Pressure treated wood is a great and cheap choice for outdoor applications but because of its treatment, it is kind of hard to color it. If you are not a fan of the natural look of pressure treated wood then don´t worry, there are ways to give it some color. You can either paint it, with some preparing the paint will stick permanently to the pressure treated wood, or you can stain it. But it can be a little frustrating to find any information online about the advantages and disadvantages of both methods as well as the best practices for both of them. So I wrote this article to help you decide which method is the best one for your project.
So is it better to stain or to paint pressure treated wood? Both have their advantages and disadvantages, so it really depends on the kind of project. Staining will restrict you to a certain range of colors but it will also add another layer of protection to the wood. Painting pressure treated wood is a little more complicated but you will have a huge variety of colors to choose from.
That’s the short and easy answer but there is a lot more to it, so if you want to know every single advantage and disadvantage of both methods, then read on.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Staining Pressure Treated Wood
Staining is not equals painting. When you stain the wood, then the natural characteristics, such as the grain, will be visible and in most cases, they will actually be enhanced. So if you are looking for a natural wood look but with more contrast or in another tint, then staining is the way to go.
Advantages of Staining Pressure Treated Wood
You don´t have to prepare the surface of the wood with any primer and you don´t have to sand the surface if you don’t want to. All you have to do before you can start staining the wood is cleaning it with some water and soap. And once the wood is dry (which can take up to a month) you can simply apply the stain directly on the wood.
Wood stain will add another layer of protection to your wood. This depends a little bit on the type of stain, that you are using but most stains will protect the wood from sunlight, cracking, or the elements. This is not as important when you are using pressure treated wood because it already is very resistant to the elements but it doesn´t do any harm either.
It will enhance the look of the wood. The stain will not cover the wood grain, like paint would do, it instead enhances it. So if you want the wood to look like actual wood with all its characteristics, then staining the wood may actually be the best choice for you.
Disadvantages of Staining Pressure Treated Wood
You are limited in your choice of color. Almost all stains will have a more natural color to them such as walnut, oak, or any other variation of brown, grey, and brown-red. So if you want your wood to look colorful, then staining might not be the best way choice.
The outcome can be hard to predict. This is probably the biggest downside to using stains in my opinion. There are so many factors that can influence the exact outcome of the color that it is very hard to predict. Things like the type of wood, the type of stain, the color of the wood, if the wood was sanded before or not, the sunlight, and so on, can all influence the outcome. So you should test the stain on a scrap piece of the wood, that you plan on using, to see how it looks once it is stained. Just to be sure.
It can be hard to get a good looking finish. If you apply too much stain to one part of the wood or if you drip on the wood without realizing it then ugly stains or drops can be the result. You can go over the first layer of the stain without any issues but sometimes it can be kind of hard to get a perfect looking even finish.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Painting Pressure Treated Wood
Painting pressure treated wood is notoriously difficult but only because you have to prepare the wood before you paint it. If you know how to prepare the wood and what to watch out for it isn´t hard to do at all. If you want to know how to paint pressure treated wood the proper way then you can read my guide on that right here.
Advantages of Painting Pressure Treated Wood
A lot of different colors to choose from. You have a lot of different colors, that you can paint your wood in. I would recommend using Latex paint to paint your wood.
It´s quite easy to get a good looking finish. Painting wood evenly is not as hard as staining wood evenly. So it is way easier to get a smooth finish when you paint the pressure treated wood than if you were to stain it. So it´s actually better for beginners to paint the wood.
Disadvantages of Painting Pressure Treated Wood
You have to prepare the surface of the wood with primer before you can paint it. In order to have paint actually stick to pressure treated wood permanently you first have to prepare the surface with a primer. You can read more about that in my guide on paining pressure treated wood right here. So there is one extra step which isn´t all that bad but can be counted as a disadvantage.
The grain of the wood will disappear. If you paint your wood then you have to prime it in order to make the paint stick permanently to the wood. But the primer and all the additional paint layers will slowly but surely cover the natural grain of the wood. So if you want the grain to be visible then painting it is probably not the way to go.
Choose the Right Method of Coloring for Your Individual Project
Now that you know all the advantages and disadvantages of painting and staining pressure treated wood, you hopefully are able to make an educated decision on which method to use.
But if you are still not sure I will give you a few examples and then I will elaborate on why I choose one method over the other in that specific example. This will then hopefully help you to choose the right method for your project.
For my garden, I wanted to build a standing birdhouse to feed all the birds coming to our little backyard. It is a free-standing Birdhouse and I mainly used pressure treated wood to build it because it was cheaper.
Because a lot of birds would be landing on it, potentially scratching the surface of the wood as they land and maybe even pooping on it I wanted an extra layer of protection. I knew that painting it would look nice in the beginning but after a while, the paint would be scratched off the surface, and bird poop is slightly acidic, so the paint would dissolve or change color over time.
So I choose to stain it. This would add another layer of protection to the wood and the paint would not be scratched off because the stain is usually absorbed deeper into the fibers of the wood that paint is. It turned out to be the right choice.
Another example is building a small garden bench. The bench was supposed to stand right next to our house wall.
Natural-looking wood didn´t really look all that good close to the wall so I decided to paint the bench. We have two cushions that be would always sit on so there was no danger of damaging the paint job by sitting directly on the wood.
The bench was protected enough and the paint job is still not damaged in any way to this day.
So as you can see, the coloring method really depends on the type of project.