Cedar stained fence

Should I Stain Both Sides of my Fence?

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Matt Stone

There are several reasons why you may want to stain only one side of your fence. Staining only one side can reduce the cost of staining. Also, the other side of the fence may be in a neighbor’s yard you cannot access. Either way, if at all possible, we recommend staining both sides of your fence.

For the best protection, a fence should be stained on both sides.

To understand why keep reading to learn more about how stain protects your fence.

Staining Both Sides Protects Your Fence

picture showing the back side of a fence with metal poles that is stained.

Fence stain offers protection against wood’s number one environmental threat: moisture. When wood is wet, fungi can grow inside the wood and eat the wood fibers. This process is what causes rotting.

When you stain only one side of a fence you offer protection to only that one side. The other side of the fence will still be in danger of rotting. Rot will damage the entire fence; not just the side that remains unstained. 

This means that staining only one side of your fence will not prolong the life of the fence nearly as much as having both sides stained.

For some, staining a fence is more about appearance than protection. If you are only concerned with the appearance of the fence you can see, staining one side is an option for you.

Stain Can Bleed Through to the Back Side

Fence stain bleeding through to to the other side of the fence

If you are using an oil-based penetrating stain the stain can penetrate all the way through the fence. This is especially true around all the knot holes on the fence. This will make the unstained side look spotted.

Reasons For Staining Only One Side

Your circumstances may require you to only stain one side. As mentioned before, only staining one side will dramatically lower the cost of staining your fence. Many fence stain contractors will charge by the square foot for their work. Only staining one side will cut the square footage and therefore the costs in half.

If your budget only allows for you to stain one side of the fence it is still better than having no stain at all. The stain will keep the color looking good on your side of the fence and will offer some protection for the wood.

In some instances, you may not be able to access the backside of a fence. Perhaps you don’t have permission to go on the property on the other side of the fence. In this case, the best option is to stain the areas you can. Again, some stain is better than none.

Don’t Forget to Stain the Top

I often see fences where the tops of the pickets are not stained. Just because you cannot see the tops of the pickets does not mean that they should not be protected as well.

In fact, the tops of pickets have what is called end grain. This means that the ends of the wood fibers are exposed where the wood was cut. End grain is even more susceptible to damage than the rest of the board.

That is why I always recommend staining the tops of fence pickets.


The pros of staining both sides of a fence:

  • Superior protection
  • Entire fence will look great
  • No issues with stain bleeding through

Now that you are ready to stain your fence, read our fence staining guide.

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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.