How to Stain a Wood Fence

how-to-stain-a-fenceStaining is a wonderful way to preserve and maintain the natural beauty of your wooden fence. It’s actually relatively easy to do. There’s no need to be intimidated by the process.

In fact, we almost always recommend staining your fence instead of painting it simply because stain penetrates the wood better. Paint can’t duplicate this penetration and as a result requires more maintenance for typically less attractive results.

Step 1: Make Sure Your Fence is Ready to Stain

Before you begin it’s important to make sure that your fence is actually ready to stain. If you’ve recently had a northern white cedar fence installed, like the types of fences we install, you’ll need to let it “dry out” over a period of 5 weeks (or longer, if the weather has been wet or overcast).

If you have an older fence that has been painted or stained before, or which has acquired mold, mildew, dirt, or other contaminants then you will first need to prepare your fence by pressure washing it. Don’t forget to refer to our post on the proper way to pressure wash your fence.

If you have to pressure wash your fence then you’ll need to give it some time to dry before you proceed. The fence must not be wet when you begin the staining process.

Step 2: Check the Forecast

You will want to check the current weather and the upcoming weather before beginning your fence staining project. The temperature should be no colder than 50°F.

You also want to choose a time where sunny, dry weather is expected for the next few days. Ideally you’ll have 2-3 dry days after your project to let the stain dry completely.

Step 3: Make Sure You Have the Right Tools to Work With

You will need a staining brush and a paint roller with a rough surface roller cover to proceed. The roller will get most of the stain on in broad strokes but the brush will allow you to reach the areas that the roller just can’t cover.

A staining brush is not the same as a paintbrush! A staining brush is larger and has a wider base of bristles. Most paintbrushes are not equipped to handle stain and will simply be ruined by the time you are done with them. If you want your project to look its best find the right tool for the task.

It’s also a good idea to have some broad, plastic sheets to put down over plants and nearby sections of the house so that you don’t stain anything that you didn’t really mean to stain.

You’ll also need some sandpaper, as you’ll want to make sure the wood is good and smooth before you begin.

While a sprayer may look tempting it won’t save you as much time and work as you might think. Usually sprayers do not produce complete or consistent coverage which means that your fence won’t look as good as it could look or be as protected as it could be.

Step 4: Choose the Right Kind of Stain

Choosing the right stain isn’t just about choosing a color that you might enjoy. It’s also about the materials that the stain is made out of.

We recommend oil-based stains over water-based stains. Oil-based stains last much longer: even when this stain grows “old” it doesn’t produce the same kind of cracking and chipping that water based stains can produce.

Of course you will want to make sure to test your stain, either on a piece of scrap wood or a portion of the fence that nobody ever sees. Make sure you like the color and that the wood reacts well to the stain.

Step 5: Do the Project

After the fence has been cleaned, dried, and sanded you can begin the actual staining.

Use full, up and down brush strokes and work on one board at a time. If you have a very large fence you can work on different sections of the fence over time after letting the first section dry.

If you have an old fence, and washing and staining it do not help you restore the fence to new or nearly new conditions, then it may be time to call us for a free estimate so that you can replace your fence;)


  1. Vince says:

    We renovated our home seven years ago and now decided to re-stain our siding, but, now that we have taken all the stain off the natural color is STUNNING we are desperately look for a solution on how to keep the cedar in its natural state without putting a colored stain. Can you recommend a product ?

  2. naveen kumar chanda says:

    i got a brand new cedar wood fence installed in mid-August 2018. so, myc ontractor asked to me to stain or seal it after60 days. so, which stain should i use? can you recommend the type and a company for a stain to use?
    and do i need to clean or do anything else before i stain?
    i have pump sprayer as a tool to use, let me know if this is not good. thanks

  3. Jen says:

    Does a relatively new (two-year-old) cedar fence, in excellent condition, really need to be ‘stripped’ before being re-stained?

  4. steven says:

    Can you use a roller? I don’t have a huge fence but I don’t want to use a brush to stain it unless I have to. I am also just doing a clear no color…

    • Mark McOmie says:

      You should always use a brush to get the material into every crevice of the wood. I recommend using the roller to apply the material, but count on the brush to spread and ensure that all surfaces are effectively covered and absorbed. Doing it right the 1st time ensures easier application come 3-5 years down the road when you need to reapply.

  5. Heather Goff says:

    If I pressure wash now, can I stain it in a month or 2? Or should they be within a few days of each other?

  6. Larry Rudisill says:

    How many square feet per hour do you figure it would take to brush and roll a coat of stain on a wood privacy fence like this. I have a 150′ x 6′ long fence, one side to stain and am not sure how long to figure the time it would take to stain per square foot.

    • BCL says:

      This depends on the type of stain you use, the fence condition, and the air temp. Also, you will likely need to use two coats for thorough coverage (doubles the time). My estimate for one eight foot fence section (single coat), roll and brush, is 6-8 minutes. Be sure to have tarps laid out, your equipment, etc, easily accessible, and protect plants, as stain will kill foliage. Also, avoid staining if winds are over 10 mph.

      One Coat:
      160 feet by 6 feet 160ft / 8ft section at 6 ft height x 8 mins = 160 minutes (2 hrs/40 mins)

      Of course this depends on your skill level, proper planning, and wind conditions – could vary some.

  7. SCOTT says:

    A-1 Fence,
    I live in Dallas TX and had a rough wood cedar board on board fence installed. I would like to maintain some of the wood grain and thinking about going with a simi-transparent stain. My fence is exposed to the western setting sun (which as you know, being in Dallas, can be quite brutal as it pertains to UV) What is the best stain I can use? If it was YOUR fence, what would you use? TWP?

    Thanks in advance,

  8. Tom says:

    2 years ago I stained our new cedar fence with Penofin Ultra Premium transparent (rosewood oil based) oil finish, western red cedar color. I re-stained it last year with the same because it appeared a bit weathered. Part of the fence is under trees and retained its beautiful golden color. The part exposed to the sun has gotten darker so it is a dark brown now. We just had the fence extended 39 more feet with new cedar boards. We’d like to have the entire fence a golden color, but I do not want to reuse the Penofin since it got so much darker in the sun.

    What do you recommend for staining the new and older fence portions to get them uniform or close to it?

    • BCL says:

      Find a stain the is UV (ultraviolet sun rays) resistant. Not all stains have this. To avoid color changes or fading, get the highest rated UV block stain. It may cost more, but you will see the results.

  9. Anita says:

    My daytime temp is 60 degrees but it is dropping to 36 at night, is that to cold to stain?

  10. Sandra Foss says:

    I live in So Cal and most fences here have ‘arches’ of missing color where sprinkler systems continually hit the fence. If I want to re-stain will this happen again or was something done improperly the first time?

    • Shannon says:

      Have the sprinkler system installer come out and fix the pattern so it does not hit the fence. If the fence is properly designed (ask to speak to the company’s sprinkler designer, and if they don’t have one, find a company that does. Yes, as you have found, it is THAT important.) then the head can be changed to avoid putting water on the fence. Also, SoCal water is notorious for minerals and chemicals (chlorine, salt, calcium, etc.) so this may not be just a water issue, but you may have minerals in the fence grain, now. Hence, keeping water off of the fence is very important. You can replace the damaged panels/planks and restain the whole fence so it matches. Also, consdier how important the whole ritual of having grass in the yard really is, overall. SoCal is technically a desert (Mediterranean maybe) so it makes no sense to grow grass there. Consider the folly of it all, and think about a water-free landscaping. A good Landscape Architect can help design a marvelous yard without creating another need for a resident to waste our most presious resouce on something that produces no real benefit, lawn turf. Enjoy!!

  11. Wally says:

    I have a new fence. It’s treated pine, 8′ tall, board on board design, and it’s 300′ long. The surface is staggered and uneven with every other board on top of the one inbetween. I want to stain it a dark opaque gray on both sides. “Sanding” and “brushes” are making me shake my head. Can some type of spray application not work?

  12. Jack Hohag says:

    Short of buying a moisture meter, how can I tell if my rough cedar fence is dry enough to stain after I’ve power-washed it?



  13. Irene says:

    I recently stained my old fence and love it. My neighbor however painted their side “WHITE” and it bleed to my side. How do I remove the mess they created?

  14. Mary says:

    I live in California and there’s a drought. It’s illegal to power wash anything. What do I do?

    • A1 Fence says:

      You may just have to do the best you can with warm water, a bristle brush, and bleach. I’m sorry for that predicament though. 🙁

  15. Nathan says:

    Hi there, I have a 3 month old rough finish cedar fence and I want to protect it so it maintains a nice cedar look and feel for years to come.
    Should I use a good Exterior Wood Varnish, (uva fortified, alkyd oil base)
    A Stain?
    Help please! 🙂

  16. Stephen says:

    A new cedar fence was installed a week ago. I was told it is late in the season to stain. Someone said to let the wood cure and stain next year. Is this true?

    • A-1 Fence says:

      It depends how “new” the cedar is that you get from the lumber yard. Most of the cedar from lumber yards are dry enough to stain immediately. It’s best to contact the lumber yard directly to ask them about their stock of cedar to see if it can be stained immediately. Otherwise the standard rule of thumb is to let it cure/dry for one full season.

  17. Jenna says:

    What oil-based stain would be best for a residential cedar fence. We have a sprinkler system so that is why we are staining it. We were thinking linseed oil?

  18. Mike says:

    You mention “You’ll also need some sandpaper, as you’ll want to make sure the wood is good and smooth before you begin.” Are you recommending that the entire fence be sanded before staining?

  19. Hank says:

    I totally recommend staining a fence over painting it. It doesn’t take too long for paint to strip off; especially in humid or rainy areas. Stain will make it look nice for a long period of time. It’ll save you time and money. I got my fence stained from a fence staining company in Dallas Texas and they did a fantastic job.

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