A Guide to Painting Pressure Treated Wood

Painting pressure treated woodFor over seven decades or more, pressure-treated wood has been in existence, yet very few of us know anything about this exterior building material. To introduce this wood type to you, pressure-treated wood is actually softwood lumber, or better known as southern yellow pine which is chemically treated to be rot, decay and termite-resistant. This is a guide on painting pressure treated wood.

Yellow pine boards are rolled into large pressurized tanks filled with chemical preservatives. The role of these preservatives is to enter the deep recesses of the wood’s fibres to make an excellent wood type that is suitable to build fences, decks, picnic tables, sheds, swing sets and other projects for the exteriors.

However, not all treated wood is the same; much depends on the amount of chemical preservatives used. If you find the words “Above Ground Use” stamped on such lumber, you should use it use it for making fence boards or deck railings. “Ground Contact” lumber can easily be put into the ground.

How to paint pressure-treated wood

There are certain complications involved in painting pressure-treated wood. To make this kind of wood, you will need to saturate the milled lumber of your choice–pine or cedar–in chemical preservatives. These chemicals make the wood less prone to rot and insects, though they also leave the wood very wet.

Here are the step-by-step instructions to paint pressure-treated wood:

  1. Clean the wood: It’s important to clean the wood before you paint it because it might have collected a layer of debris, dust or dirt when brought from the manufacturer to your home. This is best achieved by using soapy water and a stiff brush. Clean in the direction of the grain. Once it is washed, rinse it and let it dry completely.
  2. Let the wood dry completely: This could be a few weeks or some months too. You know when it’s ready for use when it feels dry. When this happens, sprinkle some water on it, if it penetrates the wood, it’s ready for use. Good and unsealed wood normally takes a few days to dry, but pressure-treated wood could take weeks or months, depending on what is used to treat it. Wait until it is completely dry as doing this before could only waste your time, since the paint will peel off when the moisture emerges from below.
  3. Is the wood dry? Then, you’re ready to apply a primer: Once it is dry, apply a primer because pressure-treated wood is choosy about adhering to paint. Naturally, you will choose a primer meant especially for pressure-treated wood. If you don’t do this, your primer will not last long on the wood due to its resistance to liquids. Read the label instructions before you cover the wood in primer. Thin coats are preferable since they dry faster and come out in even and thick coats.
  4. Allow the primer to dry out: Give the primer time to dry, perhaps a day or two, depending on the primer you use. Getting an idea of the drying time from the primer’s label instructions isn’t enough. This especial wood will need a little more time to dry for best results. So, wait a while.
  5. Can I paint pressure-treated wood? After you’re sure that the pressure-treated wood is absolutely dry, you’re ready to paint it. Begin by using primer meant for exteriors and ensure that the manufacturer has listed the coating that’s just right for pressure-treated wood. After priming the wood and giving it the time it requires for drying, your next move is to apply the top coats. Aim for two coats. At this stage, do not use oil-based paint. In fact, where the best paint for pressure treated wood is concerned, latex is a much better choice than that. To do a good job of painting pressure-treated wood, remember to use a paint sprayer or use a paint brush if there’s too much detailed work.

Safety considerations

  • To prevent the sawdust from your pressure-treated wood to irritate your eyes, nose and skin, wear a dust mask and goggles. Keep it away from your skin as far as possible.
  • Sweep away as much sawdust for disposal as you can. If you lay out tarpaulin on the floor where you cut, you can just pick up the sheet and throw away the contents.
  • Do not burn pressure-treated wood because its ash may be toxic since the arsenic it contains doesn’t burn. Therefore, it’s not advisable to add so much toxic waste to your compost pile.
  • Do not make cutting boards or anything for the kitchen from your pressure-treated wood because of the chemicals it contains. You can, of course, make a picnic table from your wood but nothing that you cook food on.
  • Never cut this wood in an enclosed space, but only in the outdoors.
  • Also, do not burn treated wood.
  • After working on this wood, wash your clothes separately from the rest of your family.
  • If you neither want to paint it nor stain it, then go for applying clear wood preservative to maintain its water resistance. This should be done once a year.
  • Before putting a nail or screw into it, drill a small hole to stop the wood from splitting. This is extremely important when you’re fastening at the end of a board.
  • These days, arsenic is replaced by copper. Though this reduces the chances of poisoning, it introduces fresh problems in terms of corrosion. Copper has very high conductivity levels, so this treated lumber is very corrosive to metal fasteners like screws, nails, deck hangers, etc. Stainless steel and copper are prone to corrosion, so the best solution is to use galvanized screws and fasteners. Look for the “G185” mark when you’re out shopping for them and buy only these. 


Painting pressure treated wood may seem like a lot of hard work, but if you consider that it’s the best for outdoor use, you can overlook all the hard work and enjoy what you’ve got.

Author: John Clax

Share This Post On