Type of Finish

You know; Film foaming and penetrating type of finish are available in the market. Both have some advantages and disadvantages but you can use any of them for your exterior cedar wood.

Film foaming finish creates a thin layer and protects the wood from dust, dirt, UV rays, and water. On the other hand, a penetrating finish penetrates into the wood and creates a protective shield inside the wood.

The main difference between the finishes; film finish is more durable than penetrating oil but it does peel or fleak over time but the oil finish doesn’t.


The degree of durability, repairability, and resilience make the finish best to use on exterior cedar. Outdoor cedar always fights against extreme hot and cold weather, dust, insect, mold, mildew.

So, your topcoat finish has superb ability to help the wood against them. Before choosing the outdoor finish, have a look the finish has a UV blocker, water, and mold, mildew resistance.

Usages of Furniture

Tell me; How much do you use outdoor cedar furniture and do you use that for eating or does the wood touch your skin?

Then you must pick a food-safe wood finish that won’t do any harm to your health.


How much sheen the cedar wood shall have? Glossy,semi-glossy, high gloss, matte, and stain are the most popular level of sheen for wood finish. You have to decide the degree of the brightness.

If you can’t decide the degree of the sheen, first apply small pieces of wood to test. You can control sheen by gentle sanding and brushing.

Drying Time, Required Coat and Sanding

Most of the clear finishes dry quickly. Thereafter you should check how much time you have to wait to put on the second coat and fully cured.

Mainly the required coat and sanding depends on your desire. Multiple coats make the wood glossy and plastic-like looks. So, if one coat can give you what you want, don’t apply another coat.

Or if you don’t like the sheen, use sandpaper gently.

Application Process

The application process of the finish is the last factor you should consider. Finishes can apply with the brush, cloth, roller, and sprayer.

You will get to know about the applicator on the label of the finishes. Choose according to your usability.

Cedar has its own beauty. Many woodworkers and homeowners don’t want to change the color of the cedar. But commercial wood finish contains some stain or has a tendency to change the color.

So, if you keep your cedar natural, you have to apply natural cedar color, transparent stain, or clear finish that has no tendency to change color. My recommendation is Water based clear finish that is the best clear coat for cedar

Advantages of Using Clear Finish On Outdoor Cedar Furniture

Clear finish is the right choice for outdoor cedar furniture. But why am I telling you that? Of course, there are some benefits behind it. Let’s see what are those-

Beautify the Natural Cedar

You know; cedar wood is the beauty itself. And everyone can’t change the color of the natural cedar. And the best finish for cedar outdoor furniture can do that for you. The clear finish doesn’t hide the color. It enhances the natural color as well as protecting your wood.

Retain the Natural Beauty of Cedar

Outdoor cedar has to survive many unfavorable conditions every day. As a result, the wood changes the natural color to yellow or fade. And the clear finish will help you to keep the luster and clean always.

Protection Against Adverse Weather Conditions

Outdoor cedar wood remains in hot-cold weather, heavy rain, and harmful UV rays. And all are the main culprits to decay and destroy the wood. Also, mold, mildew, rot, and insects can damage the wood.

And you will be happy to know, the clear wood finish can provide complete protection against them.

Easy to Application

Clear finishes come with easy-to-apply formulas. You need little preparation and surface to apply the finish.

Are there any negatives of Clear Cedar Finishes? Nothing is perfect. So the clear finishes have the drawback that can be ignored. The main drawback is the degree of UV protection and repairability are lower than the tinted or stained finishes.

How To Finish Cedar Wood For Outdoors?

There is no difference between applying finish on wood for indoor and outdoor use. But to maximize the efficiency and get rid of bubbles you have to know the best way to finish cedar. And here is the step-by-step guide for you.

Items Required-

  1. Wood Finish
  2. Sandpaper
  3. Brush/Roller/Pad
  4. Cleaner/Stain Remover


  1. First, Make sure the wood surface will be free from dust, debris, and sawdust. Wipe the wood carefully with a rag or sponge.
  2. If you have been stained already or the wood has some scratches, use fine-grit sandpaper or stain remover to remove them perfectly.
  3. Take a thick and wide brush(you can use a rag, pad, or roller according to your selected finish). Hold the brush 45-degree angle and run the bristles slowly and evenly over the wood.
  4. Let the finish dry and wipe the excess from the wood.
  5. Use sandpaper again if required and apply recoat.
  6. After the final coat. Let the wood be fully cured.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the best clear stain for cedar?

Many DIYer find clear stains for cedar. Because they love the natural color of cedar wood. This topic deserves a complete article. However, According to the expert, DEFY Extreme Crystal Clear Exterior Wood Stain(Check on Amazon) and THOMPSONS WATERSEAL Transparent Waterproofing Stain(Check on Amazon) are the winners stain for cedar wood.

Can I use polyurethane on cedar?

You know; polyurethane is a surface finish and it can create a film on the wood to protect. You can choose a good polyurethane for your cedar wood project. Remember; the polyurethane must have a UV coat and water-resistant capacity for outdoor cedar projects.

How long will cedar last outside?

You will be happy to know’ cedar is the rot-resistant and most durable wood. But How long it can last will depend on how you can treat and care for cedar wood. From the expert opinion, untreated cedar wood can last 15-30 years. And you can boost up the longevity with proper care and finish.

Is polyurethane OK for exterior use?

Yes, you can use polyurethane for exterior projects. Generally, water and oil-based spar urethane are most recommended for exterior use. Spar urethane is specially formulated for the outdoor project because it can protect your wood from UV rays, rainwater, and mold, mildew.

How do you seal cedar without changing color?

Most DIYers want to seal the cedar without changing the color. But how can we do? That’s the question. And Choosing the right finish is the key thing to seal the cedar without changing the color. 

You should go for the clear water-based polyurethane to get the natural look of cedar. Because it can’t change the color of the wood.

Why is Cedar Furniture the Best for Outdoor Use?

Cedar wood is the most popular choice for outdoor use. According to the expert and my own research, I found some reasons behind its popularity for outdoor use-

It contains some natural oil that can protect it from water, rot, and decay. So, the untreated cedar wood can last longer in the outside up to 15 years.

Another reason, it has a natural, attractive, and aesthetic look that can enhance any kind of outdoor environment.


Finishing is the most important part of outdoor furniture. The beautiful outdoor furniture will be decay if you do not finish them properly.

The hot-cold weather, rainwater, UV rays, mold, mildew, rots, and insects are the main enemies for outdoor cedar wood. And we have to consider those before choosing the right finish for outdoor cedar furniture and fixtures.

Scrutinizing all of this, I have reviewed the 8 best clear cedar finishes for outdoors. Along with an application guide and related FAQs about outdoor cedar finish. I hope the article will help you to choose the right one.

Leave a Comment