You’ve just finished building a beautiful new wood fence and now you’re looking for the best fence stain to protect it from the elements. Or maybe, your yard has an existing wooden fence, but it’s looking a little aged and you’re wondering if a fence stain can make it beautiful again?
We’re here to help! In this article, we’ll talk about the types of stains available, how they’re applied, their pros and cons, and the top three choices from our list. We’ll even share links to some DIY tutorials that you can check out before tackling your staining project. So, stick around, and let’s talk about the best fence stain.
Top 3 Picks for The Best Fence Stain
Editor’s Choice – Ready Seal 512 Natural Cedar Exterior Stain and Sealer
This semi-transparent, oil-based stain and sealer combination is ideal for all exterior wood applications. It is easy to apply and maintain and is biodegradable when in contact with water or soil. Specially designed to provide superior protection without affecting the wood’s natural beauty, grain, and texture, this stain stands out on our list as Editor’s Choice.
Best For Pressure Treated Wood – 1-Deck Premium Wood Fence Stain and Sealer
This water-based, semi-transparent stain and sealer provides superior protection from all exterior elements and is ideal for all types of wood, including pressure treated. It is available in 1- and 2.5-gallon pails and five colors making it a perfect complement to any wood.
Best Bargain – Storm Protector Penetrating Sealer and Stain
An oil-based stain and sealer combination meant for any exterior wood application and designed to penetrate deep into the wood to provide excellent protection from the elements. Available in six semi-transparent colors that can be brushed, rolled, or sprayed on, this stain is the best bargain on our list.
Water-based VS Oil-based Fence Stain
The two main types of fence stain available are water-based and oil-based. They each have different characteristics and the type you should choose for your project will depend on the outcome you’re looking for.
Water-based stains are formulated using a mixture of water for the solvent and water-soluble dyes to add color. These breathable stains absorb fully into the wood and dry with no oily film, allowing for air to move more freely drying any moisture that may occur. This results in superior protection from mold and mildew. Water-based stains often have richer color that tends to last longer than oil-based alternatives and they can typically be applied over older water- or oil-based stains without fear of patchy results. They are not flammable, have no harmful fumes, and are easy to clean up with just mild soap and water. It is important to note, however, that water-based stains may require you to condition the wood prior to applications. This conditioning will prevent grain rising which can occur as the stain absorbs into the wood.
Oil-based stains contain a mixture of oil (typically linseed), solvent (typically mineral spirits), and pigment. Like water-based stains, they penetrate into the wood, but not as deeply and they leave a thicker “film” of protection. Oil-based stains have longer drying times which result in a better, more even finish. They are also extremely durable and tend to last much longer than water-based stains, meaning less maintenance and re-application over time. Typically, oil-based stains need mineral spirits when cleaning up, but new formulas, containing an acrylic-oil blend, are becoming much easier to clean up without chemicals. One major thing to keep in mind is that oil-based stains are flammable and as a result are typically not used on surfaces that connect directly to a house or other building.
Regardless of which type of stain you choose; it is important to pick a good quality product. Spending a bit more at the start can lead to better results and save you money and time in future maintenance and reapplication.
Do I Need to Stain My Fence?
Although there is no hard and fast rule saying you have to stain your fence or any other wood structure for that matter, there are several reasons why staining is a good idea.
One of the most important reasons is that staining protects the wood from environmental damage. Unlike paint, most stains contain sealants, which protect the wood from water and UV damage that cause the woods fibers to break down over time. Staining minimizes this damage and helps to prevent discoloration, mold, mildew, and other damage caused by the elements.
Going hand-in-hand with protecting your fence, staining it also extends its life. The more protection you can provide, the longer your fence will last.
Another beneficial, although often overlooked, advantage is the extra security a well-stained, and therefore maintained, fence can add to your property – whether it’s your home or office. Areas that are clean and fenced off with a well-maintained and treated fence are typically targeted less than areas that look rundown and in need of repair.
Finally, staining your fence enhances the beauty of the wood as well as the overall design and aesthetic of your home and yard. Rather than looking dull, gray, and aged, the wood’s natural beauty, grain, and texture can shine through complimenting the surroundings it is in and providing ample curb appeal.
Tips For Staining an Old Fence
Regardless of the stain you use, it is inevitable that you will have to re-stain at some point. Although it is typically done every two to three years, how often really depends on a few factors with the main one being the quantity and type of weather exposure your fence endures. Fences that are exposed heavily to the elements will typically need to be re-stained more often than those that are more sheltered. You may also want to re-stain every couple of years to maintain the color and overall appearance of the wood. This factor ultimately comes down to personal preference over best practice.
To see if your previously applied fence stain is still holding up, simply pour a light amount of water over the boards. If the water beads on the surface, the old stain is still doing its job. If the water absorbs into the boards, however, it is time to re-stain.
When it is time to re-stain your fence, there are steps you should take to ensure the best possible results are achieved. These include:
Step One: Check the boards and posts.
Replace any rotting boards and pay close attention to boards or posts that touch the ground as these tend to rot faster than others. Ensure all posts are straight and investigate if they’re not, rotting and erosion can cause posts to warp, so you want to be sure to catch this early. Any board that touches the ground should be treated or in some way rot resistant.
If you find boards with a very small amount of mildew, they do not necessarily need to be replaced. First, try soaking the area with a solution of bleach and water then a good scrub with a firm-bristled brush. If the mildew stain can be removed, the board is likely still good for continued use and re-staining.
Step Two: Cleaning and Preparing the wood.
Ensure nails and screws are properly embedded and replace any that may be missing. Remove dirt and debris on the surface of the boards, and if possible, pressure-wash the boards to remove embedded dirt. Cleaning the fence ensures that the stain can reach and absorb fully into the wood and results in a much more even finish. Allow the fence to dry for a minimum of forty-eight hours before applying the stain.
If the fence has been previously painted, or you are reapplying with an oil-based stain, you may need to strip the old finish prior to staining. This can be done using a stain or finish stripper and a stiff-bristle brush, or by using a hand or electric sander.
If there are cracks or chips in the boards, you can use a wood filler to repair these prior to staining. The filler will nicely hide these imperfections once stained.
Step Three: Ensure the wood will accept stain.
To make sure the wood is ready to accept stain, do the same absorption test mentioned above. Spray a few boards with a light splash of water. If the water beads on the surface of the boards, it will likely not absorb the stain and should be sanded with the direction of the grain. Repeat the water test until it absorbs. If the water immediately absorbs into the wood, it should accept the stain with no further preparation.
Step Four: Watch the weather forecast and choose staining days accordingly.
Ideally, you want to stain on days between 50- and 80-degrees Fahrenheit (10 to 27 degrees Celsius), with low to moderate humidity, and no precipitation for at least twenty-four hours. Staining in weather that is too hot and dry can lead to the stain drying too quickly and leaving lap marks in the finish. Staining in weather that is too cold or damp can prolong drying time and affect the finished results.
Step Five: Protect the surrounding area.
Protect the ground below the fence and any surrounding vegetation by covering it with drop sheets or plastic. If using plastic to cover plants, ensure to leave some airflow so that the plants can breathe.
If there are areas of the fence that you don’t want stained or walls that adjoin the fence, use painters’ tape to protect them while you work.
Step Six: Choose and collect your tools.
Use a brush, roller, or paint sprayer to apply the stain to your fence. Each option has pros and cons (which we will discuss in the next section), and the choice really comes down to personal preference.
Other tools you may need include, pails, cleaning cloths or rags, water, soap, mineral spirits, and a cold drink.
Step Seven: Stain your fence.
Apply your chosen stain to the fence using the manufacturer’s recommended steps and techniques.
If you are applying multiple coats, make sure to let the first coat dry for the length of time recommended by the manufacturer before applying the second coat. Moving too quickly can lead to unfavorable results.
It is important to note that typically, a single coat should be sufficient, especially if you plan to use a separate sealer coat as well. Additional coats are usually only necessary when trying to achieve a richer, deeper color.
Be careful if you share your fence with a neighbor who doesn’t plan on staining their side. Use tools that will adequately cover your side of the fence but won’t inadvertently apply blotchy stain to their side.
Step Eight: Apply a sealer.
Most stains are a mixture of stain and sealer, but not all. If you used a stain with no sealer, it is important to apply a separate coat over the stain once it is dry. A single coat of clear, waterproof sealant properly applied, will ensure your fence is protected from water and UV damage until it is time to re-stain.
Step Nine: Clean your work area.
Wash and dry any tools used while staining your fence so they are clean and working efficiently the next time you want them. Also, remember to pick up any drop cloths and remove the painters’ tape from surfaces around your work area.
Step Ten: Enjoy your newly stained fence!
Grab a patio chair and a refreshing drink and enjoy the fruits of your labor!
Do I Use a Brush or Roller to Stain Fence?
Stain can be applied in one of three ways – brush, roller, or sprayer – and each has its benefits and drawbacks. The choice of tool really comes down to personal preference, but the manufacturer’s recommendations should always be taken into account.
A paintbrush is an easy and fairly inexpensive tool that provides a great deal of control over where the stain is applied. For best results, choose a brush that is four to five inches wide and has natural bristles. Work horizontal slats from left to right and vertical slats from top to bottom always maintaining a wet tip on your brush. Don’t forget to stain the ends and sides of each slat with a thinner brush tip.
A roller applies stain faster than a brush but isn’t always good for hard-to-reach crevices. When choosing a roller, try to find a medium nap cover that will be more likely to reach into grooves along the fence boards. With the roller, apply the stain in two- to three-foot sections alternating direction as you go. Back-brush any uncovered areas with a wide brush to ensure even application and to reach into crevices along the board.
Sprayers are becoming a popular option for staining fences and most stains will accommodate this type of application. It is important however to ensure the manufacturer recommends this on their label. Using a sprayer involves a similar technique to a roller but from a farther distance. You also want to ensure the opposite side of the fence is protected if your neighbor is not planning on staining. Sprayers are a great option for even coverage and reaching into difficult crevices, but you do have to consider overspray in this process.
Can I Stain Pressure Treated Wood?
The answer to whether or not you can stain pressure-treated wood is yes and no. You can stain wood that has been pressure treated, but you cannot do it right away. Wood must be completely dry when it is stained so that the stain can penetrate it fully and protect it properly. Pressure-treated wood is injected with chemicals that protect it from environmental damage but leave extra moisture in the wood. It is crucial that this moisture be completely gone before any staining or finishing takes place.
Drying time for pressure-treated wood can be anywhere from a few weeks to several months depending on how long the supplier had it sitting before purchase. To be safe, it is recommended that you wait for a year before staining your pressure-treated fence or deck.
Many people believe that you cannot stain pressure-treated wood, but that isn’t the case. You just have to wait a bit longer. The chemicals used for pressure-treated wood help to protect it from insects and decay, but it is still prone to signs of aging. Applying a stain once the wood is ready, gives an extra layer of protection and adds beauty to your deck or fence.
When you think that your pressure-treated fence or deck is dry enough to stain, do a water bead test to make sure. If applied water beads on the surface, it is not dry enough. If, however, the water is absorbed, it should be good to stain.
Most stains intended for exterior use will work on pressure-treated wood, but the oil-based stain is the best. There are some manufacturers that have even started formulating stains specifically designed for pressure-treated wood applications.
The Best Fence Stain
Ready Seal 512 Natural Cedar Exterior Stain and Sealer is an oil-based, semi-transparent stain and sealer combination ideal for decks, rails, and all other exterior wood applications. Its unique formula absorbs deeply into wood protecting it from UV rays, mold, mildew, and other harmful effects caused by exterior elements. The stain’s natural cedar color enhances the beauty of the wood while its semi-transparent nature allows the grain and texture to remain visible.
Available in five-gallon pails, Ready Seal 512 can be applied at any temperature with a brush, roller, or spray application. It requires no primer, back brushing, diluting, or wet-line application and will never leave runs, streaks, or laps. Ready Seal blends itself and reaches its true color typically within fourteen days.
- Penetrates wood providing superior protection against scratches to surface finish.
- Easy maintenance.
- Contains no linseed oil.
- Will not stain hands.
- Biodegradable when in contact with soil and water.
- Meets current U.S. VOC level requirements.
- No warranty listed.
- Subject to a PaintCare recycling fee in: CT and VT.
- Not available in CA.
Storm Protector Penetrating Sealer and Stain is an oil-based, semi-transparent stain and sealer combination meant for decks, fences, and all other exterior wood applications. It is designed to penetrate deep into wood surfaces to fully protect against UV rays, water, and all other exterior elements. Available in six different colors, this stain is suitable for any wood species allowing the natural grain, texture, and color to show through.
Available in one-gallon pails, Storm Protector Sealer and Stain can be applied with a brush, roller, or spray applications and requires no lapping. Coverage is approximately 125 to 175 square feet per gallon on smooth surfaces and 100 to 150 square feet on porous surfaces.
- Transoxide Pigmentation
- Twenty-four-hour dry time for touching, handling, and recoating
- Six available colors
- Not recommended for planter or vegetable boxes.
- No Warranty Listed
Thompson’s TH.042841-16 Waterseal Waterproofing Stain is formulated to provide complete protection from the elements, including UV rays, water damage, and mildew. This semi-transparent stain has a moderate pigment of acorn brown, giving it beautiful color while allowing the wood’s natural grain and texture to show.
Available in one-gallon pails, Thompson’s Waterseal can be applied to damp or dry wood and is suitable for all outdoor wood applications.
- Advanced polymers provide fade-resistant color.
- Exceeds Industry Standards for ASTM D-4446.
- Four-year protection on horizontal surfaces and six-year protection on vertical surfaces.
- Not Oil-Based.
- No Warranty Listed.
Cabot Semi-Solid Deck and Siding Stain is an oil-based protective coating that deeply penetrates wood for superior protection from the elements. Suitable for use on decks, fencing, and siding, it offers superior fade resistance and durability.
Available in one-gallon pails, Cabot Semi-Solid Deck and Siding Stain can be brushed on in just one coat and is easy to maintain.
- Low VOC.
- Easy maintenance.
- Satisfaction Guaranteed
- Not a stain
1-Deck Premium Wood Fence Stain and Sealer is a water-based, semi-transparent stain and sealer combination that provides waterproofing protection on all wood surfaces as well as fading, graying, and peeling protection on all vertical wood surfaces. Formulated to penetrate deep into the wood’s pores, it provides superior protection for all external weather elements.
Available in one and 2.5-gallon pails, 1-Deck Premium Wood Fence Stain can be applied by brush, roller, or spray gun. Available in five semi-transparent colors to compliment any wood type while letting the natural grain and texture show.
- Low odor.
- Easy to clean up with soap and water.
- Can be used on pressure-treated fences.
- Three-Year Warranty on Fences.
- Not good for composite lumber.
DIY Fence Stain Tutorial Ideas
All You Need to Know About DIY Fence Projects
Join the Homedit staff as they walk through forty different DIY fence ideas including links to tutorials for each. If you’re looking for a traditional wooden fence, you’ll find tutorials for basic, horizontal board, white picket, cedar, simple split rail fences, and more.
If you want to work with wood but are looking for a unique aesthetic you may want to try bamboo, lattice, trellis, wattle, log, or dog-ear fence. A modern slatted or staggered wooden fence or a Chevron Privacy fence could bridge the gap between modern and traditional. Or, if you don’t want to go with a full fence, you could try DIY privacy or portable screen.
More and more people are wanting to recycle as much as possible which is great for the environment and can also be extremely cost-effective. If you’re looking to build a fence with recycled or repurposed materials, you may be interested in pallet or planter pallet fences, or one made from old shutters or louvered doors.
There are also lots of materials you can use in combination with or instead of wood. What about tin, corrugated metal, wire, cinder block, or old utility panels? Faux wrought iron gives the classic look of real wrought iron at a fraction of the price and in a much lighter form. Fences made solely from hedges can make a beautiful statement while keeping your yard private and secure. Chain-link and barbed wire are more traditional options and are a simple way to keep an area secure.
If you have a traditionally built fence and want to add uniqueness with the finish, consider a dark or non-wood colored stain, or perhaps painting a mural on one or both sides.
Your creative juices are sure to start flowing as you’re inspired to build a fence that meets your needs, skills, and budget.
How to Stain a Fence the Fast and Easy Way
Larissa from Prodigal Pieces walks you through the process she used to stain her fence in only one day. Using the HomeRight Super Finish Max sprayer and working in a top-to-bottom/bottom-to-top pattern she seamlessly applies the first coat of stain before allowing it to cure while she sprays additional wood pieces for the yard. Once cured, Larissa applies the second coat and reveals the end results once both coats are dry. Learn useful techniques and helpful hints to make your staining project run smoothly.
Simple and Cheap Way to Refinish/Stain a Fence
Learn how to thoroughly clean and prepare your old wood fence by following the steps Nathan Nagele takes to restore his fence to its former beauty. Using a spray pump and a simple bleach and water solution, Nathan soaks each board before giving it a rinse with a garden house and attached pressure fitting. Once dry, Nathan shows how he sprayed the stain finish onto his fence and what you should and shouldn’t do to reach an ideal finish.
DIY Wood Fence Staining
Using Ready Seal oil-based fence stain, Holly Ambro walks you through the process she used for staining her family’s new wood fence. Holly explains how they determined which stain color to use with help from Ready Seal’s color sample kit as well as why they went with Ready Seal Stain. You will learn how to use a moisture meter and what level of moisture your wood needs to be before you can stain. With a roller application, a brush for finer details, and a bit of elbow grease, Holly and her husband Jason show the entire process of staining their fence and share tips and tricks they learned along the way.
Is fence stain the same as paint?
Fence stain and paint are not the same. Paint sits on the surface of the wood or other substrate it is applied to and is designed basically for aesthetic purposes. It is used to add color and hides grain and texture. Stain on the other hand penetrates the surface and is designed to protect the wood from environmental damage. Like paint, stain adds color, but the natural grain and texture of the wood remain visible.
Can you stain a dirty fence?
No, you should never attempt to stain a dirty fence, even if it is a light level of dirt. The stain will not be able to absorb into the wood as intended and will leave uneven or patchy results.
How many gallons of stain do I need for a fence?
Typically, one gallon of stain can do up to 175 square feet of fence or deck, but it is always best to read the manufacturer’s directions and recommendations on the can. To determine how many gallons you will need, take the square footage of your fence or deck, and divide it by the square foot coverage listed on the can. The answer will be the number of gallons you will require.
How many coats of stain do I need for a fence?
Typically, only one coat of stain is sufficient to protect your fence or deck. However, depending on the richness of color you want to achieve, you may want to add additional coats.
With a plethora of stain options available, the choice can seem overwhelming, but a bit of research can help you decide which one will be best for you based on your climate and weather conditions as well as the particular aesthetic you’re looking for.
Above all, make sure to invest in a good quality stain and sealer. The protection your fence will receive, the beauty of its finish, and the time saved on maintenance will far outweigh the initial higher cost of a good quality product. We would love to hear from you. Let us know if you found this article helpful and if you have any questions.