Best Clear Finishes for Exterior Wood Doors 2023

October 4, 2023

Outdoor door finishes

Believe it or not, the finish dictates the ultimate aesthetic of your door. Most people may take it for granted, but it affects the entire look of your home. Plus, the finish also dictates how much weathering your wooden door can take! 

Whether you want your door rustic, refined, matte, or glossy, there are two paths to choose from first. Do you want a natural or synthetic finish? Both come with their pros and cons. They vary in durability, appearance, toxicity, and ease of application. 

There are five finish types to choose from: wax, oil, varnish, shellac, or water-based finishes. Are you unsure where to start? This article is the best guide for you. Read on below! 

5 Recommended Clear Finishes for Exterior Wooden Doors 

Last update on 2024-04-13 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

1) SEAL-ONCE NANO Penetrating Wood Sealer & Stain

Are you still working on something? Don’t let unfinished exteriors and interiors stop you from using wood sealers, stains, and finishes. Use SEAL-ONCE NANO to penetrate the wood at a cellular level! 

Using SEAL-ONCE NANO can preserve the wood and extend its life. While wood ages naturally, you don’t have to let decay get to it. SEAL-ONCE NANO inhibits rot, mold, and mildew. Plus, natural warping and cracking are stopped, too! Keep its natural beauty, just in a better form. 

Due to the low odor and VOC, you’re sure that the product is non-toxic, non-flammable, and safe for everyone at home! It doesn’t have any nitrates, phosphorus, or heavy metals. 

2) Rust-Oleum 302736 Triple Thick Polyurethane

With a premium, thick formula, the Rust-Oleum Triple Thick Polyurethane can do the job in one coat. If you’re in a tight time constraint, this is the best pick! Your projects can finish up efficiently. 

Aside from the quick finish, Rust-Oleum’s water-based formula is non-toxic! It resists scratches, stains and is self-leveling. 

If you ever make a mistake, soap and water are enough for a clean-up. It’s convenient with fast dry-times! Interior wood surfaces – from furniture to doors – can benefit from this product.

3) TotalBoat Halcyon Marine Varnish

TotalBoat Halcyon Marine Gloss and Satin Varnish can level up your wooden surface. The beautiful finish can come in a clear or tinted amber formula. If you want a more formal tone to your door, choose the tinted hues. Whatever you choose, both provide UV and abrasion resistance. Beauty doesn’t get in the way of functionality! 

Clear formulas don’t cloud or haze your door. Instead, it accentuates the wood grain, making the finish richer and warmer. This product is so much more durable than you think. Let it cure. Once done, no scratch, stain, or moisture can damage the wooden surface. 

TotalBoat is the best product if you have pets or children around when working. Water-based formulas are eco-friendly with low VOC formulas so that everyone can be safe around your work area! 

4) General Finishes Outdoor Oil

Do you want the ultimate cost-effectivity with oil finishes? General Finishes Outdoor Oil contains twice the usual amount of competing for outdoor oil finish brands. It preserves, maintains, and stabilizes the wooden surface. Weathering and mildew won’t affect you once you use this outdoor oil. 

While you can apply it on most wood surfaces, oily, exotic woods won’t be a good idea for General Finishes! 

5) Minwax Water-Based Wipe-On Polyurethane

Are you anxious about the mess finishes can leave behind? Worry no more. Drips and brush marks don’t have to matter if you apply this water-based finish with a cloth. 

This finish is a durable mix of polyurethane and wax. The clear finish dries fast, has a low odor, and provides topcoat protection! If you have worn or scratched surfaces, like floors, walls, or trims, this is the best product! Let the wood stain dry, then apply Minwax as you wish. 

Importance of Using Appropriate Finish for Exterior Wooden Doors? 

Weather can be brutal. While we’re safe inside our homes, exterior walls and doors bear the brunt of it. In summers, they face harsh sunshine and damaging UV rays. There are days strong winds rattle hinges or completely freeze them over with sub-zero temperatures. 

Wooden doors are constantly being tested, especially at their joints, stiles, and rails. As we take our doors for granted, we don’t do them any favors by kicking them open or slamming them shut. 

So, how do you protect your doors better? Well, it’s time to invest in finishes. 

What Are The Ideal Finishes for Exterior Wooden Doors? 

Water-based finishes may be improving their formulas, but oil-based finishes are still ideal. Whether they’re penetrating or film-forming, these oil-based finishes will come with their advantages and disadvantages. Read on to see what you must consider below! 

1) Penetrating Wood Oil Stain


  • Pleasing to the eye
  • Easy to maintain 
  • Durable 


  • Can house mildew 
  • Can fade easily 

True to its name, these oil-based stains get down to the cellular level of the wood. You won’t catch this kind of stain flaking or chipping away! However, they do require regular maintenance. 

If you neglect your doors’ regular maintenance, you may find a sudden growth of mildew in your home. If that’s not enough to scare you into doing routine door maintenance, oil stains also tend to fade quite quickly! 

So, when should you use it? Exterior areas that are still under some shade can benefit from oil stains. As long as it’s safe from direct sunlight and rain, you’re good to go! 

Make sure to wash, sand, and fill any cracks or gouges before you apply the stain. If you have an old finish on your door, you must remove it altogether! 

2) Film-Forming Coating 


  • Very durable 
  • More appealing to the sight and touch
  • Practical for the outdoors due to its durability against harsh elements 


  • Can create cracks 
  • Due to cracks, durability may decrease 

Speaking of film-forming coatings, they’re a good pick, too. Film-forming coatings are much more chemically complex and more durable than their oil-based counterparts. The finish is aesthetically finishing and great to touch! 

Film-forming coatings are popular, effective, and best for harsh weather elements. Unlike oil-based finishes, you don’t have to consider shade in the area you want to coat! 

However, harsh weather can make the wood naturally expand and contract. When this happens, cracks may appear on the final wooden exterior. As cracks develop, moisture and dirt get into the wood! If left unattended, they can chip and peel away. 

3) Polyurethane


  • Clear, glossy finish
  • Resists moisture 
  • Can have UV protection


  • Needs reapplication every two years 
  • Has respiratory toxins

As a synthetic petrochemical resin, polyurethane is a type of film-forming coating finish. You can trust it to endure all kinds of weather outdoors! Just make sure it has the proper ingredients. Look for UV protection and the label “for exterior use.” That way, you’re confident that the finish will last your door for a long time! 

We also love the glossy finish this chemical provides. While a basic paintbrush is enough for application, you may want to take extra precautions. After all, polyurethane has isocyanates, otherwise known as respiratory toxins. 

Wear a mask and warn your loved ones when you’re doing the finishing. Make sure you stay up-to-date with its maintenance – ideally, you touch the finish up every two years. 

4) Wax


  • Prevents oxidation 
  • Polishes and buffs other finishes 
  • Has tint options


  • It doesn’t penetrate the wood 
  • Can be toxic 

Unlike other finishes, wax doesn’t penetrate the wood. Instead, it sits on top of the door. If you don’t think it’ll be as effective as other options, you can use it to buff different finishes instead. 

While wax can be toxic, there are multiple natural options. Beeswax, soy, and carnauba waxes are available! Other waxes, like paraffin, are from crude oil. 

If you used a clear finish, you could choose to add a bit of color onto the wood. Waxes can come in tints, which adds to the visual appeal of your doors! 

Tips and Tricks for Wood Finishes 

Use Penetrating Finishes 

Penetrating finishes go into the wood, so they harden and stabilize the wood cells themselves. Those that create a film on the surface can crack, eventually leading to decay. 

Penetrating finishes should contain ingredients that allow for UV protection, mildew resistance, and water repellency. You want something durable and easy to work with when choosing finishes! 

Know Coats and Maintenance 

Some finishes require several coats before the surface is good to go. If you find one that’s thick enough only to warrant a single coat, then hold on to it! 

Before applying finishes, clean the area. Sand the surface to remove chips, flakes, and debris. Flood the surface with the finish, allowing the wood to soak the product up! If you need additional coats, try one or two out first before increasing them. 

Allow maintenance for two to three years. If you get the wrong type of product and you have intense weather, you may need to maintain the area every year.

Use A Compatible Stain

One secret boat owners have with long-lasting finishes: a multi-coat varnish system. This method ensures you have life-long wooden surfaces! 

The first step is to use a water-repellent preservative on the wooden surface. Make sure the product you choose is paintable! After all, the second step requires a stain. The stain should be compatible with varnishes and pigmented properly. Remember: dark pigments reduce UV damage. 

Read labels and instructions carefully. If you use the wrong product, you may find that you’ve bought something incompatible with more varnish quotes. Do not use lacquer-based stains! They’re sensitive and will not adapt to weathering damage; you want the surface to survive. 

The final coat should be a marine-grade varnish. Choose a premium coat, dilute it with a solvent – either spirits or turpentine – and get ready to apply it to the surface. Sand the area, then apply at least three coats. Sand in between coats and add more as necessary. 

Boat owners usually do up to six coats of varnish. If the area you’re working on has severe sun exposure, you can do that number, too. Keep track of the date you applied it so you can do maintenance in a couple of years.


Weathering is the main enemy of natural finishes. If you want to maintain your wooden surfaces, make sure you have the necessary ingredients for heavy rain and sunlight. 

As a general rule, you should avoid the following: conventionally clear polyurethane, lacquers, and shellacs. Clear polyurethane allows UV light to penetrate the finish, degrading the product itself. Lacquers and shellacs are brittle and sensitive to water. 

If left unattended, finishes peel, crack, and darken. Then, the wood underneath degrades due to weathering damage. 

So, keep in mind that you want something durable. UV protection is a must. Whatever kind of finish you choose, you should know that you can’t escape maintenance work! Selecting a durable finish lessens the time and effort you need to invest into those surfaces. 

We hope you enjoyed this article! If it helped you out with choosing the best wooden finish, tell us in the comments. 

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