a cedar fence that has been stained with wood stain

When is the Best Time to Stain a Fence?

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Matt Stone

If you have a wood fence you may wonder when is the best time to stain it. While there are many variables discussed below, the best time to stain a fence in most areas is late spring or early fall. Each area of the country will have its own climate conditions that will affect this so keep reading to learn more.

Over eight years of professional fence staining have taught me that there are better times of year to stain a fence than others in my area. Even though some times are better than others, we have found products and techniques that allow us to stain almost year-round. 

In this article, we will cover:

  • How weather affects the best time to stain a fence
  • How to stain in cold weather
  • Should you stain a fence as soon as it is installed?

How Weather Affects the Best Time to Stain a Fence

Weather can have a large impact on fence stains. Very cold or rainy days can stop your staining project in its tracks. Knowing your local climate and taking the likely weather scenario into account will help you pick the best time of year to stain your fence.

Cold Temperatures 

a picture of a wood fence in the snow showing what isn't the best time to stain a fence

Most fence stains will require a minimum temperature for a successful application. It is always best to look at the manufacturer’s recommendations for acceptable temperatures. Often, this information will be printed on the back of the stain can. Below are some typical minimum temperature recommendations from common stain brands.

  • Cabot Semi-transparent Stain – 50°
  • Olympic Elite Stain – 35°
  • Behr Premium Solid Stain – 35°

If the stain is applied when temperatures are too cold it will likely not dry properly. This will cause the stain to flake or fade too quickly and it will have to be applied again much sooner. If you live in an area with long winters you may need to wait until late spring or even summer to apply stain.

Direct Sun

While most people will worry about temperatures being too cold to stain, direct hot sun is also a problem. The intense summer sun can warm up the surface of the wood above the stain’s maximum application temperature. 

Staining at high temperatures can cause the stain to dry before it has time to soak into the wood. Fence stain that doesn’t soak in will likely peel off and flake more quickly than a stain that is allowed to properly penetrate the wood. In hot climates summer may not be a good time to stain a fence because of this.

How To Stain When It Is Cold

Some brands are not affected by temperature and can be applied in cold or warm weather. The manufacturers will warranty these stains even if they were applied in extreme temperatures. These brands include:

  • Ready Seal
  • Stain and Seal Experts

By choosing a stain brand that is not affected by the cold, you can extend the staining season dramatically.

Rain

One of the big keys to proper wood staining is to make sure the wood is dry. Moisture in the wood will keep stains from penetrating the wood fibers. A stain that doesn’t penetrate sits on the surface instead of becoming part of the wood. This can cause it to fade or flake off very quickly meaning you will have to spend more money staining it a second time.

Picture of a moisture meter measuring the moisture content of a fence
A moisture meter can measure the exact moisture content of wood.

When it rains your fence will absorb moisture and become saturated. It can often take one to three days for the wood to dry out. In areas that have rainy seasons, it may be difficult to find a 48+ hour stretch without any rain. This would rule out doing any fence staining in those seasons.

The Best Time to Stain a New Fence

Picture of a new cedar fence that is ready to be stained.

You may wonder whether you should stain a new fence right away or wait. I recommend staining a new fence between one and three months from the time it is installed. 

New wood may still have moisture in it that needs to dry out. This moisture can be left over from when the tree was cut. Giving the wood a few weeks to dry will allow this excess moisture to leave the wood. Also, allowing the wood to age for several weeks will allow some of the pores to open up so the wood can absorb more stain. This will result in a longer-lasting stain job.

Beyond three months, the wood will begin to show signs of graying. This may not be an issue if you will be using a solid stain. If you are using a transparent stain in a lighter color the gray may cause the final color of the fence to be darker than you would like.

Even if a fence has turned gray, it can be restored to look new again before being stained. This usually involves chemically or physically removing the gray from the fence. While this is possible, it can cause slight damage to the wood surface. For this reason, I recommend staining a wood fence before it starts turning gray.

Planning the Best Time for Your Fence Stain

Now that you know the common factors that result in a quality, long-lasting fence stain you can plan accordingly.

  • Know your temperature extremes whether hot or cold. If you are planning a new fence installation, make sure that you will likely be able to stain in the weeks after it is put up. If not, you may consider scheduling the installation at a better time. 
  • Be sure your newly installed fence has had time to “cure”
  • Check the moisture content of the wood before you apply stain
  • Choose a time when there will be clear weather for an adequate amount of time to ensure the stain can be applied and will have time to dry.

Armed with this knowledge you can stain your fence at the very best time.

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Author: Matt Stone
Matt has been staining fences professionally for over 8 years.

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