How to Stain a Fence

Staining a fence

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Project Overview
  • Working Time: 4 - 12 hrs
  • Total Time: 1 - 4 days
  • Skill Level: Beginner
  • Estimated Cost: $200 to $500

Applying one or two coats of stain to a fence every two to three years can help to protect the wood fiber. The stain penetrates deep into the fibers of the wood, creating a barrier against moisture. This barrier also reduces the effect UV radiation has on the fence so that the boards won't dry out or crack. When the wooden fence is kept in a relatively health state, the boards are less likely to attract mold, mildew, and pests. In addition, sanding and pressure washing your fence prior to staining is a best practice to achieve a professional looking finish. Learn how to stain a fence and keep it protected for years to come.

When to Stain a Fence

Typically, the best time to stain a fence is during the late spring or early fall months when the temperature is still relatively high, but not so high that it will rapidly dry the stain in blotchy, uneven patches.

Ensure that the staining project won't be affected by a sudden onslaught of rain. Ideally, you should start staining the fence early in the morning when it is still somewhat cool. Allow the initial coat to dry until the afternoon, then apply a second coat.

If the humidity is higher than 60 to 80 percent, then the stain may dry significantly slower than expected. During hot days with a lot of wind, the stain could dry too quickly, making it difficult to get a smooth, even appearance. You should also avoid staining the fence if the temperature will drop below 40 degrees Fahrenheit because at such a low temperature, the composition of the stain can be affected.

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Lawnmower
  • Grass trimmer
  • Hammer or screwdriver
  • Drill
  • Paint scraper
  • Sander
  • Pressure washer
  • Drop cloth
  • Paintbrush
  • Paint roller
  • Paint tray
  • Paint sprayer


  • Plant ties
  • Nails or screws
  • Replacement fence boards
  • Sandpaper
  • Stain


How to Stain a Fence

  1. Prepare the Area

    Mow the lawn, trim any plants that are growing along the fence, and pick up as much yard waste and debris as possible before proceeding. If there are any tall plants nearby that you don't want to trim, use plant ties to tie them down out of the way for the duration of the project.

  2. Make Minor Repairs

    Inspect the fence for any nails or screws that are sticking up, and check the boards for signs of cracking. Use a hammer, screwdriver, or drill to replace any loose or broken nails or screws. You should also take this opportunity to replace any boards that are cracked or broken.

  3. Sand the Fence

    Before staining an existing fence, make sure to use a paint scraper and a power sander to remove the top layer of paint or stain. Even if the fence has not been previously painted or stained, it's still a good idea to sand the fence to ensure you are working with a smooth surface.

  4. Pressure Wash the Fence

    Wash the boards to prevent any dust or debris from affecting the stain. Use a pressure washer to quickly and effectively remove any dirt, dust, stray paint flakes, pollen, sawdust, or other debris, then allow the fence to dry completely before proceeding.

  5. Apply Stain

    Lay down a few drop cloths to avoid staining any paving stones, walkways, flowers, or other vegetation. If the fence attaches to the house or a deck, consider using painter's tape to help ensure you don't accidentally stain an unintended surface.

    If you are working with a paint sprayer, load the stain according the manufacturer's directions. Aim the paint sprayer at the fence and begin applying the stain in long, even passes.

    If you are using a paint roller and paintbrush, then pour the stain into a paint tray and begin applying the paint in smooth, even strokes with the grain of the wood. The paintbrush can help to reach narrow gaps where the roller is too large to access.

    Start at the top of each fence board and work your way to the bottom before moving to the next board. Repeat this process until the entire fence has been stained. Give the first coat of stain about two to three hours to dry, then apply a second coat if necessary.

  6. Clean Up

    Check the fence after staining to see if there are any spots that need to be touched up before wrapping up the project. The stain will typically take about two to three hours to dry to the touch and another 24 to 48 hours to fully cure. When you are finished, clean up the drop cloths, remove any painter's tape, and wash your painting tools.