What Happens If You Stain Pressure Treated Wood too Soon?

Know when to stain your treated lumber
Stain Pressure Treated Wood

Is it better to stain or paint the pressure treated wood for your next project? Regardless, your research has cautioned you on what happens if you stain pressure treated wood too soon.

But, no need to worry. With this guide, we’ll make sure your stained pressure treated wood will be in tip-top shape for your planned project: may it be a deck, porch, or fence. We’ll work together so you can stain pressure treated wood properly. We’ll make your project a worthy addition to your home.

What Happens If You Stain Pressure Treated Wood too Soon?

If you stain pressure treated wood too soon, the stain will be unable to fully penetrate the wood, meaning the stain will remain unabsorbed. This will make your deck have ugly patches, splits, splinters, and cracks.

Which is Better: Staining or Painting Pressure Treated Wood?

Having lumber go under pressure treatment makes it resistant against mold, water and decay, and insect damage. This durability is due to the chemicals used to treat wood.

Before, the pressure treating process of the wood raised health and environmental concerns. But now, the alkaline copper quaternary or ACQ wood preservative being used has been approved both by the national authorities and your local environmental agency.

Pressure treating the lumber, however, makes it look dull and uninviting when you use it on a new deck fence. This is because wood undergoing the treatment process usually comes in green, tan, brown, dark, and natural wood color.

Thus, you’ll feel the need to either paint treated wood or stain it. Although you’re inclined to apply stain or paint immediately, you’ll need to wait a few weeks or up to a few months before the wood is completely dry. Wet pressure treated lumber won’t absorb the paint or stain.   

While it’s possible to paint pressure treated wood, this isn’t recommended by experts. Here’s why:

  • Although paint provides a pop of color, it doesn’t stick well on pressure treated wood. This is because of the chemicals on pressure treated wood. But you can paint pressure treated lumber if you follow the proper steps.
  • By painting, you can easily have an even finish.  Paint, however, doesn’t allow the lumber to breathe, instead facilitates the development of rot, mold, and mildew.
  • With paint, you’ll need at least a third coat– a primer and two layers of paint-  for the lumber to have additional protection. Mold and mildew, in general, aren’t a threat to the pressure treated wood. These, however, put people’s health at risk. Plus, you would have to spend time cleaning off the mold and applying the mildewcide regularly.
  • Less time and effort in preparation. You need to sand the pressure treated wood’s surface and apply latex primer before painting. But in staining pressure treated lumber, you only need to clean the wood with soap and water. After the lumber has air dried, you can apply the stain.   
  • Wood stain protects wood from sunlight, cracking, entry of additional moisture, and against the elements. Even though treated wood is already resistant to moisture, insect attacks, and damage, tough stains help make the lumber more durable.
  • With stains, you can take advantage of the pressure treated wood’s natural beauty and characteristics. This definitely adds character to your project.

What You Will Need for Staining Pressure Treated Wood:

  • Oil-based or water based stain
  • Bristle brush
  • Brush for cleaning the lumber
  • Mild detergent
  • Gloves 

How Long do you Have to Wait to Stain Pressure Treated Wood?

Staining pressure treated wood takes patience and diligence in following the procedure. For one, pressure treated lumber off the shelf is wet and cannot be painted or stained immediately.

Drying times vary from a few weeks to a few months, depending on the climate in your area.

How do I Prepare Pressure Treated Wood for Staining?

Here are the steps in applying stain correctly:

Step one: Check the weather.

Just a general suggestion, wait for two to three days of dry weather before you start the process of staining  your pressure treated lumber deck or porch during dry weather,

This is because despite the overall improvement on today’s pressure treated wood, it’s still vulnerable to such factors as humidity and the heat of direct sunlight. Humidity will dry the stain you apply faster.

Thus, we recommend beginning the preparation and staining process on the third day of sunny weather.  

In addition, don’t go on staining treated wood directly under the sun. The heat will quickly evaporate the stain faster than the rate the lumber can absorb it.

Step two: Make sure the wood is dry.

Before putting the stain on, it’s important to make sure your pressure treated wood is dry. From the store, wait for the wood to dry for two to three weeks. During this time, it’s advised you periodically check the wood’s moisture content.

This is necessary because it’s possible to over-dry the wood. If the wood becomes too dry, it loses its natural ability to make the stain adhere to it.

To check if it’s dry enough, you can perform the sprinkle test. First, sprinkle a bit of water on the wood. If water beads form on the wet spot, the lumber is still wet. But if the water is absorbed, then it’s dry and ready for staining.

An alternative is pressing a nail into the wood. However, if water comes out while you’re pressing the nail, you have to wait some more. 

Still, if you’re unsure, you can get a moisture meter. The ideal moisture content is below 19 percent.  Nineteen is a critical number because at this level where experts believe mold and rot start developing.  

Tip:  Stack the pressure treated wood in a crisscross pattern allowing the air to dry it. The waiting period for the wood to dry is 2-3 days. This is best done during warm, low humidity weather.

Step three: Choose the correct stain.

There’re two types of stains available in the market: oil-based stains and latex stains. No particular stain is superior to the other, as they come with both advantages and disadvantages. Thus, the best stain varies per project.

For installing a new deck,  It’s better to use oil-based stains, as lumber absorbs these completely, sealing the lumber from water. And because the wood will soak in the stain, this additional layer protects from ultraviolet or UV rays.

Oil-based stain enhances the natural look of pressure treated lumber. This type comes in a variety of wood tones, including cedar, oak, and redwood. Or you can opt for a semi-transparent stain or a transparent stain.

In time, the exposed, old wood and the semi-transparent or transparent stain will bring more character and let the lumber’s natural beauty enhance your deck or porch.  

The problem with using an oil-based exterior stain is, it doesn’t last long. You’ll be applying stains every year. Plus, the oil is food for mold, mildew, and algae.

Water-based stains or latex stains, on the other hand, dry quickly. Even if the wood is damp, this type of stain adheres and is absorbed by the lumber. This is also easier to clean, with dirt coming off with just soap and water.

The downside is, a water-based stain gives the lumber a paint-like finish, hiding the natural wood grain patterns and removing the wood’s natural look.

Step four: Clean the wood.

For this, you can use a stiff brush, mild detergent, and water to remove the grime and debris. Soapy water is better than using a pressure washer. A power washer will wash away the chemical preservatives on your treated lumber.

Step five: Allow the wood to dry

Again, wait until the wood is dry enough. Sadly, this may take a few weeks. This is necessary to let the stain’s chemicals leach on and for the wood to absorb them properly.  

To be sure if the wood is completely dry, best to perform the water test mentioned above periodically. Again, be conscious of whether or not beads form on the wood’s surface, telling you if the wood is dry enough.

Alternatively, you can measure moisture levels using a moisture content meter.

Now, you’re ready to go stain pressure treated lumber for your project.

Staining Pressure Treated Wood

Step one: Preparing the stain.

Meticulously mix the stain before application. It’s also advised you continue to stir it periodically as you apply it to your project.

Tip: You can request your favorite local hardware store to thoroughly mix the stain before you buy it.  

Step two: Test the stain.

Apply a small portion on the treated wood using a paint pad applicator and let the stain properly adhere. This way, you can assess if the stain has the right shade for your project before applying and letting it adhere properly on all your planks and boards.

You can request your favorite local hardware store to thoroughly mix the stain before you buy it.    

Tip: Put a light stain first. If the treated wood isn’t ready for staining (i.e., wet), you can wait for the wood to sufficiently dry, then apply a darker stain.

Read: Do I need to strip deck before restaining?

Step three: Apply at least one coat of stain.

In handling the treated wood and applying stains, it’s best to wear gloves.  Apply the stain but at the same time, be mindful that repeated brushstrokes on a specific area will mean additional layers of the stain. These can change the shade of the treated wood in your final output.

Reminder: Don’t apply wood stain directly under the sun. This is because the heat will dry the wood stain too fast, even before the wood can absorb it.

Following these instructions in preparing the wood for staining, you can be sure the wood stain has been appropriately applied, the wood is protected, and the wood finish is done evenly.

But in case you may not have noticed that the wood is still wet, what happens if you stain pressure treated wood too soon?

  • The stain won’t fully penetrate the wood. Thus, you can only partially enjoy the advantages mentioned above.
  • The stain won’t stick as well as when the wood is dry. Thus, it may be washed away more easily by rain.

What Should I do if I Stained Too Soon?

For light-colored stain:

  • Wait for the wood to be dry completely.
  • Re-apply a stain with a darker color as a remedy.

In case you have applied a darker shade, you need to:

  • Remove the upper layer of stain. Use light sandpaper on the wood surface or a chemical stain stripper.
  • Make sure the wood surface is completely dry before trying again.

Maintaining your stained treated wood

One advantage of stained treated wood is, it’s easy to maintain. Of course, you need to keep your project clean.       

  • Apply a cleaner/brightener every one to three years. Then apply one coat of sealer to bring out the color of the old stain.
  • Keeping the pristine condition of your porch or deck means having to clean these regularly. Whip out your garden hose, brush, and some detergent every few months.
  • If you are unable to clean your pressure treated wood deck or porch for more than three years, you may want to use a power washer instead of a garden hose to loosen the gunk and dirt.

Over time, you will need to refurbish the older pressure-treated wood deck with new planks. It might be tempting, but refrain from putting composite decking over a frame made up of pressure-treated lumber. This is because composite lumber is heavier than treated lumber.   

Conclusion

We’re sure that you’re now more confident in putting stains on your treated wood. You also don’t have to be caught unaware because you know what happens if you stain pressure-treated wood too soon. 

Applying stain isn’t complicated. With patience, enough time, and guidance, you can make the stain adhere to the wood and make your deck, fence posts, picnic tables, or any other project more durable and beautiful.

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