Depending on the species of your wood fence, it can last up to 40 years! One of the best ways to prolong its life while keeping it looking great is with fence staining.

Stain is beneficial for your fence. Not only does it make the fence look new and fresh, but it also extends the lifespan of your fence, prevents mildew, and helps protect from the bleaching effects of the sun.

Fence staining is not a difficult job if you know the correct steps. It only takes time and the materials. Read on for the steps you need to learn how to stain a fence.

fence staining in stormy weather
Make sure to check the forecast before staining the fence!

Choose the Right Time to Stain

Staining a fence, like all exterior paint projects, requires the cooperation of mother nature. 

One of the best fence staining tips to follow is to choose the right time of day. Choose a cloudy day and apply the stain in the morning or late afternoon if possible. This is the time when the sun’s rays aren’t at their peak strength. Staining your fence or deck in the hot sun will cause the stain to dry too quickly and give you poor results.

Look at the weather forecast and pick a day when rain isn’t likely for the next 24 hours. Ideally, you will stain a fence when it hasn’t rained in the past day.

If you have just installed a brand new fence, wait at least three weeks before you stain! This lets the wood open its pores so your stain can penetrate deeply, and also lets new wood dry out. Moisture trapped in the wood will cause the stain to bubble. Treated wood especially needs to dry out before staining.

Once you’ve got the perfect day lined up, it’s time to get to work.

broken wood privacy fence
Make any repairs before staining the fence

Carefully Examine the Wood

Unless your fence is brand new, you will likely need to do some minor repairs. Walk around the perimeter of your fence and look for broken pieces, nails, screws or staples.

You need a smooth surface to stain, so you’ll have to fix these things before you get started. If there are any parts of your fence that are very rough, you can sand them down in order to get the best fence stain application.

Make sure to re-attach any loose boards, and replace any boards or supports that are rotten.

Power Washing - Deck
Clean the wood using a power washer or wood conditioner

Clean the Wood

Once your fence is in tip-top shape, you should clean your fence to allow the stain to adhere properly.

The quickest, easiest way is by using a power-washer. Clean the entire fence from the top down to remove any dirt, dust, and debris. You do NOT want to stain over theses! Take care not to dig too deeply into the wood.

For fences that need to be conditioned, a wood cleaner from your local hardware store will do the trick. Apply the cleaner uniformly across the entire fence. Next, use a soft brush or mop to scrub away dirt build up and condition the wood to accept stain.

Whichever method you use, make sure to let the fence dry fully before moving on to the next step. In the hot Texas summer sun, this might only take an hour or so, though drying times in the winter get longer.

drop cloths for staining and painting
Cover the landscaping with drop cloths, plastic, or large piece of cardboard

Prep the Area

Lay down drop cloths in front of the fence to protect your grass, landscaping and hardscaping areas. If there are parts of your fence you don’t want stained, cover them with painter’s tape and plastic.

This is especially important if you plan on spraying the fence, especially on a windy day. Remember… stain the fence and not the plants! Whatever amount of overspray you expect, double it!

brush staining a fence
Choose the tools that will work best for your fence

Choose Your Tools

You can apply fence stain with a paint sprayer, brushes, rollers or pads.

If you choose a roller, go for a light-weight (not wide) one. Your arm will get very tired rolling all the way to the top of your fence. Any paint roller will work for this job.

If you want to use a brush, make sure it is a staining brush that is 4-5 inches wide. If you prefer pads, choose one that is designed for decks and has a fluffy nap.

You can also use a hand-pumped fence stain sprayer. These are typically available for rent at your local hardware store. Or you can buy it if you think it will come in handy for other projects.

The good thing about using a sprayer is that it makes the project go much faster and gives you a nice even coat. For larger jobs, a professional contractor will use a powered paint sprayer to apply the stain.

spraying a fence with stain
Apply the stain to the fence using the best tools for the job

Applying the Stain

Once you’ve picked out a fence stain color, make sure to test it before doing the whole fence. No matter which method you use to apply the fence stain, you need to make sure to apply an even coat to the fence.

Using your pad, brush or roller, dip it into the wood stain and apply it evenly to the fence. Work your way from one fence board to the next.

Apply the stain from the top and work your way down. That way, if the stain drips, you will catch the runs as you work down the fence board.

Go slowly to make sure you cover the entire surface of each board. If you see any areas that are blotchy or puddled, use a roller or brush to smooth these out.

Read the label on the stain to learn how thick your coats should be. This will vary from one manufacturer to another. High-quality stains usually only require one coat. But check the label of your particular stain to be sure how many coats you’ll need.

If you opt for a semi-transparent stain, you may need two coats. If so, wait an hour and apply the second coat. 

Make sure to check the amount of coverage per gallon. New, porous wood fences such as cedar can sometimes require a gallon for 100 square feet of fence. The most common mistake is underestimating the amount of stain that will be required for the job.

Duplex Remodel
Be gentle with the freshly stained fence for a couple days

Let the Stained Fence Rest

This is one of the most important steps when fence staining. Letting your freshly stained fence rest makes a huge difference in the final project.

Turn off the sprinklers and avoid getting it wet if possible. Avoid any use such as kids kicking balls, pets, etc, until the stain has fully cured.

You will need to let the fence rest anywhere from 24-48 hours depending on the humidity in your area. Though the fence may look dry, avoid touching it to check.

Just be patient and wait out the rest period.

Fence stain color choice

Apply Sealant

Stain is a great way to protect your fence from wear-and-tear. You can also choose to apply a durable sealant over the stain to prolong the finish of your fence stain.

This step is optional but is a nice extra. All you’ll need is one coat of clear, weatherproof sealant. You can use a brush, sprayer or roller to apply it.

Back brush and drips and use the brush to get in the grooves to make sure your entire fence is protected. Keep in mind that sealant only works if the whole fence is sealed, so this means both sides. Sealing your side while leaving the neighbor’s side unsealed is a waste of time and money.

soaking brushes used for stain
Make sure to clean brushes and other tools thoroughly

Clean Up

Now that your’re done, you can clean up the project area. Throw away your disposable drop cloths and pull up any painter’s tape. Make sure to clean any brushes or rollers promptly with mineral spirits (unless you use a water-based stain).

Dispose of any leftover stain and sealer properly… and enjoy your brand-new looking fence!

Final Thoughts on Fence Staining 

There you have it… your fence staining guide!

Do you have a deck or fence staining project you prefer to leave to the pros? Get a free on-site estimate from SurePro Painting Experts today.