How to Paint a Fence

Improve the yard aesthetic and seal out moisture with a coat of paint or stain.

Hand and paintbrush painting a fence
KristianSeptimiusKrogh / Getty Images
Overview
  • Working Time: 1 - 2 days
  • Total Time: 1 - 4 days
  • Skill Level: Beginner
  • Estimated Cost: $200 to $500

Painting a fence is a relatively simple project that is ideal for just about anyone, from novice DIYers who want to add a touch of color to the yard to experienced fixer-uppers who are teaching their kids how to properly paint without having to worry as much about stray drips staining furniture or flooring.

While painting the fence is a great beginner project, it's also a necessary task that should be completed after installing a new fence and every two to three years afterward. This is because an unpainted fence is vulnerable to insect infestations, UV damage from the sun, and moisture build-up that can lead to rot and corrosion. But before breaking out the brushes and rollers it's important to understand exactly how to paint a fence and the preparations that need to take place beforehand.

When to Paint a Fence

The best time to paint a fence is during the summer months, when there is a clear forecast for at least 24 hours prior to applying the paint. The paint should have at least 24 hours to fully cure, so having more than one clear day is ideal. While you can paint in the spring or fall months, these seasons tend to have more rainy weather and there is the chance that the temperature will drop below 40°F, which will slow the curing process, leaving the fence susceptible to moisture accumulation during this period.

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Lawnmower
  • Grass trimmer
  • Gloves
  • Safety glasses
  • Hammer or screwdriver
  • Drill (optional)
  • Paint scraper
  • Orbital sander (optional)
  • Pressure washer
  • Drop cloth
  • Paintbrush
  • Narrow paint roller
  • Paint tray
  • Paint sprayer (optional)
  • Supplied-air respirator

Materials

  • Nails or screws
  • Replacement fence boards
  • Sandpaper
  • Plant ties
  • Latex or oil-based exterior primer
  • Latex or oil-based exterior paint

Instructions

  1. Prepare the Fence for Painting

    The first step before painting the fence is to properly prepare the surface to ensure that the paint can go on without issue. Mow the lawn and trim any vegetation that is growing near the fence for easy access. Next, check the existing fence for any cracked, broken, or otherwise damaged fence boards.

    Put on safety glasses and gloves to stay safe while working, then use a hammer, screwdriver, or drill to remove nails or screws and replace any broken fence boards. New fence boards should be attached with rust-resistant nails or screws.

    If the fence has been painted previously, you will need to use a paint scraper to remove paint that is chipped or flaking before using sandpaper to smooth down the surface of the fence. Consider using an orbital sander to make this process easier.

    When the fence is repaired, scraped, and sanded, get out the pressure washer and spray down each fence board to remove dirt, dust, stray paint flakes, pollen, and other debris. Allow the fence to dry completely before continuing.

  2. Prime the Fence

    Before beginning, tie back any remaining vegetation and lay down drop cloths in order to protect paving slabs, deck boards, and any other surface that you don't want to paint. When the area is ready, fill a small container or a paint tray with latex or oil-based exterior primer. Note that oil-based exterior primers and paints are best for unpainted wooden surfaces, while latex exterior primers and paints are better for painted surfaces.

    Apply the primer with a narrow paint roller or a paintbrush in even strokes that go with the grain of the wood. This means that horizontal panels should be painted with horizontal strokes and vertical panels should be painted with vertical strokes. After applying the primer, allow it to dry over about two to three hours before painting.

  3. Paint the Fence

    Ensure that the area is still adequately protected from paint droplets or spray, and make any adjustments to the drop cloths, if necessary. As noted previously, latex exterior paint is best for previously painted surfaces, while oil-based exterior paint is better for unpainted surfaces.

    Using a paintbrush or narrow paint roller, begin to apply the paint in smooth, even strokes with the grain of the wood. Start at the top of each fence board and work your way to the bottom before moving to the next board. A paint sprayer can be used in place of a paint roller, but users will need to take further precautions to prevent the wind from blowing the paint onto nearby objects. You will also need to wear a supplied-air respirator if you choose to use a paint sprayer.

    Check the fence after painting and touch up any spots that were missed, then allow the fence to dry for two to three hours. Repeat this process to apply a second coat of paint. When complete, the paint will require at least 24 to 48 hours to properly cure before it can effectively protect the wood.

Fence Painting Tips

Checking the weather forecast is a necessary step to ensure that it won't be raining when you decide to take on a fence painting project. Inclement weather is a big problem because rain can both wash away wet paint and be absorbed into the wooden fence boards, preventing the paint from adhering properly. The splotchy, peeling mess that is left afterward is difficult to clean up, and you will need to scrape or sand the fence to remove bubbling, peeling, or chipped paint. Just make sure to wait until the fence is completely dry before attempting to repaint.