When composite decking such as Trex first appeared, many homeowners flocked to the products because they would not rot and require less maintenance than a wood deck. It didn’t take long for homeowners to notice that prolonged sun exposure caused the composite deck’s color to fade. They began to wonder if it is possible to paint a composite deck.
Most composite or Trex decking can be painted or stained. If you choose to paint, use an acrylic latex exterior primer, and then choose a latex paint with a satin or semi-gloss finish. If you decide to stain, choose an acrylic latex stain with UV inhibitors and mildew inhibitors.
If you want to freshen up your composite deck with either paint or stain, we will guide you through the process, beginning with which kind of composites can be painted, whether you want to paint or stain, and how to prep your deck. We also have some pro tips to help you. Let’s get started.
What Is Trex or Composite Decking?
Wood and plastic are the primary materials used in most composite decking. Some composite decks use recycled or post-industrial by-products. Trex, for example, uses sawdust and plastic from different sources. They claim that 500 square feet of decking contain the equivalent of 140,000 plastic bags.
Not all composite decking is the same. Since maintenance and painting methods vary depending on the product, let’s take a few minutes and go over how composite decking can be manufactured.
Composite Decking Created Through Extrusion
This manufacturing method involves combining the raw materials and then co-extruding, meaning the wood and plastic are combined and then melted together. The melted mixture is then forced into a die that forms the lumber-shaped planks. DuraLife composite decking is made using this process.
Lumberock also uses an extruding process. However, since their planks contain only plastic and mineral materials, there is no organic matter to cause mildew or mold.
Using Compression-Molding to Manufacturer Composite Decking
Another method for manufacturing decking is compression-molding, a process in which the materials are placed into a mold and then heated and pressed to create the planks. Trex decking is made with this process.
Solid PVC Composite Decking
TimberTech decking is made entirely from PVC. It is another compression-molded product. Since the decks are solid PVC, they are considered the most durable of all composite decking options. The AZEK product line is considered by many to be the best composite decking, and it has a price tag to match.
Regardless of how it is made, composite decking is resistant to mold, mildew, and rot. Also, termites and other insects won’t destroy it like they would a wooden deck.
Did You Know? Plastic molding was invented in the late 1800s when billiard ball manufacturers needed a way to fill plastic billiard balls as ivory billiard balls were going out of style.
Can All Composite Decking Be Painted?
Almost any composite deck can be painted or stained. There are some exceptions or caveats.
- TimberTech advises you not to paint its product and that doing so will invalidate the warranty. Since it is made from PVC, the paint would not adhere well anyway.
- Trex claims its more expensive Transcend and Escapes lines cannot be painted.
- Lumberock says that paints or stains will not adhere properly to the boards, leading to flaking and peeling.
One would expect more expensive decking to maintain its color and not require painting anyway.
Should I Stain or Paint the Deck?
Whether you choose to paint the deck or stain, it depends on several factors. If you want something easier to apply, then go with stain. It can be applied in a single coat and does not pool because of its thin consistency.
If you choose to paint, you will need to coat your deck with a primer. Its thicker consistency preventing globs of paint as well as lap marks is essential. Also, to get the coverage you want, two coats might be required.
The extra time spent now will pay off in the long run. A good paint will last over a decade while a stain must be reapplied anywhere from 2 to 8 years.
Also, paint requires less maintenance. You can pressure wash a properly sealed painted deck, but pressure washing stain is not recommended. If you need to protect your deck from moisture, then consider using oil-based paint. Otherwise, use latex paint to protect against UV fading.
Stain benefits include that it is less expensive, looks more natural, and can easily be painted over or given a different shade. Staining on top of paint is almost impossible, especially with composite decks.
Clean Your Deck Before Painting or Staining
Before you paint or stain, you will need to thoroughly clean the deck of mold, mildew, and grime. You can purchase a deck cleaner designed for composite decks or make your own cleaner with soap and water. If you have mold, you will need some vinegar and baking soda.
- Get a hose and water and spray off debris. If you use a pressure washer, keep it below 3100 psi.
- Scrub each board with soapy water and use a soft bristle brush to clean each board.
- Thoroughly rinse the deck. This is essential because dirty water can form a film on the surface of the composite boards.
With a little elbow grease, you have a clean deck and are ready to move on to the next step– unless your decking has mold. Then a few extra steps are required:
- Mix a two-part vinegar and one-part water solution and pour it onto the mold.
- Sprinkle baking soda on the vinegar/water mixture and let it sit for about 20 minutes.
- Use your bristle brush to scrub to remove the mold or mildew. Then rinse the deck again.
Let the surface of your deck dry before you begin painting.
Which Paints or Stains Work Best?
When shopping for stains, look for ones made specifically for composite decks. It should be an acrylic latex stain with UV blockers and a mildew inhibitor, such as zinc.
Avoid solid deck stains. Those and stains that leave a film will flake more quickly, often within several months. When choosing colors, pick a semi-transparent or semi-solid stain because those do not leave a surface film.
If you plan to use paint, start with an acrylic latex exterior primer. Either the Rustoleum or Valspar brands are excellent for composite decks. Pick a latex paint for floors and decks with a satin or semi-gloss finish. Should you need some traction in areas that get wet, such as around a pool, look for paints with a texturing additive.
A Few Painting Tips
These are a few pro tips to make sure your project turns out well:
- Check the weather. Your paint or stain will need a minimum of two hours to dry.
- Avoid painting or staining when the boards get direct sunlight. This is to keep the coating from drying too quickly.
- Plan your work so you can paint an entire board while the paint is wet. That way, you avoid lap marks.
- Use the back-brush method if you are staining with a brush.
How Else Can You Refresh a Composite Deck?Before you take on painting or staining your deck, make sure that it is clean. Sometimes a deck simply needs a good cleaning. Remember that when you use a pressure cleaner, keep the pressure below 3100 psi.
Should you decide that all it needs is a really good cleaning, you will want to purchase a stronger cleaning product. The Composite Deck Cleaner and Enhancer from Expert Chemical uses a mild chlorinated formula that penetrates the composite decking’s pores is one product recommended by Trex.Another option is a deck brightener, such as Olympic Premium Deck Cleaner. The oxalic acid in a deck brightener gets rid of tannin and rust stains.
Consider that if you go this route, with the extra cleaning required to refresh the composite, you could probably go ahead and apply a stain.
If you have older composite decking that looks washed out, you can paint or stain it. Doing so will make your deck look like new. Remember whether you choose to paint or stain depends on how much effort you want to put into the project. Paint lasts longer, but once you put it down, there’s no going back and staining your deck.
No matter what you choose, do not skip the all-important step of cleaning your deck. Otherwise, your stain will not adhere properly and begin flaking off. If that happens, it will seem like your hard work has been for nothing.