Outdoor Wood Protection: How to Waterproof Your Outdoor Wood Structures This Fall and Winter
With natural beauty and durability, wood is an ideal material for swing sets, sheds, and other outdoor structures. Yet over time, exposure to the elements can take a toll on outdoor wood, causing it to swell, warp, or rot. But with a few easy-to-find supplies and a bit of elbow grease, you’ll know how to protect cedar wood outdoors from extreme temperatures and water damage. Use our handy guide for outdoor wood protection to keep furniture and jungle gyms looking their best for years to come.
How Does Moisture Damage Wooden Structures?
Because wood is a natural, organic material, it is impacted by changes in humidity and temperature that occur throughout the year. Wood acts like a sponge, absorbing and releasing moisture depending on the environmental conditions.
As wood gains or loses water, it expands and contracts, potentially affecting the appearance and integrity of outdoor furniture, decking, and children’s wood swing sets in the following ways:
Cracking or checking
Wood is susceptible to the freezing and thawing cycle that happens in colder climates during the winter months. Repeated cycles of expanding and cracking over time can cause tiny cracks to develop in the wood.
As moist wood loses moisture, the fibers within dry out at uneven rates, causing some areas to shrink faster than others. This leads to warping. Wood that is significantly deformed by warping is difficult to correct, changing the shape and look of decking, furniture, and playsets.
Untreated wood that traps water and never fully dries makes an inviting home for microscopic organisms. Fungi can only grow in wood that is exposed to air and has the ideal temperature and moisture level.
When all of these conditions are right, fungi thrives, producing enzymes that break down fibers. That breakdown is decay or wood rot. Left untreated, rot compromises the integrity of the wood, making it unsafe for swing sets, decks, and other structures.
Prevention is always the best cure for wood damage and imperfections. Proper drying and sealing eliminates moisture-related problems and maintains the integrity of the wood so it can be used for building, home decor, and furniture.
How to Protect Wood From Water Damage This Fall and Winter
Fortunately, there are steps you can take to preserve your outdoor wood structures and prevent damage from snow, rain, and freezing temperatures this winter. Outdoor wood protection means sealing your jungle gym, porch swing, or other outdoor items in the best way to avoid splitting and wood rot.
Wood sealant contains ingredients that sink into wood, harden, and create a barrier that repels moisture. While sealing outdoor wood structures requires some supplies and preparation, you don’t have to be a professional to do the job.
Let’s get started.
DIY Project: Sealing a Wood Swing Set
Time: 2-3 hours for labor + 48 hours drying time
- Basic toolset
- Bleach and water solution
- Dishwashing liquid
- Old rags or towels
- Roller, paint brush, or paint sprayer
- Protective gloves
- Safety goggles
- 60 to 150 grit sandpaper or sanding disk
Choosing a Wood Sealant to Protect Your Wood Structures
Both oil-based and water-based sealants are available. Generally, oil-based wood sealers offer a thicker, more durable barrier. But water-based sealants are odorless and tend to better highlight the rich color of the wood.
Many sealants also contain wood stain, but this may not be necessary if your outdoor swing set, deck, or other structure is already stained and relatively new. However, if the color on your item has faded and needs a refresh, a combination stain and seal product is a good choice.
When in doubt, check with the product manufacturer or an expert at your local home improvement store to find the best sealant for your needs.
Wood sealant won’t absorb to surfaces that aren’t fully prepped, allowing moisture to seep beneath the surface. Taking the time to prep your wood now will ensure a good result later.
Before starting, remove all parts that are not wood. That includes: handles, ladders, and swings. Next, use a broom or leaf blower to remove loose dirt and debris.
Now, clean surfaces using old rags and a solution of dishwashing liquid dissolved in water. For more stubborn stains or heavy pockets of mold and mildew, use a diluted bleach solution of ⅓ cup bleach per one gallon of room temperature water.
Rinse thoroughly with a hose or power washer. Allow the wood to dry completely before moving on to the next step.
Sand the wood
You want the smoothest surface possible for applying the sealant. Inspect the wood for dings, dents, and areas where the grain appears to be lifting. Sand them down with sandpaper or a power sander.
Apply the sealant
Once the wood surface is clean and dry, it’s time to seal it. The average single clubhouse swing set requires about a gallon of sealant or stain. You’ll need several gallons for decks and other large projects.
Using a paintbrush, roller, or paint sprayer, apply a thin, even layer of sealant to every inch of the wood. Sealant that is too thick in areas will eventually crack and peel. Use a small brush to get in smaller areas and apply sealant around ladders and ropes.
In most cases, one application of seal is sufficient. If you want a thicker seal, allow the first coat to dry 24 hours before applying the second.
Let it dry
Once you’re finished applying sealant, allow the wood to dry 24 – 48 hours before reinstalling the swing set accessories and allowing kids to play. Sealing your wood playset once a year will help it withstand rain, snow, and wear and tear.
ProTip: Choose a moderate day with little wind and temperatures between 50 and 90 degrees Fahrenheit for the best results.
Outdoor Wood Protection – How to Protect Cedar Wood Outdoors During the Winter Season
Cedar wood is an ideal material for swing sets and other outdoor wood structures for several reasons:
- It resists water.
- It resists rot.
- It repels insects.
- It retains a nice color as it ages.
- It is not prone to sagging or warping.
- It doesn’t become too hot or cold to the touch.
- It does not require a lot of maintenance.
- It has an appealing, woodsy aroma.
- It’s heavier than other woods, making it hard to tip cedar structures.
However, while cedar swing sets are especially durable, there are still things you can do to protect wood from water every winter.
Outdoor Wood Protection for Cedar Swing Sets and Furniture
For more information on how to protect cedar wood outdoors, follow these simple tips below:
Sweep away dirt and leaves
Debris that collects on flat surfaces create spaces for moisture to collect. Use a gentle broom to brush away debris once a week.
Don’t allow snow to collect and potentially seep into wood fibers. Remove snow after every blizzard.
Don’t use salt
Salt is good for melting ice on sidewalks and roadways, but it’s not for swing sets and decks, as it can dry, split, and fracture wood.
Seal structures every year
As explained above, sealing is the primary way to protect the wood from snow and rain. Make a point to seal outdoor wood structures once per year to prevent moisture damage and decay.
Consider covering structures
Tarping swing sets when not in use is another way to keep moisture away from wood. Just be sure when covering a swing set with a tarp to allow some airflow to prevent mold and mildew growth.
Cedar wood swing sets are built to withstand all kinds of weather.
Outdoor wood protection is important to protect play structures during the cold and wet months. But sturdy and safe swing sets and jungle gyms always start with premium materials. Since 1992, Eastern Jungle Gym has designed and manufactured affordable wood swing sets from cedar and other safe, high-quality materials to help families make memories of a lifetime right in their own backyard.
Shop online or visit a showroom near you to find the jungle gym that is right for you.