Can You Paint Pressure Treated Wood

Can You Paint Pressure Treated Wood

painted woodIf you have a deck, stairs, or other structure made with pressure treated lumber, you may not like the look of the brown or green wood surface created by pressure treatment. You may be asking, can you paint pressure treated wood?

The short answer is, yes, but it’s a little more complicated than painting wood that isn’t pressure treated. There are a couple of things you need to know about how to prepare the wood before you get out the paint and paint brush. You also need to use the right kind of paint to make this project successful.

Once you have this knowledge and a few simple tools, your pressure treated painting job will come out looking great and lasting as long as possible.

What Exactly is Pressure Treated Wood?

Pressure treating wood is a process done at the lumber mill to make the wood more resistant to rot and fungus attack. When lumber is processed, it is submerged in a vat of chemicals and put under high pressure to get the chemicals to penetrate deeply into the wood grain. After that, the wood is set on racks until it is dry to the touch and ready for sale.

Pressure Treating

There are several different chemicals used for treating lumber. The most common are chromated copper arsenate, or CCA and alkaline copper quaternary, or ACQ. However, building departments are phasing out CCA wood for residential use, so you are more likely to find it on existing structures.


The copper is what often gives pressure treated wood a slightly green tint, although the ACQ treatment makes the final product come out a brown color.

If you look closely at the surface of pressure treated lumber, you will notice small indentations spaced over the board. These help the chemicals penetrate better into the surface of the wood, and their presence is a sure way of determining a piece of wood has been pressure treated, no matter what the color is.


The chemicals used for pressure treating lumber are toxic if you ingest or inhale them. Always use gloves when handling this type of wood, wash your hands after handling it, even when you use gloves, and use a dust mask when you saw or drill holes in pressure treated lumber.

Here are the steps to paint your lumber

1. Dry the Lumber

Unless you use kiln-dried pressure treated wood, one problem with putting a coat of paint on this type of wood is that pressure treated lumber is not thoroughly dry for quite a long time after the chemical pressure treatment. Expect to wait three to four months for new pressure treated wood to completely cure before painting it.

While you can handle new pressure treated boards without noticing the chemicals on your gloves, there is still moisture, pitch, and resin inside the wood which needs time to dry out before you paint it.

Allowing the wood to completely dry before painting is one secret to a good paint job on this type of lumber.

Because it is not thoroughly dry, new pressure treated lumber can quickly warp and bend if you don’t handle it correctly. After you buy new pressure treated lumber, build with it right away, or keep it stacked flat in a dry place and wait at least 60 days to four months before painting it. Patience is a crucial ingredient in this project.

Use stickers

If you’re not building right away, prevent the boards from warping by stacking them using stickers – thin pieces of wood slightly wider than the wood you are stacking.

Paint stirring sticks work just fine for this, but you can use any type of stick as long as they are all the same thickness.

Place the stickers under the bottom piece of wood on the ground at each end of the board and spaced about every four feet under the length of the plank. Then set down your first piece of wood on the bottom stickers.

Then put stickers on top of the bottom board, using similar spacing as before, and stack the next piece of lumber on top. The stickers provide air space between the planks and help with drying and keeping the wood flat and straight until you’re ready to use it.

Weather Conditions

Besides making sure your pressure treated lumber is dried out from the treatment process, it’s also essential not to paint any wood if it’s wet from rain or snow.

Do your painting during warm, dry weather and low humidity conditions. If your lumber is outside, wait at least a month after the last rain before painting.

How can you tell if the chemicals are fully dried out before painting pressure treated wood? There’s a simple test you can use.

Just pour a small amount of water onto the wood and watch what happens. If the water beads up on the surface, the wood is not dried out enough. If the water sinks into the wood grain, it’s dry enough to get out your paint brushes.

Kiln Driyng

Kiln-drying involves stacking lumber in a container and applying heat to help it dry faster. Kiln-dried lumber does not warp as easily as wet lumber because all of the moisture evaporates during the drying process.

You can buy kiln-dried pressure treated lumber, also called Kiln-Dried After Treatment, or KDAT, if you don’t want to wait as long for the wood to dry before you paint it.

2. Clean the Wood

If you are painting a pressure treated structure outdoors, the wood may have dirt and grime on it which you need to remove before painting. Also, you need to wash off the chemicals on the surface of the wood before you paint.

It’s simple to do. You will need a hose with a jet nozzle, a stiff brush, and a bucket of water with a mild detergent. Wet the area, scrub with the brush and soapy water, and use the spray of water to clean it off. Don’t use a pressure washer because this can gouge the wood, reducing the effectiveness of the pressure treatment for preventing rot and insect damage.

After cleaning, you’ll need to wait for the wood to dry completely before moving on to the next step.

3. Prime It Thoroughly

priming pressure treated woodFor your final paint job to completely cover the color of the pressure treatment, it is essential to use a high-quality primer before you paint on the finish coats. Be sure the label on the primer says you can use it outside. Using a primer will also ensure the finish coats of paint adhere to the wood surface without peeling.

Apply a coat of primer to all surfaces of the wood you plan to paint, and let it dry for at least one day before moving on to the next step.

You can use a paint sprayer or a paintbrush to apply both the primer and finish coats, but paint rollers probably won’t get paint into all of the crevices on the surface of most pressure treated wood.

4. Top Paint Coats

painting deckThe best paint to use for pressure treated wood is a high-quality, exterior latex paint. If you are installing lumbers in an indoor location, you can use interior paint.

You can choose any color you like, but lighter colors may take more coats to hide the green or brown color underneath completely unless you use a primer. Whatever color you use, plan on doing at least two finish coats over the primer, and wait a day between coats so the paint can dry thoroughly.

It does take a bit more work and patience to paint pressure treated wood than painting untreated lumber. However, if you follow these steps carefully, your finished job will likely come out looking good and lasting a long time.

19 thoughts on “Can You Paint Pressure Treated Wood”

  1. I want to paint the (treated) wood support beams for my son’s mailbox. The wood is dry. I want to have it done before he comes back from deployment. What is the best kind of paint and primer to use?

  2. Hi, thank you for this article. When the pressure treated wood is one year old, that is it is now slightly grey, do I need to sand it? Or will the primer do the job without the need of sanding? It’s lots of meters of fence so I’d love to avoid the sanding part.

    Also, I love the lively paint on the example photos. Could you please advise where I could get this paint?

    Thank you very much,

    • Hi, Jan.

      It depends on a primer. Some primers need thorough sanding, some primers need no sanding at all. But in my opinion, sanding with sandpaper or sander is always preferable, this provides better adhesion.

      It’s just a sample photo, sorry. Didn’t have a suitable one for this article. Rust-Oleum is an exterior paint that have many colors. One of them looks like the one from the photo. But Rust-Oleum isn’t the best choice for decks. Other paints suitable for decks don’t have such colors.

  3. If pressure treated wood can be problematic for painting. Would it be better to have non pressure treated wood on a shed or summer house. Then use a good quality paint system that will sink deep into the wood so as too fully protect it for longer than annually. Just paint it when it looks like refreshing be better?

  4. I have a house with an exterior deck built with 2×10 or 12 pressure treated joists. It’s a second story deck. The joists were painted in the past but the paint is cracking and peeling and quite unsightly when looking up at the bottom of the deck from the ground floor. To repaint, would removing all loose paint with a wire brush then following your guidelines (priming, painting) be sufficient? It would be tough to sand them all down! Thanks!

  5. My boyfriend had to put up a handrail in his backyard when he added a driveway there. 4×4 posts with 2×4 pieces to make the rail. He made the rail to lay flat rather than up on its edge. Rain was making fine cracks, so he polyurethaned tops of the posts & the rail tops. Also all the ends. The wood can still breathe. Later he plans on doing all 4 sides. It seems to work so far. He used a satin polyurethane so paint can stick to it later on. Not sure if the polyurethane will peel, but it seems to help with splitting & warping as rain runs off.

  6. Had a new deck built out of pressure treated pine this past week 2/16/20.
    Looking to paint it white and gray to match the house I am trying to find the best paint for the job. I would like the deck to be a textured paint but not fill in the gaps of 1/4 between the decking boards.
    Any advice on primer and paint ?

    • Why do you want to paint the stained wood? Was it stained a long time ago? You either stain or paint the wood. Anyway you can use KILZ Porch as a paint. But to cover the stain you should apply a primer before painting. For a primer, I recommend KILZ Premium.

    • Hi,

      You said it’s treated so it won’t (if treated properly). But of course, the painted wood will be more protected.

  7. Hi we are converting a village hall, the upper hall has vaulted ceiling but the roof needed strengthening to prevent spread so joists (10″x3″) have been installed every other rafter and will be exposed in the upper hall which will be bedrooms.

    Thing is the joists are tannalised c24 grade planned, they’ve been in for two months and are fairly dry already.

    We want to paint them, we are also thinking of planing them a little to remove the worst of the treatment chemicals before painting.

    What advice do you have for preparing and painting these, I can share pics if needed.

    Many thanks

    Great article by the way.

    • Hi,

      I don’t think there are some complicated steps needed here. I suppose the joists are in bad condition or something like that? Sand them properly to remove any treatments, dirt. Also, sanding will provide better adhesion. I don’t really think that using a primer is necessary here, so just paint right after sanding.

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