Using pressure treated wood for your next project ensures that it will be protected from common outdoor issues such as bugs and rot.
If you stain the wood you’re using for your project you guarantee that the color doesn’t fade and splintering does not occur whilst simultaneously extending the life of your wood.
Staining isn’t as easy as it sounds and if you don’t have experience it can be quite tricky to navigate. For example, if you stain wood too soon it can result in the stain not being absorbed by the wood properly which turns out patchy or can have splinters or cracks.
With this guide we’ll make sure that your stained wood is looking better than ever and give you some suggestions on how to properly stain pressure treated wood.
Should You Stain Or Paint Pressure Treated Wood?
If your wood undergoes a pressure treatment, this makes it resistant to mold, moisture and decay and makes it much more durable than it would be with no treatment.
Once your wood has undergone the pressure treatment, it can leave it looking a bit worse for wear. The wood can look quite dull and unappealing due to the colors that the pressure treatments usually come in (green, tan, brown and dark etc).
So how can you get rid of this dull look? That’s where either staining it or painting it comes into play. The annoying part is that you won’t be able to stain or paint the pressure treated wood for a few weeks or even months, as you’ll need to wait for the wood to dry.
As we discussed before, if you stain the wood too soon, it won’t absorb properly. It may be an eye sore but pressure treated wood can hold up very well to the elements, so there’s no need to worry about durability whilst you’re waiting.
Can You Paint Pressure Treated Wood?
Well, it’s not really recommended by experts to paint your pressure treated wood and here’s why. Whilst painting provides a pop of color instantaneously, it doesn’t stick too well to the wood because of the chemicals involved in the process of the pressure treatment.
That’s not to say it can’t be done, it’ll just be a lot harder to do than staining.
Another issue with painting is that paint won’t allow the wood to breathe, so it can be more susceptible to mold and mildew which isn’t necessarily a threat to the wood but can be damaging for human health.
Wood staining is regarded as better as it can protect the wood from UV rays which will lead the wood to crack and splinter faster.
It also provides an extra layer of protection against moisture, algae growth and bug damage, which pressure treatment already does but staining gives a more durable finish.
Staining will add a more natural finish to your wood than paint ever could, so if you’re looking for more uniqueness to your wood, staining is the way to go.
What You’ll Need To Stain Pressure Treated Wood
- Oil or water based stain
- Any brush with bristles
- Soft detergent
- Brush for cleaning the wood
How Long Should You Wait To Stain Pressure Treated Wood?
As we discussed before you should wait until the wood is completely dry. In general, the wood can take from a few weeks up to a few months to completely dry. It all depends on how humid it is where you live.
It may be a painstaking process, but in this time you can get all the equipment you need which we listed above and carefully choose what staining color you want.
How Do I Know When It Is Ready To Stain?
The pressure treated wood will be ready to stain once it is no longer retaining the moisture from the treatment. A simple test can be done to check whether it is ready or not, this is called the “sprinkle test”.
To do this, drip a few drops of water onto the wood and if it immediately starts beading on the surface of the wood then unfortunately you’ll have to keep waiting. If it absorbs into the wood within 10 minutes, then you’re all ready to stain.
How To Prepare Pressure Treated Wood For Staining
Before you start the staining process, you should thoroughly sweep the area to try and get as much debris away from the wood as possible, as small pieces of dirt could get stuck on the wood and become an eyesore after staining.
When choosing a stain for the wood, if you’re a beginner with woodworking or have no idea when it comes to staining, then it may be best to start with an invisible stain as any mistakes can be easily rectified and covered up by a darker stain.
You should also take into account how much sunlight the area where the wood is will get, if it constantly catches the sun then perhaps a lighter color that reflects color well would be better suited than a darker stain that will absorb the heat of the sun.
Here are some steps to ensure you apply the stain correctly:
Step 1: Check The Weather Beforehand
This may sound obvious to make sure you’ve had dry weather for a few days prior to ensure the wood has not become wet, but it’s a vital step. It’s also vital to ensure that you have a few days of dry weather too during the staining process.
This is because the stained wood is susceptible to humidity and the direct heat of sunlight and either of these factors will dry your stain much quicker.
So, it is recommended that you start the staining process on the third day of sunny weather and don’t start staining treated wood directly under the sunlight as the heat will absorb the stains quicker than the wood will absorb it.
Step 2: Ensure The Wood Is Thoroughly Dry
We’ve already expressed the importance of this step, but it’s vital to put this in the steps, as if this part is missed then the whole process has been a waste of time. Once bought from the store it’s recommended that you dry it for 2-3 weeks and periodically check the wood’s moisture content.
It’s important to check the moisture content as there can be a point where the wood becomes overly dry and if this happens then the wood can lose its natural ability for the stain to stick to it.
As we stated before, you can use the sprinkle test for this or alternatively you can press a nail into the wood and if water is coming out as you’re pressing the nail in, then you need to wait a bit longer.
If it’s taking a while to dry, then try stacking the pressure treated wood in a criss cross pattern to allow the air to get to all parts of the wood.
Step 3: Choose The Right Stain For You
There are two types of stain and these are oil-based and water-based stains. They each have advantages and disadvantages and the right one will depend on what your project requires.
An oil-based stain is good if you’re installing a new deck as the wood will completely absorb the stain, and as the wood soaks in the stain it will give the wood extra protection from UV rays. Oil-based stains also enhance the natural look of wood and you can opt for a semi-transparent stain or a completely transparent stain.
The biggest problem with an oil-based stain is that it doesn’t last very long, you’re going to have to keep applying the stain yearly and the oil is very attractive for mildew, algae and mold.
Water-based stains dry much faster and can even be applied whilst the wood is damp as it will still adhere and be absorbed. Water-based stains are easier to clean and can be done with simple soap and water.
The disadvantages of using water-based stains is that they often give a paint-like finish and hide the natural beauty and uniqueness of the wood. But some people like the paint-like finish, so it all depends on what suits the project and what you like the best.
Step 4: Clean The Wood
We mentioned sweeping around and over the wood to clear any debris that may exist on top of it, but you should also use a stiff bristled brush, soft detergent and water to remove any grime and debris.
It’s best not to use a pressure washer as it will wash away the chemical preservatives on the treated wood. Soapy water will be fine and get rid of most of the dirt.
Step 5: Let The Wood Dry (Again)
Sadly this step is still as important as it was before. This may take a few weeks again and this is necessary to let the stain’s chemicals catch onto the wood and for it to completely absorb into the wood.
You can check the dryness of the wood by performing the test we mentioned earlier.
Or you can use a moisture level to check the moisture content within the wood. The ideal moisture content is below 19%, this number is critical as most experts believe that mold and rot begin developing at this level.
After it is completely dry, then you’re finally ready to begin staining your pressure treated wood!
How To Stain Pressure Treated Wood
Step 1: Prepare The Stain
Thoroughly mix the stain before you apply it, you should also keep stirring it as you’re applying it.
You should also note that you should check the instructions on your stain, as some stains will require you to mix with water to create the staining solution. All stains will be different, we can only offer general advice.
Step 2: Test The Stain
To assess if the stain is the correct color for your project, you should apply a small amount of stain onto a portion of the treated wood using a paint pad applicator and let it adhere to the wood.
Step 3: Apply At Least One Coat Of The Stain
Make sure that you’re wearing gloves for this part of the process to minimize staining on your hands. Apply the stain in a single stroke with the brush and be mindful that if you repeat brushstrokes on a certain area that it will mean extra layers of the stain.
This can cause the stain to be applied unevenly, so ensure you take care when applying the stain.
As long as you have followed these steps and the instructions that are specifically for your stain on the back of the can, you can be assured that the stain has been evenly distributed throughout the wood and that the wood is subsequently protected.
But what if you’ve accidentally stained the wood too soon, and you’ve discovered that it’s still wet?
The stain won’t fully penetrate the wood and absorb properly, and the wood will look patchy and can leave cracks in the stain. Due to it not being absorbed properly, the stain may get washed away by rain and you’ll have to start this process all over again.
What Should You Do If You’ve Stained The Wood Before It’s Dry?
If You’ve Used A Light Colored Stain
This is why if you’re unsure about staining or don’t have experience with it, then you should initially use a light colored stain as it is easier to fix.
To fix this, wait for the stained wood to completely dry and once it has re-apply a darker stain.
If You’ve Used A Dark Colored Stain
In the case that you’ve begun with a dark colored stain, then you’ll need to do things a bit differently. You’ll have to remove the top layer of the stain using sandpaper lightly on the wood’s surface or by using a chemical stain stripper.
As the same for the light colored stain, wait for the wood to be completely dry before you try to stain again.
How To Maintain Stained Treated Wood
Hopefully after the staining process you’re happy with the stain and satisfied with your work but it doesn’t end there. You’ll have to maintain the stain to ensure it lasts as long as it can. The good news is that it’s very easy to maintain.
You’ll need to keep your project clean, which is quite obvious, you may want to use a garden hose to give it a quick hose down or just simply use some soap and water and brush the stained wood lightly.
Additionally you’ll need to apply a brighter stain color to your wood every one to three years and also apply a coat of sealer to bring out the color of the previous stain.
If you’re not able to clean the project as often as a year (if it’s too big, or you physically cannot) then a power washer may be of better use to you than a garden hose, to get rid of all the dirt and debris that accumulates.
Whatever your project is, you may need to replace the old pressure treated wooden planks with new ones down the line, once you do refrain from putting composite decking over a frame made up of pressure treated wood as composite wood is much heavier than pressure treated wood.
Additional Tips When Staining
If you’re going to be staining wood that will be walked over, it’s a good idea to take a belt sander to it and sand it down to try and remove any splinters, if you don’t have one they’re not too expensive to buy, it’s better than having splinters in your feet constantly!
If you’re staining a deck or a railing, the stain can be susceptible to dripping below, keep a paintbrush handy to smooth out these dripping marks. Once the stain dries, if these marks are left they’ll be visibly noticeable since they are darker spots.
Before you embark on the staining process, make sure that you cover any spots you don’t want to be stained with painter’s tape or tarps.
It can save you a big job of trying to get stains out of places you don’t want them, or even replacing them since the stains won’t come out of most surfaces. It’s much less work to put a tarp down now than to try scrubbing stains out later.
Hopefully now you’re much more confident regarding how to stain pressure treated wood, what to do if you stain it too quickly and roughly how long the pressure treatment will take to dry.
It’s not too complicated once you know how to stain and with enough time and patience, you’ll have a beautiful porch, deck or any other project you chose to create!