Caring for Wood Siding

To enjoy wood siding’s beauty for a lifetime, maintain it properly and diligently.

Pink wood-sided house with green trim against autumn foliage
Image: G. Stoesz-Hammond

Wood siding is one of the most beautiful of all types of siding — and one of the most expensive. 

If you’d like to avoid repairs that could cost thousands of dollars, and you’d like to keep your clapboard, shingles, or board-and-batten lasting for decades, regular upkeep and maintenance is critical.

Choosing the Right Sealer

Wood expands and contracts with normal changes in humidity and temperature.

Left unprotected, paint will chip and crack, putting stress on caulked seams around windows and doors. If the caulk separates and fails to keep out moisture, water can seep in and rot the siding. Even species of wood that have a natural resistance to rot, such as redwood, cypress, and cedar, may decay if not properly protected from the elements.

Wood siding needs to be sealed with either paint, stain, or a sealer. Here's the difference:

Paint. Needs to be done about every five years, or as soon as you see it deteriorate. A DIY paint job requires about 60 hours of labor. A professional crew will paint a two-story, 2,300 sq. ft. house for about $3,000-$5,000.

Stain. It penetrates wood fibers and helps seal them against moisture; it's also resistant to the cracking and chipping that affects paint. Because stain is a penetrating sealer — not a coating, like paint — it's difficult to change the color of previously stained wood. Staining a house is less labor-intensive than painting because prep work is less. Expect to pay $2,000-$4,000 for a pro crew to stain a two-story, 2,300-sq. ft. house. Using a rented paint sprayer, a two-person DIY team can re-stain a two-story house in 4-5 days for about $500, including the stain.

Clear sealers. They prevent moisture damage and allow wood to retain its natural color, but they must be reapplied at least every two years. Clear sealers are formulated to help slow the process that allows ultraviolet light to turn wood silvery gray. However, all natural wood, regardless of species, eventually turns gray when exposed to years of sunlight. Costs are similar to staining.

Cleaning and Getting Rid of Stains

You should clean siding annually using warm, soapy water and a soft-bristled brush. Divide your house into 20-foot sections, clean each section from bottom to top (you'll avoid those annoying drip marks), and rinse before moving on. If you've got mildew or rust stains, here's what to do about them.


Clean the area with a solution of fungus-killing cleanser. Wear eye protection and protect plants from splashes. Rinse thoroughly with clean water.

Rust stains

They're usually caused by a metal fastener, such as a nail or screw, that wasn't galvanized. Contact with moisture causes the fastener to oxidize, leaving streaks.

To remove the stain, clean with a solution of oxalic acid dissolved in warm water. Four ounces to one cup of water. Wear eye protection and acid-proof gloves; avoid splashing the mixture onto adjacent surfaces. Apply the mixture to the stain and gently scrub with a soft bristle brush. Rinse thoroughly with water.

Refinish the spot if necessary and replace any hardware that is rusting with galvanized or stainless steel.


Restoring the Wood's Natural Color

Siding that has discolored with age can be restored to its original color by applying a wood cleaner or brightener. These products often are intended for use on wood decks, but they work well on natural wood siding. They're available at hardware stores and home improvement centers. Follow the manufacturer's instructions.

Replacing Damaged Siding

Repairs to wood siding require the expertise to remove the damaged siding while leaving surrounding siding intact. Unless you have the skills, hire a professional carpenter or siding contractor. Expect to pay $200-$300 to replace a damaged siding panel or two.

Related: How to Clean Wood Siding

Preventing Damage

A house with wood siding is most vulnerable to water infiltration where siding butts against windows, doors, and corner moldings, says Frank Lesh, a professional house inspector in Chicago and past president of the American Society of Home Inspectors.

If caulk is damaged or missing, reapply it during dry days with temperatures of 65 degrees or higher.

Lesh also stressed that no bush, tree branches, or shrubbery should touch siding. Foliage conducts moisture that can find its way into cracks and tiny openings. "You should have enough room to comfortably walk between your house and any plant materials," he says.

Plus, watch out when you mow. Sticks and stones thrown off by the lawn mower is a common enemy of siding.

John Riha
John Riha

John Riha has written seven books on home improvement and hundreds of articles on home-related topics. He’s been a residential builder, the editorial director of the Black & Decker Home Improvement Library, and the executive editor of Better Homes and Gardens magazine.