Matt is a professional painter and freelance writer, sharing his knowledge, house-painting tips, and product reviews.
How to Paint Wooden Shutters
Wooden window shutters typically need to be repainted every three to five years to keep the wood protected from the elements. If your shutters are faded and showing signs of wear, it's time to paint them. Unlike vinyl shutters, wooden shutters aren't water resistant. The wood can rot in a short amount of time when old paint breaks down, exposing the bare surface to moisture.
All six sides of wooden shutters, including the reverse side, should be painted to keep the wood sealed and protected. If the backside isn't painted, moisture can get trapped behind the shutter and rot the wood.
Painting Wooden Shutters without Removing Them
It's a lot easier and safer to simply remove them with a drill instead of prepping and painting them from a ladder. Climbing up and down an extension ladder repeatedly to paint them is more tiring and dangerous than using the ladder only a couple times to remove and install them.
Painting installed shutters from a ladder is more challenging too because you have to carefully cut-in around all four sides without getting paint onto the siding. The windows below also have to be covered with plastic to protect them from dripping paint.
Removing Wood Shutters for Painting
Use an extension ladder to access and remove the shutters. I use a 24-foot aluminum extension ladder to remove second story shutters, and in most cases, this ladder length is the perfect size for a typical two-story home. Hang an empty bucket from the ladder, using a bucket hook, and store the removed screws and drill inside the bucket while handling the shutters.
Supplies for removing window shutters:
- Empty 5-gallon bucket
- Bucket hook
- Sharpie marker
- Extension ladder
Before removing the screws, inspect the shutters for active hornets. Spray underneath with hornet spray. Hornets love nesting behind shutters. Another option is to paint in early spring before hornets are present.
Most window shutters are fastened to house siding with long wood screws. Use a fully charged drill to remove the screws. Toss the screws into the bucket so they don't fall to the ground and get lost. The bucket is also a convenient place to store the drill while pulling down the shutters if you're unable to clip the drill onto your waist.
Unless all of the shutters are the same size with the fastener holes in the same place, mark the backside of each one with a number so you know where they go for problem-free installation at the end. Marking the doors ensures the fastener holes line up perfectly.
Prepping Wood Shutters for Paint
The surface preparation for wooden shutters is similar to the prep for painting vinyl shutters. Window shutters accumulate dirt and sometimes mildew. Peeling paint must be scraped off and sanded smooth. The surface should be carefully cleaned with an exterior house cleaner.
The fastest way to clean multiple shutters is with a power washer and a 15-degree nozzle (yellow color). Don't use a zero degree nozzle (red color) to clean wood shutters. The yellow colored tip works the best.
Use TSP, or any exterior siding cleaner, for surface cleaning. The exterior cleaner I use the most for siding and window shutters made of wood, or vinyl, is Jomax House Cleaner and Mildew Remover from the Zinsser brand. This product works great for pre-paint cleaning and removing dark spots from mildew stains. I spray on the cleaner with a pump-action garden sprayer and scrub the surface with a cleaning pad, followed by a good wash with either my pressure washer, or the garden hose.
Remove Peeling Paint from Wooden Shutters
The fastest way to remove loose layers of paint from your wooden shutters is with a power washer and an electric sander once the surface dries after washing. Power washing removes most of the loose paint pieces, but scraping and sanding is necessary to remove the rest.
The best electric paint remover tool for exterior painting projects, at least in my experience, is the Wagner Paint Eater. I use this tool to prep peeling decks, shutters, and siding. The tool includes a very coarse disc, similar to a grinder, that removes paint a lot faster than a regular orbital sander with finer sandpaper discs. Be sure to wear gloves using this tool, it's very powerful.
Sand the Surface
If the surface is in good condition and not peeling, a light sanding with a regular orbital sander is all that's needed before priming and painting. Sanding the surface dulls the gloss of the existing paint and helps the new paint stick better. The best sandpaper is 120-grit to 150-grit. Sanding sponges work great for getting in between the narrow louvers.
Priming and Painting Wooden Shutters
The fastest and easiest way to paint window shutters is with an airless sprayer and a quality brush to lay the paint out smoothly with the grain of the wood. Brushing is important because it works paint into the wood pores. I like using a brush instead of a roller because it's a smoother finish that blends in better with the natural grain of the wood.
Without a sprayer, the louvers on a shutter are very tedious to paint with a brush alone. Repeatedly brushing between each louver on multiple shutters isn't fun. I can't imagine painting them without my sprayer. They're awesome tools that can be used for different types of painting projects. For shutters, I use my Titan 440 Impact or my Graco GX-19 Finish Pro. These are both smaller and less expensive airless sprayers that are built to last. They're also built with sealed motors so you can use them safely with flammable coatings.
Priming Shutters - Do You Need to Prime?
If the wood is in good condition and you're repainting the same product and color, primer isn't needed. Simply apply one to two coats of paint and you're done, but badly weathered paint with bare wood spots should definitely be primed with a quality exterior primer formulated to stop tannin bleed.
The two best options are either an oil-based primer, like Zinsser Cover Stain, or primer that's 100 percent acrylic and formulated to prevent tannin bleed, which is important when painting lighter colors. Oil-based primer does a better job at sealing the surface. I like using Cover Stain because I use it for my interior projects too, but Sherwin Williams sells similar products for exterior wood priming.
Painting the Shutters
Protect your grass with a drop cloth, especially if you're spraying. Over-spray and paint spills kill grass in no time. Lay out the shutters on drop cloths to spray them all quickly at the same time, or use a brush and paint each one separately on a work table. If possible, store them inside a garage for drying. The backside should be painted too, but paint the backside first.
With a brush: Use a high quality paint brush. My personal favorite is the Pro Extra exterior paint brush by Purdy. With proper care, these brushes last through multiple exterior painting projects. The nylon polyester bristles are also a lot easier to clean compared to other brushes I've used in the past. I use them all day in the summer heat without paint drying on the bristles and permanently ruining the brush.
With a sprayer: When using an airless sprayer, use a spray tip with a larger orifice. Exterior paint is very thick and won't spray through a small tip. The ideal tip size is a 317. With a Graco sprayer, the blue RAC-X spray tips are great and are available in the larger sizes needed for exterior paint. They last longer than the standard Graco RAC-5 tips too.
Spray on a light coat of paint and brush the surface with the grain to work the paint into the pores and cracks in the wood. Spray two coats of paint, using a satin finish. Don't over-apply the paint. This is important. Over-application will cause the paint to remain sticky and soft for a prolonged period of time, especially in humid conditions, which means you'll have to wait longer for the paint to fully dry for installation.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2020 Matt G.