Professional Tips & Recommendations on Painting Cedar Siding

Exterior wood siding is best stained. Solid-color stain provides the best protection for vertical wood siding. Like house paint, solid-color stain also covers wood grain but omits the additional steps of priming raw wood, saving time and money and allowing the wood to breathe better than traditional paint.

Semi-transparent stains penetrate wood fibers, treating the surface from the inside out and providing a natural wood color, allowing the natural beauty of the wood grains to show through. It also will not blister and peel over time as painted cedar siding will. 

Sikkens is our preferred exterior solid-color stain for siding, and TWP is our recommendation for semi-transparent oil exterior stains.

Why We Do Not Recommend Painting Cedar Siding

We all love the smell of Cedar. It is considered an aromatic wood that lasts long and naturally resists insects and decay. 

Cedar siding is one of the few exterior wood types that excretes toxins and wood tannings long after installation. For this reason, the wood must always be allowed to release sap, toxins, and gases. The natural characteristics of cedar make both new and old cedar less suitable for painting; therefore, we do not recommend painting cedar siding.

Exterior paint made from vinyl or acrylic polymers creates a covering over the surface, which reduces the ability of the wood to breathe and release the wood tannings contained in cedar. 

There are several species and styles of cedar siding, including channel rustic, shiplap, and beveled are among the most common. In our experience, all result in paint failure in the form of bubbling, blistering, and peeling over time when painted.

Painted Cedar Siding Issues on Older Homes

Generally, more paint is better when painting outdoors. However, repainting a home with cedar siding that has already been painted will likely cause bubbling. However, if the house has already been painted, you really have no choice but to repaint it.

Cedar siding releases high levels of terpene hydrocarbons that produce strong odors and emit chemicals during hot summers. The combination of the chemical reaction of cedar and the paint curing process can cause the paint to bubble, most commonly in areas of direct sunlight.

If your home has cedar siding and has been previously painted over 8-15 years ago, chances are you are already experiencing this issue.


How to Fix Bubbling Paint on Cedar Siding

The only way to completely resolve painted cedar siding issues is to strip the paint entirely or replace the siding. Cedar siding replacement and paint stripping are costly. Therefore, most homeowners will hire us to scrap, prime, and repaint problematic areas.

If you are painting yourself, you will want to use the best exterior bonding primer that money can buy. It may sound extreme or unnecessary, but it will provide the best adhesion and prevention against future paint failures, especially when painting over old cedar.

Cedar Homes That Have Already Been Painted

Acrylic exterior paints in flat finish are best for painting cedar siding if the surface has already been painted. Never use oil-based paints on natural exterior wood trim or siding. 

However, shellac and oil-based primers are used sparingly to spot prime wood knots in an attempt to block tough stains and prevent them from bleeding through the paint. But even shellac-based primers will not prevent the bleed-through.

Painting New Cedar Siding

Standard exterior paint procedures always involve priming and coating with quality paint; that’s basic information. However, priming on all sides is hardly practical, and here is why. 

Unless you are doing this yourself, you will be hard-pressed to find a siding installer who carries a paintbrush and nail gun at the same time. Priming all sides while installing siding is messy, unnecessary, and impractical. 

If the siding is prone to moisture from both sides, have your painters prime the front, and back before installation, and siding installers can prime cut edges. 

Tip: Priming raw wood is irreversible, so make sure you plan to paint it. 

Cedar Compared to Other Soft Woods

Soft yellow-grained wood trim such as Spruce and Douglas Fir comes pre-primed because these woods require additional protection when installed outdoors. Conversely, Cedar is found on homes over 30 years old, often neglected but still intact. 


While there are controlled tests and theories on how long painting new cedar will last, with 20 years of first-hand experience as professional painters, our recommendation is not to paint cedar siding unless the project consists of a minor repair that has to match the existing painted siding. 

First, you don’t know how long the siding has been stored in a warehouse. Additionally, cedar is inherently problematic to paint and not worth the risk. 

Our Experience

We are not afraid to admit first-hand experience with failure when painting cedar siding. The exterior painting project was in 2008 and involved painting a home exterior with cedar on all exterior surfaces, including doors, window casings, soffits, and siding. 

The homeowner wanted to paint over an existing opaque Olympic brand solid color stain. Back then, an Olympic opaque stain was equal to a semi-solid stain. Therefore, the only way to cover it was with a solid stain or flat exterior paint. Following the homeowner’s desire, we went against our policy and painted all surfaces, and, of course, we used two coats of high-quality exterior paint. The home suffered minor blisters around wood knots after 5 years.

Sticking to standards and processes is essential to the success of any business or contractor. We learned its importance on that particular job. Since then, our policy and warranty reflect our exterior painting and staining recommendations and standards.

Grain Orientation & Species

Eastern, Western, and Thuja Plicata are among the most popular cedar species used for construction. Some are lighter and more absorbent than others. 

Grain orientation will also influence paint or stain absorption. However, changing or identifying species or grain direction does not resolve cedar’s natural toxicity. Therefore, the reaction and results will be the same when painting.

Painting Cedar Shake Siding

A “Shake” refers to the square-like profile of wood siding or shingles. When stacked side by side, the edges of the shakes create a straight or staggered formation. They are available in wood, fiber cement, and PVC.


Wood shakes require maintenance every 2 – 5 years. Preserving the wood grain on cedar shingles is expensive and involves a lot of effort. Often, moss and mildew take over, causing the wood to age and gray. 

Stains and sealers that penetrate the wood provide moisture resistance from the inside out and are the best protection for cedar shingles.

The Best Application Methods Compared

Spraying wood siding reduces labor costs but is especially difficult for heavily textured or fibrous wood. Hand brushing, on the other hand, is labor intensive. Thankfully, there is an alternative! 

Spraying and back brushing involve first spraying followed by brushing while the paint or stain is still wet. It’s the same as hand brushing but much faster, reducing the time and labor it takes to get the materials onto the surface.

How Many Coats Are Needed?

There are several factors when determining how much material or how many applications are needed. Most recoating and maintenance will only require one coat of paint or stain for your siding. Color changes or degrading siding will require two coats or more.

Semi-transparent stains cover roughly twice the surface square footage as paint or a solid color stain.

Need Professional Help?

We are professional cedar siding installers and exterior painters. To prevent future failures and for guaranteed service, call us if you live in the Triangle or Raleigh, NC. We are your exterior home improvement specialists from start to finish!

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