Is It Better To Stain Or Paint Pressure Treated Wood?

Although pressure-treated wood is a wonderful and inexpensive option for outdoor applications, it can be difficult to color due to its treatment. But if you don’t like the natural look of pressure-treated wood, don’t panic; there are techniques you could use to add color to it.

So, which is better: staining or painting pressure-treated wood? Both methods offer some benefits as well as drawbacks, so it truly depends on the type of project you are working on.

Staining will limit your color options, but it will also offer another layer of protection to the wood. Painting pressure-treated wood, on the other hand, is a little more difficult but you’ll have a much wider range of colors to select from.

Keep in mind that experts advise staining pressure-treated wood rather than painting it. The fundamental reason for this is that paint rarely adheres well to pressure-treated wood due to the pressure treatment technique.

That’s the short and simple answer, but there’s a lot more to it, so keep reading if you want to know every single advantage and disadvantage of both approaches. The key is to grasp what distinguishes pressure-treated wood as a type of lumber and how to work with it successfully.

What Is Pressure-Treated Wood? 

Pressure-treated wood is a type of lumber that has been treated with chemicals to make it more durable and resistant to insect infestation, mold, and deterioration. These treatments also have the potential to make the wood fire-resistant.

There are three major kinds:

  • An oil finish, created with compounds like copper azole (CA) or copper quaternary (ACQ)

  • Paint over the top urethane layer, which generates its own protective coating. This technique is more labor-intensive, but it provides long-term protection from water damage.

  • Ethanol-coated pressure-treated boards (EP), which are manufactured from recyclable materials such as plastics.

If you want to be certain that you’re dealing with pressure-treated wood rather than conventional lumber, here is a quick guide on how do you know if wood is pressure-treated?

Pressure-Treated Wood Categories

Pressure-treated wood is classified into two types: above-ground and ground-contact. These types of pressure-treated wood differ in how and where they are used, but the techniques to prepare them for staining or painting are the same.

Above-Ground Pressure Treated Wood

Above-ground wood is meant for usage in situations where the wood is easily accessible and can be easily changed or maintained. This sort of wood is used by builders where it will be at least 6 inches above ground level. This type of wood should be well-ventilated and allowed to drain when it gets wet.

Above-ground wood can be used as deck rails or deck boards provided they are easily accessible and replaceable.

Ground-Contact Pressure Treated Wood

Ground-contact wood has been treated to retain a higher concentration of preservative than above-ground wood. As a result, it is best suited for above-ground applications or scenarios in which it will come into touch with the earth. Some ground-contact wood applications include fencing using in-ground fence posts.

Should You Paint Or Stain Pressure Treated Wood?

Because of its composition, pressure-treated wood does not require weather protection, but if you’re dead bent on painting or staining your pressure-treated lumber, here are some suggestions for you to follow:

1. Allow It To Settle 

Let the wood to weather for at least 60 days if you just bought it to allow the chemicals to evaporate and work their way out of the wood.

2. Check To See If The Wood Is Dry

When the pressure-treated lumber is ready, a routine water test will tell you. Pour a small amount of water on the boards’ surface. It’s not dry enough if the water beads. It’s ready if the water soaks in.

3. Choose The Right Base

Surface-treat the lumber if it has been chemically treated with chromate copper arsenate (CCA) before painting. Because the chemicals in the treated lumber are susceptible to water-based paints, use oil-based acrylic instead of water-based paints or stains.

How to Paint Pressure Treated Wood

What You’ll Need for Pressure Treated Wood Painting:

  • Primer
  • Latex paint – have enough for at least two coats
  • Paintbrush
  • Brush for cleaning the wood
  • Mild detergent 

Applying A High-Quality Latex Primer

If you are wondering why is applying a primer so important, this is due to the fact that latex primer aids in the adhesion of the paint to the surface of the wood. It also prevents the top layer of paint from being absorbed by the pressure-treated wood.

The first step is to check that your primer is meant for pressure-treated wood and is suitable for outdoor use. If at all possible, avoid using an oil-based primer.

It is preferable to use a brush on the wood surface rather than a paint sprayer. This will guarantee that the paint clings to the surface and is applied evenly and thoroughly.

Apply A High-Quality Exterior Latex Paint

Apply at least two coats of latex paint to the entire surface. Why do you need two coats of paint on pressure-treated wood you ask? Well, because the first layer of paint will last around six months, but you should apply two coats if you want a long-lasting finish.

Keep in mind that horizontal surfaces on your project will be more exposed than vertical surfaces. In order to achieve an outstanding finish with your pressure-treated wood paint, it’s best to follow the manufacturer’s recommendations.

Finishing With Water Repellent

Following the application of water-based paint, you can apply a water-repellent finish containing an ultraviolet stabilizer. This keeps the paint from fading or changing its color.

The Drawbacks Of Painting Pressure Treated Wood

While as we previously explained, it is feasible to paint pressure-treated wood, this method comes with some drawbacks you should take into consideration:

  • Although paint adds a splash of color, it does not adhere well to pressure-treated wood. This is due to the chemicals used in it. However, if you take the right precautions, you can paint it.

  • Paint prevents the lumber from breathing and instead promotes the growth of rot, mold, and mildew.

  • You’ll need to apply at least three coats of paint, and a primer for further protection. Mold and mildew, in general, do not pose a risk to pressure-treated wood, but they could endanger people’s health. Furthermore, you would have to spend time cleaning up the mold and spraying the mildewcide on a regular basis.

How to Care for Your Painted Wood

Given that your fence or deck is exposed to the elements, especially direct sunshine, some issues may arise. The most common ones are mildew growth, UV protection, and shrinking or swelling of the wood.

However, there are ways to keep the paint on your pressure-treated wood in good condition.

Mildew Growth

Mold and mildew are aided by water and organic materials. To prevent water from being caught on the wood proper ventilation should be provided between boards and beneath the surface to prevent water from becoming trapped in the wood.

If mold shows up on your deck or fence it can be removed with a five-way tool. If there are any remaining traces, use an exterior wood cleaner combined with warm water. Allow at least an hour for drying. To keep mold from reappearing, use a wood-safe fungicide. The sun will help it to dry.

UV Ray Protection

An outdoor wood sealant with a water repellent and an ultraviolet stabilizer would suffice for this. After washing your deck or porch, apply the sealant. Cleaning the wood on a regular basis will help maintain its quality for at least two years.

Shrinking And Swelling

When exposed to direct sunshine, the wood naturally shrinks and swells. When wood dries out, it shrinks. This is why, while installing a deck, it is best not to leave gaps between the boards. Swelling, on the other hand, happens when the wood is wet. It is essential to spray sealant between the gaps once a year to minimize swelling caused by water soaks.

One way to prevent shrinkage is to use KDAT wood, as it will not shrink considerably, and the original appearance of Kiln-dried pressure-treated wood will endure for years. Another advantage of this type of treated wood is that it can be either oil or water-based stained right away. To identify it, look for a tag or stamp that says KDAT (kiln-dried after treatment) or ADAT (air-dried after treatment).

Will Painting Your Pressure-Treated Wood Cause It To Rot? 

In general, creating circumstances that trap moisture in wood increases the likelihood of rot. Paint and other film formers are not recommended since they do not allow the wood to breathe and can be harder to maintain or refresh than penetrating stains.

Benefits Of Staining Pressure Treated Wood

  • Preparation takes less time and effort. Before painting, you have to sand the surface of the pressure-treated wood and apply a latex primer. However, when staining pressure-treated lumber, you merely need to clean it with soap and water. You can apply the stain after the lumber has air-dried.

  • Wood stain protects wood from UV rays, cracking, and the entry of additional moisture, as well as the elements. Even though treated wood is naturally resistant to dampness, insect infestations, and damage, robust stains help the wood last longer.

  • Stains allow you to highlight the natural beauty and qualities of pressure-treated wood. This will add a lot of personality to your project.

How to Stain Pressure-Treated Wood

Pressure-treated wood is relatively simple to stain. However, you must be careful while staining the wood because doing so too soon will cause the stain to be “rejected,” resulting in your work and money being wasted. Follow the procedure below to ensure your work’s success.

What You’ll Need for Pressure Treated Wood Staining:

Check The Weather

Wait for two to three days of dry weather before beginning the process of staining your pressure-treated wood deck or porch during dry weather. This is because, despite the overall improvement in today’s pressure-treated wood, it is still vulnerable to factors such as humidity and the heat of direct sunlight. Humidity causes the stain to dry faster.

Because of this, it is recommended to start the preparation and staining process on the third day of bright weather. But avoid staining treated wood directly in the sun. The heat will rapidly evaporate the stain at a pace faster than the wood can absorb it.

Check If The Wood Is Dry

It is critical to ensure that your pressure-treated wood is dry before applying the stain. You can use the sprinkle test discussed previously to see if the wood it’s dry enough. 

Another option is to drive a nail into the wood. If water comes out while you’re pushing the nail, you’ll have to wait a little longer. If you’re still dubious, you can get a moisture meter. The recommended moisture content is less than 19%. Nineteen is a key number since specialists believe mold and rot begin to form at this level.

Here is an extra tip: Stack the pressure-treated wood in a crisscross configuration to allow it to dry naturally. The drying time for the wood is approximately 2-3 days. This is best done when the weather is warm and low in humidity.

Choosing The Correct Stain

On the market, there are two sorts of stains: oil-based stains and latex stains. There is no one stain that is better than another because they all have advantages and cons. As a result, the ideal stain differs depending on the project.

It is preferable to use oil-based stains when installing a new deck since the lumber absorbs them entirely, sealing the lumber against water. Because the stain soaks into the wood, this extra layer protects it from ultraviolet (UV) radiation.

An oil-based stain will also improve the natural appearance of the pressure-treated wood. This kind is available in a range of wood tones, such as cedar, oak, and redwood. You can also use a semi-transparent or transparent stain. With time, the exposed, ancient wood and the semi-transparent or clear stain will add character and allow the natural beauty of the lumber to enrich your deck or porch.

The disadvantage of utilizing an oil-based exterior stain is that it does not last long. And you’ll find yourself every year having to reapply the stain. Another drawback is that the oil can serve as a food source for mold, mildew, and algae.

Water-based stains, on the other hand, or latex stains, dry quickly. Even when the wood is damp, this form of stain adheres to and is absorbed by it. It is also easier to clean with soap and water.

However, a water-based stain gives the lumber a paint-like finish, obscuring the natural wood grain patterns and erasing the wood’s original character.

Cleaning The Wood

To remove the filth and particles, use a stiff brush, mild detergent, and water. Using soapy water is preferable to using a pressure washer. The chemical preservatives on your treated lumber will be washed away with a power washer. After this, allow the wood to dry again.

Staining The Wood

Before applying the stain, mix it thoroughly. It is also recommended that you stir it on a regular basis while you apply it to your project.

Testing The Stain

Apply a little amount to the treated wood with a paint pad applicator and allow the stain to fully adhere. This allows you to determine whether the stain is the perfect hue for your project before applying it and allowing it to adhere properly to all of your planks and boards.

Another Tip: Start with a faint stain. If the treated wood isn’t ready for staining (i.e., damp), you can wait for it to dry before applying a darker stain.

Applying The First Coat

Don’t forget to put on some gloves. Apply the stain, but keep in mind that repeated brushstrokes on a single region will result in additional layers of stain. These can alter the color of the treated wood in your final product.

Remember not to put wood stain directly in the sun. This is due to the fact that heat dries the wood stain too quickly, even before the wood can absorb it.

By following these staining preparation procedures, you can ensure that the wood stain has been applied properly, the wood has been protected, and the wood finish has been applied uniformly.

What Should I Do If I Stained The Wood Too Soon?

If you applied a light-colored stain, as a quick fix, you can just apply a darker-colored stain on top, after the wood has completely dried. If you used a darker stain, you must first remove the topcoat of the stain using a light sandpaper or a chemical stain stripper. Again, before your next try, ensure that the wood surface has totally dried.

Keeping Your Stained Treated Wood In Good Condition

One advantage of stained-treated wood is that it is simple to care for. You must, of course, keep your project tidy.

  • Every one to three years, use a cleaner/brightener. Then, to bring out the color of the old stain, add one coat of sealant.

  • Maintaining the beautiful condition of your porch or deck necessitates regular cleaning. Every few months, bring out your yard hose, brush, and detergent.

  • If you haven’t cleaned your pressure-treated wood deck or porch in more than three years, you should use a power washer rather than a garden hose to dislodge the gunk and filth.

Over time, you’ll need to replace the older pressure-treated wood deck boards. Although it may be tempting, do not install composite decking over a pressure-treated lumber frame. This is due to the fact that composite lumber is heavier than treated wood.

Final Thoughts

Designing a new project using pressure-treated wood requires some thought, but staining it or painting it doesn’t necessarily have to be a frustrating process.

If you follow the instructions we provided for preparing and applying stain or paint, you should get a great-looking product that will last for years.