How to stain a fence in 6 steps



Fences can complement the rest of your home, adding color and style to your space. They also serve various practical purposes, like providing you with additional privacy around your home or helping keep pets within the yard. However, if a wooden fence begins to fall into disrepair, it can detract from the rest of the home. Homeowners often find that staining a fence can be a more durable solution to keep the fence looking beautiful for years to come. 

Staining your fence can be an excellent DIY home improvement project if it has begun to look more beat up. You will boost your home’s curb appeal and make your outdoor space even more enjoyable. Not only does stain last for years at a time, but when it starts to fade, you can simply brush more on the fence rather than having to sand and scrape as you would with paint. Many people also appreciate that the slightly transparent finish to the stain allows a natural wood look.

Here are the steps you will need to follow to stain your fence properly and improve your landscaping.


Tools and materials needed to stain a fence

Before staining your fence, gather all of your necessary materials. Here are the main items you will typically need to complete this project successfully. If you need to purchase some of them, you can find them in nearly any home improvement store or on Amazon. 

  • Paint roller
  • Trip roller
  • Brush sprayer
  • Ladder
  • Drop cloths
  • Exterior stain of your choice
  • Pressure washer
  • Sealer
  • Wood cleaner
  • Painter’s tape (if needed)
  • Diluted bleach (if needed)

Note that in addition to gathering these supplies, you will need to consider the weather. Since you’ll work outside, you don’t want to worry about rain coming up in the middle of your project and ruining your progress before the stain has a chance to dry. Look for a day with mild temperatures and no expected precipitation. This weather allows you to work efficiently without the stain drying too quickly or too slowly. A too-hot day can cause the stain to dry too quickly, resulting in lap marks from your brushstrokes.


DIY fence stain in 6 steps

Once you have gathered all the necessary tools, you’re ready to start staining your fence. We’ll walk you through each step of the process. If you haven’t stained fences in the past, you should thoroughly understand each step before beginning.

1. Prepare the wood for painting

As we mentioned earlier, stained fences do not have to be stripped and sanded before applying a new coat the way painted fences do. However, you want to prepare the wood. If the wood has deteriorated a bit, you may need to sand it down to make it smooth. 

If you want to use a different color of stain or varnish, use a stripper and a stiff-bristle brush to remove some of the old stain. Overall, make sure the fence looks smooth, even and ready for stain. 

2. Clean the fence thoroughly and let it dry

Next, give your fence a thorough cleaning before moving forward. This prep will give you time to get rid of any mold or mildew and dirt or debris that would make it challenging to stain the fence effectively. 

Use a high-pressure spray nozzle and a garden hose or a pressure washer. The high-pressure water helps to blast away the dirt and any chips that linger after the wood preparation in step one. If you see any mold or mildew, you can also use a diluted bleach solution to spot-treat the area and make sure you stop the damage before sealing it in with the wood stain. Put on rubber gloves before using bleach. You can then rinse the area with a garden hose again. 

After you clean your fence, give the wood time to dry completely before moving forward. 

3. Cover areas that you do not want stained

Next, protect the area around your staining project. You’ll likely want to put down drop cloths underneath your work area so that any stain drips do not get on the grass or nearby plants. If there are particular areas of the fence you do not want to stain, use painter’s tape to protect them. This protection will make cleaning up much easier after you finish applying stain to the targeted areas.

4. Apply stain to the fence slats

Now you can apply the stain to your fence. There are three main techniques at your disposal to complete this portion of the project.

  • Using a natural-bristle brush. This strategy works best if you need to get an oil-based wood stain to really permeate the fence. Begin by carefully staining any horizontal portions of the fence, working from left to right. Then stain the vertical slats from top to bottom. Stain the end grain as you reach the bottom or end of a given slat. Although this strategy will beautifully stain your fence, you will want to move slowly, working on no more than two slats at a time to prevent lap marks.
  • Using a paint roller. You can also use a nap roller cover on a paint roller to apply your stain. Work on areas about 2 to 3 feet long with this strategy. As you move the roller down the fence, you will often see some uncovered areas missed by the roller. Either back-brush or use a wide brush to go back over the area to make sure the stain gets into the grooves and avoid lap marks. 
  • Using a paint sprayer. You can also use a paint sprayer to coat your fence with stain, following all the instructions given with the device. Some DIY homeowners find that this technique can help them move faster. However, you need to go back over the areas that did not receive adequate cover, as you did with the paint roller. You also have to watch for overspray to not accidentally stain everything else around you, including the other side of the fence.

5. Let the stain dry

Once you finish applying the stain, give it time to dry. This period will allow you to see if the stain matches what you had in mind or if you think it will need more layers to achieve the desired shade. For most new wood fences, a single coat of stain should suffice.

You can see precisely how long it should take for your fence stain to dry by reading the instructions that came with the stain. Typically, most wood stains will dry in a few hours. However, high humidity can slow down this process. Darker-colored stains also can take longer to reach their full color. 

6. Apply a coat of sealant for added protection

Once you finish staining, a coat of sealer can be the perfect way to extend the life span of your stain. The sealant will help keep out water, further keeping away the mold and rot that moisture can bring. Therefore, a quality water sealant will protect your fence from the elements for a longer period and allow you to keep admiring your fence.


FAQ about staining a fence

Those interested in staining their fence often have some questions about how the process works. We will answer some of these frequently asked questions so you can move forward with your fence-staining project confidently.

What is the easiest way to stain your fence?

Many homeowners find that using a sprayer is the easiest way to stain a fence. The project moves along very quickly compared to painting by hand. However, it is easy to leave areas uncovered or have sections that get an uneven amount of stain, particularly in grooves along the fence. You will generally have to go back over these areas with your brush.

Overall, you have three techniques for staining your fence. Instead of using a sprayer as described, you can use a paint roller or paint it by hand. Painting it by hand might take longer, but many find it produces the best results.

What is the best kind of stain for a fence?

As you prepare to stain your fence, you will likely encounter three main types of stain.

  • Transparent or clear coat. This type of stain has extremely minimal color pigmentation, which means that it will look almost clear. This type of stain works best for new fences because it allows you to highlight all of the natural color and grains in the wood while still giving it some protection. 
  • Semi-transparent stain coat. This type of stain has a bit more color to it, although it still dries relatively clear so that you can see all of the grains in the wood. This stain also works well for newer wood, where you might want to add a little color to the fence but still accentuate its natural attributes. 
  • Solid-body coat. A solid-body stain will have the most color, thus giving a more dramatic change to the wood. This type of stain works better for old fences because it hides more of the damage and wear and tear the fence has seen. Additionally, the more solid nature of the stain also provides greater protection for the wood.

What is the best way to make your fence last longer?

Your fence has to stand up to the elements throughout four seasons. One of the biggest threats it faces is moisture seeping into the wood through rain, snow and other forms of precipitation. Therefore, the best way to make your fence last longer is to add a sealant on top of your stain. This added layer helps keep out water better and maintain the beauty and strength of your fence. 


Discover how Cinch can protect your home systems and appliances from costly repairs

Stained wood fences look stunning and can accent your home. As you take care of your fence through careful cleaning and staining, you want to keep the rest of your home safe and protected. Cinch Home Services home warranty plan options make securing this type of protection easy. 

With Cinch plans, you can elect to cover critical home appliances, built-in home systems or both, depending upon your needs. These plans can help cover parts of the home you rely on, like your HVAC system or oven. If something goes wrong with one of your covered appliances or systems, a call to Cinch is all you need to start the process of securing a vetted service technician to come and take a look.

Get started with Cinch today and see how these home warranties offer you security and peace of mind. 


If you’re looking to stain your fence, you want to do it properly so it looks good for years to come. Here is what you need to know about staining your fence.