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cedar vs pressure treated playset - Choose The Best Wood for Your Swing Set

Cedar vs Pressure Treated Playsets: Choose The Best Wood for Your Swing Set

When making a decision regarding outdoor playset kits, one of the first things you'll need to consider is which type of wood to choose. The two most popular options are cedar and pressure-treated lumber. Both have advantages and disadvantages that are important to understand before making your choice.

In this article, we'll examine the key differences between these two common playset building materials. By the end, you'll have the information you need to select the right wood for your playset project and your family's needs.

Key Takeaways on Cedar vs. Pressure Treated Playset Materials

  • Cedar naturally resists rot, decay & insects - Pressure treated wood depends on chemicals for protection
  • Cedar lasts 2-3 times longer (20-30 years) - Pressure treated lasts 10-15 years before replacement
  • Cedar has strength, beauty, and kid-safe qualities - Pressure-treated is affordable but safety concerns exist
  • Cedar costs more upfront but less long-term - Pressure treated is initially cheaper but requires frequent repairs

children playing on a cedar playset

      What is Cedar Wood and Why Use It for Swing Sets?

      Cedar refers to a variety of coniferous trees in the cypress family that are native to the western Himalayas and the Mediterranean region. Some of the most common types of cedar used for outdoor projects include:

      • Western red cedar
      • Northern white cedar
      • Eastern white cedar
      • Yellow cedar

      The wood harvested from these cedar trees has a reddish-brown hue and an aromatic scent. Cedar contains natural oils called “thujone” which make it naturally resistant to rot, decay, and insect infestation. This natural durability makes cedar an ideal choice for outdoor swing set frames, playsets, and other backyard structures.

      Here are some of the main benefits of using cedar wood for playsets:

      • Long-lasting - Cedar lumber is dense, hard, and resistant to weather damage. Cedar swing sets and playsets can last 15-30 years outdoors.
      • Strength - Northern white cedar has a modulus of rupture that exceeds even oak. This makes it very strong and sturdy for swing set frames.
      • Rot-resistance - The natural oils in cedar wood repel water and prevent fungal rot and decay.
      • Pest-resistance - Cedar’s natural oils also deter termites, carpenter ants, and other wood-boring insects.
      • Attractive appearance - Cedar has a beautiful, warm reddish hue that gives a beautiful look to your backyard.
      • Safe for kids - Untreated cedar contains no chemicals, making it a safe surface for children’s play equipment.
      • Stainable - Cedar accepts stains and finishes well if you want to customize the color.

      The main drawback of using cedar is the higher upfront cost compared to pressure-treated pine or fir. However, because of its exceptional longevity, cedar can provide better value in the long run.

      large pressure treated playset

      What is Pressure Treated Wood?

      Pressure-treated wood is created by artificially infusing lumber with chemicals to help resist rot, fungal decay, and insect damage. The treatment forces preservatives deep into the wood cells under high pressure.

      The most common types of wood preservatives approved for residential use are:

      • CCA (chromated copper arsenate) pressure-treated wood
      • ACQ (alkaline copper quaternary) pressure-treated wood
      • Copper azole pressure-treated wood

      These preservative chemicals include copper, chromium, and arsenic compounds that make the wood uninhabitable for wood-boring pests and microbes. Pressure-treated wood is easy to identify by its distinctive greenish tint.

      Here are some potential benefits of using pressure-treated pine:

      • Cost-effective - Treated wood is more affordable than naturally durable woods.
      • Wide availability - Pressure-treated pine and fir are common at most lumber suppliers.
      • Preventative treatment - Chemicals permeate all parts of the wood instead of just the surface.

      However, there are some downsides to keep in mind when using pressure-treated lumber:

      • Chemical content - Contains potentially hazardous copper, chromium, and arsenic compounds.
      • Warping/cracking - The pressure process and chemicals can cause boards to warp over time.
      • Greenish tint - Treated wood has an unnatural greenish color that some find unappealing.
      • No stain options - The chemicals make it difficult to properly stain pressure-treated wood.

      While pressure-treated lumber was once a major safety concern, modern formulations have significantly reduced toxicity levels when installed properly.

      Comparing the Durability of Cedar vs. Pressure Treated Playset

      The longevity of your swing set or playset starts with the inherent durability and weather resistance of the lumber. So how do cedar and pressure-treated woods compare in these key areas?

      Rot Resistance

      Cedar contains natural oils called thujone that make it resistant to fungal decay and wood rot. These oils act as a natural pesticide and antimicrobial agent within the wood. Even untreated, cedar lumber lasts 15-30 years outdoors.

      On the other hand, pressure-treated wood depends on the copper, chromium, and arsenic forced into the wood to fight rot-causing fungi. The treatment makes the wood uninhabitable for microbes. Properly treated pine or fir will last 10-15 years before fungal decay sets in.

      Pest Resistance

      Cedar wood is naturally unappealing to wood-boring pests like termites and carpenter ants. The thujone oils make it uninhabitable and deter insects from burrowing into the wood cells.

      Pressure-treated uses powerful chemicals like copper and arsenic compounds to make the wood uninhabitable for insects. Well-treated boards are extremely resistant to wood-destroying organisms.

      Water and Moisture Resistance

      The natural waxes and oils in cedar wood make it relatively hydrophobic, improving water resistance. Cedar’s density and hardness also limit the amount of water absorption compared to softer woods like pine.

      While pressure-treated uses chemicals that help resist fungal decay, the wood itself is not waterproof. Treated boards will gradually warp, crack, and rot if exposed to excessive moisture over time.

      Weathering Properties

      Cedar has good dimensional stability as exposure to sun, wind, and rain changes. The natural oils slowly leach to the surface to protect newly exposed wood cells. Cedar develops a silvery-gray patina over time.

      Pressure-treated wood is prone to checking, cracking, cupping, and splintering when exposed to weather extremes. The treatment chemicals provide no protection against photo-degradation from UV light which breaks down exterior wood coatings.

      Maintenance Needs

      Cedar lumber needs to be periodically cleaned, sanded and re-sealed to maintain its protection. A new coat of water-repellant finish every 1-2 years will maintain cedar’s integrity.

      Pressure-treated also needs cleaning and refinishing but has far fewer coating options. Water-repellent sealants will need reapplication every 2-3 years. Warped or damaged boards may need replacement.


      Properly installed and maintained cedar swing sets and playsets can last 20-30 years in an outdoor environment. Cedar’s longevity provides an excellent return on investment over time.

      While under warranty against rot and insects, most pressure-treated structures last 10-15 years before boards need replacement. Higher long-term maintenance costs should be factored in.

      Evaluating the Cost Differences

      For most homeowners, cost plays a significant role when deciding on cedar vs. pressure-treated lumber for swing sets. Here’s an overview of the price differences and long-term costs associated with each option:

      Initial Purchase Price

      Pressure-treated pine and fir are the most affordable options for outdoor swing and playset frames. Generally, cedar costs 20-30% more than pressure-treated wood.

      Cedar has a higher upfront cost, running 2-3 times more expensive per linear foot than basic pressure-treated construction lumber. But cedar costs compare favorably to tropical hardwoods.

      Lifespan Cost Factors

      The longer service life of a cedar frame—up to 2-3 times longer than treated wood—spreads out the initial expense over more years of use. The time to replace the entire structure may be decades later.

      Constant repairs and full replacement of a pressure-treated playset after just 10-15 years end up costing significantly more over the entire lifespan. Frequent maintenance also adds costs.

      Resale Value

      Cedar playsets keep their value and often can be resold to recuperate 50-70% of your original investment years later. This offsets some of the higher initial purchase price.

      Pressure-treated backyard swingsets have limited resale value due to their shorter lifespan. Safety concerns may also limit their appeal in the used playground equipment market.

      To summarize the key differences between cedar wood and pressure-treated lumber, here is a comparison table highlighting the major factors for playset materials:

      Factor Cedar Wood Pressure Treated
      Durability Lifespan of 20-30 years. Lifespan of 10-15 years.
      Appearance Beautiful reddish-brown color. Greenish tint from chemicals. 
      Safety Safer surface for kids. Proper precaution is needed.
      Cost More expensive upfront. Lower long-term costs due to durability and lifespan. Cheaper initial purchase price. Higher long-term expenses for repairs and replacement.
      Weather Resistance stands up well to sun, rain, and moisture. prone to cracking, splintering, and warping.
      Availability Readily available at most lumber suppliers. Pressure-treated pine and fir are common at lumber yards.
      Resale Value Holds original value well if maintained.  Limited resale value due to shorter lifespan.

       cedar playset vs pressure treated playset

      Key Considerations When Choosing Between Cedar and Pressure Treated Playset

      Your family’s needs, budget, and yard space will determine whether cedar or treated lumber is the best choice for your swing set or playset project. Keep these factors in mind as you evaluate the options:

      Where will the playset be installed?

      • Full sun areas require maximum weather-resistance
      • Partially shaded sites allow more material options
      • Poor drainage creates excess moisture exposure

      What is your total budget for the project?

      • Cedar has a higher initial cost but lower long-term expenses
      • Pressure-treated wood is affordable upfront but requires frequent maintenance

      What size playset are you planning?

      • Large complex structures need maximum strength and stability
      • More materials = higher costs

      How long will your family be in the home?

      • Cedar makes more sense for long-term residency spanning decades
      • Treated wood works for shorter-term homeowners

      Do you prefer natural wood tones or colored plastic/metal playsets?

      • Cedar offers a beautiful wood appearance
      • Pressure-treated color is unattractive to some

      Are you willing to perform maintenance and upkeep tasks?

      • Cedar needs periodic sealing, oiling, cleaning
      • Pressure-treated wood requires frequent repairs, board replacement

      What experience do you have building or installing playsets?

      • Cedar is easier for DIY builders
      • Pressure-treated may require professional installation

      By carefully weighing these factors, you can determine whether cedar or pressure-treated lumber best fits your family’s swing set needs both today and for years to come.

      children playing on extra large cedar playset

      Should I Use Cedar Or Pressure Treated Wood For A Playset?

      A backyard playset creates lasting memories. Cedar edges out Treated pine for durability and safety when it comes to swing sets. However, do your research before buying materials—consider your needs and consult experienced builders. With an informed decision, your playset will provide magical moments for years. Laughter will fill the yard as your children grow up playing. Take time now to make the right choice, and the fun will continue for decades.


      What is the best brand of wooden swing sets?

      Top brands like Rainbow Play Systems, Backyard Discovery, Gorilla Playsets, CedarWorks, Step2, and XDP Recreation make high-quality, durable wooden swing sets.

      Is Cedar A Good Wood For A Swing Set?

      Yes, cedar is an excellent wood for swing sets because it naturally resists rot, decay, and insects due to its built-in oils, and can last up to 30 years outdoors if properly maintained.

      Are cedar playsets better than redwood?

      Both cedar and redwood are excellent choices for playsets. Cedar is known for its natural resistance to rot and insects, while redwood is highly durable and has a beautiful natural hue. Either wood can be a great option for a swing set.

      Do swing set manufacturers treat the wood?

      Some swing set manufacturers treat the wood with chemicals to enhance its resistance to decay. However, there are also manufacturers that offer untreated cedar playsets, allowing you to choose whether or not to treat the wood yourself.

      Is pressure-treated wood safe for children?

      Pressure-treated wood is generally considered safe for children's playsets. The chemicals used in the treatment process are designed to be safe once the wood is fully dried and the playset is properly installed and maintained.

      Previous article Cedar vs Redwood: Choosing the Best Wood for Your Playset
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      About The Author

      Andy Wu - Resident Expert

      Andy Wu - Resident Expert

      Andy Wu is the resident backyard products expert and hails from Atlanta, Georgia. His passion for crafting outdoor retreats began in 2003.

      As a fellow homeowner, he founded Backyard Oasis to provide top-quality furnishings and equipment, collaborating with leading manufacturers.

      His main focus is on sheds and generators!

      In his spare time he like to hike the tallest mountains in the world and travel with his family.

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