Can You Paint Pressure Treated Wood?

calander Oct 14 , 2022 user-icon Nash Painting

Ready to give that pressure treated lumber a fresh look? Here’s what you need to know.

Pressure treated lumber has a lot of benefits. Since it has been literally saturated by chemicals designed to prevent rot and decay, it boasts a priceless level of durability. Especially for wood surfaces like deck boards and exterior trim that face relentless exposure to the elements, that’s super important.

The downside to pressure treated wood? Well, it has a sort of greenish tinge that screams “brand new lumber.” It sticks out like a sore thumb.

The good news is that yes, you can absolutely paint pressure treated lumber. In fact, it’s recommended to apply a protective layer of paint or stain, increasing its health, longevity, and beauty. After all, pressure treated wood has a strong start, but it won’t last forever.

Before you get started, there are a few things you have to know. Otherwise you’ll have a messy, pricey mistake on your hands.

When can you paint pressure treated lumber?

The biggest takeaway here is that you have to let the wood fully dry. Some might refer to this as “seasoning” or “curing” as well. Whatever you call it, the process typically takes 4-6 months. Just let the wood be. Painting too soon can actually cause the boards to warp, plus you run the risk of major paint adhesion issues.

After a few months, give it the tried and true moisture test. Dribble some water on the surface, and if it soaks right in the wood is ready to coat. If the water beads up and won’t saturate, it needs more time.

It stands to reason that if the wood enjoys lots of direct sunlight, it’ll dry faster, and if it’s in a shady or damp environment, the process takes longer. If the wood hasn’t been used for construction and is just lying around, make sure it’s not sitting directly on the ground. You might also want to criss-cross the pieces of lumber to allow for better airflow.

How to paint pressure treated wood

Here’s our recommended process.

1. Wash the wood thoroughly
Before any paint or stain can be applied, you need to make sure you’re working with a clean surface. A gentle power washing can be a good approach here, or use sudsy water and a stiff brush on a long handle. Next, hurry up and wait. You need to wait for the surface to dry again, but it won’t take so long this time: maybe a week or two depending on the conditions.

2. Apply your primer
If you’re going to stain your deck, you can skip this step. At Nash Painting, we use Sherwin-Williams’ Deckscapes with a built-in sealer, making one coat all that’s typically needed. A deck that is brand new, or severely weathered, may need a second coat for the best coverage.

If you’re painting your deck, it is definitely recommended that you use a primer. You might also want to have your primer tinted with your topcoat color, just to ease the coverage.

3. Paint your deck
After the primer is thoroughly dry, it’s time to apply your topcoat. It can be way too easy to rush the process, so please be sure that you let the paint thoroughly dry between coats. We also recommend buying high-quality paint. It’ll cost more, but the performance and coverage are so worth the investment. Cheaper paint always costs more in the long-run!

Should you paint or stain pressure treated lumber?

Honestly, there are pros and cons to both approaches.

One thing to keep in mind is that paint sits right on top of the wood, and obviously covers the surface. That means that when you paint, you’re committing to more intensive maintenance and future repaints. You’re also going to hide the natural character of your woodwork - a deal breaker for some homeowners.

Stain, on the other hand, needs to be worked into the surface and saturates much more deeply. You will, however, need to refresh your stain every couple of years to be sure that it offers peak performance and protection.

The takeaway? If your deck has blemishes that need to be hidden and you want a quick route to a big transformation, go with paint. If you like natural wood and don’t mind ongoing maintenance, go with stain.

FAQ about painting pressure treated wood

Q. How long should you wait before you paint pressure treated wood?
It depends on how exposed the wood is to sunlight, but count on at least 4-6 months. Don’t forget to try the moisture test too, watching for how quickly water soaks into the surface. If it beads up, wait longer. If it soaks right in, you’re likely ready to paint or stain.

Q. What happens if you paint pressure treated wood too soon?
Paint failure is the biggest risk, including premature painting and adhesion issues. It’s like trying to apply a sticker to a damp piece of paper: it might stay for a little bit, but it won’t last long. Also, painting pressure treated wood too soon can actually cause the boards to warp - never a good thing.

Q. How do you get paint to stick to pressure treated wood?
Start by letting the wood thoroughly dry, or “cure.” Then use high-quality primer and paint for the best adhesion and finish quality.

Q. Will pressure treated wood last longer if it’s painted?
Whether you paint or stain, what matters is that the wood is protected. Pressure treated wood will last longer than untreated wood, but it’s not a lifetime fix. Moisture, pests, and UV damage will inevitably take a toll, and your paint or stain is the first line of defense. Pick a finish and then stay consistent with your maintenance regimen.