We talk a lot about pressure treated wood because it’s an inexpensive, yet sturdy wood to use outdoors. It can be used to build fences, decks, patio roofs, sheds, etc. We have showcased many different projects using pressure treated wood.
It is a good wood to use outdoors due to it’s rot resistant treatment. Pressure treated wood lifespan is also longer than a lot of nontreated woods. But, it doesn’t weather well without some type of protection.
In my opinion, it’s also not the best looking wood, especially the green 4×4 posts when they’re visible on a fence.
One way to handle both of these issues with pressure treated wood is to apply a stain to protect it and enhance it’s looks. We’ll discuss the different types of stains on the market and which we recommend for your pressure treated wood projects.
Why Stain Pressure Treated Wood?
While pressure treated wood isn’t the most beautiful wood, but that’s not the main reason to stain it. You should stain your pressure treated wood to help slow or stop it from splitting and cracking.
Leaving pressure treated wood to withstand UV rays and wet weather without any protection will take it’s toll on the wood. Within 6 months to a year, most pressure treated wood will start cracking and splitting.
Once the wood starts cracking and splitting there’s only so much you can do to repair it. You’re best option is to protect the pressure treated wood as soon as it’s dry enough to apply stain. Let’ talk about water vs oil based stains.
Different Stain Options
There is basically two different types of stains what you’ll see on the market. We’ll talk about the pros and cons of each, and out of those, which we recommend. We’ll also discuss the difference between stain transparency.
Water based stains have become more popular and much better due to better formulas in the past 10 years. More and more people are choosing a water based stain over oil based stains for several reasons.
Pros for Water-based Stain
- Zinc additives in water based stains deter mildew and mold growth on wood
- Nanoparticle additives have increased how much the stain penetrates into wood providing better protection that just created a film on top.
- Water based stains are so much easier to clean up as well while also having less VOCs than Oil based stains.
Cons of Water-based Stain
- Harder to apply than oil-based stain.
- Will need to re-apply more often than oil-based stain.
Oil-based stains are steadfast and tried and true for protecting exterior wood. While water-based stains have become much better, some people still stand by oil-based stains.
Oil based stains penetrate wood very well to protect from water penetration to stop splitting and cracking. How much color pigment included in the stain will determine how much protection it provides from UV rays.
Pros for Oil-based Stain
- Oil based stains penetrate wood better than water-based stain
- Easy to apply with wipe on, wipe off method
- Protection typically lasts longer than water-based stain
Cons of Oil-based Stain
- Can attract mold and mildew if wood doesn’t get enough sun
- Higher VOCs, less environmentally friendly
- Harder to clean up than water-based stains
Exterior Wood Stain Transparency
We’ve shown you the difference between water or oil based stain, the next thing you will have to choose from is how much pigment color you want in your stain.
Transparent and Semi-Transparent
A transparent or semi-transparent stain is used to enhance the grain and color of woods such as cedar and redwood. These stains provide less protection from UV rays due to it having less color pigment.
Due to the small amount of pigment the stain will need to be re-applied more often or your wood will fade to gray.
If you like the the way the natural wood grain of pressure treated wood, you should use a more transparent stain. Be sure to re-apply yearly if you want your deck/fence to maintain it’s brown color.
Semi-Solid and Solid Stain
These stains have more color pigment which provides more protection from UV rays. They will hide most of the natural good grain. A semi-solid or solid stain is used when you want to hide imperfections in your wood and make it look more uniform.
Pressure treated wood looks good in my opinion with a semi-solid or solid stain color. It hides any slight tint that the pressure wood still has and covers imperfections better.
Our Top Picks
There are so many different stains on the market that it can be very hard to choose which one is best. Rather than giving you a long list to sort through, I’m showcasing two products that I would use on my own projects.
Defy water based stains use zinc nanoparticles to penetrate wood as well as oil based stains. Choose between several different colors in semi transparent, semi-solid and solid stain and sealer combination.
The zinc also helps reduce mildew and mold and inhibit it’s growth. It’s easy to apply as well as re-apply when necessary. No need to completely strip it off for re-staining.
Whether you have a deck sitting in full sun or all shade, Defy will give you the ultimate protection. We will be using Defy solid redwood stain when we re-stain our deck this spring.
Penofin has been one of the best oil based exterior stain/sealers that you can buy on the market. Ask any contractor or lumber supplier and they will probably mention Penofin to stain and seal your exterior wood projects.
This particular Penofin is created especially for pressure treated wood. While most oil based stains are susceptible to grow mildew, Penofin does not. They included a mildewcide to keep mildew growth at bay.
This stain comes in three different colors to choose from. It has an easy application with a brush or deck stain pad. Wait 30 minutes for maximum penetration, then wipe any excess oil off the surface. Re-application is just as easy, no stripping needed.
My deck doesn’t get a lot of sun since it is north facing which is the only reason I didn’t seriously consider this Penofin for my deck, but will use it on my new backyard fence.
What is the best stain for old pressure treated wood deck?
If you have an older pressure treated wood deck, it probably has many cracks all throughout the decking boards. After cleaning and brightening, you’ll want to use semi-solid or solid water based stain to give a uniform appearance.
Is stain or paint better for pressure treated wood?
A penetrating stain is always better for most exterior wood, especially pressure treated wood. We actually go into great detail about the stain vs paint for pressure treated wood debate in a separate article.
How long should I wait to stain pressure treated wood?
It depends on how wet the pressure treated wood was when it was installed. It could be dry in three weeks or three months. Never stain before the wood is dry or you’ll waste an expensive can of stain.
When should you stain pressure treated wood?
You want to stain a brand new pressure treated deck or fence as soon as the wood is dry. If you wait too long, the wood will start checking and cracking.
What is the longest lasting exterior stain?
The longest lasting exterior stain is a solid stain. It doesn’t need re-application as often as more transparent stains.
Can you wait too long to stain pressure treated wood?
Yes, the longer you wait to stain your pressure treated wood, the more it will degrade. It will continue to check and crack without any protection.
What happens if you stain fresh pressure treated wood?
If you use a water based stain, most of the stain will not penetrate the wet wood. You will have to re-apply the stain sooner as the wood dries costing you more money.
If you try to use an oil based stain on wet pressure treated wood, you’ll end up with a wet sticky mess and a lighter wallet.
What happens if it rains 6 hours after staining deck?
Most water based stains dry very fast, such as the Defy stain above. If you used Penofin, it also will be dry in 4 hours.
If you used a different oil based stain, you’ll have to wait until it’s dry to find out if the rain affected your stain. If the stain wasn’t dry, you may find spots all over your deck. If that happens, you’ll need to use a cleaner to get rid of the spots.
How do you know when pressure treated wood is ready for stain?
The easiest method to use to see if your pressure treated wood is dry is to spray or sprinkle water on it. If it beads up on the wood, it is still wet. If it soaks right in, the wood is dry and ready for stain.
We discuss how long to wait before staining a pressure treated fence in more detail at the enclosed link.
No matter if you use the stains we recommend of not, I hope you’ve learned the importance of using some type of protection on your pressure treated wood projects.
Just be careful and read the fine print. If a stain/sealer sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Also, if a stain is really cheap, it’s not going to last long which will cost more money in the long run.