Fence Staining: 18 Questions & Answers (Explained)

Fence Staining Tips You Should Know

Staining your fence can give your front or backyard a new lease of life and can even increase the overall appeal of your home. Thanks to so many fence stain shades and options available to homeowners, giving your fence a makeover allows you to truly customize your fencing for a unique look that will stand out in your neighborhood. It also allows you to pick the closest shade to your home’s exterior if you want to go for a timeless matching style.

So where should you start with fence staining? As with ensuring any DIY project runs smoothly, preparation is your best friend. As well as taking the weather into account, you should be kitted out with the right cleaning and application tools (power washers, stain paint sprayers etc) and before applying the stain, you’ll want to make sure the stain you choose is kind to the wood itself and will last you many years, come rain or shine.

Below, we’ve answered all the usual burning questions related to fence staining, so whether this is your first attempt or you yearn to do a better job than your previous try, we’ve got you covered. From the best application techniques and tricks to the kind of budget you’ll be looking at for your fence type, this brief but handy guide can help to ensure that your next fence staining project has perfect results!

How Long Does Stain Last on a Fence?

Most fence stain types should last at least two to three years, but others can last up to five years and longer depending on the type of stain you go for. If you stain your fence with a semi-transparent oil stain coating then this is guaranteed to last between two to five years.

A solid or opaque color fence stain, meanwhile, may last longer than five years, but these can be difficult to renew once you decide to switch to a lighter color for your fence, as the old stain will need to be completely removed and cleaned before a new application.

How Much Stain Do I Need to Stain My Fence?

This will depend on the type of wood stain you choose. If you will use a solid color stain, these will usually only need one coat, much like traditional paint. Transparent and semi-transparent varieties of wood stain though will normally require at least two coats to ensure the wood is adequately protected and an even finish is achieved.

In terms of how much stain you will actually use, this will of course depend on the length, height and intricate design of your fence panels, as well as the application guidelines by your chosen wood stain brand.

If in doubt, you can use this handy stain calculator to figure out the exact stain quantities you will need for your project according to your precise fence measurements. It’s good to be careful with the amount of fence stain you use not only to save yourself some money, but to ensure the results are smooth, non-tacky and effective.

How Much Does it Cost to Stain a Wooden Fence?

Staining a wooden fence is generally cheaper than a paint job, coming to $24 per gallon (compared with $36 per gallon for paint) if you do it yourself. The cost to stain an entire fence before labor costs will run between $240 and $600 depending on the stain brand, as well as the height, length, condition and style of fence.

If you opt for a professional staining job, the total cost can start at around $750 and average at around $2,000, with older fences or longer, more intricate styles taking the cost up to $4,250. Breaking it down, the average costs to stain a fence per square foot can be between $1 to $2.50 or average at a cost of $3 to $17 per linear foot.

Cost by fence type:

Privacy Fences

Wooden privacy fences are built at a minimum of 5 feet and will require more stain. The style and intricacy of the wood work will also drive the costs a little higher, such as a lattice design at the top, and this can amount to an average cost of $1,875 for 250 feet.

Picket Fences

Picket fences obviously come up shorter at an average of 3 feet, making them much cheaper to finish. So a 250 feet long picket fence at 3 foot high will average about $850 to stain. Older picket fences may require more prep before staining and drive the total cost up.

Re-staining a previously stained surface will also require no extra cost when it comes to prepping the fence (presuming you already have the necessary cleaning tools). While staining a fence is cheaper than painting it, keep in mind that more of the product will be required to cover the fence surface and that a new stain coat needs to be added more frequently than a coat of paint.

Do I Need to Sand a Fence Before Staining?

You’ll need a smooth consistent surface to apply the stain on, so for the best results, you should take the time to sand down any rough areas. Over time, the harsh outside elements will create signs of wear on even the most expensive of fence types so always examine your fence surface for loose nails or screws, broken or loose wood splinters or any rough areas that could create an uneven finish to your stain.

What Happens if I Stain Pressure Treated Wood too Soon?

Quite simply, it won’t be effective. Pressure-treated wood needs to be completely dry before a stain is applied, otherwise the stain’s color or finish won’t take to it.

The age-old advice recommends waiting up to three months for it to dry before applying a stain, but the most relevant waiting time we can suggest for a newly installed pressure-treated wood fence is to wait up to 2 weeks before performing a ‘sprinkle test’ on it to see if it is ready for staining.

To do a sprinkle test, simply water on the wood and watch to see if the water absorbs or repels it – if the water sprinkles have been absorbed within 10 minutes, you can stain right away! But if the water has beaded or pooled on the surface, then the wood’s moisture content is still too high and needs time to dry before staining can occur.

Do You Have to Clean a Fence Before Staining It?

It’s in your best interests to have a clean surface to work on, otherwise all your hard efforts of staining may result in an uneven blemish-ridden finish once you’re done (and can even cause you further maintenance issues down the line). It’s especially important to clean older fences of built-up mold and mildew patches, as the wood will not absorb the stain very effectively in this case.

We’d recommend cleaning your fence with a power washer at least 2 days before you plan to stain it to allow it to dry completely. Scrubbing your fence with a bleach and water solution will suffice for relatively new fences, whilst older fences with areas of mold and debris will benefit from a powerful pressure wash to remove particles that may be ingrained into the wood – look for a power washer with at least 2500 PSI for the best results.

How Long After Power Washing Can You Stain a Fence?

You should generally wait at least 2 days after power washing before staining your fence. And remember that in some cases, the fence doesn’t need to be completely dry if you are using a water-based stain!

Can You Use a Garden Sprayer to Stain a Fence?

Absolutely. A garden pump sprayer can help you cover a wide surface area very quickly, but what it makes up for in speed, it lacks in providing an effective coating.

Since a regular garden sprayer will not get the stain deep enough into the pores of the wood, you may need to use a stain brush to ‘back brush’ some of the stained areas by hand to even out puddles where you may have over-sprayed or to make sure the stain gets into tight corners and crevices. This can make it time-consuming, but is a good option for smaller fences and is a nice alternative to using rollers.

Can I Use a Pump Sprayer for Stain?

Yes, pump sprayers will be suitable for using any type of fence or decking stain for your outdoor projects. However as above-mentioned, pump sprayers are not the most effective choice, especially if you have a larger fence.

So for a bigger scale staining project, you may want to use an airless paint sprayer instead. These offer the speediest staining job and use compressed air to expel the stain out effectively for an even and more professional looking finish.

How Often Should You Re-stain a Fence?

As the majority of fence stains should last for around two to three years, many professionals will usually recommend re-staining your fence at least once within this time frame (i.e. once a year or once every 3, depending on its appearance). Other factors that can affect how often you should re-stain your fence are things like:

1. If your fence is south-facing and therefore has maximum exposure to UV rays – are their signs of sun damage, bleaching, patchy areas etc?

2. The type of wood – fences made from rot-resistant woods like cedar or black locust can hold up better to weathering and will need less frequent re-staining. Hardwood fences such as oak will require less maintenance for the same reason, whereas softwoods like pine will need greater care and may need more frequent re-staining (every 1-2 years). You can always consult a local fence or landscaping expert for a detailed assessment of the care needed for your wood type.

If you’re not quite sure whether your fence is ready to be re-stained, a good indicator is to check if water beads on the surface – on a properly stained and sealed fence, rainwater and other moisture should bead up as water droplets on the wood’s surface.

If water is no longer beading but instead soaking into the wood, then this is usually a sign that the fence could benefit from a re-stain. Don’t forget to check routinely for chips and cracks along your fencing to ensure there are no noticeable signs of wear from the elements.

Can You Stain Over a Stained Fence?

If you’re using a solid opaque color stain over an old lighter shade, then you can get great results. But if you plan to use a semi-transparent stain, then be prepared for the fact that you won’t get the desired finish, since the previous stain may still be visible underneath. Repeat coats of a semi-transparent stain, however, should do the trick at covering the previous stain.

Can You Roll Stain on a Fence?

Yes, although using a roller to stain your entire fence will be more time-consuming compared with using a sprayer, but if you are doing a small touch-up to your staining project or covering only a single panel, then staining with a roller is great for this.

No matter what, a roller will always come in handy in your toolkit when staining your fence, as you can use it to even out puddles and blotches where the stain coating has gathered in one area after application.

Do You Have to Stain a Cedar Fence?

Staining a cedar wood fence is highly recommended to help extend its lifespan, and can in fact do a better job of protecting it over time than a coat of paint, since staining allows the cedar wood to breathe.

Do You Have to Remove an Old Stain Before Re-staining?

If you are planning to re-stain your fence with a solid finish, then removing the old stain underneath often won’t be necessary, since it will do a good job of covering up any sign of the previous stain.

Removing a stain should only be necessary if the new stain you are going to apply is a transparent or semi-transparent, in which case you won’t want the previous stain to still be visible through the new stain layer.

Will Stain Lighten as It Dries?

Yes, fence stains usually appear lighter as they are drying but will return to their damp ‘wet look’ once they have dried completely and a finish has been added. If you’re curious to know what color your fence’s finished color will be, observe the stain while it is still damp to get a good indication.

Do You Have to Seal After Staining?

Only if you want to prolong the lifespan of your stain’s finish and the fence itself. A high quality stain should be enough to add protection against wear and tear, but a sealant is recommended for giving your fence that little extra TLC.

Once the stain has dried completely, apply one coat of clear, weatherproof sealant using either a pump sprayer, roller or brush depending on the size of your project and allow to dry completely for a day or two.

How Do You Remove Tacky Stains?

Tacky stains are a build-up of product when you have over-sprayed or over-rolled your stain into the fence and luckily you can remove tacky stains quite easily in one of two ways:

1. More, more, more! – You can simply apply another heavy coat of stain over the tacky area to help ‘lift’ it off. The reason wood stains become sticky on a wooden fence surface is that they have no binding property like a paint or varnish product does. But if you apply another layer of stain and leave it to sit for 5 minutes, it will help dissolve the existing tacky stain beneath. After 5 minutes, simply wipe the fresh stain off with a rag and the old tacky stain should come off with it.

2. Thin it out – if you don’t have the matching stain to hand, try using lacquer thinner to dissolve the old stain. Apply it gently to the tacky stain with a brush and wipe it off immediately, as it evaporates pretty quick – be too slow about it and you risk lightening the original stain coating beneath!

Can You Remove Stain from Wood?

Absolutely. Removing an existing stain from your wood fence can be time-consuming, but it’s worthwhile if you want to have a new clean surface for applying a different shade of stain or a coat of paint somewhere down the line. You can remove an old stain from your wooden fence in the following ways:

  • By sanding it off – use a belt or orbital sander initially to sand off the majority of color leftover by the old stain and then you can go back and use increasingly finer sandpaper grits to remove any remaining color by hand in crevices and other hard-to-reach spots.
  • By bleaching the wood – making sure to wear rubber gloves and respirator mask, apply a solution of 2 parts bleach and 1 part water with a paintbrush and leave on your fence overnight for the best
  • Using a chemical wood stripper – a particularly stubborn ingrained pigment may not respond to sanding or bleaching, so you may need to use a wood stripper. Apply the remover with a paintbrush and wait for the stain to bubble up. It can then be scraped off with a paint scraper.

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