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Can You Paint Sleepers?

If you have just put in some nice new sleepers in your garden then you will no doubt want to protect them and extend their lifespan. but what is the best way to do this? Can you just paint sleepers? Let’s have a look and find out.

Yes, you can paint sleepers. Fence paint or even masonry paint can work well. The answer gets more complicated though when using the sleepers for growing plants.

Most wood paints designed for outside use will work just fine on sleepers. So fence paint, garden paint and even masonry paint can be used with no problems. If you are wondering why I included masonry paint here then check out my can you use masonry paint on wood article.

Growing Plants and Veg

If you are using your sleepers for growing plants or fruit and veg then suddenly your options become a lot more limited. You need to be aware that the chemicals from whatever paint you use will leech into the soil

This can harm the plants but it can also cause no problems at all, it depends on the paint and what nasties it contains. If you are just growing flowers then you could take the risk and just see what grows well and what doesn’t.

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If you are growing fruit and veg for consumption then in my opinion you need to be a lot more careful. The plants will absorb the chemicals that leech from the paint, so in the end, you will ingest them.

Herbicides and Fungicides

Before we even get into potential health impacts of this, many plants will simply not grow when near these paints to begin with. That is because many exterior paints contain herbicides and fungicides. Products specially designed to kill plant growth.

From the paint manufacturers perspective, this makes a lot of sense. masonry paint for example contains these killers. This stops the formation of green algae and other growth on your walls. It works well in its intended purpose, but as soon as you start using it for other purposes you can run into issues.

Obviously having what is essentially weed killers leech into your veg beds is not going to end well.


Paints contain many different synthetic materials, for all sorts of different uses. I would not want these anywhere near anything I was planning on eating, but most will be officially at least “safe” so the choice is up to you.

What I would say is that you really have no clue what you are getting into here. And for the sake of extending the life of your sleepers by roughly 5-10 years is it worth it. For me at least that is a big fat no, and every time I have built a raised bed out of sleepers I have left it natural and just accepted that it will rot quicker

Related Reading

If you are thinking of building with sleepers then you might find these posts interesting.