Can you paint composite decking?


By Nicki Escudero

Are you thinking about refreshing your outdoor living space, starting with your deck? Perhaps you want to paint or stain it. However, what if you have a composite deck? Can you paint it like you would a classic wooden deck?

In this guide, learn more about this unique material and how to paint it effectively.

What is a composite deck?

Composite decking is either composed entirely of a polymer material or a blend of plastic and wood fiber, like Trex composite decking. Some composite decks are known as capped composite decking, in which the deck boards have an outer capping that provides a layer of structural protection.

grey composite deck in backyardMany homeowners choose composite decking because it offers a wood-like look with an extra layer of protection. Its durability helps you avoid issues like fading, weathering, rotting, warping, splintering, mildew, and moisture.

Should composite decking be painted?

Because composite decking is designed to withstand harsh elements and stay looking as good as new, there’s no need to paint it. In fact, you may want to avoid painting composite decking because paint might compromise the board’s performance. Plus, once you paint it, it will likely require regular touch-ups and more maintenance.

However, if you want to change your deck's aesthetic look, you certainly can paint it. But before you start painting, check with the manufacturer. For example, some manufacturers only recommend staining composite decking that’s 10 years or older. Others will recommend only painting or staining certain parts of their newer models.

You should also check the warranty. When you paint or stain a deck surface, you may unintentionally void the warranty for your deck.

One last note: If your deck boards have an outer capping, manufacturers recommend you don’t paint or stain it. If you paint composite material that’s capped with a protective PVC shell, the paint likely won’t adhere and may cause more troublesome issues. If you have older, uncapped composite deck boards, you can safely apply a deck stain or paint your deck.

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What type of paint can you use on composite decking?

The best type of paint to use for composite decking is whatever the manufacturer recommends. Generally, a high-performance exterior paint that’s not color fading should work. You’ll also need to apply acrylic latex exterior primer before applying the paint color.

What to know before you start painting.

Before you paint your deck, it's important to:

  • Read your owner's manual and warranty. Find out if your composite deck manufacturer recommends painting and if it will affect your warranty.
  • Choose the right exterior paint. Make sure it's suitable for the outdoor elements.
  • Inspect your deck and make repairs. Check the deck for any splitting, cracking, and/or swelling. You’ll want to make necessary repairs first so the boards are in suitable structural shape before you paint them.
  • Plan for future maintenance. Be aware that you’ll likely have to repaint the deck every year or two to retain its fresh appearance.

How to paint composite decking.

If you’ve determined your composite decking can be painted, gather your materials and follow these steps to paint your deck.

hand using brush to paint composite wood deckingWhat you’ll need:

  • Soft bristle brush
  • Pressure washer or hose with sprayer attachment nozzle
  • 240-grit sandpaper
  • Damp cloth
  • Composite commercial cleaner
  • Painter’s tape
  • Drop cloths or protective sheeting
  • Latex exterior primer
  • Either semi-gloss acrylic latex paint or composite deck stain
  • Paintbrush, sprayer, or roller
  • DIY cleaning solution made of vinegar, baking soda, and dishwashing detergent (optional)

Step 1: Clean the deck.

Before you paint, it's important to ensure your deck is completely clean and dry:

  1. Remove everything from the deck.
  2. Sweep the deck to remove leaves and debris.
  3. Use a power washer or hose with a sprayer attachment nozzle to wash off mold and mildew spots, stains, and dirt.
  4. Use the soft bristle brush and cleaner (or DIY solution) for scrubbing.
  5. Once the deck is dry, sand the deck boards to improve paint adhesion.
  6. Sweep up or blow away dust after sanding.
  7. Wipe or spray the dust off with water.
  8. Allow the deck to dry completely.

Step 2: Prep the deck.

Apply the latex exterior primer to the dry, clean deck. For ideal dry times, let the primer dry for at least 2 hours. Drying time varies by temperature and humidity levels, so check the primer's instructions.

Step 3: Paint or stain the deck.

Arrange painter's tape and drop cloths (or protective sheeting) on areas you want to protect from paint.

Apply the deck paint or stain with the paintbrush, sprayer, or roller according to the manufacturer's directions. You may want to apply at least two or three coats (with adequate dry time between each) to achieve the depth of color you want.

Once the deck is dry, you can also seal it with a high-performance varnish or exterior seal. This can help protect it from scratches or moisture.

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Tips for maintaining painted composite decking.

person sweeping leaves and debris off deckAfter you paint your composite deck, make sure it stays looking good for as long as possible. Here's how:

Regularly clean your deck.

Regular cleaning is essential to prevent dirt buildup on painted composite decking. Use a soft-bristle brush or a broom to sweep away any loose debris, such as leaves or twigs, regularly.

For more stubborn dirt or stains, you can use a mild detergent mixed with water and a soft cloth or sponge to gently scrub the surface. Avoid using abrasive cleaners or tools that can damage the paint or the decking material.

Inspect your deck.

Inspect your painted composite decking periodically for any signs of damage. Look out for cracks, chips, or peeling paint. If you notice any issues, address them promptly to prevent further damage. Depending on the extent of the damage, you may need to repair the affected area by sanding, priming, and repainting it.

Touch-up the paint.

Touching up the paint on your composite decking is important to maintain its appearance and protect it from the elements. Over time, the paint may fade or wear off in high traffic areas.

To touch up the paint, clean the area thoroughly and apply a fresh coat of paint using a brush or roller. Make sure to choose a paint that is suitable for composite materials and matches the existing color.

Schedule professional maintenance.

Consider hiring professional maintenance services for your painted composite decking. Professionals have the expertise and tools to properly clean, repair, and maintain your decking. They can also provide recommendations on the best products and techniques to use for your specific decking material.

Find a professional to paint and maintain your deck.

professional painters painting a deckNot sure you want to tackle this project yourself? You can save the time and hassle of painting your composite deck by hiring a professional — and get the job done right the first time.

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Can you stain a composite deck?

Yes, you can stain or paint a composite deck, as long as it’s not capped and the manufacturer allows it.

The choice to stain vs. paint is up to you. Paint can offer good protection from moisture and sun damage, but it can also chip and peel over time. Stains contain sealers that can decrease your workload, but they don’t hide deck imperfections as well as paint. 

How do you get paint to stick to composite decking?

The sanding and priming process will help your paint stick better to composite decking. Also, make sure the composite decking isn’t capped. If you have capped composite decking, the paint will not adhere.

What is the best color for composite decking?

Since composite decking is designed to mimic real wood, typical colors also reflect natural wood colors. If your deck is exposed to a lot of sunshine, manufacturers recommend painting it a lighter color. Lighter colors absorb less heat than dark colors do. If your deck is in a shaded area, you may want to choose a darker color to attract more sunlight.

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