Painting a garden shed can be time-consuming and may not sound like the ideal Saturday afternoon. But using the best quality shed paint will result in less maintenance in the future.
The typical garden shed is tucked away in a back garden, filled with all sorts of power tools, garden furniture and maybe even a bike. We give very little thought to the condition of the shed once it’s installed, often resulting in weathering taking effect within a few years.
Like most garden buildings, sheds are made from timber, meaning they need to be treated to maintain the structural integrity of the building. The frequently changing British weather does nothing to help garden buildings, especially when we can experience rain, snow and sunshine all within one day. Applying paint as soon as possible is recommended for new sheds, and a maintenance treatment every few years is recommended for existing sheds.
The hidden reasons behind painting a shed
If you’re considering painting your shed, it’s probably for one reason. Adding colour to any garden building can bring it to life and radically change its appearance. With so many paint colours now available, a shed can be personalised and made your own, with everything from modern greys to bright pinks and reds available. But while changing the appearance is a huge benefit, the additional reason to paint your shed is to provide long-lasting protection and weather resistance.
Sheds are made from timber, which is porous and can absorb water. After heavy rainfall, this is visible as the colour of the shed appears a darker shade. The wood with a darker appearance has taken on water, which causes it to expand slightly as it holds the moisture. Within a few days, the water will escape and the shed will return to the same moisture levels as the surrounding air. However, the constant process of the wood expanding and contracting is not ideal for a shed and can lead to movement. This can usually be noticed first around the joints, windows and doors. Too much movement can cause trouble with opening doors smoothly on an old shed. Using paint provides a waterproof layer to help keep the moisture levels inside the wood stable.
Untreated wood can also be vulnerable to dampness and natural decay. Where water has been sitting around without ventilation, dampness can occur which can affect the wood. A wood preserver is designed to protect against fungal growth, decay and wood-boring insects.
Some homeowners like the natural appearance of a shed before it has been painted. Unfortunately, timber often won’t stay that colour for long. Untreated wood fades over time due to the UV rays from the sun. This can often be noticed on untreated fences which turn grey in colour after a few years. Further UV exposure can eventually lead to cracking and the timber drying out. The coloured pigments in shed paint provide protection against UV to keep the wood protected from sun damage.
Best shed paint
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Finding the best shed paint can be a difficult choice with plenty of factors to look out for including coverage, durability and colour choice. Let’s take a look at our favourite options for painting a new shed or updating an existing one.
Best all-rounder: Cuprinol Garden shades (Amazon)
Great selection of colours and long weather proof protection
When it comes to finding the best shed paint, we take into account everything from the colour selection to the price and even the coverage. Cuprinol Garden shades scores highly for us across all of these and is easy to recommend as our favourite all-around shed paint, ideal for most readers.
The paint is water-based, making it easy to work with and avoiding any strong smells when applying. The high level of water resistance can create a seal around garden buildings to create a weather-resistant layer to protect the wood. As well as timber, Garden shades is suitable for all types of exterior wood which will be exposed to the elements. We have also used this paint as the secondary colour on some of our summerhouses and found it very easy to work with.
Cuprinol Garden Shades does not apply very thick and two coats 8 hours apart are recommended for best results. A benefit of this is that the natural grain of the wood can show through, ideal for adding texture to the walls of a painted shed. Coverage is good at 10-12 square metres with a brush on smooth wood. Long-lasting protection is provided for up to six years, allowing for minimal maintenance once the shed has been painted.
One of the highlights of Cuprinol Garden shades is just how many choices of colours are available. We are confident that everyone will be able to find a colour to make their garden shed look great. Many of the colours are bold and cannot be found from other paint manufacturers. The choice includes Muted Clay, Dusky Gem & Country Cream. Our favourite choice is Urban Slate which looks great as a contemporary secondary colour on a garden building. Garden Shades is available extremely widely from homeware stores and online in a variety of sizes including 1L, 2.5L and 5L tubs.
Most versatile: Ronseal Garden Paint (Amazon)
Durable and 24 colours to choose from
Ronseal paints are well known for their quality and durability over a huge range of products. We find the Ronseal garden paint selection to be a great value, offering similar results to Cuprinol for slightly less.
Ronseal Garden Paint is a versatile choice for painting anything in the garden. As well as wooden sheds, it can also be used to cover brick, terracotta and metal. The water-based solution allows for easy paint application with a brush and low VOCs to avoid a strong smell of paint.
The coverage is 12 square metres with a brush and takes four hours before another coat can be applied. A slight downside to this paint is the recommenced 3 coats for best results. This will lead to more paint being used and also more time required for a shed with maximum protection. If the result looks good after 2 coats, you can always apply a maintenance coat instead after a few years.
A huge choice of 24 colours is available, with plenty of options for bright sheds that will stand out in any garden. Some of the highlights include Moroccan Red, Cherry Blossom and Pebble. Availability is good and Ronseal Garden Paints are easy to pick up from most paint suppliers in sizes from 250ml to 2.5L.
Good value: Johnstones Garden colours (Amazon)
Low-cost and fade resistant coating
The Johnstones paint brand has a long history of providing trade quality interior and exterior paints. Garden Colours is a fade resisting paint designed for exterior wood such as sheds and other garden buildings. Once applied, the paint allows the natural texture of the wood to show through, exposing the grain pattern of the wood. We find this paint to apply very easy, making it perfect for those who don’t paint very often.
This paint provides very good value due to only one coat usually being required. Most other paints need at least 2 coats for the recommended level of protection. In some circumstances, a second coat may be needed such as rough or badly cracked timber. The cost of a tub is also lower than other paints, with a 2.5L tub available for £16.
To prepare the shed for painting, a base coat anti-fungal can be applied before and we recommend this step for maintaining the longevity of the garden building. Once prepared, the shed can be painted and a second coat can be applied within 2-4 hours if required. A good selection of over 15 colours is available including Bold Plum, Lagoon Splash and Natural Vanilla. Being a Johnstones product, this paint is widely available and can also be purchased from Amazon and other online retailers.
Wood stain: Barrettine Wood Preserver (Amazon)
Oil-based long protection to retain natural wood grain
While a solid paint can really make the colour of a shed pop, sometimes we want the wood to be exposed and a stain makes a great option instead. Barrettine Wood Preserver is an extremely durable and versatile product for coating a range of exterior garden buildings. As well as adding colour, the building is protected against wood-destroying fungi and wood-boring insects.
A good selection of colours is available including dark down and golden brown. We would avoid the clear option as it will not provide any UV protection. Barrettine Wood Preserver is an oil-based product, making it slightly more difficult to work with, but absorbing further into the wood grain for enhanced protection. For best results, 2-3 coats can be applied with 12 hours drying time in between. This wood stain is widely available from paint retailers and homeware stores.
Premium: Protek Royal Exterior (Amazon)
A premium choice for the best protection & colour
Sometimes, a shed deserves a little extra attention and using a premium paint can provide superior protection for years to come. Protek is a paint brand familiar to those who construct garden buildings and furniture. While not mentioned as often for shed paint, Royal Exterior is widely used for painting garden rooms, summerhouses and log cabins. This hybrid water-based & linseed oil paint is suitable for all exterior softwood & hardwood, and is perfect for the fresh timber of a garden shed. The coating is extremely durable and we found it to apply slightly thicker compared with other shed paints.
This product works well to protect against damp and fungal growth, perfect for keeping a shed protected against long and wet winters. Royal Exterior can protect a garden building for five years before a maintenance coat may be required, allowing for long-lasting and hassle-free protection. At least two coats are recommended and the coverage is 8 square metres with a brush.
The colour selection is great with over twenty colours to choose from including Fresh Lilac, Heritage Blue and Lavender. Protek Royal Exterior is mostly available from specialist paint shops and can be found widely online with quick delivery. 1L, 2.5L and 5L tubs are all available.
How to find the best shed paint
Above you can find our favourite selection of shed paints. With hundreds of different products available, it can often be time-consuming to find the most suitable paint for your shed. Here are some of the features we look out for.
Water vs oil-based paints
The choice of shed paints available has changed radically over the last 10 years. Previously, if a durable paint was required, oil-based was the only option. With newer advances in paint technology, water-based paints are now the most popular.
Oil-based paints use an organic solvent, whereas the solvent in water-based paints is virtually all water. The organic solvent has a high VOC (volatile organic compound) level, meaning it produces strong smells and is also flammable. The paint smell we are used to is from oil-based paints. Whereas water-based paints contain little odour and release fewer VOCs, making them better for our health. Water-based paints also perform better in exterior conditions due to their increased resistance to UV rays. This reduces yellowing or fading from the sun as the shed ages.
As we have discussed, the real reason for painting a shed is to provide protection from weathering and the sun. Not all shed paints provide equal levels of protection and choosing a shed paint with a greater level of protection will reduce maintenance work required in the future. For example, Cuprinol Garden Shades provides 6-year weather protection on wood. We recommend choosing paint with at least 5-years of protection.
On the topic of weather resistance, it’s best to avoid clear paints, even if you like the natural colour of the timber. Clear paints have no pigments to provide UV protection and the timber will turn grey as it ages from the suns UV rays. To maintain the natural colour of the timber, opt for a wood stain of a similar colour as it will provide enhanced protection.
The cost of paint can quickly add up, especially if you have a big shed to paint. A fresh timber garden building will act like a sponge and absorb a lot of the first layer. Subsequent layers won’t require as much paint, but we are often surprised just how much we use on the first coat. How many layers are required will vary with each manufacture to build up the ideal level of protection, but most recommend two.
Shed paint is also labelled with the coverage amount, listed in square metres per litre. Be sure to consider both the coverage area and the number of coats required to get the best value for money. These values can also be used to calculate which size paint tub is required. Shed paint often comes in 1L, 2.5L and 5L tubs. We usually purchase extra to allow for any spillage and to keep some leftover for touching up in the future.
Guide: What is a garden room
How to get the best results with shed paint
While you may want to go right ahead and start painting, starting with a plan will ensure the best results. Fortunately, painting a shed is simple and you don’t need to be a professional to end up with a shed that looks good.
Step 1: Preparing the shed
How long to wait – With a new shed, we recommend painting as soon as possible to ensure the wood is protected and not exposed to any harsh weather conditions. If it’s not possible to paint within the first few weeks, it’s okay to leave up to 2 months before painting. Leaving any longer can create an opportunity for moisture to get in or the UV rays from the sun to begin drying out the wood.
Weather conditions – The best day to paint a garden shed is when the weather conditions are warm and dry. The shed should not be painted if it has been raining a lot in the days before as it will need time for the moisture levels to return to normal and avoid being trapped inside when painting. Cold weather in single digits can also affect paint, causing a longer time to dry and potentially leading to pealing if the paint struggles to take to the wood properly. The ideal time of the year is in the spring when the weather conditions are mild and dry, but a suitable time can be found at other times of the year.
Cleaning – Before painting, the shed must be clean. Rainfall can cause mud droplets to splash up the sides of the shed around the bottom and remain as they dry out on the wood. An older shed may also have cobwebs or other dirt around the building. Painting over any of these could cause the paint to flake off as the dirt drops off in the future. A brush and a hosepipe can be used to go around the shed and clean any affected areas. Be sure to do this a few days in advance for the wood to dry out again.
Surrounding area – As much as we like to believe we are tidy painters, we always end up with bits of paint on the floor. Shed paint can get everywhere and it’s not as easy to remove as an emulsion. Be sure to remove any surrounding garden furniture out of the way and keep a distance between the shed. We use dust sheets to cover the ground surrounding the shed and protect against any spillages.
Step 2: Painting
Optional base coat – Depending on the type of paint being used and the level of protection you are looking to achieve, an optional base coat can be applied before the paint. A product such as Cuprinol Clear Wood Preserver makes an ideal base coat and we have used this on plenty of garden buildings. The wood preserver will provide long-term protection from decay, rot and insect attack. The anti-fungal treatment is great for protecting against damp. As this wood preserver is not waterproof, it’s ideal for applying paint on top.
Mix the paint – If the paint has been left standing for a long time, the pigments can sometimes sink to the bottom. This can result in a slightly lighter colour on the top and a darker colour as you get further down the tub. Begin by mixing the paint thoroughly to ensure the colour is evenly distributed inside of the tub.
Start from the top – We find it easiest to apply shed paint from the top and work downwards, following the panels of the tongue & groove wood. This method ensures we cover everywhere evenly and also avoids any paint running down the wood. A large paintbrush is an ideal tool and ‘fence paint brushes’ are our favourite choice for quick and efficient painting.
Apply another coat – Most shed paints require two coats. We need to let the first coat dry completely before applying any further coats. 24 hours should usually be given to allow the paint to dry into the wood. During the winter it may take slightly longer.
Maintenance – After painting a shed, it shouldn’t require any maintenance for at least a few years and ideally longer. Keeping some extra paint to touch up any mark or scuffs from lifting equipment out is a good idea. We inspect our shed once a year to make sure there’s no damage to the building and the paintwork is still in good condition. A sign your shed needs painting again is when the water no longer beads on the surface.
Fence paint – Despite seeming like a low-cost option, it can often be a false economy and we would avoid using fence paint on a garden building. If you have ever used fence paint before you will know that they can be watery and often need applying each year. A fence paint simply won’t have the durability to last more than a few years on a shed. If protecting your investment and the longevity of the shed is important, stick with a product specifically designed for that.
Maximum durability – One step we like to take with garden buildings such as log cabins and summerhouses to improve the weatherproofing is to apply a clear topcoat above the paint. This is not really necessary for a shed and maybe over the top, but will provide the very best protection for the timber. Products such as Protek Royal Exterior have a clear version available which can be painted over the top of a coloured paint once it has dried. Remember to not use just a clear coat alone as the pigments in coloured paint provide protection from the sun.
Positioning – The positioning of a shed in your garden is important for the ongoing maintenance of the building. A common mistake is to position the shed up against a fence or wall with no access. This will not allow for maintenance such as painting after a few years and could also cause dampness to develop if the air can not circulate properly. We recommend leaving a gap that allows access all of the way around the shed.
Although it may not sound like it, painting a shed can be an exciting task and lead to fantastic results. Adding some colour to your shed with the best shed paint can dramatically change the appearance of your garden and provide a fresh new look.
A paint goes much further than the appearance of the shed and provides long-lasting and durable protection to the wood. Untreated timber is exposed to the extremes of the British weather throughout the year and must be protected to ensure a long lifespan. Our favourite shed paints including those from Cuprinol & Ronseal which look great and provide long-lasting protection.
For any further advice looking after your garden building, check out our further posts on wood maintenance and protection.