Q: Our vacation house has vintage Trex decking. After a few years, it became horribly ugly, and no amount of cleaning or brightening ever did more than just lighten the stains. More than five years ago, the painter we hired to do our house took it upon himself to paint the Trex decking — the only time I have ever applauded a contractor’s initiative of doing something without consulting us first. The paint still looks beautiful with no peeling. Can you pass on this suggestion?
A: You are correct. Vintage Trex decking and other brands of composite decking made of a uniform mixture of wood fibers and plastic can be painted or even stained. Newer styles of composite decking capped with a shell of different material on the top and sides of boards cannot.
Painting or staining vintage composite decking isn’t necessary to make the material last longer, but it can give the deck a new look — changing the color, eliminating stains from mildew or leaves, and evening out the color on decks where rugs or planters kept sunlight from reaching some areas.
If you have an original-style composite deck and want to paint or stain it, pick a product intended for decks or porches, not walls or trim. “Paints and stains that adhere well to wood and are meant for walking surfaces will work as well or better with early generation products,” Rochelle Thurston, a customer care representative for Trex, said in an email.
Stains tend to work better than paints, but they might not last as long, she said — as is true for coatings on wooden decks. She said standard brands, such as Behr and Valspar, work well.
Thurston suggested also considering Versacryl, a coating made by Versacryl Restoration Solutions (877-977-6545; versacrylrs.com) specifically for wood-plastic composite decking and vinyl surfaces. The product is one “we have done extensive tests with and found to work great with our early generation boards,” Thurston said, noting that it has a 10-year warranty on color hold and a high resistance to mold and mildew.
Versacryl, however, is not cheap. The manufacturer sells it directly to customers in three-gallon kits that cost $1,085 each and provide the recommended two coats for 400 square feet of decking. (There is no online order form; customers need to call or email.) Bob Harris, one of the owners, acknowledged that the price seems steep, but he said it’s worth it for folks who want a coating that lasts for many years. A standard deck stain might need to be redone each year, he said.
Whichever paint or stain you pick, clean the deck thoroughly first. Use a deck cleaner that doesn’t have a warning on the label against use on non-capped composite decking, because some cleaners for capped decks are too harsh for original-style composite decking. For its products, Trex specifically recommends Olympic Premium Deck Cleaner ($9.98 per gallon at Home Depot) and Expert Chemical’s Composite Deck Cleaner & Enhancer ($19.98 a gallon at expertchemicalinc.com). Do not use a pressure washer on non-capped composite decks. Rinse thoroughly with a hose, and let the decking dry.
Apply the paint or stain when the boards are not in direct sunlight, which would cause the coating to dry too fast. To avoid creating lap marks, plan your work so you can complete entire boards while the coating is still wet. In many cases, this means painting only three or four boards at a time. Work your way toward the steps or door so you have a way to exit without stepping on wet finish. Follow instructions on the label about whether to apply one or two coats. Most deck coatings are self-priming, but use a primer first if the label of the final finish calls for that.
Before you paint or stain, check to make sure the decking isn’t one of the capped styles. You can see this by inspecting the ends of boards. Paint or stain won’t stick properly to the shell and could ruin its color, Thurston said.