How To Stain A Fence

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Matt Stone

Learning how to stain a fence is a great way to make your wood fence look great and last longer. A fence stain will protect your fence from rotting and will keep it looking new instead of turning an unattractive gray color. Plus, you can save a bundle over hiring a fence staining company. 

At first, learning how to stain a fence may seem intimidating, but with the right products and techniques, it is a very DIY-friendly project.

As a professional fence stainer, I have tried many different ways to apply stain to a fence, and have discovered some really helpful tips to make the process go much smoother. For the best results, there are a few key things to keep in mind when staining a fence. I want to share these tips and techniques with you.

Tools and Materials for Staining a Fence

You will need a way to apply the stain to the fence while keeping the stain off of everything else (including you). There are a few options available for applying stain to a fence. You could use a paint roller and brush, or you can use a sprayer. The sprayer can be a pump sprayer like you would use in your garden or an actual paint sprayer. 

There are pros and cons to each method of applying the stain but great results can be achieved no matter how you get the stain on the fence.

Brush and Roller

  • Easy to Use
  • Takes much longer to stain

Sprayer

  • Get the job done much faster
  • Easier to get overspray

Choosing a Fence Stain for Your Fence

a lineup of oil-based fence stains.

Choosing the best fence stain is also an important step. I recommend oil-based penetrating stains for their longevity and ease of maintenance. A Semi-transparent color will last longer but a transparent color will show more of the beauty of the wood. Either one will help your wooden fence look great.

For beginners, I recommend using a stain that is very forgiving and easy to apply. One great option is Ready Seal stain, which is sold at Home Depot. This stain makes it easy to get a very even color on your fence. 

Ready Seal also requires fewer steps to apply so the process will go a little faster. I will mention which steps you can skip below if using this stain.

*Note: Ready Seal can soak through to the other side of the fence. Care should be taken if you are only staining one side.

Other Materials Needed to Stain a Fence

Before you get started with your staining project, it’s important to gather all the necessary tools and materials. Here’s what you’ll need:

  1. Pressure Washer/Wood Cleaner: You’ll need this to clean your fence before staining if the wood is older or dirty. A mild outdoor cleaner can be helpful as well.
  2. Sandpaper or a Power Sander: This will be necessary to smooth out rough patches before staining.
  3. Painter’s Tape, Drop Cloths, or Plastic: To protect surrounding areas and objects from stain splatter.
  4. Gloves and Safety Glasses: Stains can contain chemicals that can be harmful if they come into contact with your skin or eyes, so be sure to protect yourself.
  5. A Stir Stick: Stains can separate over time, so you’ll need something to stir it before application.
  6. Rags or Cloths: For cleaning up any drips or spills and for wiping off excess stain.
  7. Solvent: For water-based stains, you can clean up your tools and any overspray with water. Oil-based stains should be cleaned with mineral spirits.

Now that you’ve got your tools and materials sorted, we can move on to the preparation stage. A well-prepared fence will ensure the stain applies evenly and lasts longer, so don’t be tempted to skip this crucial step. Let’s get to it!

Preparing Your Fence For Stain

Power washing a fence to prepare it for staining

If your fence is new and did not get dirty during or after it was installed you should not have to clean it prior to staining. If your fence is dirty then cleaning it before you stain will help you get an even color.

If your fence is only slightly dirty, you can clean it with a garden hose sprayer. If it is more soiled you may need to use an outdoor cleaner or a pressure washer. For more in-depth information see our article on how to clean a wood fence.

Once the fence is clean you will need to wait for it to dry. If you try to stain a wet fence the stain will sit on the surface instead of penetrating into the wood. This will cause it to fade really quickly and you will have to stain it again in just a few months. 

You can test your fence with a moisture meter, or allow 48 hours after any rain so the fence will be completely dry. If you are waiting for your fence to dry you can use this time to gather any remaining materials you will need.

Protect Your Surroundings While Staining Your Fence

Learning how to stain a fence without getting stain on your surroundings is critical.

First and foremost, consider the ground directly below your fence. Stain drips can be stubborn and may leave lasting marks on your patio, deck, or grass. To prevent this, lay down a sturdy drop cloth that covers a generous area around the fence. Old bed sheets can also serve the purpose, but make sure they are thick enough or layered to avoid seeping through onto the ground.

Bed sheets also make a great covering for nearby plants or flowers. Plastic will work as a barrier but it traps heat. Leaving it on the plants in direct sunlight for too long can cause damage to the plant. Cloth on the other hand will breathe and not get nearly as hot.

Before you begin, take a moment to consider what’s on the other side of your fence. If you share a boundary with a neighbor, it’s not just courteous but also essential to ensure their property is safeguarded from your staining project. Use a combination of drop cloths, tarps, or plastic sheeting to protect any shared hardscapes or plants. Communication is key in this process – let your neighbor know your plans and ensure you’ve done your best to mitigate any possible overspray that could drift into their yard.

Once your fence and its surroundings are ready to go we can begin staining the fence!

How to Stain a Fence

a fence that has just been stained beautifully showing how important it is to learn how to stain a fence.

Once your work area is protected you are ready to apply the stain to the fence. After mixing the stain well, use the roller or sprayer to apply a generous, even coat of stain. Most oil-based stains will require only one coat when applied this way.

Three Keys For Applying Fence Stain

  1. Make Sure the Wood is Dry
    As mentioned above, a fence needs to be completely dry in order for the stain to penetrate the wood.
  2. Stir the Stain Very Well
    When fence stain sits on a shelf the pigments will settle to the bottom. These pigments are what give stain its color. Not mixing the stain will cause the stain to be the wrong color, plus you won’t get the protection from UV rays the pigments offer.
  3. Apply Enough Stain
    You want the wood to be saturated with stain. The more stain the wood absorbs, the better protected it will be. You will know you are doing it right if the stain just starts to run off the board instead of soaking in immediately. 

Tips For How to Stain a Fence

  • Use a brush to get into small areas between boards and stain boards that sit next to your house or other structures.
  • Take your time to make sure you are covering every board as you go.
  • Every time you move on to the next area to stain, check the previous area to make sure there are no drips that should be cleaned right away.

Additional Steps To Stain Your Fence

If you choose to use Ready Seal stain or a similar product these two following steps will not be necessary. Many other fence stains will require them in order to get an even color on your fence. Otherwise, some spots can be darker or lighter than others.

Keep a Wet Edge When You Are Staining

Keeping a wet edge means that you don’t allow the stain to dry before you finish staining that section of fence. For example, if you start staining the section of fence on one side of your yard, you should keep staining until you reach the next corner before taking a break.

If you stop staining in the middle of a section of the fence the stain will dry. When you resume staining you will likely overlap the new stain onto what has already dried. The line where two old and new stains overlap will be darker than the stain on either side. Effectively, this one strip of fence will have two coats while everything else has one. This line is called a lap mark.

Back Brush The Fence As You Stain

This step will be required if you are using a sprayer to apply the stain. After you stain a few feet of fence, run a paint roller over that section. This will help push the stain into the wood grain, helping it penetrate. It will also even out the coat of stain if there are areas where it was applied heavier than others. This will result in a longer-lasting and more even stain job.

Readyseal and similar products do not require back brushing and will not form lap marks. If you are unsure about your particular stain brand, read the directions on the can. If you still are not sure it is always best to be safe and take these extra steps.

Cleaning Up Fence Stain When You’re Done

a wooden fence with a brown fence stain

Learning how to stain a fence includes learning to clean up fence stain. After you are finished staining, it is important to clean your tools and equipment right away. Stain is easier to clean when it is fresh. If you wait for even a day or two to clean something it will be much more difficult to remove the stain.

Water-based stains can be cleaned with only water. This makes the cleanup process easy. Make sure to wash out a sprayer or brushes thoroughly.

Oil-based stains will require a solvent to clean. The most common options are mineral spirits or paint thinner. Use one of these solvents to flush your sprayer clean or to wash stain out of brushes and rollers.

While it is far better to keep stain from getting on concrete or landscaping to begin with, sometimes accidents happen. The best thing to do if stain gets on something it shouldn’t is to immediately wash it off with the appropriate solvent (water for water-based stains and mineral spirits for oil-based stains).

Stain will be easiest to clean when it is still wet. After it has dried it may require scrubbing or harsher stripping chemicals to remove.

Summary

Learning how to stain a fence is simple when you follow the steps the pros use.

  1. Gather all the necessary tools and materials to stain a fence.
  2. Make sure to have your safety supplies ready.
  3. Clean your fence if necessary.
  4. Cover and protect all surrounding areas.
  5. Apply a thick coat of stain to the fence wood.
    (Optional: Back brush the stain if your stain requires it).
  6. Clean up all tools and surroundings right away.

How to Stain a Fence Staining FAQ

Is it really necessary to stain my fence?

We recommend every wooden fence should be stained to preserve it from the elements. Read more about the pros and cons of staining a fence.

When is the best time to stain a fence?

You should aim to stain your fence when the weather is nice and there is no rain in the forecast. Waiting a few weeks after the fence is installed is also a great idea. Find out why in our article about when to stain a fence.

Is it ever too late to stain a fence?

No, it’s never too late to stain a fence as long as the wood is in good condition. If your fence is old but still structurally sound, you can certainly stain it to improve its appearance and extend its lifespan. Before staining, you’ll need to thoroughly clean the fence, repair any damaged areas, and possibly sand the wood to ensure the stain absorbs properly. However, if the fence is significantly deteriorated, with widespread rot or damage, replacement might be a better option.

Is It Better to Spray or Roll Stain on a Fence?

Whether it’s better to spray or roll stain on a fence depends on a few factors. Spraying can be quicker and more efficient, especially for large fences or those with intricate designs. It can also provide an even coat. However, overspray can be a concern, and you’ll need to take extra precautions to protect surrounding areas. This makes staining a fence with a pump sprayer more of a challenge.
Rolling, on the other hand, might be more controlled and is often preferred for smaller fences or those near plants, buildings, or other objects you don’t want to accidentally stain. It is easier so learning how to stain a fence with a roller is easier.

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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.

5 thoughts on “How To Stain A Fence”

  1. We just installed two fences. One neighbor wanted cedar. The other pine. Is there a difference on how to stain these? Thanks for the general advice. I’m dangerous with a sprayer in my hand, so we’ll go the old fashioned way of brush and roller. It’s June. We’ll be back in the area in October. Does that timing work?? Our fences aren’t that long.

    Reply
    • Hey Tony, The process for staining pine and cedar fences is basically the same. The cedar fence will probably take a little more stain than the pine because it tends to be more absorbent. It will also likely come out a little darker in color for the same reason. If uniformity of color between the two fences is critical you may need to do some testing on scrap boards to see how they take the stain. You should be fine waiting till October to stain the fences. You will notice a bit of color change in the wood but not enough to really affect the final color of the stain. Just make sure to mention that they shouldn’t let their sprinklers hit the fence in the meantime or you’ll have some water staining to deal with.

      Reply
  2. I used Ready Seal on my new fence and I had bleed through on the neighbors side that did not want a stain fence. I called Ready Seal to see how to get it off. They said I could have avoided this by wetting neighbors side. It would have been nice for Ready Seal to have put that on the can. I have a ruined fence and ruined relationship with my neighbors. I have one coat on now and don’t know what to do from here. To maintane Ready Seal will require asking permission from my neighbors to wet their fence. I may have to call a contractor to strip it off and apply something else that I don’t have to ask neighbors for permission. Fence cost 10K and wish I would have done nothing to it.

    Reply
    • Hey Ruth, I’m sorry you have had this experience with your neighbor. Ready Seal is really good at penetrating wood which means it can penetrate completely through to the other side. I’m glad you mentioned this so I can add a disclaimer when I am talking about the product. We really do recommend every fence get stained on both sides because that will offer the best protection for the wood. That being said, I understand that neighbors have a say in what happens on their side of the fence.

      Unfortunately, I am unaware of a way to completely remove the product from their side. I’m not sure if you meant you will have a contractor come to strip it completely off or just try to strip it on their side. You could try to clean the other side of the fence where it bled through with mineral spirits and see if that lightens the color, unless you feel like doing this would not be possible with the neighbors.

      As far as wetting the fence goes, I am a little dubious about trying this method. Water can also penetrate through to the other side of the fence. If you wet the neighbor’s side before staining there will likely be wet spots on your side that won’t take the stain like they should.

      Reply
  3. Matt, Ready Seal was the one that told me to use paint stripper on the neighbors bleed through to remove it. Also to prevent bleed through to mist the other side of fence before applying Ready Seal to my unfinished side. They told me that the water would prevent the stain from bleeding. I have 2 sides of my fence with Ready Seal on it with bleed through from those neighbors side and the other neighbor just painted valspar stain and seal on his side. I don’t know how to finish my fence. The paint store told me to mist the side with the valspar on it and apply a very light coat of ready seal to my side to finish painting my side. In a year when it all fades on my side pressure wash all the Ready Seal off. I can’t put stripper on my fence to remove the Ready Seal because I would ruin my neighbors side that has just been painted with Valspar. Paint store said Ready Seal was only met for people that live on corner lots. Not for people like me that just want color on their side. I read that oil is better and last longer but it is not clear that it is not to be used unless you do both side and have all neighbors applying the same. Ready Seal said they don’t put on the can about misting the back side because “they don’t have enought room on the label”. I don’t know what to believe. I don’t know what to do at this point. I have been doing my own painting for 50 yrs and this is the first issue I have ever had. My fence cost 10k and I am pretty upset. I would have been better off just letting the fence alone to age.

    Reply

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