Protect and beautify your woodwork. Our buying guide and reviews will help you choose the best wood preserver for the job
Exterior wood has a lot to put up with. The best wood preserver can dramatically limit the damage done by rain, frost, moss and UV rays, which can all wreak havoc with untreated wood.
Wood preserver helps to bring out the wood’s natural beauty as well as protecting it. But its main job is to sink deep into the surface of sawn or sanded wood to form a protective shield and vastly enhance its lifespan.
And let’s not forget indoors. A newly sanded floor is a stain magnet, and there may even be woodworm lurking in them there floorboards. Varnish, wax or paint alone aren’t enough to protect the wood, so you need to treat it with a preserver first.
In a moment we’ll reveal the best wood preserver you can buy for different jobs, indoors and out. But first, we’ll explain how to choose the right product for protecting the wood in your home and garden.
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Best wood preserver: At a glance
- Best for outdoor jobs: Barrettine Premier Wood Preserver | £45
- Best for indoor jobs: Osmo Wood Protector | From £12
- Best for sanded floors: Cuprinol 5 Star Complete Wood Treatment | From £16
- Best for upcycling old furniture: Briwax Shellac Sanding Sealer | £25
How to choose the best wood preserver for you
What’s the difference between wood preserver and varnish?
Wood preserver is basically an undercoat. You brush or spray it onto raw, freshly sawn or sanded wood surfaces to stabilise the wood’s moisture content and protect it from rot and decay.
Varnish, by contrast, is a topcoat. It won’t protect the wood on its own. Same goes for paint, wax and wood oil. So, if you want your woodwork to last, start with a few coats of wood preserver, wait until they’re fully dry, then go ahead with the varnish or other decorative topcoat of your choice.
Can I use wood preserver on its own, without a topcoat?
Yes, if you use a wood preserver that contains wax, such as Barrettine Premier Wood Preserver and Cuprinol Ducksback. The wax helps to waterproof the wood’s surface without the need for a topcoat.
The downside of wax-enriched wood preservers is that they can be difficult to paint over. So, if you’re planning to paint or varnish the surface later on, go for a preserver that doesn’t include wax.
Should I buy a clear or coloured wood preserver?
Most wood preserver is a clear liquid that darkens the wood’s natural colour, but you can also get wood preserver that contains coloured dye, so it stains at the same time as protecting. Whether you go for clear or coloured is a matter of taste.
Two of the wood preservers on our list, Cuprinol Ducksback and Ronseal Total Coloured Wood Preserver, both contain wax and dye in a choice of several shades, so they really do avoid the need to fork out for a separate topcoat.
Whatever colour or non-colour you go for, at least you won’t have to put up with the fluorescent yellowy green colour of creosote, which used to be the only wood preserver you could get. Thankfully creosote – noxious, toxic and highly flammable – is no longer sold to the general public.
Are wood preservers all solvent-based? I’m worried about fumes indoors.
Like paint, wood preservers come in solvent-based and water-based varieties. Each type has advantages and disadvantages.
Water-based wood preservers such as Cuprinol tend to be easier for most people to work with. They dry faster than most solvent-based preservers, and are much lower in VOCs (volatile organic compounds), the substances mainly responsible for petrol-type smells. Water-based products are also much easier to clean off brushes.
Solvent-based wood preservers such as Barrettine Premier and Ronseal Total tend to absorb more deeply into wood, and decorators say they have longer-lasting effects. However they’re more smelly than water-based stuff, and tend to be less safe for the environment. That said, the most eco-friendly preserver in our line-up, Osmo Wood Protector, is solvent-based but uses safe organic ingredients, which makes it perfect for kitchen worktops.
Can I use wood preserver to liven up my old shed?
Wood preserver is designed to be applied on freshly sawn or sanded wood. You’ll get the best out of it if you sand down whatever wood you use it on, or at least pressure-wash and scrub it.
So, you can potentially use it on your old shed, but you should prepare the wood first. Otherwise you’re wasting your time and money.
One of our top wood preservers, Sikagard Wood Preserver, can be applied on damp or rotten wood and will get to work immediately. If your shed has seen better days, Sikagard is therefore your best choice. You’ll still need to remove as much surface grime as possible, though.
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The best wood preserver you can buy in 2023
1. Barrettine Premier Wood Preserver (clear): Best wood preserver for all outdoor jobs
Price when reviewed: £45 | Check price at Wood Finishes DirectBarrettine may not be a household name like Ronseal or Cuprinol, but this is a brand trusted by decorating pros, and this wood preserver is justifiably worshipped. Its deep-penetrating “microporous” solution absorbs incredibly quickly to stabilise the wood and seal it against the elements.
Barrettine’s preserver does contain some wax for water resistance, but despite this it acts as a good base for paint and varnish. But it does a sterling job of repelling water, sun-fading, rot, insects and other wood-worriers all by itself, as well as bringing out the natural grain of the wood. You can also get a 5l version.
The clear solution is solvent-based, but it still manages to dry quickly and without giving off too much of a fumey smell. It’s easy to apply with a brush but thin enough to use with a sprayer if you prefer.
Key specs – Size: 1l, 5l; Exterior/interior: Exterior; Base: Solvent; Coverage: 6m²/litre; Drying time: 12hrs; Water-repellent: Yes
2. Osmo Wood Protector (clear): Best wood preserver for all indoor jobs
Price when reviewed: From £12 | Check price at Wood Finishes DirectOsmo Wood Protector costs about four times per millilitre than most other wood preservers on our list, but it’s a high-quality formula that’s satisfying to apply, goes a long way, and provides many years of protection against the enemies of interior wood, including spills and coffee cup rings.
The environmentally friendly solvent solution includes an organic, microporous wax oil that penetrates wood deeply to give a beautiful sheen that doesn’t need buffing to keep it looking good for years. It’s highly water-repellent but doesn’t contain any biocides or preservatives, and gives off very little odour while drying, so it’s perfect for using on kitchen worktops and dining tables. A 2.5l version can be picked up for £71.
Key specs – Size: 125ml, 750ml, 2.5l; Exterior/interior: Interior; Base: Solvent (benzene-free); Coverage: 8m²/litre; Drying time: 24hrs; Water-repellent: Yes
3. Cuprinol Ducksback 5 Year (coloured): Best one-stop wood preserver for sheds and fences
Price when reviewed: From £16 for 5l | Check price at AmazonCuprinol Ducksback is enriched with wax and dye, so it does the job of a wood preserver, waterproofer and stain all in one. It’s ideal for treating sheds that need a water-repellent and frost-resistant finish to protect your tools and bikes.
Ducksback is non-drip and pleasingly non-smelly, partly because it’s water-based and also because it dries so fast – it’s the fastest-drying outdoor preserver in our rundown. You’ll need a couple of coats for best colour and water resistance, but coverage is excellent and it’s great value for money.
Our main complaint is that there’s no clear version, so you have to choose a colour – and the waterproof finish is difficult to paint over if you don’t like the shade. The six colours are lovely, though, and include Forest Oak, Autumn Gold and Silver Copse.
Key specs – Size: 5l; Exterior/interior: Exterior; Base: Water; Coverage: 10m²/litre; Drying time: 1-4hrs; Water-repellent: Yes
4. Cuprinol 5 Star Complete Wood Treatment (clear): Best wood preserver for sanded floors
Price when reviewed: From £18 | Check price at Wood Finishes Direct Cuprinol’s interior wood preserver can’t match Osmo’s for eco-credentials, despite being water-based. However, its woodworm-killing, fungicidal, insect-repelling formula is just the ticket for treating old floorboards, joists and beams.
It does take a good couple of days to dry, or more in a confined space, but its water-based formula is less smelly than many solvent-based rivals. It’s not waterproof, so you will need to apply a water-repellent top coat on floors.
Key specs – Size: 1l, 2.5l, 5l; Exterior/interior: Both; Base: Water; Coverage: 3.5m²/litre; Drying time: 48hrs; Water-repellent: No
5. Sikagard Wood Preserver (clear): Best wood preserver for problem wood outdoors
Price when reviewed: £38 | Check price at AmazonThis clear, water-based, microporous wood preserver gets right into timber to protect it from algae, moss, fungi, wood-boring insects and so on. You can even apply it to damp wood that’s seen better days and it will start to work straight away. What it can’t do, though, is provide a water-repellent finish, so you’ll need an additional topcoat.
Luckily you’ll find it easy to apply any kind of topcoat you like over this preserver because it absorbs completely and doesn’t leave any sticky residue. It’s also quite thin, but that makes it easier to apply with a sprayer to cover a large area.
Key specs – Size: 5l; Exterior/interior: Both; Base: Water; Coverage: 3-4m²/litre; Drying time: Up to 24hrs; Water-repellent: No
6. Ronseal Total Coloured Wood Preserver: High-quality waterproof wood stain for outdoor jobs
Price when reviewed: From £24 | Check price at Wood Finishes DirectRonseal’s wax-enriched preserver is similar to Cuprinol Ducksback, but it’s solvent-based and more expensive. You may also find it to be a little more drippy and smelly than Ducksback, and to take longer to dry. But professionals hail Ronseal’s preserver as the best choice for a top-quality weatherproof finish, and they say it protects wood for many years without re-treating.
The preserver comes in black, green, light brown or dark brown.
Key specs – Size: 2.5l, 5l; Exterior/interior: Exterior; Base: Solvent; Coverage: 8m²/litre; Drying time: 24hrs; Water-repellent: Yes
7. Briwax Shellac Sanding Sealer: Best wood preserver for upcycling old furniture
Price when reviewed: £25 | Check price at Amazon Turn old hardwood furniture surfaces into heritage showpieces with this pricey but seriously good-quality product, beloved by furniture restorers.
It can be a bit tricky to apply because you’re meant to use a rag rather than a brush, and apply it carefully to achieve a consistent glossy finish. However, it dries very fast, and can be given a second coat after a couple of hours. It’s not officially waterproof but the finished result offers excellent protection from water spills, so for most projects you won’t need an additional topcoat.
Key specs – Size: 500ml; Exterior/interior: Interior; Base: Solvent; Coverage: 8m²/litre; Drying time: 1-2hrs; Water-repellent: No