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How to Stain a Fence: the Right Way

Is your wood fence looking dull and drab, or is the old stain beginning to fade? It might be time for a fresh coat of stain.

Is your fence in need of a stain job, but you don’t want to hire a professional? You might not know how to stain a fence, but that shouldn’t stop you. It’s an easy project!

A fresh coat of stain can prolong the life of your fence and protect it from the elements. The before and after appearance says it all.

I’ll show you how to give your privacy fence a fresh coat of stain the DIY way with a finish worthy of the pros.

Key Takeaways

  • Choose the right stain for your fence: Softwoods like pine or cedar require a pre-stain conditioner and water-based stain, while hardwoods like Ipe or Batu need an oil-based stain.
  • Prep the wood: Remove old stain with a chemical stripper and sand the surface, or lightly sand an unfinished fence to open up the pores.
  • Clean the fence: Use a pressure washer or high-pressure spray nozzle to remove dirt, debris, and old varnish from the fence’s surface.
  • Apply the stain: Use a natural-bristle brush, roller, or paint sprayer to apply the stain evenly, ensuring all areas are covered and following the wood grain.

What Is the Best Stain for Fences?

Knowing how to stain a wood fence also means knowing what products to use in the process. Staining a fence is likely to yield better results if you consider the type of wood your fence is made from. This will help you find the best stain to protect it from the elements.

Softwood Fences

The penetration of stain into softwoods (like pine or cedar) will be simpler. However, in this case, you will need a pre-stain conditioner to avoid blotchy results.

I’d recommend a trusted brand like this Minwax pre-stain conditioner. Softwoods are usually highly absorbent, so a water-based fence stain is better.

Hardwood Fences

An oil-based stain may be preferable if you have a hardwood fence because it will penetrate more deeply into the wood. Ipe or Batu are hardwood varieties that could benefit from oil-based stains such as Ready Seal.

How to Stain a Fence

Staining a fence is usually done using a sprayer, a roller, or a brush. For the most part, the process is similar regardless of the tool chosen. First, you’ll need to make sure you have everything you need for the job.

What You’ll Need

  • Paint sprayer.
  • Roller.
  • Stiff-bristle paintbrush.
  • Natural-bristle paintbrush.
  • Sandpaper.
  • Wood stain stripper.
  • Paint roller cover.
  • Paint pan.
  • Drop cloth.
  • Sanding block.
  • Painter’s tape.
  • Rubber gloves.
  • Bucket.
  • Bleach.
  • Power washer.
  • Wood sealant.
  • Garden hose.
  • Oil-based wood stain.

1. Check the Weather

It’s crucial to check the weather before committing to an outdoor paint job. Check the forecast and pick a day with temperatures between 50- and 80-degrees Fahrenheit. Humidity should be low to moderate, with zero chance of rain for the upcoming 24 hours.

2. Prep the Wood

This step will depend on the current condition of the fence.

For a Previously Stained Fence

  • The best way to remove old stain is to apply a chemical stripper or wood stain stripper.
  • Use a stiff brush to remove the old finish as much as you can.
  • Sand the surface with a medium-grit sandpaper.

For an Unfinished Fence

Even though it’s not stained, it’s good to give it a light sanding to open the pores up. Over time, residue can build up, and sanding ensures that the stain will adhere.

3. Clean the Fence

A man is cleaning wooden fence with electric power washer

You can use a pressure washer or attach a high-pressure spray nozzle to your garden hose for this step. The goal is to remove dirt and debris from the fence’s surface. This will also help remove any of the remaining old varnish.

Important To Remember

If you’re using a pressure washer, operate it at a maximum of 2,000 psi to prevent a weathered look.

4. Treat the Mold

This step is only applicable if you notice any mildew or mold deposits on the fence. Make a solution by diluting bleach in a bucket with water to get rid of it.

Put on your rubber gloves, put the mixture in a spray bottle, and apply it on the fence. After a few minutes, rinse the fence using the high-pressure washer. Let the wood dry completely before proceeding.

5. Fix the Imperfections

If you notice any imperfections on the surface of the fence, apply wood filler. If the damage is beyond repair, you are going to have to replace the broken slats completely.

6. Prep the Area

Apply painter’s tape to any surrounding areas that you don’t want to get wood stain on. You might consider placing some drop cloth on the ground and on the plants nearby to protect them.

7. Apply the Stain

With a Brush or Roller

Painter with paintbrush painting wooden surface for protection wood from external influences

A natural-bristle brush is the best tool for allowing the oil-based wood stain to penetrate a wooden fence. Dip the brush into the stain and apply it on the fence following the grain of the wood.

If applying the stain with a roller, a medium nap cover is best. Saturate the nap with stain and apply it on the fence in two to three-foot sections at once.

Go back and make sure all areas are properly covered. You will likely need to go back with a wide paintbrush to add stain to all the nooks and crannies that can’t be reached using a roller.

With a Sprayer

When using a paint sprayer, the preparation process is similar to using a roller. The main difference is that you have to stand a few feet away from the fence when you get to the spraying part.

Hold the sprayer six to eight inches from the surface. Start spraying back and forth in even sweeps, making sure you get into all the nooks and crannies.

I recommend using a reliable sprayer like this Hitachi Paint Sprayer.

Safety Gear

When using tools like this, always wear protective goggles and don a respirator. You don’t want to inhale any overspray or risk getting it in your eyes.

8. Apply the Sealer

Stain and seal make a good pair. After all the additional stain coats are dry, it’s time to finish the job by adding some sealer. Always wait 24 to 48 hours after the final coat of stain before sealing.

It’s important to note that quality stain is usually enough to protect your fence. However, a coat of sealant can prolong this durability even further.

You need one coat of weatherproof sealant which can be applied using a roller, a brush, or a sprayer. Turn to a wide brush if you want to get the sealant in all the nooks and crannies.

Tips For Staining Wood Fences

Want your fences to look like a pro has stained them? Here are some tips that can help:

  • Cleaning the fence before staining it is crucial to get the best possible result.
  • Use high-quality fence stain and ensure that it’s the right one for the type of wood in question.
  • Allow the stain to properly dry before applying a new coat or moving to the next step.
  • Always use a wide brush to reapply stain to cover all the crevices.
  • Be prepared to wipe any unwanted stains using a drip cloth.

Staining vs. Painting a Wood Fence

As time passes, an unfinished wood fence may bend, twist, split or get moldy due to the moisture content in the wood.

Consider painting or staining your fence to help keep it protected from the elements. If you don’t want to use wood fencing, you might want to think about other less expensive options.

Ease of Application

Stain is easier to apply than paint. Most stains may be applied quickly and easily without a sprayer or with a portable garden pump sprayer. You can also spray paint your fence, but this requires specialized equipment and training.

To reapply paint to a painted fence, more preparation work is required. You have to sand the fence, peel any flaking paint and remove it before applying a new coat of paint.

Stain can be a little more forgiving when it comes to application because your fence will absorb the stain rather than having it sit on the surface. Because of this, it will not be as noticeable as paint when there are drips or runs.


When it comes down to cost, things tend to get tricky. Paint is cheaper, but you’ll need more of it and a primer if you choose this option.

Although stain is more expensive than paint, you will use less of it, and it will stay longer than paint if you use it properly. When you factor in how much you’ll need and how long each will last, the cost of both goods is roughly the same.


You have to reapply stain every three years, while paint needs to be redone every five to six years. The conditions that your fence must resist, such as hard winters or a lot of rain, may necessitate more frequent inspections.

In comparison to paint, stain exhibits signs of wear in a more pleasing manner. Some stained portions may fade with time, but paint has a tendency to crack and peel as the time for reapplication approaches.

How Many Gallons of Stain Do I Need for a Fence?

The amount of stain needed will depend on the size of the fence, the condition of the wood, and how porous it is. One gallon of stain should be sufficient for a fence of up to 175 square feet.

For fences up to 550 square feet, you’ll need to buy two gallons of stain. Fences larger than 700 square feet will require three or four gallons.

How Long Does It Take to Stain a Fence?

Staining a fence the DIY way usually takes a weekend. But it really depends on the size of your fence, the type of wood and the condition it’s in, and the weather. Here are some factors to keep in mind:

  • The best time to stain is when the weather is dry and clear, so you’ll want to wait for at least 12 hours between each layer.
  • The dry time is extended in areas with high levels of humidity as a result.
  • When humidity is less than 30 percent, the drying time between each coat will not be prolonged.
  • The dry time can be extended from 12 hours to 36 hours if the relative humidity is somewhere around the 50 percent mark.
  • Staining is not recommended when the relative humidity is greater than 60 percent because the stain will need several days to cure completely.


Don’t jump in just yet! Here’s some extra info about staining a fence that can come in handy.

Is It Necessary to Power Wash a Fence Before Staining?

Power washing is recommended to clean the fence of dirt and debris thoroughly. However, be really careful with using high power settings because you could damage the fence’s surface.

Do You Have to Stain Both Sides of a Fence?

It depends. For example, if one side of the fence faces the street and the other faces your yard, you should stain both sides.

If we’re talking about a fence that has one side on your neighbor’s property, they should choose if they want to stain their side of the fence.

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

Applying a stain to a fence using a brush usually allows better control of where the stain goes. It also helps cover nooks and crevices. You’d need a little bit of practice to get the same results using a sprayer.

The Bottom Line

Now you know how to stain a fence, be sure to pick the right day for the job. Even if you’re eager to get started, be patient and wait for a day that meets the weather conditions required for fence staining.

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About the Author

Candace Osmond

Candace Osmond is a USA TODAY Bestselling Author and Award-Winning Interior Designer. Using her years of hands-on experience, she now writes about design and DIY. She currently resides on the rocky East Coast of Canada with her family and slobbery bulldog.