Is It Better To Stain Or Paint Pressure Treated Wood?

Pressure treated wood comes with a bunch of different benefits for exterior projects. It helps to ensure that the lifespan of the wood lasts a lot longer than it usually does, even when it’s subjected to particularly problematic conditions outside.

Of course, this process is useful but it can also cause some major problems for paint or stain jobs when it hasn’t been done in the correct way. This prompts us to ask a question –  is it better to use stain or paint on pressure treated wood?

Is It Better To Stain Or Paint Pressure Treated Wood?

Furthermore, how do you put it on the wood in the correct way so that all of the work that you have done doesn’t end up being for nothing in a short span of time?

Let’s turn to the experts. The pros will all tell you that it’s usually better to stain wood that has been pressure treated – don’t paint it. This is because the paint usually doesn’t stick to the pressure treated well effectively as it conflicts with the process that was used for the pressure treatment.

We’re going to dive into this more in depth later on but it is indeed possible to paint over pressure treated wood if you want to – you just need to do it in the correct manner. The main thing that you need to do is understand why this kind of wood is unique, and know the different ways that you should be working with it. 

Is It Possible to Stain or Paint Pressure Treated Wood?

First it’s important to understand what pressure treated wood actually is. This kind of wood has basically been through a process where it has been put through a lot of pressure. Through this pressure, a solution consisting of water and preservative chemicals is injected deep into the grain of the wood.

This all serves a purpose – it helps to stop the wood from rotting and helps to ensure that it lasts longer. Thanks to this, it’s the perfect choice for furniture outdoors, such as fencing and decking. This is because it is often exposed to the elements. If it wasn’t pressure treated then the wood would degenerate much faster. 

It’s worth noting though that the pressure treatment can be a little problematic as it can sometimes cause a paint job or a stain to fail sometimes. This is because the pressure treated wood tends to stay wet right after the treatment has taken place. In some cases it can even stay wet for a number of weeks.

This is a big problem for stains, as the wood has to be able to absorb the stain in order for it to work. As such, the wood has to be dry before you stain it. You need to make sure that you are waiting the right amount of time before you stain your pressure treated wood.

In the same vein, paint doesn’t always adhere well to wet lumber either. Unfortunately, there’s another problem with paint. Because there are a lot of preservatives in the pressure treated wood, it can often be quite challenging for the paint to stick to the wood.

As such, it’s usually recommended that you stain the pressure treated wood rather than painting it, as you will need to do more to prepare when you are painting it. 

The Different Kinds of Pressure Treated Wood 

There are generally two main kinds of pressure treated wood – ground contact and above ground. They can differ in color and appearance. These kinds of wood are mainly set apart based on their uses, though they are generally prepared for painting or staining in the same way.

Above Ground Pressure Treated Wood

You would usually use this kind of wood in locations where you can get to the wood with ease, and in places where you can maintain the wood without many issues. It’s usually used around 6 inches above the ground level. It is important that this kind of wood is ventilated well and it should be able to drain when it gets damp. 

The wood tends to be a good choice for things like deck boards or deck rails, so long as you can reach them or replace them without much trouble when you need to. As long as the wood is above ground and easy to access, then it’s not a problem. 

Ground Contact Pressure Treated Wood

This type of wood, on the other hand, has been treated with a lot more preservative than in above ground wood.

For this reason, it works best for situations where it is above the ground, or when the wood is going to get into the ground. For instance, this kind of wood is often used for fencing where the posts are going to be submerged under the mud.

If the wood is going to be positioned less than 6 inches from the ground, or in situations where the ventilation isn’t going to be very good, or when it will be hard to maintain the wood, then using ground contact wood is the best choice.

How Do I Stain Wood That Has Been Pressure Treated?

It’s actually fairly simple to treat pressure treated wood. It is worth noting, however, that your timing is important when you are staining wood. If you stain it too early then the stain may not adhere to the wood.

Painter holding a paintbrush over wooden surface, protecting wood for exterior influences and weathering. Carpentry, wood treatment, hard at work, home improvement, do-it-yourself concept.

This is both a waste of time and money, so it’s better to avoid staining it too early. Instead, you should follow the steps listed below to ensure that the staining is done correctly.

Test the Wood

First of all make sure that you are testing the wood to clarify whether it is actually ready. If you have only just bought the pressure treated lumber then you will probably notice that it is wet.

If your lumber is wet then staining the lumber at this point is a complete waste of time – you will basically be pouring your money down the drain/ The wet wood is incapable of absorbing the stain in the correct manner. Of course, if the wood has been kiln dried then it’s okay to stain it straight away.

Before doing anything with the wood, you should first be looking at the board to check whether there’s a stamp on it that says ADAT. What does this mean? Basically, it means air dried after treatment.

Alternatively you may also notice that it says KDAT which means kiln dried after treatment. These kinds of lumber are suitable for immediate staining, unless you have gotten them wet in the time after purchase. For instance, if you have gotten it wet out in the rain then you are going to need to wait a while before you stain it.

If you aren’t sure whether it’s okay to stain the wood yet, then you can do something known as the ‘sprinkle’ method. First of all, just sprinkle a little bit of water onto the wood.

Then you need to measure the amount of time that it takes for the water to be absorbed into the wood. If the wood completely absorbs the water then it’s okay to stain it. If it isn’t ready to be stained then the water will bead or pool on the top of the wood. This means that it’s still holding too much moisture.

Wash the Wood

If you have just bought the wood and it is completely new then there’s no need to try to clean away the debris and dirt, though there’s nothing wrong with giving it a quick cleaning session for good measure before you stain it.

If the wood has been installed for quite some time then you are going to need to clean the wood before you stain it to make sure that debris and dirt is taken off the surface, as this can impact how effectively the stain will work.

First, put a cleaning solution on the wood in order to loosen any of the debris that you want to get rid of. Allow it to sit on the wood for around 10 minutes – make sure that you are following the directions that have been given on the solution’s container. 

When you have done this you can then rinse the solution away using a power washer or a garden hose. You should then wait for around one whole day so that the wood can dry effectively. Then you can apply the stain.

Prepare the Wood Before Staining

Before staining, grab some tarp or painters tape to stop the stain from getting onto any places that you don’t want it to go, such as on your furniture. Then, use a broom and sweep over the wood to get rid of any other debris that might have built up while the wood was trying to dry.

Put the Stain on the Wood

Now it’s time to open up that stain container! Stir the solution well in order to ensure that the color is consistent in the container, then put some of the stain into a tray for paint. Put small bits of the stain onto a piece of the wood just to double check that you are okay with how it works.

Don’t rush ahead because you can’t turn back from here! When you have decided that you are okay with the look, you can then dive on into thoroughly staining the wood. Allow the stain to dry for a minimum of 24 hours when you have finished before you try to walk on it.

The best thing to use to apply the stain is a paint pad applicator if you have one. Put it onto a pole to apply the stain easily. A brush can also work but it’s often not very comfortable to use because you’ll have to get onto your knees.

Painting the Wood

It’s usually better to stain pressure treated wood, but here’s how to paint it if you simply must!

  1. Make sure it’s dry and then prepare it as instructed above
  2. Grab a bristle brush and put some primer on the wood.
  3. Put two coats of latex paint on the wood after the primer dries. Sometimes you may need a few coats.