Cedar is an attractive red wood that releases a pleasant aroma when it is new. It seems like a natural choice for a bathroom, but before installing your cedar paneling or trim, it is important to take a moment to consider sealing. Sealing is the process that protects wood from various kinds of damage, and though you may wish to enjoy cedar's aromatic qualities, sealing is an important part of placing cedar in your bathroom.
Cedar is a sturdy wood, but bathrooms are high-moisture environments. Baths and showers leave warm water vapor in the air, which gets into the pores of unfinished wood, causing it to swell. Over time, cedar paneling or trim that is left unsealed in this hot, moist environment will expand, making it buckle away from the wall. The dampness also gets into the wood, causing wood rot and decay.
Cedar is easily sealed using a variety of different finishes. For a high-moisture environment such as the bathroom, the Western Red Cedar Lumber Association recommends using an exterior-grade finish that is designed to have a good resistance to water. Choose an exterior finish that is also rated for indoor use to prevent exposure to strong off-gassing or fumes in the enclosed space of the bathroom.
There are many different types of sealants that you can use for the cedar in your bathroom. For example, if you wish to preserve the red color of natural cedar wood, choose a transparent finish that showcases the grain and the color easily. However, if you prefer the silvery gray sheen that older cedar gets, choose a specific cedar seal that encourages and preserves this coloration. A clear varnish is a good choice in general for sealing cedar, but the Western Red Cedar Lumber Association notes that several coats should be used in bathrooms.
To further protect your cedar in the bathroom, ensure that your bathroom has good ventilation. A vent to an exterior wall or a fan helps take some of the moisture out of the air.
Avoid using a clear lacquer for the cedar in the bathroom. Clear lacquer is a handsome traditional sealant, but it does not hold up well to intense moisture.