How to Stain or Paint Cedar Shake Siding for a Pretty Finish

Paint or stain your cedar shingles and siding with these easy steps. We show you how to rehab old materials or work with brand new planks.

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Project Overview
  • Working Time: 4 days
  • Total Time: 3 weeks

Cedar is popular for shingles and siding because natural oils in its heartwood (the dark red wood at the center of the tree) make it resistant to the weather and hungry insects. Even unpainted cedar will last for years. Painting cedar shake or shingles, however, calls for some preparation.

Some sections of old, unpainted shingles and siding may look darker than others. This discoloration is most likely caused by excessive tannins leaching from the wood and mildew growth. You'll have to remove the mildew and prime the wood with a stain-blocking primer. You can prime and paint new shingles as soon as you've installed them, which is preferable since weathering can quickly alter the paintability of wood. You'll have to recondition the wood fibers if you haven't finished or painted cedar shingles within two weeks.

Powerwashing old shingles is not recommended. Weathering makes them soft, and it's almost impossible to avoid gouging them, and it's equally difficult to properly dry the water forced under them.

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Large sponge
  • Garden hose
  • Bucket
  • 4-inch brush
  • Paint roller
  • Sprayer
  • Old paintbrush
  • Ladder
  • Stiff scrub brush


  • Household bleach
  • Stain-blocking primer
  • Acrylic exterior paint


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    Clean Shingles

    Survey the entire area of your house, especially the lower levels, where the shingles are more likely to retain water. Wherever you find mildew, sponge on a 1-to-3 bleach-water mixture, scrub it and let it soak in for 20 minutes, keeping it wet during this period.

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    Rinse and Let Dry

    Rinse the bleaching solution thoroughly using a garden hose with a moderate spray. Let the area dry completely. This process can take as much as two weeks.

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    Brush Surface

    Recondition the entire surface to remove aged and weathered fibers in the wood. Use a stiff scrub brush, working the bristles into the overlapped edges along the bottom of each course and drawing the brush down the face of the shingle. Brush off the dust with an old 4-inch paintbrush.

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    Apply Primer and Paint

    Using a 4-inch brush, apply an oil-based stain-blocking primer. Work the brush into the overlapped edges and the recesses between the shingles. Let the primer dry and apply a high-quality acrylic latex house paint. If you roll either primer or paint, back brush, so all surfaces are protected.

    Editor's tip: If you choose to stain cedar rather than paint it, there's a few things you should know. Staining cedar siding differs from application of paint and other finishes. Stains dry rapidly, and fresh stain applied over dried stain will show lap marks.

    Editor's tip: If you choose to stain over painted cedar shingles, you should know a few things. Staining cedar siding differs from the application of paint and other finishes. Stains dry rapidly, and fresh stain applied over dried stain will show lap marks.

    To properly stain cedar shingles:

    1. Remove any mill glaze (a hard, shiny surface on one side of the siding) by sanding.
    2. Stain all sides of the siding before installation (if possible).
    3. Working in tandem with a helper or working alone, stain one length of siding from end to end before moving down to the next board.
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    Prime Shingles

    Within two weeks of their installation, prime the shingles with a stain-blocking primer. (If you wait longer, recondition the surface as shown in step 3 above.) Apply the primer with a 4-inch brush, starting along the overlap and painting a length of about 4 feet.

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    Paint Shingles

    Once you've primed part of the overlap, paint the face of it, working the paint in all directions and between shingles. Smooth the application with downward vertical brush strokes and repeat the process on the next section, always working toward a wet edge.

    Editor's tip: If you choose to spray either primer or paint on your shingles, apply the coating evenly and from different angles. Work in sections of about 20 square feet and back brush the coating immediately, so it gets worked into the shingle fibers and the recesses between them.

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