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What's the Best Outdoor Paint for Wood? My Top Picks

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Wood siding and trim I prepped and painted.

Wood siding and trim I prepped and painted.

Understanding Exterior Paint for Wood

Choosing interior wall paint is generally easy, but when it comes to the exterior of your home, it really pays to use the best paint you can afford. Most exterior paints are formulated for some level of durability against moisture and extreme weather, but how long the paint lasts largely depends on the paint type and the condition of the surface it's being used on, as well as the climate where you live.

Before I give my recommendations for the best outdoor paints I use, here are three common coatings for exterior wood and the differences between them:

Acrylic Latex Exterior Paint

Acrylic latex paint is the gold standard for painting exterior wood trim, windows and siding (wood and metal). Acrylic paint is also great for painting garage doors and wood window shutters. In the past, oil-based paint was the superior choice for durability, but most premium latex paints are formulated with acrylic resins to extend the life of the coating.

  • Very durable
  • Cheaper than oil-based paint
  • Excellent coverage
  • Some paints can be used on multiple substrates (wood, vinyl, masonry, metal)

One of the key advantages of acrylic latex paint is its ability to expand and contract over weathered wood, unlike oil paint, which is less flexible and more likely to crack under pressure. Acrylic paint also cleans up easily with water instead of having to clean up with paint thinner like you would using oil paint.

Oil-based Exterior Paint

I remember painting exterior trim on new construction homes with oil paint twenty years ago before the advancement of water-based paints. Although oil-based paint is water-resistant and durable, there are drawbacks. For one, oil paint is toxic to work with, even outdoors. Wearing a mask and gloves are a must to protect yourself from the intense VOCs. Paint thinner is also needed to clean your brush and tools.

  • Dries hard for good durability
  • Slow drying
  • Costs more than water-based paints
  • Contains chemicals that feed mildew
  • More likely to trap moisture and blister

Another problem with oil-based paints is they contain oils and resins that are a food source for mildew. I painted the exterior trim of a house once that was completely covered in mildew. Oil paint had been used on the trim only one year prior by another painting company. These paints have their place for outdoor furniture, porch floors and decks, but acrylic latex paint, or even acrylic stain, is best for siding and house trim.

Acrylic Solid Stain

Although this article focuses on paint, you might also consider using solid acrylic stain on your siding or fence. Solid stain looks very similar to paint, but not quite as thick. Acrylic solid stain is fantastic for cedar siding, fences, decks and even T1-11 siding. Solid siding stain doesn't offer as many sheen and color options as paint, but the main advantage is not having to do as much prep work for a re-coat because stain usually doesn't peel and crack as badly as paint.

  • Less peeling and prep work for re-coating
  • Excellent for cedar siding and fences
  • Costs less than oil-based paint
  • Cleans up with water
  • Fewer color and sheen options

Acrylic solid stain is ideal too if you want to highlight the natural texture and grain of the wood you're using it on, which is why it's commonly used for cedar siding. The added thickness of paint makes wood look smoother and less textured. Paint also forms a layer on the surface instead of penetrating into it like stain.


Duration Exterior Acrylic Latex

In most cases, you do get what you pay for when it comes to premium exterior paints. Duration is one of those paints that has never failed me on any of my exterior painting projects. I also use the interior version when I paint indoors. Both paints are from Sherwin Williams. Before I started using this paint, I used Super Paint successfully for a long time, but Duration is more flexible and holds up longer due to the acrylic co-polymers in the paint.

Duration is advertised as a one coat paint, but the coverage really depends on the color you're painting over and the condition of the surface. It does cover better than other paints I've used. A little goes a long way. I painted the exterior of my house with this product and it covered in one coat, using white over white. The paint is very thick, yet it brushes on really smooth with ease.

Another advantage is the versatility. Duration can be used on multiple surfaces including wood, aluminum and even vinyl. You can also use this paint with an airless sprayer. I've spray painted aluminum siding, metal garage doors, window shutters and vinyl siding with Duration. The paint dries in about one hour. The hefty price tag of $85 per gallon might be a deal breaker for some, but the paint will hold up longer and reduce future maintenance costs.


Super Paint Exterior Acrylic Latex

Super Paint is the cheaper alternative to Duration if you don't want to fork over $85 per gallon for your exterior painting project. Super Paint starts at $66 per gallon, which is still a bit pricey, but you can grab this paint at a lower price using contractor account pricing, coupons, or by taking advantage of Sherwin Williams spring time sales events. The sales events usually run at least two to three times per year.

Like Duration, Super Paint holds up well long-term. Winter temperatures in my area drop below zero in the coldest part of the winter with scorching hot temps in the summer. When I did a lot of exterior painting, I painted many homes with this product and never had a call back on any of my projects.

Super Paint isn't as thick as Duration so it brushes on and sprays easier, and even though the consistency of the paint's thinner, the coverage is still excellent. The paint also dries really fast in warmer temps. I recommend this paint instead of Duration if you're painting a surface prone to moisture because it's less likely to trap moisture underneath.


Woodscapes Acrylic Solid Stain

Woodscapes is a stain, not a paint, but it's excellent for cedar siding and fences. At $64 per gallon, Woodscapes is the cheapest out of my three picks, but I can attest to the long-term durability after using it successfully for several years. I've returned to homes I stained years prior to paint indoors and the stain still looked new with very little fading.

I recommend applying two coats instead of one. Depending on the color you're staining over, one coat can do the trick, but colors look more true and solid with two coats of this product. Touch-ups also blend in better without visible streaks. When I used this product to stain cedar siding, I would primarily spray it with my airless sprayer. It sprays better than paint because it isn't as thick.

The main disadvantage of this stain is that the solid finish is only available in flat, so if you want a glossy finish I would use either of the paints I mentioned in one of the gloss finishes. Woodscapes is best for wood siding and fences only, not horizontal surfaces like decks or porch floors.

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.

© 2022 Matt G.