The short answer is yes, you can stain or paint pressure treated wood, but it has some important restrictions you need to know first. This is not like painting regular lumber, so you should know beforehand that it will require some additional steps.
If you paint pressure treated wood with the wrong materials or more importantly too soon you will have a peeling paint disaster under the best circumstances.
So, let’s get into the specifics of how to paint pressure treated wood the right way.
Make Sure It’s Dry
First on this list is allowing the wood to completely dry. Touching it will let you know if it’s dry enough for the water test, which involves spilling some water over the wood’s surface. If the water beads up on the surface, the wood hasn’t yet dried and you still need to wait.
Many factors can influence how quickly or slowly treated wood dries. Putting it in a warm, sunny spot will help but may also cause unwanted warp. Likewise, keeping lumber in dark and damp conditions can impede the process. You can generally count on pressure treated wood to dry naturally within a couple months, but sometimes, the process can take longer in cool damp locations.
To be absolutely sure you can use a moisture meter to check the moisture content of the wood. You should wait until you get a reading below about 14%.
Start With Washing
You might have already guessed that working with treated wood requires some patience. Once it does pass your water test, you’re ready to move forward. But don’t haul out your painter’s whites and paintbrush just yet, you must clean the wood first.
Soapy water and a stiff brush will eliminate dirt and grime that accumulate on the surface. They also remove chemicals so the primer and paint can properly adhere. I recommend against a strong pressure washer because it can tear up the wood and force water deep into thee wood fibers slowing down drying even more.
When clean, the wood needs to dry…again (I know!). This may, as before, take several weeks because you’re adding more liquid on top of the chemicals already applied. The wood is ready when it absorbs the water you drop during your test.
If you’re working on a project with a deadline, such as a backyard deck, you may want to go for pressure treated wood that’s been kiln-dried. This significantly reduces your work time by eliminating the need for lengthy drying.
Prime Before You Paint
If you were paying attention earlier, you might have noted we said prime and paint. Unfinished wood needs to be primed before you apply paint or stain. Thanks to the high content of solids, primer creates the smooth surface necessary for the paint to easily glide. It also forms a protective barrier; woods usually soak up lots of paint, which can mean more work – and more expense – that can otherwise be saved.
Your primer should match the paint you want to use: latex needs a stain-block latex or oil-based primer, while oil-based paint needs a stain-blocking oil-based primer.
Keep in mind that primed wood is flexible enough for either option. For help in choosing the best primer check out this earlier post.
Time to Paint
With the primer dry, you can finally apply paint to your project. It’s best to plan on two coats of the best quality paint you can afford. And don’t forget to let the paint thoroughly cure between coats. Re-coating too soon can cause adhesion problems.
If you are painting a deck it may be worthwhile to look into using a deck stain rather than a paint. Even if you want the appearance of a painted deck there are opaque stains that perform better on horizontal surfaces.
What Is Pressure Treated Wood?
Just in case you’re wondering, I wanted to give a brief rundown here. Pressure-treating protects the wood against rot and fungus growth. The lumber is submerged into a drum of chemicals, where high pressure is applied to ensure the chemicals deeply penetrate. Check out this post to help you choose the right kind of pressure treated wood for more info.
Benefits of wood treated in this way include:
- Increased durability
- Insect resistance
- Rot resistance
For your next project, opting for pressure treated wood won’t hinder your creative possibilities. This lumber can, with a few extra steps and time, be painted just as non-treated wood. The benefit is that it arrives to you already protected from things like rot and fungus.
Founder & Senior Editor
I love old houses, working with my hands, and teaching others the excitment of doing it yourself! Everything is teachable if you only give it the chance.