Is it Better to Stain or Paint Pressure treated Wood
Tips & Tricks

Is it Better to Stain or Paint Pressure-treated Wood?

Pressure-treated wood is the most ideal for your outdoor projects. However, most people are not fans of its dull natural wood color and may consider painting or staining the wood. But the decision to paint or stain pressure-treated wood is more complicated since the treatment process can affect your stain or paint job if you do it incorrectly.

So which product is better to use on pressure-treated wood; paint or stain?

While you can paint pressure-treated wood, we do not recommend it. This is because paint doesn’t adhere to pressure-treated lumber very well due to the chemical preservatives.

But you can still manage a good paint job by choosing the right primer and paint and preparing the pressure-treated wood properly.

On the other hand, staining pressure-treated wood is much easier as long as the wood is dry and clean.  

This article will explain further the pros and cons of staining and painting pressure-treated wood and important tips and tricks to ensure you get the best results.

What is pressure-treated wood?

Pressure-treated wood results from the process that uses high pressure to inject chemical preservatives into the wood. This process aims to extend the longevity of the wood, thus adding decades of life for the wood.

In addition, the preservatives make the wood resistant to decay, insects, fire, moisture, and severe weather climates, making it ideal for outdoor construction projects like decks.

However, this pressure-treatment process can affect your stain or paint job. Pressure-treated wood becomes wet after the process and remains wet for weeks in most environments. So if you want to stain the wood, it needs to be dry to absorb the stain effectively.

Similarly, wet wood can prevent how well paint adheres to the surface, and the chemical preservatives make it difficult for the paint to bond with the wood.

Pros and cons of staining or painting pressure-treated wood

So it is better to stain or paint pressure-treated wood? Both have their benefits and drawbacks; therefore, your decision depends on your type of project. Staining will limit you to a specific range of colors, giving the wood additional protection.

On the other hand, painting pressure-treated wood requires skill and knowledge, but you’ll have various colors to choose from.

Pros and cons of staining pressure-treated wood

Below are the advantages and disadvantages of staining pressure-treated wood.

Pros

  • Staining pressure-treated wood requires minimal surface preparation such as sanding and priming. In some cases, you may have to sand the wood for achieve certain results.
  • Wood stains add an extra layer of protection to your wood, depending on the type of stain you use. But most stains will protect your wood from sunlight, cracking, and other elements.
  • Staining enhances the natural look of wood and grain but with more contrast and in a different tint.
  • You can also choose a black stain for pressure-treated wood to protect it from UV rays.
  • Staining is generally less expensive than painting.

Cons

  • Wood stains are limited in color. Most stains have a more natural wood color, such as oak, walnut, brown, grey, and brown-red variations. So staining is not for you if your want unnatural or vibrant colors.
  • Many factors influence the outcome of the color, making it hard to predict the result. Factors such as type of stain, wood, the color of the wood,  sunlight, and if the wood was sanded or not can influence the result of your pressure-treated wood. But you can do a patch test on a small wood area to see how it looks.
  • It may not be easy to get a perfect looking and even finish if you’re a beginner. Applying the stain unevenly or dripping stain on the wood can give unappealing stains or drops to the overall look. We recommend hiring a professional if you use wood stain on your pressure-treated wood.

Pros and cons of painting pressure-treated wood

Below are the advantages and disadvantages of painting pressure-treated wood.

Pros

  • You have a wide range of colors to choose from. However, should you paint pressure-treated wood, always go for latex paint.
  • You can easily get a perfect finish when painting your pressure-treated wood, making it great even for beginners.
  • Painting is better at covering flaws and filling cracks compared to stains.

Cons

  • You have to prepare the wood surface with primer before painting it. Priming will help the paint adhere properly to the pressure-treated wood.
  • Painting pressure-treated wood also requires caution and patience to get the expected results; otherwise, the paint may fade or chip over time.
  • The primer and paint will cover the natural grain of the wood. So if you want the wood grain visible, painting should not be your option.

What kind of stain should I use on pressure-treated wood?

Any wood stain suitable for exterior or outdoor use will work with your pressure-treated wood as s the wood is completely dry and clean. There are latex stains and oil-based stains. Latex stains are more opaque and will likely hide the wood’s grain pattern.

While oil-based stains soak completely into the wood, creating a stronger barrier against water penetration. If you can’t decide, go for an oil-based, semi-transparent exterior stain.

Additionally, some brands have stains specifically for pressure-treated wood.

What happens if you paint pressure-treated wood too soon?

We advise waiting until the treated wood is dry before painting; otherwise, you won’t get a quality finish. Here’s what happens when you paint pressure-treated wood before it’s ready:

  • First, the primer and paint will not cure properly on wet pressure-treated wood.
  • The soft paint is more likely to sustain dents and scuffs, thus giving an ugly result.
  • The paint won’t take on the color it should when it is properly dry.
  • The paint will crack and peel prematurely. When the wood finally dries, it will shrink in size, causing the paint to peel.
  • Your wooden boards will warp if you paint before the pressure-treated lumber is completely dry. This is because the non-painted side will dry faster and start contracting before the painted side, thus causing it to warp.

The best time to paint or stain pressure-treated wood is when it is completely dry and clean.

How long before you can paint or stain pressure-treated wood?

Typically, pressure-treated wood will take between three weeks to six months to dry well. But kiln-dried treated wood is sufficiently dry when it leaves the treatment plant. Therefore you can paint or stain it right away or wait about 72 hours.

Additionally, some factors may affect how long the pressure treated wood takes to dry completely; they include;

  • The humidity of the environment
  • The thickness of the wood
  • Type of treatment
  • Whether the wood was kiln-dried

The wood tends to retain some moisture after treatment. This moisture can affect the process and results of staining or painting it. The Sprinkle Test is an easy method to test if the pressure-treated wood is ready for staining or painting.

First, drop some water on the surface of the treated wood. If the water soaks into the wood, it is dry enough for painting or staining. But if the water beads on the surface, the wood is still too wet.

When in doubt, you can use a digital moisture meter. First, calibrate the digital moisture meter properly, press the two prongs into the wood and test the moisture content.

Next, test different areas of the wood and average the amounts the meter shows. The ideal moisture level of the wood before staining or painting should be around 15%.

It’s important to check on your wood periodically while you wait to dry to ensure you don’t over-dry it.

What happens if you stain pressure-treated wood too soon?

As earlier mentioned, the pressure-treatment of the wood will leave it damp, and also, if you wash the wood with water, the drying period will extend. If you become impatient and stain the wood when damp, the wood will not absorb the stain properly.

Therefore, you may have a patchy result and will not get the protective benefits of the stain. Also, although pressure-treated wood is highly durable, applying a stain when it is not ready will cause premature cracking.

Is it worth staining pressure-treated wood?

Yes, pressure-treated wood is still worth staining, but you have to wait until the wood is completely dry. Besides the aesthetic benefits of wood stain, it will offer an additional layer of protection from insects, and decay, especially for outdoor structures like decks and fences.

Conclusion

As long as the pressure-treated wood is dry and clean, the wood stain will adhere better with proper application and curing. Conversely, painting pressure-treated wood requires more preparation and the right type of paint and primer for better results.

However, whether you choose to stain or paint your pressure-treated wood, you should have a great-looking result if you follow all the above tips.

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