The Best Paints for Exterior Wood: Oils or Acrylic

Written by ryan lawrence
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The Best Paints for Exterior Wood: Oils or Acrylic
Paint decks with an acrylic deck paint. (Jupiterimages/ Images)

Though you can use oil-based paint on exterior wood, water-based acrylic paint offers greater advantages. Learn the limitations of oil-based paint, or you could end up with a cracking finish that loses its lustre after a short time. Know the proper way to prepare the wood for long-term adhesion, or finish failure will result no matter what type of paint you choose.

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Oil Paint

Oil paint is a durable finish that has a petroleum base. This particular finish will bond to properly prepared exterior wood; however, it has its drawbacks. Because it is so hard, oil-based paint cannot expand and contract, which sometimes causes it to crack in extreme temperatures. This finish may also crack as wood naturally shifts over time. Oil-based paint also may turn dull and chalky after a year or two.

Acrylic Paint

A quality exterior acrylic paint is the best choice for exterior wood surfaces for a variety of reasons. Unlike oil-based paint, acrylic finishes tend to retain their colour and sheen for long periods. Water-based acrylic is also very flexible, a trait that allows it to expand and contract as wood shifts and temperatures climb and drop. Because acrylic paint is water-based, it doesn't expel the same noxious fumes oil-based finishes put off.


Ordinary exterior acrylic paint is well suited for wood siding and fences; however, it won't prove durable on exterior wood surfaces subject to duress. If you plan to paint a horizontal wood surface, such as a deck or patio, use an acrylic deck paint. For wood surfaces that must endure a lot of physical contact, such as exterior wood furniture, use an extremely durable, glossy acrylic enamel.


No type of paint will work on bare exterior wood. Whether you choose an oil- or water-based paint, you must prime the wood to promote adequate, long-term adhesion. Choose a compatible paint depending on the base of the finish coat. A water-based acrylic primer is appropriate for exterior wood surfaces you plan to paint with acrylic paint. Don't use acrylic primer on wood you plan to finish with oil-based paint, or the final finish may crack; instead, choose an oil-based primer.

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