Should I Paint or Stain My Wood Fence?

paint-or-stain-wood-fencePainting or staining a wood fence can help your fence last longer and look better. Either one will extend the lifespan of your fence by giving it some protection against rot, insects, wear, and tear.

However, of the two we always recommend that you stain a fence rather than painting it.

Wood absorbs stain much deeper than it does paint. This means that paint, when it gets old, starts to chip, peel, and appear careworn, requiring near-immediate attention as soon as it starts to show signs of wear and tear. By contrast, stain will simply fade over time.

We’ve even heard stories of paint peeling off a fence in less than a year. Harsh winter weather, so common in Wisconsin, can sometimes reduce the lifetime of a wood fence paint job even more. Of course the quality of the paint used will affect how long the paint lasts.

Cedar, in particular, does not work well with paint. Paint doesn’t allow the cedar to breathe, which means you’ll actually reduce the lifespan of the fence. This would be a shame, since lifespan is one of the more attractive features of using northern white cedar (the only wood we use) to build a fence.

But What if I Want Color?

You don’t have to give up colors if you stain a fence instead of painting it. You just need to get a solid stain.

You aren’t limited to brown. There are stains in vibrant colors such as red, blue, green, yellow, indigo, purple, peach, pink, and grey.

If you do like the natural look and feel of wood you can just use a transparent or semi-transparent stain in a more natural color which allows you to see the grain of the wood.

What About Costs?

There’s always a lot of debate about whether paint or stain cost more in the long run.

This depends on how you’re evaluating the costs. Gallon for gallon stain is less expensive than paint, but you will need more of it. On the other hand, the stain won’t have to be replaced as often, which means in the end you’ll still purchase less of it.

The time you’ll take scraping and sanding away peeling paint so that you can paint a fence a second time will also need to be taken into account. You can simply clean an old stained fence and reapply the stain, making for a faster project all around.

Convinced? Then take the time to review our tips for staining a wooden fence.


  1. Lorrain Ellingham says:

    How often do you have to stain cedar fences

  2. Therese Brilliandt says:

    What happens if you wait for months to stain or paint? Does it hurt the wood?

    I don’t like the stain we applied to the fence. What can I do?

  3. Shane says:

    What brands of stain do you suggest for a fence? Thanks.

  4. Mark Wilie says:

    Well, if you have decks or fences then you should stain them properly. I suggest you go for stain because it cares your deck or fence from internally and it is capable of loading extra traffic from the external side.

  5. Vlad says:

    I put in pressure treated wood (cheap stuff from home depot), that after about 3yrs it grayed out. Some slabs are starting to chip and warp. Being a corner house, I get all elements. I’m told staining or paining-staining would in the end result to chipping and peeling. Is this true? Especially every 3-5yrs?

  6. Shellie Schultz says:

    I put in a cedar fence about a year ago and unfortunately, I used the nails that bleeds stains in the fence. The side that faces the east gets a lot of sun and rain exposure and it now looks awful. Is there something that I can use to clean the stains and seal the nails before I put a stain on?

    • Brenda Duncan says:

      Using an old toothbrush, clean the nail heads with white vinegar. Let them dry.
      Paint the nail heads with any oil based paint. Let them dry. Then paint your fence.

  7. r bremner says:

    I just put in a high cedar fence and I don’t know whether to stain it or keep it as is. there are a number of wood fences in my well-to-do neighborhood, and all are unpainted/unstained, except for one white picket fence which looks terrible. to stain or not to stain, that is the question!

    • A1 Fence says:

      I’d stain it, unless you really like the silvery look of aged cedar. There are many stains which will maintain the grain of the wood. Staining your fence will make it last longer. If anyone in your neighborhood questions it, just let them know that you’re protecting your investment!

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