Can You Paint Pressure Treated Wood Or Should You Stain?

Pressure-treated wood is ideal for most outdoor projects and structures due to its resistance against rot, general weathering, insect damage, and more. While preservatives help protect pressure-treated boards from nature, you can still brush or even spray-paint the wood for a new look and increased durability. 

In this guide, you’ll learn the benefits of using pressure-treated wood, how to paint or stain it, and which is better to achieve beautiful, lasting results.  

Simply put, pressure-treated wood is any wood that’s been chemically treated with high-pressure solutions of water and chemicals. The extreme force used in this process helps the chemicals penetrate the lumber completely—in fact, most pressure-treated wood will still be damp when it gets to the hardware store. As the water evaporates, the chemicals in the solution are left behind.  

These chemicals are usually copper compounds and act as preservatives to prevent or slow down rot, fungus growth, mold, and insect damage. For this reason, you’ll only see pressure-treated wood used in outdoor structures.  Docks, wheelchair ramps, fences, garden beds, and especially decks are all common uses for this kind of lumber.  

Can You Paint Pressure Treated Wood

Although the chemicals infused into pressure-treated wood are considered safe in small amounts, they shouldn't be used indoors or around gardens growing plants meant for consumption.  

Wear gloves when handling pressure-treated wood, wash your hands after touching it, and only cut it while wearing goggles and a mask. The preservatives can irritate your skin, eyes, throat, and lungs with prolonged contact. Additionally, you should never burn pressure-treated wood.  


Benefits of Using Pressure-Treated Wood 

  • Moisture Resistance
    If left untreated, wood of any variety will soften from prolonged moisture exposure. As water seeps into the wood, boards can warp, rot, and lose their strength. Pressure-treated wood doesn’t exactly repel this moisture, but it does discourage the growth of moisture-loving organisms that can cause rot and other problems. 
  • Discourages Fungal Growth
    It doesn’t take much for fungal growth to ruin a fence or deck, even in very dry climates. The copper compounds in pressure-treated wood are anti-microbial and discourage this growth from occurring. 
  • Repels Insects
    Termites, carpenter ants, carpenter bees, and other insects love boring into untreated wood. Pressure-treated wood contains chemicals and additives like borate or arsenic to repel insects. 
  • Fire Resistance
    Although not all pressure-treated wood contains fire retardant chemicals, some do. It’s wise to consider flame-retardant boards near outdoor fire pits, for example, or anywhere a fire is likely to occur. 
  • Wide Range of Options
    Just as untreated lumber comes in several lengths, widths, and thicknesses, so does pressure-treated lumber. The same goes with the variety of wood, such as pine, cedar, and more. Whatever your project calls for, you can find pressure-treated boards to suit your needs. 
  • Value
    True, pressure-treated wood is more expensive than untreated wood—but when you consider its increased longevity and durability, the long-term cost is definitely cheaper. 
  • Strength
    Even if the idea of some rot or bugs doesn’t bother you, consider the impact these elements will have on your structure’s overall durability. Pressure-treated wood isn’t inherently stronger than untreated wood, but it will retain that strength for far longer. 
home deck

How To Paint Pressure-Treated Wood 

1. Clean your boards

The journey from the lumberyard to your yard can involve lots of pit stops—and plenty of grime. Clean your pressure-treated boards with a good rinse, if nothing else. If needed, scrub with a bristled brush and some mild soap, then rinse again. Older wood might need to be power washed before painting

2. Give it time to dry

Recently treated lumber will need about 2-3 weeks for all the treatment water to evaporate completely. 

3. Use a primer

An exterior primer, one which specifically says it’s fine for treated wood, will help your paint adhere better.  Apply using a brush or paint sprayer, although both are ideal for making sure the primer gets to every inch. Allow it to dry. 

4. Paint on your first coat

Do not use an oil-based paint, as it won’t adhere well. Opt for latex exterior paints instead. Apply with a brush or if possible, use a spray gun, let it dry, then test if it's ready for its second coat. 

5. Apply the second coat

Allow it to dry completely before walking on it, moving furniture, or handling it in any significant way. 


How To Stain Pressure-Treated Wood 

Oftentimes, staining is preferable to painting pressure-treated wood. This is because there's less preparation to ensure the wood takes it properly and because maintenance and application are easier.  

  • 1
    After the wood has dried, select your stain 
    Oil-based stains are best, as these further discourage moisture while enhancing the wood’s natural grain. Any oil-based exterior stain should work, although you can also choose one specific to pressure-treated wood if you prefer.  
  • 2
    Clean the wood 
    You can pressure wash, scrub, or rinse it—just make sure the grime and dirt are gone before you begin. The older the wood, the more you'll need to clean it. If necessary, use a wood cleaner that's meant for exterior structures. Let the wood dry completely. 
  • 3
    Mix your stain 
    Shake the can well before opening, and stir often while you apply it. Perform a test swatch in a hard-to-notice area to make sure you like the color.
  • 4
    Apply your stain 
    Use a staining brush or cloth to evenly coat your wood with single strokes (don’t go back and forth, and don’t overlap). Be sure to stain the ends of the boards, as well, and wipe up drips or pooled areas quickly. 
  • 5
    Allow it to dry 
    Apply additional coats if needed or desired.

Stain Versus Paint: Which is Better for Pressure-Treated Wood? 

In general, it's better to stain pressure-treated wood. Simply put, the application process is easier and faster, and treated lumber accepts stains more readily than it takes to paint. Maintenance is also easier since stains can't peel or chip. Best of all, the natural grain of your wood can still shine through. 

With that in mind, there are times when painting pressure-treated wood is better.  White fences, for example, require paint; there’s no way to achieve that clean, classic look with stain. You also have more color options with paint than stain provides.  

In the end, your choice to stain or paint your pressure-treated wood depends on the final look you're after and how much (if any) maintenance you're comfortable doing in future years.  


People Also Ask (FAQs)

How long does it take pressure-treated wood to dry out? 

On average, pressure-treated wood takes 2 to 3 weeks of mostly warm, sunny weather to dry completely. Heavy rain, cold snaps, and shade will prolong the process.  


Can you buy pressure-treated wood that’s already dried?  

Yes, you can purchase dry pressure-treated wood. Sometimes you’ll get lucky and find lumber that’s already been sitting out long enough to dry, at least some, before it makes its way to the store. This isn’t terribly common, though.  A better option is to opt for kiln-dried treated lumber.  It's more expensive but can save you weeks or even months of waiting.  


What can you do if you stain pressure-treated wood too soon? 

Damp pressure-treated wood won’t absorb stain evenly. This can result in splotchy, discolored areas and reduces the effectiveness of your stain. To fix it, wait for the boards to dry completely before applying your stain again. Also, you might have to go over some areas more than others to even out the appearance.  


Why and when does pressure-treated wood turn gray? 

After being exposed to the elements for about three to six months, you'll notice your pressure-treated wood growing discolored. Some of this is due to foot traffic and grime, but some are caused by UV rays breaking down the chemicals in the wood. This occurs even with untreated lumber, however, and is normal. You can wash it away with a pressure washer and then seal, stain, or paint your wood as planned.  


Does pressure-treated wood need to be sealed? 

You should seal your pressure-treated structures shortly after installation (as soon as they're dry) and reapply the sealant annually. This keeps the moisture barrier intact and prolongs the life of your wood. If staining, you can select a stain-sealant combo, then apply sealant on its own annually. Paints will require touch-ups and, in some cases, a polyurethane sealer as well.  

Conclusion

Many homeowners wonder if they can safely and effectively paint or stain pressure-treated wood, and the answer is absolutely. As long as the wood has dried completely following its treatment, you can paint or stain it much the same as you would untreated lumber.

While stain is easier and requires less maintenance overall, painting pressure-treated wood with a latex exterior primer and paint can yield beautiful and lasting results too.  

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