4 Ways to Protect Outdoor Wood Furniture from Sun Damage

By MWB-Team •  Updated: 06/23/23 • 

Outdoor wood furniture is great for relaxing and enjoying warmer weather. However, they are also exposed to elements such as rain, temperature changes, harsh UV rays, etc. Prolonged exposure to the sun’s UV rays can cause wood furniture to fade, crack, splinter, or start graying.

You can take steps to protect your outdoor wood furniture from the harsh UV rays of the sun. In this article, we’ll discuss several methods to finish outdoor furniture to protect it from sun damage. Also, check out our guide on how to treat outdoor wood for outdoor use and best finish for outdoor cedar furniture.

1. Apply Spar Varnish

Spar varnish is a wood finishing used initially to protect the spar of marine vessels from harsh UV rays, high humidities, and wind. Although spar varnish was traditionally meant for marine vessels, it has grown and is usually an excellent option for protecting outdoor wood furniture and other wood surfaces.

The main ingredients in spar varnish are varnish resins, UV blockers, solvents, and oily resins.

Redwood Slab Table Sealed with 5 Coats of Spar Varnish to Protect it from the Sun and Rain

Redwood Slab Table Sealed with 5 Coats of Spar Varnish to Protect it from the Sun and Rain

This makes the finish very tough, and it can withstand harsh UV degradation and fading, rain, mold and mildew, and other outdoor elements.

Apart from spar varnish, you can also apply spar urethane, which also helps protect your outdoor furniture against harsh UV rays. However, spar urethane is tougher and can help protect your outdoor wood furniture against abrasive damage, and it’s also more durable.

Once you apply a coat of spar varnish or spar urethane, you can reapply spar varnish in about a year and spar urethane in about two or more years.

2. Painting the Furniture

To shield your outdoor wood furniture from UV deterioration, fading, and surface graying, outdoor paints are another option. Because paint is very high in color pigment, it offers better protection against the sun’s rays. However, paint not only protect your wood furniture, but they also help change the appearance of weathered and beaten-up furniture.

For painting outdoor furniture, there are oil-based paints and water-based paints. The main difference between these two points is the solvent used. Oil-based paints use turpentine or mineral spirits, while water-based paints use water as the solvent.

Painted Cedar Rocking Chairs

Painted Cedar Rocking Chairs

For outdoor applications, oil-based paints are very hard and durable. However, these paints lack the flexibility of water-based paints, so they crack and start chipping with time. Water-based paints are better for outdoor use. Latex water-based paints are flexible, breathable, and crack-resistant. Acrylic water-based paints are more resistant to chipping, fading, and cracking.

When choosing paint for outdoor wood furniture, we recommend you go with acrylic paints. They are more resistant to the sun’s UV rays, retain their sheen, and avoid fading longer than other outdoor paints.

3. Use an Exterior Oil

If you love a natural appearance on your wooden outdoor furniture, an exterior oil is better than other finishes, such as spar varnish. Exterior oils are easy to apply, and because they soak into the wood fibers, there is no risk of cracking or peeling like paints and other film finishes.

Outdoor Cedar Picnic Table Finished With Exterior Oil

Outdoor Cedar Picnic Table Finished With Exterior Oil

To protect your outdoor wood furniture from UV light, exterior oils come with UV-prohibitor additives that improve UV resistance, thus reducing discoloration. Other include UV absorbers which absorb the harsh UV rays and dissipate them as low-energy heat. Apart from UV prohibitors and absorbers, exterior oils contain other additives preventing mildew.

General Finishes Outdoor Oil
$100.00 ($0.78 / Fl Oz)

The GF outdoor oil is a great product for your outdoor wood projects and furniture to protect and revitalize the wood. The oil goes on easily and also dries up fast. It makes wood richer for a very beautiful finish. 

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Although exterior oil is effective in protecting your outdoor furniture against sun damage, it needs to be reapplied more often compared to other types of finishes. The good news is that the reapplication of exterior oils is simple and very easy, as there is no stripping or much preparation.

4. Stain and Sealant

A stain and sealer option is another way to protect your wood’s surface against the sun’s rays, moisture, rain, and other elements. Stains also enhance your wood furniture’s natural beauty and texture for an amazing look.

Different types of stains are grouped by the ‘solvent’ used and their opacity.

Water-based stains use water as the ‘solvent’ and come with some advantages, such as being more environmentally friendly, drying faster, can better resist fading, and can be removed with soapy water.

Outdoor Furniture Before Sanding and Staining

Outdoor Furniture Before Sanding and Staining

Oil-based stains use mineral spirits or denatured alcohol as solvents. They take longer to dry but can penetrate deeper into the wood fibers for better protection and durability. However, they are harder to strip in case of repair, so you’ll need stronger chemicals or strippers.

Ready Seal Pail Natural Cedar Exterior Stain
$189.95 ($0.30 / Fl Oz)

This is an oil-based stain and sealer that is semi-transparent, enhancing your wood's natural beauty. It is easy to apply, and this can be achieved using a brush, roller, or sprayer. The semi-transparent color looks good and protects a outdoor wood from damage against UV rays.

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There are transparent, semi-transparent, and solid-colored stains depending on the opacity. Transparent stains will impart very little color to your wood furniture. Semi-transparent stains are the popular option because they impart color, which helps against harsh UV rays and shows the grain of the wood. Solid stains are more like paint, so they completely hide the appearance of the wood. However,  they are more durable and offer superior protection against UV degradation.

Outdoor Furniture After Sanding and Staining

Outdoor Furniture After Sanding and Staining

Depending on the stain you choose, you can expect it to create a seal against water or moisture so it won’t penetrate the wood. It will also protect the wood against the sun’s damage, mold, mildew, and even insects.


Hello there! This is the Make Wood Better Team. Here, we share informative how-tos and guides focused on making wood better. Whether it's finishing wood, maintenance, or restoration, there's something on this website for you to learn and improve your skills.