an old wooden fence with weathered siding wearing off the wood

Best Stain for an Old Wood Fence

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Matt Stone

Staining an old, weathered fence comes with unique challenges. Choosing the right stain will help the process go smoother and the end result look better.

With an older fence the boards will not be in pristine condition like a new fence. The wood may be weathered and worn. The right stain for the job will be able to cover up any imperfections in the wood, and seal it up so it does not sustain more damage.

In my painting company, we have restored many older fences so that they look like new. I have found that the choice of stain is important in getting the look you are going for. In this article, I would like to recommend the best stains for old wooden fences.

Our Top Picks

Best Overall

Wood Defender


Best Water-Based


Solid Color

Best Color Options



What Type of Stain is Best For Old Wood Fences

Wood rarely weathers evenly. Some sections of your fence will likely receive more sunlight than others. The UV rays from this sunlight will break down the more exposed areas. Areas that are more shaded will be protected from the sun but will also not dry out as fast after rain. This means they are in more danger of mold or mildew growth.

Because different areas of your fence are exposed to the elements to different degrees, they will not all be weathered by the same amount. 


The transparency of the stain will have a large effect on the final look of your project. With older fences, I usually recommend using a semi-transparent or semi-solid stain. These stains use stronger pigments that will be able to cover up more of the imperfections or variations in the wood.

This is especially true if some pickets have been replaced in the past. Since these boards will be newer than the surrounding ones, they will probably not be the same color or absorb the stain the same way. Using a less transparent stain will help mask these differences.


Oil-based wood stains are usually designed to fully penetrate into the wood. This usually isn’t as much of a problem with older fences. As wood ages, the pores open up. This allows it to absorb more stain than when it was new. This means you should plan on using more stain on an old fence than a new one.

This could create some problems for film-forming stains. These stains are meant to mostly soak into the wood but leave a thin layer on the surface. On older wood with very open pores, it may be difficult to get enough stain on the wood to leave a good film. Some areas may appear shiner than others which never looks good.

Best Overall: Wood Defender Semi-Transparent

Wood Defender semi-transparent stain is a great choice for old wood fences because it comes with strong semi-transparent pigments that cover up imperfections in weathered boards. It is also very easy to apply.

Best Water-Based: Cabot Solid

Cabot Solid color stain is a water based stain for exterior wood. It will cover the fence like paint which gives you a uniform color, even on old weathered wood. Since it is water-based it will be easy to clean up.

Best Color Options: Olympic Elite

Olympic Elite exterior stain is another oil-based option for your older fence. It can be tinted with an amazing variety of color options.

It is not as easy to apply as Wood Defender mentioned above but if color choices are what you want, this stain is for you.

For Fences in Good Condition: Ready Seal

If your fence is older but still in great condition Ready Seal is a good option for you. This stain has transparent colors that allow more of the wood grain to show through.

It will highlight the beautiful, well-preserved wood on your fence.

Preparing an Old Wood Fence

Preparing an old wood fence before the staining begins is an important step to make sure you get the results you want. The quality of the stain will not make up for poor preparation.

Repairing the Wood

We don’t recommend applying stain to any boards that are rotten or split. The stain will not fix any of the damage that is already there and the board will need to be replaced soon anyway. By fixing the board before you stain, you have a better chance of getting the colors to match than if you replace the picket and stain it later.

Cleaning the Wood

Your fence should be clean before you apply a stain. Older fences collect dirt, mildew and other contaminants over time. If these are not removed before you stain, they can interfere with the stain. It may not soak in evenly and the color may not look consistent on your entire fence.

The method you use to clean it will depend on how dirty it is and what you are trying to clean off. Some methods for cleaning a fence include:

  • Brushing – Good for fences that are only lightly dirty
  • Rinsing – A little detergent and spray from the hose will clean most dirt off of a fence.
  • Power Washing – This will do a more thorough job of cleaning. Be careful not to damage the boards.
  • Bleach Washing: This is the best way to remove gray stains from the surface of the fence before staining.

Make Sure it is Dry

Wood needs to be dry for the fence stain to soak in. The best way to make sure your wood is dry is to use a moisture meter. Most stain companies will recommend the wood be under 12-15% moisture content before you apply the stain.


Choosing the best stain for old wood fences does not have to be difficult if you take the above factors into consideration.

How Much Stain Do You Need?

Want to know how much stain to buy for your next fence stain project?

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Author: Matt Stone
Matt has worked as a professional painter for over 10 years. This includes much experience with all types of wood stains. He loves to write about wood stains to help others make good choices to protect their homes and make them beautiful.