Can You Paint Wet Wood?

You’ve blocked off your busy schedule so you can finally get that painting job done, but, wouldn’t you know it, the weather hasn’t cooperated. A storm the night before has left your weekend project damp. You know, waiting for the wood to dry is the best path forward, but there’s no time for that. The job needs to get done today. Can you paint wet wood?

Although it’s not recommended, you can paint wet wood. By incorporating a few tricks to help speed the drying process and by using the right materials, you can still end up with a quality finished product.

Can You Paint Wet Wood

Can You Paint Wet Wood?

The short answer to this question is “yes.” But first, let’s discuss why you might not want to.

While it is possible to paint wet wood, there are a host of reasons why you should wait for it to fully dry out, each of which you should carefully consider before making that first stroke with the paintbrush.

Let’s begin by discussing what happens to wood when it rains. When wood is wet, some percentage of the wood fibers absorb water. That means there are fewer wood fibers free to absorb paint. This can cause several problems.

First, if the wood is very saturated, the application will be sloppy. As you apply the paint, it will stay on the surface of the wood, creating a sloppy looking finish that will quickly peel away once dry.

If there is a significant amount of moisture in the wood, it may mix with the paint, thinning it. This will result in poorer coverage and more runs and drips. Once it dries, you may end up with more of a wash than a paint job.

Even wood that is just moderately damp won’t be able to absorb the paint as deeply as dry wood. This means the finish will be less durable. A paint job that should last 10 years may begin peeling in just two or three.

There are other issues to consider as well. Painting wet wood can result in unsightly bubbles caused by the paint mixing with the moisture in the wood.

Finally, painting wet wood also increases the chances of rot. Paint creates a waterproof seal around wood.

In the case of dry wood, this is a benefit, as it prevents moisture from reaching the wood.

This barrier creates a problem with wet wood. If the wood is damp, the paint will trap the moisture in the wood, preventing it from drying. That trapped moisture will eventually cause the wood to rot from the inside out.

With all of the potential hazards of painting wet wood, it makes sense to wait for the wood to dry. The durability of your paint job is significantly reduced when the wood is wet.

And yet, sometimes, you just don’t have a choice. If that’s the case, then you need to use techniques that will help to minimize the problems described above.

How to Paint Wet Wood

It is possible to paint wet wood and get a quality finish by following some simple guidelines and employing a few tricks. You’ll need to dry the wood, use a high-quality paintbrush, and purchase the right paint to complete a paint job that will endure.

How Long to Let Wood Dry Before Painting

Ideally, you want the wood to dry for at least a day after being saturated, depending on the weather. Wet wood will dry quickly in the sun or in a low humidity environment. Wood in shaded areas or a more humid climate will take longer to dry.

If you can’t afford to wait the requisite amount of time for the wood to dry before you start painting, you’ll need to speed the drying process up.

How to Dry Wet Wood Before Painting

There are a variety of creative techniques you can employ to help speed the drying process along.

One of those methods is to use a hairdryer to dry the wood. Simply turn the hairdryer on high and blow warm air over the wood. As with your hair, the air will cause the moisture in the wood to evaporate, drying the wood.

This process makes more sense if you’re attempting to dry a relatively small amount of wood. Using a hairdryer to dry, say, an entire fence or deck doesn’t make a lot of sense.

One strategy for larger projects would be to dry and paint surfaces in small sections, slowly working your way through the entire project. But, again, this may be more time consuming than it’s worth. And, you may burn out your wife’s hairdryer in the process, compounding your problems.

Another option is to use paper towels or an old towel to dry the surface of the wood. This won’t work quite as well as the hairdryer method as it will only absorb water on the wood’s surface. It will, however, help prepare the surface to receive paint and presents a faster solution than the blowdryer.

For smaller projects, you might also consider using an electric fan to dry out the wood. Simply set up the fan and have it blow air directly on the wood, speeding up the drying process.

If you can move your project indoors, try using a dehumidifier to pull the moisture out of the wood.

If you’re working with loose building material and looking for the quickest way to dry it, consider stacking the boards using scrap lumber or furring strips that create gaps between the boards, allowing for airflow that will dry the lumber.

Whichever strategy you use to dry the wood, keep in mind that none of these can replace the best method: time. While these drying tricks will help take some of the moisture out of the wood, they are unlikely to completely dry out the wood. The best method is still just to wait and allow the wood to dry on its own.

How to Tell If Wood Is Dry Enough to Paint?

painting wet wood
After employing one or more of these drying strategies, you might find yourself wondering just how successful your efforts have been.

It’s often difficult to tell just how dry the wood is and whether it’s paintable or not. Sometimes the exterior may appear dry while the interior is saturated. There are a few things to consider when trying to determine if the wood is dry enough to paint.

How exposed is the wood to the weather? An uncovered deck might be saturated by a storm while siding that is protected by eaves may only be a little damp.

Also, consider the sun. A West-facing wall may receive hot afternoon sun and dry quickly while a North-facing wall may not receive much direct sunlight at all and therefore take significantly longer to dry.

Rainwater also affects wood differently than power washing, a common pretreatment to painting home exteriors and decks.

Due to the high pressure involved, power washing will typically cause wood to become more saturated than a rainstorm. Power washing forces water into the cracks and crevices in siding or a deck that may not normally be reached by falling rain. These nooks and crannies could take significantly longer to dry than areas that are more exposed.

can you paint damp woodThe bead test is also a good way of determining if the wood is too wet to paint. Sprinkle some water on the wood. If it beads up, it means the fibers in the wood are resisting the water because they are already saturated with moisture. If this is the case, then the wood won’t easily accept paint.

If you’re looking for something a little more scientific, consider investing in a moisture meter. Moisture meters, which are fairly inexpensive, tell you the percentage of moisture content in the wood. Simply press the meter’s prongs into the wood, push a button, and read the moisture content. The moisture content of 16% is the upper limit for most paints.

What Paint Type Works Best for Damp Wood?

One of the most important factors to consider when painting wood is the type of paint you’re using. Since you’ll be applying the paint to wood that is to some degree saturated with water, you’ll want to use latex paint.

Latex paint is water-based, meaning it will better bond with the moisture in the wood. This reduces the chances that the paint will peel.

If you’re familiar with the idiom “they mix like oil and water,” then you know why you shouldn’t use oil-based paint to coat damp wood. Oil resists water. This means oil-based paint will not bond with the moisture present in the wood. The result is paint that will eventually peel away from the wood.

You should also consider the type of brush you’re using to apply the paint. Since a foam brush holds less paint then a bristle brush, you’ll be able to apply a thinner and more even coat.

This is important since you will be applying paint onto damp wood that will not soak up as much paint as dry wood. Applying too much paint at a time to wet wood can result in a mess. A foam brush will help you to better regulate the amount of paint you’re applying with each stroke.

Conclusion

In a perfect world, when confronted with wet siding or a sodden deck, you’d be able to wait the requisite number of days for the wood to fully dry before applying paint. But, as we all know, one doesn’t always have the time to wait for Mother Nature’s cooperation.

While you may not get the same durable paint finish as you would with a dry surface, by using some simple preparation techniques and the proper materials, you can still execute a quality paint job on wet wood.

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