Why Does Wood Turn Grey? The Natural, Weathered Look of Wood

This beautiful Ipe deck in Pennsylvania was left to mature naturally.

The fresh, natural look for wood exposed outdoors as decking or siding has been popular for a long time.

Just take a look at this video to see why one particular homeowner wanted their deck to mature to that smooth silver patina:

As valued as this natural look is, protecting it is necessary to maintain the natural physical properties like durability and strength. We are going to try to explain some of the finishing that both protects the surface and maintains a pleasing appearance.

But first…

Why Does Wood Turn Grey?

The natural weathering process of wood is a combination of chemical, mechanical, biological and light-induced changes, all of which occur simultaneously and affect each other.  For instance, as air moves over the surface of a wood deck, dust, pollen, dirt, and air pollutants replace the exposed colored cells of the wood. This slow transformation is also made possible through the exposure of the sun’s ultraviolet rays, or salt particles in coastal areas. Depending on the species of wood, these changes can occur anywhere between a few months to years.

How Can You Prevent Wood from Turning Grey?

Keeping the natural look of freshly cut hardwood requires the use of a finishing product to block or slow the action of moisture and sun.

In the past, many of the products used to coat wood were very toxic and with a high content of volatile organic solvents linked to health problems; the new wood finishes are now low in VOC’s and safe for the users and the occupants of the building.

What Is a Wood Finish?

A finish is a liquid, paste, or gel that must be applied thinly and evenly onto the surface of the wood. Finishes can enhance the appearance of the wood and help defend against the detrimental effects caused by the sun’s ultraviolet rays.

With the correct type of finish, a natural weathered look can be achieved while providing protection for the siding to promote optimum performance over the years.

Natural wood finishes can be:

  • Clear Water Repellents

Clear water repellents are one way to achieve a natural look; they do not add color and grain patterns can be seen through the finish.

However, most clear water repellents do not prevent the sun’s UV radiation from fading the wood since they don’t contain UV inhibitors. For exterior applications, you can expect clear water repellents are to last from 6 months to 2 years, depending on the surface texture of the wood and exposure to the sun.

  • Weathering Stain or Bleaching Oil

When you use bleaching oil on softer woods like Redwood, or Cedar, you will find out that the grey weathered look happens faster and the protection offered is longer lived than a clear water repellent. The reason for the faster transformation is because the oil is essentially a water repellent finish containing some gray pigments. You will notice that as soon the bleaching oil is applied the softer wood almost immediately starts to turn grey. Then, as the wood is exposed to sun and water, the bleaching oils begin to bleach the wood itself, resulting in a uniform weathered look.

The protection of these oils last only two or three years, periodically apply a clear water repellent to the siding over the bleaching oil, to protect it but be careful in not altering the color. If alteration in color occurs, just apply another coat of bleaching oil.

Due to the intense density of exotic hardwoods like Cumaru or Ipe wood, bleaching agents don’t work very well.

  • Stains

Stains are pigmented finishes that provide color and protection against UV rays. Some are water repellent and may include preservatives and mildewcide. They are classified in solid-color stains,  heavy bodied stains, and semitransparent penetrating stains.

Solid color stains, are opaque finishes. Surface texture is visible but wood grain and colors are not through this type of stains. They come in water-based and oil-based formulations. Service life is typically three to seven years, depending of the surface textures, exposure to elements and previous application.

Semitransparent penetrating stains have a moderate amount of pigment. Provide a uniform color without hiding the wood grain. Oil-based semi transparent is recommended since they penetrate the wood surface deeper than water-based products.

Another advantage with this type of stain is that they are not film forming which means no peeling or blistering but do wear off gradually, semitransparent penetrating stains are expected to last from two to five years, depending on the surface texture of the wood.

If applied to wood decking, these types of stains may last two years, subsequent applications may last up to five years.

It is recommended to avoid the use of varnishes, lacquers or other clear film-forming finishes, because they allow UV degradation, can crack and peel, and are difficult to remove.

Working With the Best Deck Oil for Exotic Wood

Ipe Oil™ is specially formulated to penetrate dense hardwoods. It is the best product to use on exotic woods that need nourishing and stabilizing. Its formula will not create a surface film that will crack, bubble, or peel. Also, its transparent natural tone allows the beauty of wood to be seen while also protecting the surface from the sun’s ultra violet rays. Ipe Oil™ also allows the wood to breathe, which is very important in exotic woods like Ipe, Cumaru, and Tigerwood.

Wood experts choose Ipe Oil™ because they know that wood penetration is the key to longevity and beauty.


We hope you’ve enjoyed our mini-science lesson on why wood turns grey. Make no mistake, the natural character of this process can truly be a standout feature of your home’s design. If you have any questions about any of the information in this article, please leave a comment below.

15 thoughts on “Why Does Wood Turn Grey? The Natural, Weathered Look of Wood”

  1. I have a three year old Ipe deck that I treated with Ipe hardwood treatment that has since greyed. How do I remove the grey so I can treat it again to bring it back to its original glory? I saw you link about brushing and washing the deck but it did not mention anything about deck brightener products.

  2. Wendell,

    I would be more than happy to help you out with this. Do you happen to know the product that was originally used on the material? The reason I ask is this will determine our first step. Let me know when you have a chance. Thank you for your time and I look forward to hearing back from you.

  3. We have an Ipe deck which is six years old on our beach house. The actual color of the deck is brown but the boards have turned a wonderful white/grey. When something leaves a spot the area returns to the original brown and stays that way even after long exposure to the sea air. Is there a cleaning product that will clean the stain and allow the deck to return to the grey color? These brown spots last for months and sometimes years.

  4. I have an Ipe deck that has gone gray in most areas except under the table. I was using Australian Timber oil on it and it still looks bad. How can i get it to look uniform all the way around ? Was thinking of power washing .

  5. Mine is already grey. I was hoping you knew how to take off the grey. At the moment I only know of sandpaper. This is on maple beams that got both sun and rain exposure. It previously had a varnish coat on it, but I guess that was a thin coat. So that is what I was looking for – as I too know why they get grey. Just wondered if those wood washes would do anything or it is a sandpaper removal job only.

  6. I live in Westchester, New York and am
    considering using ipe wood for our deck. I LOVE the grey patina weathered look but
    do not know it the wood will turn the grey
    color with the exoposure to the sun where I live. I have only seen this wood used at beach houses where it turns the grey color with the exposure to salt air and sun.
    Will this ipe wood turn the grey color if
    when exposed to the sun where I live in New York?
    Thank you.

  7. Hello Carlen,

    The grey patina look is very beautiful and highly sought after! Will Ipe turn grey? absolutely with time and sun exposure. If your deck won’t see a whole lot of sun exposure it’s just going to take longer to grey. Unfortunately, there’s no way of telling how long it’ll be because there are too many variables to account for.

    Thank you for your inquiry!
    – G. Alves

  8. We have a Brazilian hardwood outdoor deck in Buffalo, NY that had semi-transparent stain put on it about 3 years ago. It is now peeling off and we would like to clean it properly and use ipe oil on it to bring back its natural beauty. The wood now has a very washed out gray color to it. Any advice on how to go about properly cleaning and treating it?
    Thank you,
    Diane S.

  9. Hello Diane,

    It’s very easy to clean and prepare your deck for Oil. We always recommend using the DeckWise Cleaner & Brightener becuase they are specially formulated to penetrate the top layer of decking, clean it out and restore it back to it’s correct pH balance. Although the applicaiton of these products is easy please be sure to read the instructions. If the silver patina is much deeper and it can’t be restored with these products, you’ll have to sand down the entire deck.

    Below are the links to each individual item, but we also have a restoration kit that includes everything you need in a convenient package.

    DeckWise Cleaner: http://buyhardwood.advantagelumber.com/p-1639-deckwise-deck-and-wood-cleaner-part-1.aspx
    DeckWise Brightener: http://buyhardwood.advantagelumber.com/p-1638-deckwise-deck-and-wood-brightener-part-2.aspx
    Ipe Oil: http://buyhardwood.advantagelumber.com/p-701-ipe-oil-uv-finish-for-hardwoods.aspx
    DeckWise Hardwood Maintenance Kit: http://buyhardwood.advantagelumber.com/p-1710-deckwise-hardwood-maintenance-kit.aspx

  10. Have you ever tried Cabot’s 6241 bleaching oil to speed up the graying process on Ipe? Are there any products you would recommend? Thanks

  11. I’ve never tried anything to speed up the graying process. If you want gray Ipe, it happens quickly enough on its own, within a year or two.

  12. Hello – I have a question regarding Ipe. Our contractor left some plywood on our unfinished Ipe deck and over the winter the rest of the wood aged and the area underneath the plywood remained brown. Would this “stain” eventually match the rest of the deck in color or will there always remain a difference? Thank you!

  13. Time and a coating of Ipe Oil will even out the colors. If you want a faster but more labor-intensive fix, you can sand the entire deck down to raw wood, pressure wash and allow it to dry, then give it a coat of Ipe Oil.

  14. We have a picnic table that a friend made. We don’t know what type of wood it is. It is untreated. And turned a silver- but now is almost shedding. Peeling but in really fine pieces. Like small hairs. Do you k ow why and should we/do we need to stain/protect?

  15. We would need to know what kind of wood was used can you ask your friend? You could try sanding it and taking a picture of the grain and sending it to us if your friend does not know. It sounds like a softwood that it most likely not the best choice for outdoors. If that is the case you’re best bet is to sand it down and apply a marine spar urethane to all surfaces each year which is a lot of work. This is why we typically sugeest using a better wood like Ipe, Cumaru or Tigerwood as these species hold up incredibly well outdoors and require less maintenance.

Leave a Comment