Home Improvement August 24, 2022

How to Paint a Deck to Improve Its Appearance—and Its Weather-Resistance

Building a deck in the yard is a great way to dedicate an area of your home to party hosting or outdoor dining. It gives you a place to set up a barbecue, some chairs, a table, and possibly even a gazebo to protect you and your guests from rain or provide shade on a hot day. Just building the deck is not enough to keep it in good condition for years to come, though. You also need to paint or stain the deck to prevent moisture from seeping into the wood and causing the deck to rot.

Stain is a great option for sealing the deck against moisture, but it isn’t as effective as paint against harmful UV radiation, which can damage the wood fibers and make the deck more prone to cracking and warping. Also, keep in mind that a deck can and should be refinished when you start to see signs of wear and tear, like chipped or peeling paint. Follow these steps to learn how to paint a deck the right way.

painting on deck stain

When to Paint a Deck

One of the drawbacks of trying to paint a deck is that you need to factor in the weather. If it rains in the middle of your painting project, you may have to deal with running paint, streaks, slow drying times, partial coverage, and an uneven finish once the paint does dry. To avoid these issues, make sure to check the weather ahead of time and plan to complete the job on a nice, sunny day within a period of at least 24 hours without rain. This should give the paint and primer enough time to dry.

Also, it’s important to pay attention to the temperature and humidity. The best temperature for painting a deck typically ranges from about 50 to 90°F. Paint dries slowly in high humidity, too, so try to complete outdoor painting projects on days when the humidity is low to help quicken drying time.

Working Safely

When you are working on an indoor painting project, ventilation is your most important safety concern, but outdoors you have the benefit of open air, so you won’t need to worry about setting up fans to clear paint fumes. You should still wear closed-toe shoes, long pants, a long-sleeve shirt, gloves, safety glasses, and a mask. The mask isn’t necessary for painting outdoors if you are working with a paintbrush and roller, but if you choose to use a paint sprayer, a mask is essential. (It can also help prevent you from inhaling sawdust and paint chips while you are preparing the deck.)

How to Paint a Deck

Learning how to paint a deck isn’t difficult, but it does take time, so be prepared to spend several hours scraping, sanding, patching, cleaning, and painting. After painting, you will still need to allow an additional 24 to 48 hours before the deck is ready for regular use.

What You’ll Need

  • Broom
  • Paint scraper
  • Sandpaper or sanding block
  • Power sander
  • Hammer
  • Nails
  • Exterior wood putty
  • Pressure washer
  • Mild detergent
  • Wire brush
  • Mold deterrent
  • Painters tape
  • Drop cloth
  • Paint roller
  • Paintbrush
  • Exterior primer
  • Exterior paint

Step 1: Scrape off Old Paint

Old chipped and peeling paint will prevent the new paint from bonding with the deck, so before you can start painting, it’s necessary to prepare the deck. If you are working on a new deck, you don’t need to worry about this step.

Clear any objects off the deck and sweep to remove dust, dirt, and debris. After sweeping, use a paint scraper to remove any paint that is still on the deck. Run the scraper over areas with flaking, chipped, or peeling paint. Apply pressure to the scraper so that it slides under and across the existing paint without damaging the wood underneath.

Step 2: Sand Rough Edges for a Smooth Finish

The next step in this process is to sand the deck. You can use sandpaper or a sanding block to manually sand any rough edges if the deck is in relatively good shape. If you are working on an older deck that is known for splinters, it may be better to rent a power sander from your local home improvement store to sand the entire surface of the deck. Not only will this remove the rough edges, but it can also help to get rid of old paint or stain so that the new paint bonds to the deck.

Step 3: Repair Loose or Damaged Boards

Inspect the deck for any signs of loose deck boards or protruding nails, as well as chips, divots, or cracks in the existing deck. Use a hammer and nails to fix loose deck boards and level out any nails that are sticking up. Exterior wood putty can be used to fill chips, divots, and small cracks, though if any of the boards are badly damaged, you should replace the entire board to prevent future issues.

Step 4: Wash the Deck

Regardless of whether you are painting a new deck or revitalizing an old deck, it’s important to wash any dust, dirt, and debris off the deck before painting. Use a broom to sweep away the paint chips and sawdust you created while scraping, sanding, and patching the deck. Next, decide if you want to wash the deck with a wire scrub brush and warm soapy water or if you have enough experience to wash the desk with a pressure washer.

Keep in mind that a pressure washer sprays water at a high enough pressure to damage the wood if it isn’t handled properly, so if you haven’t used a pressure washer before, it’s best to stick with the bucket of warm water and a wire scrub brush. After washing the deck, treat the wood with a mold deterrent spray, then allow the deck to dry before moving on to the next step.

Step 5: Prepare to Paint

Painters tape and drop cloths can be used to protect the areas of the deck and yard that you don’t want to paint, like walls, doors, windows, metal railings, flowers, or shrubs. Apply painters tape around the borders of the deck to avoid accidentally painting adjacent surfaces and use one or more drop cloths to cover vegetation, yard ornaments, and any other objects you want to protect.

Step 6: Apply Paint

For best results, you’ll usually want to apply a coat of primer before painting. Use a paintbrush and paint roller to apply the primer, then allow it to dry for about 1 to 4 hours. Always check the manufacturer’s recommendations for drying time to ensure that you give the primer enough time to dry before painting.

Once the primer is dry you can start to paint. Paintbrushes are great for narrow spaces between balustrades and in the corners, but for the rest of the deck you will want to use a paint roller. Consider investing in an extension pole for your paint roller so that you can paint the deck quickly and effectively without needing to squat or kneel for a long period of time. After the first coat, let the paint dry for 1 to 2 hours, then add a second coat of paint, if necessary.

Whether you need one, two, or three coats of paint typically depends on the color of the paint and the coverage. If the old paint or the exterior wood putty is showing through, then you will need another coat of paint for complete coverage. Allow the paint to dry for 24 to 48 hours before resuming regular deck use.

The Best Time of Day to Paint a Deck

It may feel great to get to work when the sun is high overhead, but the best time of day to paint is actually when the deck is in the shade, because this prevents the paint from drying too quickly. If the paint dries too fast, then it can appear uneven and patchy, so for the best finish, get started early in the morning while the temperature is lower, then allow the entire deck to dry in the afternoon during the hottest hours of the day.