The Best Paints for Exterior Wood: Oils or Acrylic


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 luster 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.

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 color 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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