How to Add Color to Treated Wood: A Comprehensive Guide for a Vibrant Finish

Bob Thomas


As a qualified painter and decorator, I've tackled numerous projects involving treated wood.

One of the most common questions I get asked is how to add color to treated wood to make it more visually appealing.

With the right approach, adding color to treated wood can be a simple and rewarding process.

In this article, I'll guide you through the steps to achieve a vibrant and long-lasting finish on your treated wood surfaces.

Quick Summary

To add color to treated wood, follow these steps: 1) Choose the right type of paint or stain, 2) Clean the wood surface, 3) Apply a primer (if necessary), 4) Apply the paint or stain, and 5) Add a protective topcoat. With the right tools and techniques, you can achieve a stunning, long-lasting finish on treated wood.

Materials and Tools Table


Acrylic latex paint

Water-based paint for exterior use

Oil-based paint

Durable paint for interior or minimal weather exposure

Solid or semi-transparent stain

Adds color while showcasing wood grain

Mild detergent

For cleaning the wood surface

Soft-bristle brush

For scrubbing the wood surface


Helps paint adhere to the treated wood surface

High-quality brush, roller, or paint sprayer

For even paint or stain application

Clear polyurethane or spar urethane

Protective topcoat for sealing and protecting the surface

Choose the Right Type of Paint or Stain

Selecting the appropriate paint or stain for treated wood is crucial for a successful outcome.

Consider the following options:

  • Acrylic latex paint: This type of paint is water-based, easy to clean up, and ideal for exterior applications due to its durability and resistance to weather. It's available in a wide range of colors.
  • Oil-based paint: Although more challenging to clean up, oil-based paints provide a durable and attractive finish. They are ideal for interior projects or areas with minimal weather exposure.
  • Solid or semi-transparent stain: Stains penetrate the wood surface, enhancing the natural grain while providing color. Solid stains offer more opacity, while semi-transparent stains showcase the wood's texture.

Pro Tip: Test your chosen paint or stain on a small, inconspicuous area of the treated wood to ensure compatibility and desired color.

Clean the Wood Surface

Before applying paint or stain, clean the treated wood surface to remove dirt, debris, and any residual chemicals.

Use a mild detergent, water, and a soft-bristle brush to scrub the surface gently.

Rinse thoroughly with water and let the wood dry completely.

Apply a Primer (If Necessary)

For best results, applying a primer may be necessary, especially when using acrylic latex paint.

A primer helps the paint adhere to the treated wood surface, providing a smooth and even finish.

Select a primer designed for exterior use and follow the manufacturer's instructions for application.

Apply the Paint or Stain

Once the surface is clean and primed (if necessary), you can apply the paint or stain.

Use a high-quality brush, roller, or paint sprayer for even coverage.

Apply multiple thin coats, allowing each coat to dry according to the manufacturer's instructions.

Pro Tip: When using a stain, apply it in the direction of the wood grain for a natural-looking finish.

Add a Protective Topcoat

After the paint or stain has dried completely, consider applying a protective topcoat to seal and protect the surface.

This can be a clear polyurethane or spar urethane, depending on the location and exposure of the treated wood.

Follow the manufacturer's instructions for application and drying time.

Personal Experiences

I recall a project where a client requested a lively, colorful finish for their treated wood deck. They wanted a unique look that would make their outdoor space stand out.

Following the steps outlined in this article, I selected a bold semi-transparent stain that enhanced the natural wood grain while providing the desired pop of color.

After cleaning, priming, staining, and sealing the deck, the client was thrilled with the results.

Their deck became the envy of the neighborhood, and the vibrant color lasted for years with minimal maintenance.

Remember, patience and attention to detail are key when adding color to treated wood. By carefully selecting the right materials and following the proper steps, you can transform your treated wood surfaces into beautiful, colorful works of art.

Frequently Asked Questions Sections (FAQs)

Q. How long should I wait before painting or staining treated wood?

  A: It's best to wait until the treated wood is completely dry before applying paint or stain.

This can take anywhere from a few weeks to a few months, depending on the climate and specific treatment used.

Q. Can I use any type of paint or stain on treated wood?

  A: It's crucial to use paint or stain specifically designed for treated wood.

Acrylic latex paint, oil-based paint, and solid or semi-transparent stains are some suitable options.

Always test the chosen product on a small, inconspicuous area before applying it to the entire surface.

Q. How often should I reapply paint or stain to treated wood?

  A: The frequency of reapplication depends on factors such as weather exposure, wear and tear, and the type of paint or stain used.

Generally, it's recommended to reapply paint every 5-7 years and stain every 2-3 years, but this may vary based on your specific situation.

Q. Can I skip the primer when painting treated wood?

  A: While it's possible to skip the primer, applying a primer specifically designed for treated wood will improve paint adhesion and provide a smoother, more even finish.

It's highly recommended, especially when using acrylic latex paint.

Q. Is it necessary to apply a topcoat after painting or staining treated wood?

  A: Applying a protective topcoat, such as clear polyurethane or spar urethane, can seal and protect the painted or stained surface, extending its lifespan and maintaining its appearance.

While not strictly necessary, it's highly recommended for outdoor projects or areas exposed to weather.

Q. How can I maintain the color and finish on treated wood?

  A: Regular cleaning and maintenance are essential to keep the color and finish looking fresh.

Remove dirt and debris, and periodically check for any signs of wear, such as peeling paint or fading stain.

Reapply paint or stain as needed, following the steps outlined in this article.


Adding color to treated wood can enhance its appearance and extend its lifespan.

By following these steps and using the right tools and materials, you can achieve a stunning, vibrant finish on your treated wood projects.

Remember to take your time, and don't be afraid to add your personal touch with unique color choices and creative techniques.

Suggested Products:

Acrylic Latex Paint: Behr Premium Plus Exterior - This high-quality acrylic latex paint is an excellent choice for adding color to treated wood. Behr Premium Plus Exterior offers a wide range of vibrant colors and superior adhesion, making it perfect for enhancing the appearance of your outdoor wood projects while providing durability and weather resistance.

Oil-Based Paint: Rust-Oleum Painter's Touch Multi-Purpose Paint - Rust-Oleum Painter's Touch Multi-Purpose Paint is an oil-based paint that comes in a variety of colors and finishes, allowing you to add a pop of color to your treated wood. The durable and long-lasting finish ensures your wood remains both visually appealing and protected from the elements.

Solid Stain: Cabot Solid Color Acrylic Deck Stain - For those looking to add a uniform color to their treated wood, Cabot Solid Color Acrylic Deck Stain provides an opaque finish with excellent UV protection. This water-repellent stain comes in a wide range of colors, ensuring that your treated wood remains protected from water damage and mildew growth while showcasing your chosen hue.

Semi-Transparent Stain: Olympic Elite Advanced Stain + Sealant - If you want to enhance the natural beauty of treated wood while adding a touch of color, Olympic Elite Advanced Stain + Sealant is the way to go. This semi-transparent stain comes in multiple color options and provides a rich, subtle finish that highlights the wood grain while offering protection against water damage and UV rays.

Colored Wood Preservative: Thompson's WaterSeal Timber Oil - For those who prefer a more natural look while still adding a hint of color, Thompson's WaterSeal Timber Oil is an excellent choice. This colored wood preservative nourishes and protects treated wood while providing a subtle tint, ensuring your wood stays protected and maintains its natural beauty.

About the author 

Bob Thomas

A fully certified interior decorator and house painter , Bob Thomas brings immense expertise and knowledge amassed from many years of hands-on experience with residential, commercial and specialty painting and decorating projects of all sizes and scopes.

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