Being a natural, organic material, wood will eventually succumb to the elements and deteriorate in quality over time.
Timber can stay good for over a hundred years, but if your wood is exposed to harsher environments – cold, wet weather – like timber cladding is, its life may be a lot shorter without proper protection.
Efforts to keep water from infiltrating wood have been going on ever since timber was first used by man.
How does a natural wood protector work?
Treating your wood with a protector, sometimes known as a preservative or sealing the wood, will extend its life.
The protector or sealant does this by helping to prevent common conditions that cause rot and decay, such as mould, fungi and wood-boring insects. Eco friendly wood protectors do this by using a natural repellent or by forming a protective barrier. Traditional wood protectors often do this by using a biocide, which isn’t very environmentally friendly and can have a negative impact on nature.
Timber also needs to be protected against the weather.
Rainwater loves to seep through wood fibres over time, leading to damaged wood that will eventually need replacing. A good natural sealant will form an invisible barrier and protect the timber against any water problems.
A natural wood protector will also mean that the wood is recyclable still when it’s not longer needed.
The difference between sealing wood and staining wood?
Sealing the wood is different from staining it.
Although some products may do both, the processes and end results can be completely different.
Staining the wood will physically change the timber’s colour via pigments that work their way deep into the wood grains. So, staining for appearance, sealing for strength and protection.
Where to use an eco friendly wood sealer?
The information given in this article is pertinent for all manner of timber types and wood cladding found outside.
The wood protectors will be good for anything from log cabins, wooden garden houses, and shepherd’s hut to tables, fencing, planters and organic vegetable beds.
Anything where your timber is exposed to the elements will benefits from a good organic wood preserver.
What makes an eco friendly wood treatment?
Conventional timber treatments would often use a form of oil or wax, for example tung oil, linseed or beeswax. More modern wood preservatives are still oil-based but also heavily reliant on fossil fuels, chemical and harmful substances, many of which have been banned.
For example, creosote, made from coal tar, was a popular wood sealant, later found out to be carcinogenic and has since been banned to the general public in Great Britain since 2003.
Other previously common ingredients, such as arsenic, can have serious health implications as can commercial grade biocides and insecticides that were mixed into the treatment. Not good for human health at all.
Eco-friendly can mean different things to different people depending on their focus and passion. It can be quite a complex discussion.
The main crux of being eco-friendly is whether the product has a positive or negative impact on the environment and whether it’s generally safe for wildlife, plants and humans. Using naturally occurring materials in a sustainable manner without the use of additional chemicals is a great start to eco-friendly living.
Related reading: 17 ways to go green at home
An eco-friendly wood sealer will use:
- Bio-based organic materials
- Safe for children, humans, plants and wildlife
- Non-toxic substances and be made without any harmful chemicals
- No heavy metal compounds
- No fossil-fuel based ingredients
- Have low or zero VOC (Volatile Organic Compounds)
Natural oils are often cited as good, organic wood protection options.
For example, linseed oil is often on the list. Linseed does have good preservative properties and is water resistant, but it’s also flammable, slow-drying, has a sticky finish and doesn’t protect wood from UV sunlight or mildew, so it’s functionality as a modern day wood preserver was questionable.
Tung oil is another natural oil that’s been used to seal timber for hundreds of years. Tung oil is a 100%, non-toxic wood protector from tung trees grown in China. It seals moisture out of the wood and dries very clear, however it does take a long time to dry and you may have to apply once or twice a year to your cladding for it to be fully effective. Again, this might be a stretch too far these days.
3 Truly Eco Friendly Timber Treatments
There are a good number of eco friendly timber treatments available to buy to use on our external cladding. Here are some of the best and most eco friendly versions.
Eco Wood Treatment is an organic, non-toxic timber protector and stain for your exterior cladding.
It can actually be used for all many of timber, both indoors and outdoors. It’s supplied in powder that are simply mixed with water and then ready to be painted, sprayed or brushed on.
One treatment penetrates deep into the wood fibres, creating a natural buffer against water and fungal decay. Just a single treatment is enough to last a lifetime – so you’ll certainly get value for money.
The wood treatment is composed of 100% natural substances derived from minerals. It’s an environmentally friendly product, containing no solvents, zero VOCs and won’t leave any harmful substances or residue in soils and water, local wildlife, soils and aquatic life will be completely safe.
Eco Wood Treatment has been certified by both LEEDS and the Green Building Council. The stain leaves a silvery patina, high end weathered look.
This product by Valhalla Wood Preservatives is one of the best around and still uses a traditional, highly guarded secret recipe that’s been passed down through this family-owned Canadian company for 60 years.
LifeTime wood treatment is natural, sustainably made, non-toxic, safe to use and friendly to plants, animals and people. The treatment works its way through the wood fibres and seals out moisture.
It comes in a powder concentrate that has an indefinite shelf life. Only mixing what you need means little to zero waste. Then it’s simply applied to your cladding, or any other wooden structure, with a brush, roller, spray or dipping.
OrganoWood claims to be a next generation eco-friendly wood sealer that protects timber without the use of biocides, solvents and heavy metals. It takes its technology from the fossilisation process where natural substances, such as silicon compounds, penetrate wood fibres and seal them solid. Their environmentally friendly technology replicates this process at a much faster pace.
The result is timber cladding that is waterproof, rot proof and fire resistant thanks to the effective non-combustible properties of the treatment. The wood protector doesn’t stain the timber, which will age as normal underneath the sealer.
The complete range of OrganoWood products have been certified ecologically sustainable by FSC and PEFC.
Does all timber need a treatment?
It’s not always necessary to use a wood protector. Some people prefer to leave their timber untreated and let it weather naturally. It’s possible to let hardwoods, such as oak and teak, weather naturally as these are much denser with a closer grain.
Softwoods, such as pine, spruce and fir, come from evergreen trees and have a looser grain, meaning they are less dense and more likely to need sealing. You can also used a natural protector on man-made timber products such as plywood. Have a read here to see if plywood is sustainable or not.
According to the Timber Decking & Cladding Association, the durability of many softwood timber types can be improved with the application of a wood preservative.
Whether you use hardwood or softwood for your exterior timber cladding, a good natural wood protector will extend the life of your cladding, especially when it’s exposed to the Great British elements.
Other questions to ask yourself when buying eco friendly wood sealer
- Is it fire resistant?
- Does it have a pungent smell or is it odourless?
- How long will the treatment last until it needs to be treated again?
Be careful of not fully eco friendly wood protectors
I was initially going to include a few more products in the list that appear natural and friendly, but when I dug a little deeper, found out they were not fully eco friendly.
For example, Osmo Natural Oil Woodstain is manufactured using the natural oils of sunflower, soya and linseed. All good. It’s an all-in-one wood protector, applying both a foundation layer and translucent top coat finish to protect against mould, algae and fungal attack. It also protects against the weather and UV sunlight. It’s ready to put straight onto your exterior cladding and is rapid drying, meaning you could apply two coats in a day (if you had such endeavour).
There are a couple of downsides to this product from an environmentally friendly point of view. Osmo natural oil contains propiconazole, a substance harmful to aquatic life with long-lasting effects. This is used to fight algae but it’s also very dangerous to fish. The product also contains aliphatic hydrocarbons, a toxic substance, and is labelled as high in VOCs.
If you are after a truly sustainable, natural, eco friendly wood treatment then the main three mentioned in the article are terrific options in a market over-loaded with chemical based, fossil fuel derived products.
If you liked that, read more on eco-friendly living and the environment