If you’ve got cedar shakes or shingles on your old house you need to know how to care for them to make them last. Learning how to care for cedar shingles, whether they are installed as siding or roofing, is not particularly difficult.
Before you give in and paint your shingles, realize that cedar shingles can last decades with virtually no maintenance. But a little maintenance can keep them looking great and extend their life even further.
Step 1 Clean Shingles
Whether they’re on your roof or wall your shingles may develop mildew or algae and will most certainly weather to a silver/grey appearance after years of exposure. Cleaning away the age is the first step in caring for cedar shingles.
The Cedar Bureau recommends using a solution of 1 part bleach to 3 parts water. Apply it with a pump sprayer let it sit for about 15 minutes before rinsing it off with with a garden hose. Be sure to keep the hose pointed downward to avoid forcing water up behind the shingles.
You should find that this removes the mildew and algae and returns the shingles to a nice tan color rather than the weathered grey they were. If you find that there is still some remaining dirt or growth that remains you can use a nylon bristle brush to scrub the surface.
You want to avoid pressure washing shingles at all costs. Pressure washing can remove wood fibers thinning the wood and shortening the life of the shingles. Not only that, but it forces water into the places where it doesn’t belong possibly causing rot and mold. Read 4 Reasons You Should Never Pressure Wash Your House.
Step 2 Refinish Shingles
After the wood has dried (normally 2–4 days), you can let the wood age naturally or apply an oil-based semitransparent stain. Staining the shingles on a regular basis will help them maintain their color and last longer. Oil-based stains are my preference for wood products in general because the oil penetrates deeper and rejuvenates the wood better compared to water-based stains.
Follow the manufacturer’s recommendations for application, which usually includes recommendations for the proper wood moisture content and ambient temperature at the time of application. In general, finishes should not be applied to wood having a moisture content above 15%. You can use an inexpensive moisture meter to test the content.
The temperature during application and for 24 hours following application should be above 50° F, depending on the manufacturer. That applies not just to the air temperature but to the surface temperature of the shingles themselves.
Using a pump sprayer and a 4″ or 5″ paint brush you can cover a wide area by spraying and then back brushing the surface to work the stain into the wood. Give it at least 24 hrs drying time before further handling.
Step 3 Repeat
While shingles can be left bare to age gracefully, regular cleaning and refinishing is key to keeping wood shingles looking great and lasting for decades. Depending on the exposure and your climate a good cleaning every few years is usually called for since semitransparent stains require regular renewal.
In the end, it’s up to you whether you’re happy with silver weathered shingles or you want to maintain the original color of your shingle siding or roof. Maintaining the color takes some work, but it will extend their life over shingles left alone. The question is, “how do you like your shingles?”
Founder & Editor-in-Chief
I love old houses, working with my hands, and teaching others the excitment of doing it yourself! Everything is teachable if you only give it the chance.
39 thoughts on “How To: Care for Cedar Shingles”
We have a house built in 1956 with ceder shakes which have been stained and painted is there any way to get the paint off and restore shakes?
I have the same issue and would love to hear if there’s a solution.
We bought our mother’s house in the Pacifc northwest after many years away only to discover that it has a Very Slippery cedar shingle roof with mold and mildew and lchen all over it. Will your technique work in this situation or should we just replace it?
You can certainly try to kill all that growth for very little money and if it is too far gone then maybe replacement is in the cards.
I have heard about a oxycleaner for cleaning up cedar shakes that id less harmful than bleach. It comes dry and needs to be mixed. Any comments on this product would bn much appreciated. Wish I knew the name.
did it work? the oxy cleaner?I need to do this too
The cedar shingles on my roof have about 5% of them curved upward as they dried. How can I straighten then out without replacing them?
Jump up and down on them but be careful not to fall off the roof
We have a house where the upper storey has cedar shingles and while some have gone to a silver colour that looks great, we have what looks like a black and almost mouldy finish on walls that face away from the sun. We would like to clean this off , is this where we use the one part bleach and 3 parts water spray. Can’t seem to get any answers from tradesmen in our area.
We are in Masterton, New Zealand and there are not many cedar shingle houses here.
Hello I had the black areas on my cedar siding also and used the bleach formula to scrub them using a stiff brush and lots of elbow grease. They now look amazing ! I’m going to now treat with a clear protective coat to preserve. Good luck! It was well worth the effort they came up so beautiful
That solution is too diluted. If you are using 6% bleach, that would make this solution 1.5% bleach. I think you need at least 4% solution for cedar although I am not positive. Pool stores sell stuff in the states called Pool Shock, it is chlorine, which is basically bleach at 12%. It may make it easier for you.
Can you varnish cedar shingles, using marine spar varnish after varnish primer? Thanks!
Cabot’s has discontinued its true oil based stains of old
Is bleaching oil available from any other source?
Is there a way to make your own oil based stain to get the weathered grey color? Eg could I mix linseed oil with turpentine and a grey pigment? If so what should the ratio of oil to turps be?
Birds are pecking our cedar shaker house so bad that the damage is visable from all sides. What can we do to keep the birds away.
Are you ever going to answer my question?
My city has said I must apply a “protective” coating to my beautiful shake shingle house. I don’t understand why I need to do this. I want the natural look. Yes, some shingles are weathered in different variations of tone but that is the beauty of natural. What should I do to reply to the city? Thank you, Jackie
Show the city some documentation from any cedar manufacturer or even there may be some docs from the US Dept of Forestry about how bare shingles are acceptable and often desired.
This is old and likely resolved now, but for anyone else that happens upon this comment, it may be a fire regulation against bare or exposed wood.
We just recently purchased a house that has cider shake siding that has become dark and nearly black on one side of the house. It definitely needs to be cleaned and treated in hopes to get it back to it’s original look. I was thinking to hire someone to do this job, but you made it sound so simple that I think we will try to tackle this project on our own! Definitely will be a bit time consuming but if it’s going to save us a bunch of money, then it’ll be worth it. I can’t wait to get started. Thank you for this very helpful article! Olga
Hi Olga, Thanks so much for reading and commenting on our blog! We’re always so happy to hear that our information is helpful to others- that’s why we do what we do! If you have photos of the before and after or anything along those lines, feel free to tag us on Instagram (@thecraftsmanblog) so we can see your progress! We love keeping up with what our Craftsman Blog family is doing in their DIY projects!
-Alyssa at The Craftsman Blog
I have a question. My wife and I had a cedar roof installed in 2016 – It was the “Teal” shake found here. https://www.cedarroofing.com/north-shore-prime-cedar-roofing-shakes/. My question is, when is a good time to start a regular maintenance on the roof since it looks brand new still and we haven’t had any issues so far.
That’s not true I’ve never been on this blog nor asked the question about carpenter bees and painting the cedar shingles with slack that an insecticide professional told me would keep the carpenter bees away.
My cedar shingles are being bomb barded by carpenter bees. I heard that I can paint them with schack and the carpenter bees will go away. I have had them treated and that is a waste of money. The treatment does not appear to be effective at all.
The shingles on our bungalow were painted (by a previous owner). That paint is now peeling off and it looks awful. Apart from removing and replacing all of the shingles, is there a way that we can restore them to their original condition? TIA
I’d suggest soda or dry ice blasting.
I have raked cedar shakes on my 1940s house–likely original to the house. They have a 16″ reveal. I was wondering if once they start to curl up on the side or buckle but not split it is advisable to nail them back down to straighten them out and strengthen their attachment to the wall? If so, what nails work best? Thank you!
The nails on any shingles should always be hidden under the previous courses so if your shingles are curling enough to need re-nailing it is likely time to replacement. Nailing them on the face like you are suggesting can be a short term fix but it is only a band-aid.
I am surprised that this post does not cover the difference between white and red cedar shingles. Is the default assumption red cedar because of your locale? In New England, especially near the coast, white cedar is often the choice for walls. Near our coast, red cedar shingles turn black and blotchy unless carefully maintained. Many choose to leave white cedar shingles completely untreated and let them age to a nice silver. They will likely not last as long as stained/maintained shingles, but when done right and with appropriate roof overhangs, they still last a long time. Another consideration for many of us is that its a local product milled from sustainable forests. Ours come from a small family operation that mills from whole trees, and has a big dog that rides around on the forklift. You don’t see that at Home Depot!
And thanks for the anti-pressure washing stance – what a terrible say to clean a house.
The red cedar is a local choice for me and very popular around the country but you’re right there are other locally available options that work well like white cedar.
Thank you! One of these days I’m going to redo the siding on my 1916 (stone first floor) Craftsman, and cedar shingles are high on my list. BUT, I’ve been curious about the maintenance. This answers a lot of my questions!
I think that I will need to replace the cedar shingles. My house is a 1930’s cape cod style house. What do you recommend for a roof that will stay somewhat true to the period.
If the shingles have already begun to curl, is it still advisable to oil them?
Once the curling has begun it is likely too late unfortunately.