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Exterior wood stain highlights the natural beauty of your fence while sealing it to protect against sunlight and moisture.
We researched the best fence stains available online, assessing them on ease of application, appearance, and durability. Our best overall pick is the Ready-Seal Natural Cedar Exterior Wood Stain and Sealer, which stands out for its low VC formula, easy application, high-quality appearance.
Here are the best fence stains.
Best Overall: Ready-Seal Natural Cedar Exterior Wood Stain and Sealer, 5 Gallon
Stain settles without runs or blotches
Lasts for 3 to 5 years
Low VOC formula
Requires mineral spirits for clean-up
Who else recommends it? Bob Vila also picked the Ready-Seal Natural Cedar Exterior Wood Stain and Sealer.
What do buyers say? 92% of 6,300+ Amazon reviewers rated this product 4 stars or above.
Protect your fence from natural elements like rain and UV rays with this semi-transparent stain from Ready-Seal. This oil-based formula can be applied to all hard and softwoods. The natural cedar color enhances the appearance of your fence without masking the natural beauty of the wood grain.
Ready-Seal Exterior Wood Stain and Sealer has a reputation for being easy to apply and doesn’t require back brushing, like some other fence stain formulas. You can use a variety of application methods, including a sprayer, roller, or brush to apply the stain. Keep in mind that you’ll need to use mineral spirits to clean up after using this oil-based formula.
While some fence stains can only be applied in certain temperature ranges, Ready-Seal can be applied in virtually all temperatures—from 0 to 100 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the manufacturer. (However, our experts recommend applying any stain only at temperatures above 40 degrees.) Use this semi-transparent fence stain on unfinished wood, pressure-treated lumber, or old wood, but make sure that the wood has a moisture content of less than 12 percent. Two coats are required for penetrating protection, and each 5-gallon bucket covers up to 625 square feet.
Best for Cedar: Preserva Wood 5 Gal. Oil-Based Cedar Penetrating Exterior Stain and Sealer
Single coat application
Low VOC formula
Must apply between 45 and 85F
Cedar is a popular wood for fencing, since it proves to be both attractive and durable. However, unprotected exposure to the sun, rain, snow, and humidity can cause the boards to lose their luster. While some people like the look of weathered cedar, plenty of other homeowners would prefer to protect cedar boards and keep a uniform look.
Preserva Wood Cedar Exterior Stain and Sealer is a great option for a cedar fence stain. The oil-based stain penetrates below the surface of the boards to protect them from UV rays and moisture. This transparent stain won’t cover over the natural beauty of cedar fences, but keep in mind that it is lightly pigmented to provide UV protection. One thing to know about this fence stain is that it must be applied in temperatures between 45 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit, which is a more limited range than some other fence stain formulas.
Best with Sealer: Valspar Pre-Tinted Cedar Semi-transparent Exterior Wood Stain and Sealer
Single application coat
Cleans up with just soap and water
6-year guarantee for fences
Longer drying time of 4 hours
Stain enhances or changes the appearance of your wood fence, while sealer protects the wood from moisture damage and UV rays. In some cases, this requires applying two separate products to properly stain and seal your fence, but if you choose a stain with sealer, you can provide pigment and protection with a single product.
Valspar Semi-Transparent Exterior Wood Stain and Sealer is a fence stain with sealer that provides color tone and long-lasting protection. This two-in-one formula saves even more time by only requiring a single application coat. As a water-based stain, you will only need soap and water to clean up brushes, spray equipment, and other tools. All things being considered, this fence stain with sealer is a quick and easy way to enhance your fence without the labor of applying multiple coats or products. The manufacturer backs this formula with a 6-year guarantee for fences when applied according to the product instructions.
Best Color Options: Cabot Gold Transparent Exterior Stain
Rich color and satin finish
Protects against UV damage, water, mold, and mildew
Must wait 24 hours to apply 2nd coat
Cabot Gold Transparent Exterior Stain is a fence stain that provides rich color and long-lasting protection. The formula is semi-transparent, which is suitable for new or lightly aged wood in good condition. Available in a variety of shades, this highly pigmented stain features dual UV protection. It’s an oil-based formula, so keep in mind that you’ll need to use mineral spirits to clean up after application.
The first coat of this fence stain with sealer will give the wood a tinted appearance. As a semi-transparent wood stain, you’ll still be able to see and appreciate the grain of the wood while also giving your fence a new look with colors like Moonlight Mahogany, Sundrenched Oak, and Fireside Cherry. The second coat of stain seals the fence, providing protection against the elements. Keep in mind that this formula requires you to wait overnight and up to 24 hours before applying the second coat of stain required for maximum protection.
Best for New Wood: Flood Clear CWF-UV Exterior Wood Finish, 5 Gallon
Cleans up using soap and water
Dry to the touch in 30 minutes
Not as long-lasting as some other stains
New wood has a naturally appealing look and a smooth finish, so there’s no need to cover it with a heavy solid stain. Instead, highlight the wood’s appearance while protecting it from the elements with a clear stain, like this popular version from Flood. It contains an acrylic-oil resin that provides the best of both worlds—the durability of acrylic and the penetrating properties of alkyd formulas.
Flood CWF-UV Exterior Wood Finishes are available with various tints, but the clear version is a great match for cedar, fir, or new pressure-treated pine. It's a water-based stain, so it only requires soap and water for clean-up. It can be applied between 35 and 90 degrees Fahrenheit, using a brush, roller, or sprayer.
Best for Old Wood: Valspar All-weather White Solid Exterior Wood Stain and Sealer, 5-Gallon
Cleans up using soap and water
25-year protection for fences
Not low VOC
Needs 4 hours of drying time
Old, splintered, and weathered wood can get a fresh new look with the help of a solid fence stain. While transparent and semi-transparent stains allow the finish and grain of the wood to shine, a solid stain helps to hide imperfections and signs of aging in the old wood. This pre-tinted white formula provides a fresh, clean finish but the solid stain is available in tinted formulas or other color options, too.
Valspar’s All-Weather Solid Exterior Wood Stain and Sealer requires just one coat of application for an opaque finish that resists UV damage, water penetration, and mold and mildew growth for up to 25 years. Temperatures must be between 35 and 90 degrees Fahrenheit. You can use a paint sprayer or brush to apply the water-based formula, and only need soap and water for cleaning up brushes and tools after application.
Best for Damp Conditions: Seal Once Marine Premium Wood Sealer Marine Premium Wood Sealer
Up to 10 years of protection for fences
Low VOC formula
Thin formula can be difficult to apply evenly
If you’re concerned about especially damp conditions, then it makes sense to look for a fence stain that offers additional protection against moisture damage. Seal Once Marine Premium Wood Sealer uses nanoparticle technology to penetrate the wood and protect it from within, rather than forming a top-layer barrier that may eventually crack and split from moisture evaporation. This fence stain is specifically designed for use in high-moisture environments near fresh water or saltwater—such as streams, rivers, oceans, etc.
Seal Once protects vertical surfaces like fencing for up to 10 years, but you’ll want to check the moisture barrier every year to determine when re-application is necessary. The water-based formula requires two coats for effective sealing; apply the second coat within an hour after the first coat.
For fence stain that is easy to apply and long-lasting, choose Ready-Seal Natural Cedar Exterior Wood Stain and Sealer (view on Amazon). The oil-based formula has a transparent finish and can be used on hard and softwoods. It offers excellent protection against UV rays and precipitation. If you’re looking to give new life to old fence boards, however, then choose a solid stain like Valspar’s All-weather Solid Exterior Wood Stain and Sealer (view on Lowe’s). This opaque stain will cover up imperfections while protecting the wood against further damage.
What to Look for in a Fence Stain
Type of Wood
Hardwood and softwood varieties react differently to stain, so you’ll need to take this into account when shopping for fence stain. Softwood, such as cedar or pine, will be easier for stain to penetrate but may require a pre-stain conditioner to avoid blotchy results. Because of the more absorbent nature of the wood, you may choose to use a water-based fence stain on this type of wood. Hardwoods are less commonly used for fencing, but if you do have a hardwood fence—such as batu or ipe—an oil-based stain may provide better penetration.
Fence stains are either water-based or oil-based. A water-based stain uses an acrylic formula and painting supplies can be cleaned up with soap and water. On the other hand, an oil-based stain contains alkyds that provide excellent penetration but require mineral spirits for clean-up. It’s worth mentioning that some oil-based stains on the market now use an acrylic-oil blend that makes for easier cleaning but provides the same benefits of an oil-based stain.
There are three opacity levels of fence stain: transparent, semi-transparent, and solid. Transparent fence stain is best for new wood, since the grain and condition of the wood will be easily seen. It’s also commonly used on cedar fences to highlight the natural color and beauty of this wood. Semi-transparent stains are a better choice for wood that is lightly aged or weathered, since they’ll conceal some aspects of weathering. Solid stain is best used on wood that is rough, splintered, and aged. This is the most opaque type of fence stain and will provide more coverage to give aged fence boards a uniform appearance.
How do you prep a fence for staining?
Typically, you should first clean and brighten the boards. Doing so removes dirt and debris that might impede the stain’s ability to properly soak into the fence boards. You can pressure wash the fence to clean it, working from top to bottom. Or, you can use a fence cleaning formula and a stiff brush to manually loosen grit and grime, then rinse well with a hose. Allow the fence to dry for at least 48 hours before moving on to the staining process.
If the fence is new, ensure that it has had plenty of drying time and is ready for stain application. This can take as little as a month or might be as long as six months or more, depending on the environment. If you have softwood, you might consider doing a spot test to determine how porous the wood is and whether or not you should use a pre-conditioner to ensure even absorption.
How do you apply fence stain?
To properly apply fence stain and enjoy long-lasting results, you can’t take shortcuts. You should always follow the manufacturer’s instructions for application. The most common method is to use a brush. However, this can be tedious. Many people prefer to use a paint sprayer for fence stain, and this is possible with most stain formulas. However, you should check the manufacturer’s instructions first to verify that the stain is fluid enough for sprayer application.
How long do most fence stains last?
Most fence stains provide a limited warranty when used on vertical surfaces—like fencing. These warranties are usually for four to six years, with some formulas extending the warranty to 10 years or more. This will give you an idea of how long your fence stain may last.
How often you’ll need to reapply fence stain largely depends on how much weather exposure the fence receives. Fences that are exposed to heavy precipitation and damp environments or those that receive direct, intense sun are likely to need staining more often.
You might choose to reapply fence stain every few years to maintain the color and appearance of the boards. If you’re concerned with how well the fence stain is protecting the wood, a simple test can tell you if you need to reapply stain (or a sealer-only formula). To check the moisture barrier, sprinkle water on the boards. If the water beads up, your fence boards are still benefitting from your last application. If not, it’s time to reapply.
Why Trust The Spruce?
This article was researched and written by Erica Puisis, a freelance writer who has been contributing to The Spruce since 2017. To make this list, she considered each pick's price, design, and the surface it'll be used on, as well as insight from product testers.