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Is it Better to Paint or Stain a Shed?

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When deciding whether to paint or stain your shed siding, preventing moisture problems is a major consideration. Paint may seem to be a better way to seal your siding from moisture, but perhaps surprisingly, wood stain may be a better choice.

Choosing which is better, paint or stain will really depend on your situation and the type of material you’re going to be using it on. Cedar siding breaths so it would be a better choice to stain it over painting it. While some other materials do better if painted.

Stain Verses Paint

Stain is a breathable substance, meaning that it lets the wood absorb moisture but also lets it dry out. Wood stains also have a primer and a preservative mixed in, so you don’t have to buy them separately.

With paint, you’ll have to buy wood preservative and then use a primer. Another consideration is the look you want for your shed. The more attractive the wood, the more you might consider stain to bring out the charm.

If cost is something you consider (and of course, it is), the price of wood stain runs around $20 to $35 per gallon. Separate wood preservative costs $15 to $40 per gallon, while primer is priced at $15 to $30 per gallon.

Add the cost of two coats of paint on top of that and you can see that stain is much more economical. Additionally, some people advise sealing the surface after painting with a polyurethane sealer.

What Lasts Longer Outside, Paint or Stain?

Paint does last longer than stain. Paint can last for ten years or more before you need to think about repainting. Oil-based paints provide the best moisture protection, so if you are concerned about dampness where your shed is situated, you may want to think about using this.

If your shed is totally or mostly out in the sun, especially in hot climates, you may want to think about latex paint, which has higher protection against UV rays and the fading they cause.

The drawback of stain is that it lasts about eight years before reapplication is needed, and is also prone to fading. While paint lasts longer, it is prone to peeling and chipping.

Is Paint or Stain Better for Exterior Wood?

There are advantages to both paint and stain for exterior wood. Much of the decision will depend on the location of your shed, your climate, and the potential problems you wish to avoid.

Both paint and stain contain substances with various properties, such as protection from mold, fungus, mildew or ultraviolet radiation. They don’t all have all the protective qualities, however.

Different brands and varieties have different protective properties, so it is a good idea to decide what your shed’s needs are and shop accordingly. It would also be wise to ask for help on this at your supplier. He can help you decide what paint or stain will best protect your shed.

Solid colored stains, like paint, coat the top of the wood surface. These provide the most thorough protection from moisture for wood siding. Besides the ability of stain to allow the wood to breathe and disperse moisture, the stain will actually contract and expand with the weather, keeping it from cracking.

Paint dries in a thicker coat, especially with the primer and two coats of paint, and provides more of a barrier to moisture.

Another option is semi-transparent stain. This type accentuates the natural character of the wood by sinking into the wood and coloring the wood fibers. This option does not provide as much protection from UV rays or moisture and doesn’t last as long as paint or solid color stain. However, little preparation is needed when it needs to be reapplied.

There are also the options of transparent stains, which provide a slight tint to the wood grain, and semi-solid stains. These contain more pigment. While this means that the wood grain is more concealed, they also provide better sun protection.

Basically, the difference in stains is the amount of pigment contained in them. The less pigment, the more the wood grain shows through and is enhanced. The more pigment, the less the wood grain shows but the more protection you’ll have. It’s basically a decision between looks and protection.

There is also the choice between oil-based and water- or latex-based stains. If you are unsure what you need, ask at your supplier what would be your best solution based on your wood surface and climate conditions.

Can I Use Deck Stain on My Shed?

Actually, deck stain is virtually the same as any exterior wood stain. It’s just sometimes labeled differently to aid customers in picking out the right product for the job more quickly.

How Do I Clean a Shed Before Painting or Staining?

Your wood surface needs to be clean, meaning no dust, grease, wood fibers or dirt. It also needs to be completely dry and free of mildew. Dust and dirt can be removed easily with water and detergent. Clearing a space around your shed of leaves and other debris will prevent a breeze from blowing it onto your wood.

Removing mildew takes a bit more effort. Mix a quart of household bleach with three quarts of water. You should wear long sleeves, rubber gloves and eye protection when doing this.

Brush or wipe the mixture onto any wood that has mildew and a couple of inches beyond this to get any mildew that is expanding into other wood but is not yet visible. Leave it on for about 20 minutes, then wash it off with a hose. Let your wood dry completely before staining.

Treated lumber needs to dry thoroughly before staining or painting. Depending on the weather and subsequent drying time, this could take six to eight weeks. Newly treated lumber can take as long as several months.

To test for readiness, sprinkle a few water drop onto the lumber. If the water is absorbed, it’s ready for the next step. If it beads up and won’t soak into the wood, it’s not quite ready.

Use tarps to protect any bushes or plantings around the shed before starting. Blobs of paint or stain can really stand out in a rose garden. You can wash the paint off the plantings if you catch it while it’s still wet, but you run the risk of splashing water onto your shed or having a breeze blow at the wrong time.

Covering it up first is more foolproof. Since a paint sprayer has a longer reach, you’ll need more tarps if using one. Before painting your shed be sure that you prime if if needed, if your not sure read my article Do I Need to Prime a Shed Before Painting? for more help.

What is The Best Way to Paint a Shed?

Remove any hardware from the surfaces to be painted. If you don’t want the hassle of removing the doors, you can use painter’s tape to cover the hinges. Be sure to cover any windows.

Any parts of the shed that you wish to paint a lighter color for trim should be covered as well. If you are using a darker color for the trim, you may opt to just paint over the main paint color when you get to the trim.

You’ll need to use a wood primer on new wood. You can use a wood preservative first, or there are primers such as Kilz, which contain a mildew resistance additive to protect the wood as well and prime it.

If using a paint sprayer to spray the paint, you can use it as well to apply the primer. You may want to adjust your sprayer for a heavier setting as the primer will likely be thicker than your paint. You don’t want to thin the primer as that will dilute any protective qualities it has. Use even up and down motions and overlap the coats to get good coverage without dripping.

Your primer can should tell you how long to wait to allow the primer to dry before you start painting. Some people like to let it dry overnight. If you’re using rollers and brushes, you’ll probably be relieved to have the long break.

Then you add the two coats of paint. If you are painting on a hot day, your paint will probably be dry enough by the time you get the first coat applied so that you can add the second coat. Prime and paint the trim using a brush or small rollers. There are short rollers available that are perfect for this.

What is The Best Way to Stain a Shed?

The tools needed are basically the same as for painting, especially the tarp. For darker stains, it’s best to start at the top. Any drips can be taken care of with your brush. If you don’t think you can finish the whole shed in one session, at least stain a whole wall at one time.

For transparent or semi-transparent stains, use a high-quality brush, rollers or spray. One thin coat is all that’s needed. For solid stains, two thin coats are required. Apply the stain to a few boards at a time to prevent overlap marks. To work the finish into the wood, and keep the coating even, try a back brush technique.

You can also use a paint sprayer, but wear a respirator when applying it. You can even out any blotches or puddles with a brush. Since the stain is bound to end up in other places when using a paint sprayer, you’ll need to cover nearby bushes and plantings.

Some woods, such as pine, present a bit of a problem when staining because of their uneven grain and soft texture. You may end up with blotches and other undesirable looks. This is because some areas of the wood soak up more of the stain than others. To prevent this, use a clear sealant over the wood before staining to keep the look even.

Can you Paint Over a Stained Shed?

You can paint over the stain with a little prep work. While some say it’s not necessary, it is usually advised to prepare the wood. Make sure the surface is clean of dust and dirt. Sand the surface with 150 grit or finer sandpaper. Use the sandpaper with the grain. Afterward, use a de-glosser substance. You’ll need a respirator and gloves when applying it.

The preparation keeps problems from creeping up, such as trying to use latex primer over an oil-based stain, which will cause adhesion problems. If you know that the previous stain was wate-r or latex-based, your new paint will still adhere best to a properly prepared surface.

Some authorities advocate using an oil-based or shellac primer to combat the problem of using latex paint over stain. Stain does tend to have a problem staying put and will sometimes seep through the primer and paint. Look for a primer that has stain-blocking capabilities or have your paint supplier tint the primer to match the stain.

Can You Stain Over a Painted Shed?

You can stain over the paint, but this is more suitable for smaller projects, such as doors and wood furniture. Stain is intended to feature and bring out the grain in the wood, so staining over paint is defeating the purpose. Using stain over paint will always result in some degree of streaks, but many people find this makes for an interesting look.

You can use different applicators for the stain to create different looks. Sponges and fine horsehair brushes leave fine streaks while rough-bristled brushes tend to create wider streaks.

Of course, the surface has to be properly prepped first. If you’re planning to use a solid or semi-solid stain, you’ll need to clean the painted surface and then sand it. Use medium-grit sandpaper first, then change to a finer grit. Make sure to wear a dust mask when doing this.

Wipe down your wood afterward with a damp cloth to get rid of any dust clinging to the surface. If you’re using a more transparent stain that lets the wood grain show through and enhances it, you’ll want to remove the paint altogether.


Whether you choose paint or stain for your shed, you can probably do the whole job in a couple of days, especially with a sprayer. Once you’ve decided on paint or stain, choosing the right products for the job and the prep work and very important.

Neither should be the place to skimp. Remember, your supplier will be glad to help you with not only the choice of products for your shed but also advice. Once you are done, your shed should look good and be protected for years to come.

Recommended Resources

In this area I will go over the best resources that I have found that you will find very helpful:

Here are my favorite eBooks for beginners as well as those of you who have a lot more experience with home projects.

I know how disappointing it can be to finally find some plans online only to find out after that theirs a lot of essential information missing making these resources useless and a waste of your time!

First is “Ryan’s Shed Plans”… Provides 1,000’s of shed plans, so there’s something for everyone with detailed cross sections and very easy to follow instructions. What I really like is the material and cutting lists which means you know how much material to get.

And if you act soon, you can also get some free books: Advanced Woodworking Tips, List of suppliers to get your materials even cheaper and for you woodworking types you also get 400 free wooding plans. Definitely worth every penny… Check it out here and get your free 8×12 plan just for looking.

Second is “Ted’s Woodworking” … You get thousands of woodworking plans and they come with step-by-step instructions, material and cutting lists, very detailed plans, something for beginners as well as the professional woodworker.

You’ll also get woodworking guides and a detailed book on how to start a woodworking business and how to sell your woodworking projects for profit. See for yourself all the projects you can do and start making impressive pieces right away. Check it out here.

Third is the “Ultimate Small Shop” … This guide walks you thru everything you need to get a small workshop set-up on a budget. Goes into detail what you need to set-up, organizing your space and laying out your work areas, tools list, safety and so much more. Covers everything you need to have a complete shop.

You also get some Free bonus: The workshop cheat list, shows you where to get cheap supplies and tools. You also get a lifetime subscription to the deal alert service and so much more, see it for yourself here.

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