Do It Yourself Guide to Fence Staining
So you’re pretty handy and you think you want to stain your own fence? The good news is that you can and we are going to share how we do it so you can obtain professional results that you’ll be proud to show off to the rest of the neighborhood! Of course, you might decide you should just have us do it.
Step 1: Evaluation
Has your fence ever been stained before?
No? Go to step 2.
Yes. Read on.
If your fence has been stained previously, what sort of product was used? Is it film forming i.e. paint type product or something that says “Water Seal” in the name of it?
If you aren't sure, here's how to test it:
Put some fresh household bleach in a spray bottle and select an out of view area and spray the bleach on the fence. Does the wood start to brighten almost immediately or does the bleach just run off the fence with no apparent effect? If it brightens, go to step 2.
If it doesn’t or if it appears to run off the fence with no apparent effect, give it 10 min and check it again. If it brightens go to step 2.
If not, this generally means you have a film forming stain or paint on your fence and nothing will properly adhere to it except what was previously used. So your choices are to:
- Reapply the current product
- Power wash to remove whatever is on the fence
- Do nothing.
Step 2: Decide on Application Method
- Airless Sprayer
- Pump Up Sprayer
- Professional High Pressure Sprayer
Brush and Roller are pretty self-explanatory so if we need to cover these two, you might want to reconsider. Just make sure you use brushes and rollers that are appropriate for use with oil based products. Don’t buy the high dollar ones; this is fence staining after all.
Airless and pump up sprayers: We don’t use airless sprayers, but they will work so we will refer you back to your owner’s manual. Pump up sprayers will also work; I don’t use them for stain application though…, I use them for cleaning solutions. You pretty much pump them up and start spraying the stain. As you use it, the pressure will run down which will normally start to change the quality of your coverage. With either type of sprayer, pay attention to your spray pressure and try to keep it as consistent as possible, in order to keep the stain application uniform (more on that in a minute).
The preferred method of stain application is to use a professional-grade high-pressure sprayer, which will ensure a uniform delivery of stain throughout the job and shorten the amount of time needed to complete the job. It a little tough for most homeowners to access this type of equipment, much less know how to use it properly.
Whichever tool you use, Wood Defender products can help ensure the most professional results possible. A key characteristic of Wood Defender products is that they don’t run or streak. This eliminates the need for back-brushing or rolling required to ensure many products have a uniform appearance and also mitigates pressure variations during sprayer application. In this respect, Wood Defender is the do-it-yourself stainer's best friend.
No matter which method you choose, this will be a messy process that will get stain on you, your clothes and shoes. We recommend you wear clothes you are tired of since they will get stain on them and not be good for much else. Wear comfortable footwear that you won’t mind having stain spots.
Step 3: Protect Property and Sensitive Vegetation
Identify any property or vegetation that may be damaged by bleach or stain and develop a plan for protecting them.
We recommend fences be bleached prior to staining to kill mold, mildew and algae and to prepare the surface to receive the stain. Normal household-strength bleach is suitable for this task and, at that concentration, it will have negligible effect on vegetation in open environmental conditions. However, if you have plants or shrubs that you consider sensitive, cover them with a tarp or plastic while spraying and staining, then spray them with water when you are finished.
Wood Defender products can be easily cleaned off non-porous surfaces like glass, metal, plastic, etc. Dawn dishwashing detergent is very effective at cleaning these surfaces.
Porous surfaces like brick, cement and pool decks are a little different: the best way to clean them is to prevent the stain getting on the surface to begin with. How, you say? Water! Using a low flow head on your hose and without getting water on the fence, keep the porous surface wet during staining and continue to keep the surface wet until you have time to go back and clean the surface. Unlike the non-porous surfaces described above, porous surfaces need to be wetted before, during and after staining. This is particularly challenging when dealing with pergolas and other overhead structures, but it can be done.
Remember to consider neighboring yards and let your neighbors know that you’ll be working on your fence.
sTEP 4: Prepare the Fence
Cleaning the fence is the first step in preparing the fence for staining. You have to decide if you want to bleach the fence or power wash the fence.
Power Washing is tough on wood and we avoid it at all costs since you are essentially driving water into the wood at several thousand PSI in order to strip off the outer layer of wood to get it to look new. If you have a film forming product like paint or “Water Seal” you have to either reuse the current product or power wash your wood because oil based stains like Wood Defender will not adhere to the film forming coating.
Bleaching is a much better option in most cases for either unstained or previously stained fences. Why? Because it kills all the mold, mildew and algae growing in your wood while removing all signs of UV damage. The combination of these four things is the reason your fence turns grey and or black and you certainly want it gone before you apply stain!
Using a bleach compatible sprayer, apply bleach to the wood on your fence from top to bottom. It will kill the grass under the fence so you don’t have to edge for a few weeks. If the fence is really blackened, you will need to use straight bleach; if it is medium to light grey, 3 parts bleach to one-part water will get the job done.
Oh no! Bleach in my yard?? It’s ok, bleach begins to degrade almost immediately and within a short period of time it is just a salt. Here is what a well-known company has to say about it and they are dealing with it inside, not outside with sun, wind and other environmental factors.
Allow 24-48 hours of drying time prior to applying Stain. Cooler weather requires more drying time, so adjust accordingly. The wood must be dry when the stain is applied. If it is not dry enough you will see bubbles in the stain.
sTEP 5: Stain the Fence
Prior to staining, you must mix the stain thoroughly. The best way we have found to accomplish this is to pour half the stain into another 5-gallon bucket, then use a mixing stick and really get the stain moving in both buckets. When they are both well mixed, pour the rest of the stain from the original bucket into the second bucket. Finally, pour about a half a cup of paint thinner or mineral oil into the original bucket and use a brush to get all the pigment off the bottom and sides of the bucket and pour that mixture into the second bucket. Yes, this is a little bit of a chore, but we do it with every bucket of stain to ensure you get the protection and quality you have purchased.
Failure to mix the stain well or apply evenly can result in blotchy appearance or variations in color. It’s worth taking the time to make sure you do this right. Using a penetrating stain like Wood Defender will help prevent these situations.
Apply the stain evenly and in sufficient quantity. Read the manufacturer's label for staining guidelines regarding recommended coverage. Coverage is important as improper application will decrease the effectiveness of the stain.
If using a sprayer, remember to pay attention to the spray pressure and try to keep the application uniform.
If you spill the stain or inadvertently get stain on something other than the fence, remember that your best friend for cleaning accidental overspray or spills is Dawn Dish Soap and water (Dawn is particularly effective at dispersing oil-based products). Because Wood Defender is oil based, it does not like water nor does it stick to non-porous surfaces like paint, glass, gutters, cars etc. It will, however, stick to anything that is absorbent like cement, brick etc.
Non-porous surfaces as described above will clean up with some Dawn and water mixed together and sprayed (That is a primary thing we use a pump up sprayer for). Spray the Dawn/water mix on the surface with the stain on it then agitate with a soft bristle brush and rinse it clean.
- Something will go wrong. Good prep and planning will help mitigate the impact and minimize negative results.
- When staining the fence where it joins the house, apply stain to the 3-5 pickets closest to the house by hand. This will allow you to point the sprayer away from the house when staining the rest of the fence near the join point and hopefully prevent or minimize overspray that may get on the house.
- Consider the weather when scheduling your bleach and stain jobs. Avoid days with high winds and poor forecasts.
- Do not stain the fence when it is wet. Wait until it is dry.
- Pressure treated wood can be stained, but the results won’t be optimal until it has dried. This can take several weeks because of the level of saturation during the pressure treatment process. Be patient and let it dry. The improved result will be worth the wait. Our rule of thumb is to wait at least 60 days after a new pressure treated fence has been installed before applying stain. As with any job the quality of the wood and pressure treatment will have an impact on your results.
- Preparation is the key to the prevention of unwanted overspray or stains. Have a good plan and take the time to implement it.
- Talk to your neighbors before staining to make sure you don’t inadvertently damage any of their property.
- Make sure you properly mix the stain to ensure uniform pigmentation. If staining with a large volume of stain, periodically check the stain to ensure that it hasn’t settled back into its component layers.
- If your fence has irregularities, blemishes, overspray marks from sprinklers, or variations in color and texture, consider choosing a Semi-Transparent stain. Semi-Transparent stains have more pigment and will be more effective at covering these up.
- After staining, don’t wash the clothes that have stain on them in your washing machine.
- Turn your Air Conditioning unit off prior to staining. This will prevent stain from being pulled into the AC unit’s air intake.
- When it comes to staining, you will get what you pay for. That doesn’t mean that you can’t find reasonable prices and value, but you should look carefully before taking shortcuts. Premium stains may have higher prices, but chances are they will last longer and protect better than many of the cheaper brands.
- This is equally true when it comes to stain application. Your fence’s appearance, useful life and required maintenance may be affected by poor installation techniques or inexperience. Do-it-yourselfers should read the instructions and follow them closely for best results. If you choose to hire someone to do this for you, choose a reputable and professional applicator.
That about covers all the things we do to ensure you get a professional looking job. We do have some advantages like our training, experience, products and a $20,000.00 investment in equipment, which means that we can do this a little faster and more efficiently than you can. Well ok, a lot faster and much more efficiently. In fact, be sure to visit our Facebook page to see the fence panel we did for the Fort Worth Home and Garden Show; 38 seconds to stain it!
Please don’t misunderstand - many people stain their fences and get results they are happy with while doing a lot less work, but what we have shared with you here will get you professional-looking results and you won’t need to do it every two years!
Thanks for reading our guide and if you decide this is more than you want or need to tackle, please give Sure Shot Stain and Seal a call.
What you'll need:
- Linseed Oil
- Mineral Spirits
- Stir Sticks
- Cleaning Rags
- Sprayer (Pump up or Airless)
- Brushes or Rollers
- Water Hose
- Protective Equipment (hat, safety glasses, respirator, etc)
- 5 gallon bucket (for mixing stain)
- Clothing and footwear you don't mind throwing away or being permanently stained
- Motrin, aspirin or Advil