It’s said that good fences make good neighbors. If your wooden fence is starting to look drab or dingy, a new coat of long-lasting stain may be just what it needs. A well-stained fence doesn’t just look great, it lasts longer thanks to added protection from the elements.  For the best results, choose a semitransparent oil-based stain made for the exterior. These stains subtly accent wood’s natural beauty while guarding against mildew growth, rot and ultraviolet light. With some basic painting supplies and the steps below, you can have a beautifully stained fenced that you and your neighbors can appreciate.

Tools and supplies

  • Wood stain stripper
  • Stiff-bristle brush
  • Garden hose with high-pressure spray nozzle or power washer
  • Bucket, bleach and rubber gloves (if removing mold or mildew)
  • Sanding block and fine-grit sandpaper (optional)
  • Painter’s tape
  • Drop cloth
  • Natural-bristle paintbrush (if preferred)
  • Paint pan, paint roller and cover (if preferred)
  • Paint sprayer (if preferred)
  • Oil-based wood stain
  • Clear, weatherproof wood sealant

Step 1

Before you get to work staining, check the weather forecast and choose a day with temperatures between 50 and 80 degrees, low to moderate humidity and no rain predicted for the next 24 hours. Too much cold or moisture can extend the drying time of wood stain, and too much heat can dry out the stain too quickly and leave lap marks on your fence.

Step 2

The current condition of your fence will determine whether you need to strip or sand the surface.

  • If you’re working on a previously stained or finished fence, begin by applying a wood stain or finish stripper to the slats according to the product’s directions. Then, scrub the slats with a stiff-bristle brush to loosen the old varnish and remove upright wood fibers.
  • If you’re staining a new fence, first check to see if the stain will penetrate the wood by using the water test: lightly spray part of the fence with a garden hose. If water beads appear on the slats, lightly sand the slats along the wood grain. If the water successfully penetrates the slats, however, your fence is ready to be stained.

Step 3

Use a power washer or a garden hose with a high-pressure spray nozzle to clean the fence. This will remove most dirt accumulations and do the work of the wood stain stripper by spraying away any old varnish from the fence if present. If you use a power washer, choose a low-powered unit and don’t spray at a pressure stronger than 2,000 psi (pounds per square inch) so you don’t damage the wooden slats.

Step 4

If you find any mold or mildew on the fence, it will need to be neutralized with a solution of one quart of chlorine bleach to one gallon of water. With rubber gloves on, apply the mixture to the slats with a garden sprayer, then allow it to work for a few minutes before washing the fence clean with your hose or power washer setup. Allow the fence to dry for at least 24 hours before proceeding.

Step 5

Mend any chips or cracks in the fence using wood filler. Replace any damaged slats if necessary.

Step 6

Using painter’s tape, protect any parts of the fence you don’t wish to stain. Use drop cloths to protect any elements below or around the fence that you don’t want to get stained.

Then, it’s time to use a brush, roller or sprayer to stain the slats.

  • A natural-bristle brush is the most effective way to apply an oil-based wood stain to wooden fence slats. Dip the tip of the brush into the stain, then brush from left to right to coat any horizontal slats. Next, work from top to bottom to stain each vertical slat, keeping the brush tip wet at all times. To prevent lap marks from forming, stain one to two slats at a time. Stain the end grain after reaching the bottom of a slat.
  • If you prefer to use a roller, choose a medium nap roller cover, then completely saturate the nap with stain. Roll on the stain in two- to three-foot sections of the fence and make additional passes or use a brush to touch up any areas you miss. This will ensure that the stain enters any grooves and recesses and will help form an even coat without lap marks.
  • If you use a sprayer, follow the same approach as with the roller, but stand a comfortable distance away from the fence to apply the stain.

Step 7

When you are done staining, let the stain dry according to the stain’s instructions. Apply additional coats of stain as necessary to achieve the preferred depth of color. One coat should be enough for a new wood fence or one that you intend to seal.

Step 8

A good-quality stain alone on its own will protect your fence from normal weathering, but applying a durable sealant over the stain can prolong the finish and the life of the fence. Apply a single coat of clear, weatherproof sealant with a brush, roller or sprayer. Promptly back-brush missed grooves and recesses with a wide brush for a uniform appearance.

Step 9

Wait for the sealant to dry completely. Finally, dispose of the soiled drop cloths, remove any painter’s tape and reveal your newly stained fence!

Your hard work will earn you at one summers off from staining duty. Semitransparent stains should last for two to five years, though extreme weather can weather the finish at a faster pace. Plan on staining your fence every two to three years to preserve its appearance and durability.