Composite decking is made from a combination of wood fibers and recycled plastics, making it more durable than standard wooden decking. But can composite be painted in the same way as standard wood?
This article will tell you everything you need to know about painting composite decking, and what some of the alternatives are.
Can You Paint Composite Decking?
Yes, you can technically paint older generation composite decking without a PVC cap, but it’s not usually the best idea. Like any woodworking project, it requires a lot of preparation if you want the paint to last.
Staining is preferable to painting, and I will cover how to stain your deck below, as well as answer all of the major questions you have about painting your deck.
Does Paint Stick to Composite Decking?
Paint will not stick to composite decking very well at all if you paint straight over the boards. Composite decking has a glossy finish, designed to repel water. The paint does not bond to this surface. However, if you prepare the decking properly first, you can get paint to bond.
You need to thoroughly clean it and sand it back to remove the glossy finish. Then, you can apply a good quality primer to prepare the surface for paint. As long as you do all of the prep properly, the paint will stick, but it’s a lot of work.
What Happens if You Paint Composite Decking?
Painting composite decking gives it a great layer of protection against the weather. Good paint is moisture-resistant and has built-in UV inhibitors, so it protects the decking underneath. However, paint on composite decking can often peel and crack very easily if it is not applied properly.
What to Consider Before Painting Composite Decking?
If you do decide to paint your composite decking, it’s crucial that you plan the job carefully. There are some key things to consider:
Preparation is key when painting composite decking, so make sure that you gather all of the right materials first. Before you get started, you will need to clean the deck thoroughly to clear away grease, grime, and mildew.
You can use warm water and soap but if the decking is relatively old, you should consider a proper deck cleaning product. Krud Cutter degreaser works brilliantly for dirty decking, or you can try a deck cleaner like Star Brite or Pro-Kleen.
You will also need sandpaper and masking tape to cover areas that you don’t want to paint. It’s best to use an orbital sander to save time, and use 220 grit paper to scratch up the surface, ready to take primer.
Type of Composite Decking
The type of composite decking is important too as some cannot be painted. Composite decking has changed over the years and early generation composite tends to take paint better than more modern boards. As a general rule, decking manufactured before 2010 does not have a PVc cap.
The plastic-wood composite material is exposed and as long as you sand it back and prepare it properly, it should take paint and primer fairly well. However, newer composite has a plastic veneer over the top. This protects it and makes it low-maintenance, but it does also make it harder to paint and stain.
You can tell whether the composite is suitable for painting by looking at the cut end of the boards. If it is uniform throughout, there is no veneer. But if you can see a thin layer around the boards, painting is almost impossible.
Type of Paint Used
Using the right type of paint is crucial when working with composite. In most cases, you should use a high-quality latex paint with a satin or semi-gloss finish. However, you can check with the manufacturer about which type of paint is best. Sometimes, they will recommend that you don’t paint, but in a lot of cases, they will give you some guidance.
Choosing the right primer is the most important thing when painting composite. The primer creates the surface layer for the paint to bond to. So, as long as you have a few coats of high-quality primer, the paint should bond well and it won’t peel off easily. An acrylic latex primer works best.
Zinsser Peel Stop is an excellent multi-purpose primer designed for problematic surfaces. It creates a durable bond on almost any surface, and the paint will adhere to it well.
How to Paint Composite Decking?
It is possible to get a good finish when painted composite decking, but only if you follow the right steps. This guide will help you get the best possible result.
Start by thoroughly cleaning the deck. If you have modern decking with a PVC veneer over the top, you can use a pressure washer to blast away most of the dirt. However, older decking may be damaged by the high pressure water, so it’s best to avoid it.
You can use warm soapy water and a scrubbing brush, and then hose it off. This should clean the bulk of the grease from the deck but if there is any residue left over, it will stop the primer and paint from adhering properly.
If your deck is particularly dirty or it has mold and mildew, you need to use a deck cleaner or a degreaser like Krud Cutter. Avoid using any harsh cleaners or bleach products that could damage the surface.
It’s best to use deck cleaner when the weather is fairly cool. In hot weather, the sun will evaporate the cleaner quickly and it won’t have as much chance to work and cut through the grime. Mix the cleaner according to the manufacturer’s directions (if necessary) and apply to the deck.
You can either do this by putting it into the tank of a power washer, or pour it directly onto the decking and then give it a good scrub. Always check the guidelines to see how long to leave it on for before you wash it off. Once you are certain that the deck is clean, rinse it off thoroughly with a hose. Don’t leave any cleaner on or your primer won’t adhere properly.
After letting it dry properly (give it at least 24 hours), scuff sand the deck with 220 grit sandpaper to get it ready for the primer. Use an electric sander, preferably an orbital sander, for the best results. Alternatively, you can use a hand sander pole tool. This is an extendable manual pole tool with a sanding pad on the end.
It’s a bit more work, but it’s easier than getting on your hands and knees and doing it by hand. Sand up and down the boards, always working in the same direction to avoid visible scratches. Continue until the whole deck is scuffed up and rough. You are aiming to remove the glossy top layer, without damaging the wood, so don’t sand too far.
Finally, clean off all of the dust before you apply the primer. Rinse it down with a hose and then give it time to dry again.
2. Adding the Primer
Next, it’s time to apply your high-quality acrylic latex primer. Start by taping up areas where the deck joins the house, so you have a clear border. Use a roller or brush and work along the boards in a consistent direction. Use an extendable roller to make the job quicker and save yourself some back pain. You’ll need a nice thick coat of primer because the paint will not bond to any uncovered areas.
Most primers need at least a few hours to dry properly, but check the instructions on the specific product you are using because they do vary. When it is fully dry, lightly sand it again to scuff the surface, so the paint sticks better.
Finally, you can apply the paint with a brush or a roller. Using a brush is best because you can get into all of the cracks and gaps. If there are small areas that are not filled with paint, this creates a small edge where moisture can get in, causing the paint to peel. Synthetic brushes are best for latex paints as they will hold their shape and stay soft.
Once you have a good covering with a brush, you can go over with a roller to get a nice even finish. Let it dry and apply a second coat. You will need at least 2 coats to get a good seal on the decking, but it could be worth doing a third coat for added protection.
Always pick a relatively warm day with no rain, but avoid painting on excessively hot days or in high humidity as this will impact the finish. Ideal humidity levels are 40-50% and you should never paint when humidity is above 85%, especially when painting a difficult surface like composite decking where it is even more important that you get a good bond.
Is it a Bad Idea to Paint Composite Decking?
Generally, I wouldn’t recommend painting composite decking for a few reasons. Firstly, it’s a lot of work because you need to spend a long time preparing the surface properly before you paint. Secondly, it can go wrong quite easily and you’ll end up ruining your deck if it isn’t prepared perfectly.
It’s also more expensive than other options because you need to invest in high-quality primers and paints. In most cases, it’s better to stain your deck with a product that is specifically designed for composite. The job will be much easier, you still get the protection you need, and it will look better.
There are, however, a few situations when painting could be the right option. It’s always best to avoid painting anything in the front yard because it seriously damages the curb appeal of the property. But if you have a small deck or a staircase in the backyard, painting it isn’t too much of a problem.
Usually, people paint because they want to change the color, and that’s fine in a small area. Paint also hides more scratches and gouges than stain. If your composite deck is old and it needs to be replaced soon, a coat of paint can help you get a few more seasons out of it before you rip it out and put a new one in.
How to Remove Paint from Composite Decking?
If you want to paint your deck, think carefully about your decision because it is tough to remove paint once it is on. People often have paint drips and splatters on their decking after painting the house, and these can be removed with cleaners like Krud Cutter. Sometimes, scraping them off with a putty knife or using a power washer works too.
The same methods will work on a composite deck that has been painted all over, but you will need to use a lot of Krud Cutter or paint stripper, and then power wash all of the paint away. It’s likely that you will need to do it at least 2 or 3 times to clean off the paint and the primer.
There is also a risk that you’ll damage the composite underneath in the process. It’s best to contact the manufacturer of the decking to find out what solvents and cleaners are safe to use. There will also be a huge amount of mess to clean up afterward.
Although it is possible to remove all of the paint, you’ll be lucky if you are left with composite that is in good enough condition to be stained, so you will have to paint again. That’s why painting your composite is a risky decision.
Read our article about if you can pressure wash composite decking here.
Can You Stain Composite Decking?
Yes you can stain or refresh composite decking, staining your composite decking is a much better option than painting. Most types of composite decking will take stain well, but older generation composite works best because it doesn’t have a solid plastic veneer over the top. As always, check with the manufacturer of your decking to see what they recommend.
You won’t get the same choice of colors that you do with painting, but there are plenty of excellent stains for composite decking, in a fairly large range.
How to Stain Composite Decking?
The process varies slightly depending on the type of decking and the product you are using, but you can follow these basic steps to stain composite decking.
First things first, you need to prepare the surface. Buy a high-quality composite deck cleaner (check which products won’t damage your deck) and use this to clean off any dirt and grime. If the deck is relatively new, a quick power with warm soapy water will suffice but if it’s been stained before or the surface is particularly dirty, you need a cleaner.
Ensure that all mold, mildew, and grease is cleaned off the deck because you will ruin the finish if you stain over it. Once you are sure it’s completely clean, give it a good rinse with some fresh water and leave it to dry.
2. Applying the Stain
When the deck is completely dry (this could take a few days after a thorough wash) you can apply your stain. Make sure that you mix it properly beforehand so the pigments are evenly dispersed or you will get a patchy effect.
Use a roller or a foam pad for best results, and work up and down the boards. Stain penetrates quite well, so you will need to apply a lot. Once the boards are saturated and the stain is no longer soaking in, leave it for half an hour and then wipe off any excess. It’s important that you don’t let these small patches dry or you will have sticky spots that are a slightly different color.
When you are happy with the finish and it is even all over, you can leave the stain to dry according to the guidelines on the tin.
3. Apply a Second Coat
For best results, you should apply a second coat. Follow the same directions as you did for the first coat, just make sure you wait until it is fully dry first. A second coat will give you added protection against moisture and UV, making your composite decking last much longer.
Read our guide about finishing the ends of composte decking here.
Oil-based stains are usually best for composite decking. Oil stains penetrate better than water-based products, and this is important when working with composite, which is a wood fiber mix. You should also look for stains with built-in UV inhibitors and mildewcides.
There are stains and “refreshers” designed for bringing composite decks back to life. Some actually stain adding color, while others are clear coat sealers that fill in weathered areas making it appear as you stained the composite. Both stains and sealers are great solutions for weathered composite decks. Here are my most recommended stains and sealers for getting your composite decking back to life:
- Ready Seal Exterior Stain
- DEFY Crystal Clear Composite Deck Waterproofing Sealer
- Rust-oleum Composite Deck Refresh Toner
- Cabot Australian Timber Oil Stain
There are plenty of great composite stains on the market, but the Ready Seal Exterior Stain is an excellent option. It’s a 2-in-1 stain and sealer that comes in a range of colors. It is formulated to go on easily without any streaks or runs, so you’ll get a decent finish, even if you have never stained a deck before. This is a multipurpose exterior wood stain but it’s perfect for uncapped composite decking.
Always, and I mean ALWAYS test the stain in a hidden area to see how the stain looks. This helps you from making any major mistakes. Remember some composite decks cannot be stained with wood stain, this is why you should contact the manufacturer and check before moving forward on your staining journey.
Read Related: 5 Best Sealers for Old Composite Decking
Painting Composite Decking Related Questions
Does Painting Composite Decking Invalidate Your Warranty?
Yes, in a lot of cases. Older generation decking that is designed to be finished with paint or stain may be ok but it may invalidate the warranty. But new decking with a PVC cap on it won’t take paint properly and you will pretty much always invalidate your warranty by painting it.
Usually, people paint their decking because it is quite old and it has seen better days, so invalidating the warranty isn’t a massive concern for them. However, it’s a brand new deck, just be aware that if it goes wrong or you have other issues with your decking, you won’t get any help from the manufacturer. It’s always best to check what their policy is before painting.
Can You Paint Trex Decking?
This depends on when you had it installed. If it is old Trex decking without a PVC cap on it, you can paint it. But any new Trex decking will be almost impossible to paint because the primer and paint simply won’t adhere to the PVC veneer.
Will Painted Composite Decking Last in the Winter?
The paint will stand up to the weather, as long as it’s good quality and you’ve applied it properly. But what happens when you need to clear snow off the decking? Using a shovel will rip the paint off in no time at all, leaving it a big peeling mess. On the other hand, if you just let the snow collect, the cold temperatures and excessive moisture can do more damage.
Reads our related article “Can You Use Ice Melt on Composite Decking?“.
Will High Heat Damage Painted Composite?
Possibly, depending on the type of paint and how well it is applied. If the bond is not that strong to start with, high temperatures can cause the paint to peel and crack quite easily. The same is true if you use cheap paint. As a general rule, you should avoid dark colors because they attract and store more heat.
What types of Composite Decking Should Never Be Painted?
Most modern brands of composite decking should not be painted, including TimberTech Composite, some Trex boards, DuraLife, and Fiberon. All of these composite boards have an outer shell, usually made from PVC.
This means that they are unable to absorb paint and adhesion is almost impossible. For this reason, most of these brands have a clause in their warranty that invalidates it if you try to paint over the composite.
Can I Use a Clear Coat Over Painted Composite Decking?
No, you shouldn’t need to use a clear coat on your painted composite decking. In fact, many paints don’t bond well with clear coats and you can ruin the finish. It should not be necessary anyway because a high-quality paint will be durable enough to withstand moisture and UV damage with polyurethane or other clear coats on the top.
Can You Add Anti-Slip Paint to Composite Decking?
Yes, you can add anti-slip paint to composite decking if you follow the proper steps and your composite deck can be painted as per manufacturer guidelines. When applying the anti-slip paint, follow the manufacturer’s instructions to ensure a high-quality finish.
To prep and apply anti-slip paint on composite do this:
First, thoroughly clean the composite decking with a mild detergent and a scrub brush. This will remove any dirt or debris that may have accumulated on the decks surface, such as mildew. Once the surface is fully clean and dry, the anti-slip paint should be applied using a paint roller to give the best anti-slip layer.
For better results, apply two coats. The first coat should be applied in a thin, even layer and allowed to dry completely before the second coat is applied. The second coat should be applied a little bit thicker to make a durable top layer to last longer. After the paint has dried, the deck should be ready to walk on and to place your outdoor furniture on again.
If interested in anti-slip paint check out my detailed 10 best anti-slip paints for wood or concrete here.
The Verdict – Should I Paint or Stain My Composite Decking?
Overall, I wouldn’t recommend painting your deck if you can help it. Refreshing it with a thorough clean is sometimes enough to bring it back to life, and staining is ideal. A good quality oil-based stain will give you the protection and rich color you need.
If you have a small deck and it doesn’t have a PVC veneer, you could try painting it but if you don’t prepare properly, it can quickly peel and look awful. You’ll also invalidate your warranty with certain decking types. Just make sure that you are aware of the other possibilities and the potential problems before you get your paintbrush out.
Read our related composite decking articles:
- PVC Vs Composite Decking | What’s the Difference?
- Is Composite Decking Fire Resistant?
- Pros and Cons of Composite Decking
- How Long Does a Composite Deck Last?
- Can You Put Composite Decking Over Wood Frame?
- 7 Best Composite Decking Brands
- Is Composite Decking Slippery When Wet?
Jamie is the founder of The Backyard Pros. When he was 15 years old he started working at a garden centre helping people buy plants, gardening products, and lawn care products. He has real estate experience and he is a home owner. Jamie loves backyard projects, refinishing furniture, and enjoys sharing his knowledge online.