HomeownerEducational: A-M

Fence Staining & Sealing

Fence Staining & Sealing

Reasons to Stain and Seal

Protection from damage due to weather. The primary reason to stain and seal a wood fence is to protect it from the elements. Wood is a porous material, and sealants cover those pores, causing water to bead up and run off rather than penetrate. Sun, rain, snow, and wind can all cause damage to an unprotected fence, resulting in noticeable wear. A fence lacking a protective coating is completely defenseless and susceptible to damage. Even fences constructed from pressure-treated wood should be stained and sealed for additional protection from the elements.

Moisture is the primary enemy to a wood fence. Wet or damp wood is far more susceptible to rotting, so in addition to sealing, it is also important to keep the fence clear of vines and shrubbery. Common issues that result from an unprotected fence are mold, mildew, graying, fading, warping, and cracking. Staining and sealing fences makes them UV resistant and waterproof, protecting them from the aforementioned threats.

Developing a home’s aesthetic. Each home has a unique style, and the addition of a wood fence can make a big statement. Staining your fence a color that complements your home’s design scheme creates a sense of cohesion and can be a beautiful feature. On the other hand, an unmatched fence can be very distracting and displeasing to the eye.

Increasing a home’s value. Homes with good-quality fences are worth more money. By protecting your fence against wear, you are ensuring that it stays in better condition for a longer period of time. Buyers are more likely to want a home with a fence that is in good condition and will last for many years to come.

What the Process Is Like

Scheduling the job. Staining and sealing must be done at a dry time of the year. Wood retains moisture easily, and if the wood is already wet, the stain and sealant will not be able to properly adhere to it. Additionally, if it rains anytime soon after the new stain and sealant are applied, the water may wash away part or all of the new coating. Watch the weather forecast for a period of approximately three days during which no rain is predicted, and try to arrange for the fence to be stained and sealed in the morning or late afternoon. If the fence is brand-new, wait about three weeks before sealing so that the wood can settle, allowing stain and sealant to sink in more effectively.

Choosing the correct stain. Consulting with a professional is typically the best way to ensure that you are getting the right kind of stain for your fence. If you are at all unsure of your choice, it is a good idea to test out the stain on a small, unnoticeable area of the fence in order to see how it will look.

Cleaning. Prior to being stained, fences are cleaned to remove any mold or mildew. If the fence being treated is new, it probably will not need much prep work. However, if an older fence is getting stained, it may need pressure washing or removal and replacement of rotted wood to restore it to as close to its natural condition as possible. The gray color that gives the fence an aged look is actually just a layer of old wood cells. Once those are removed, a fresh layer will be revealed, and the wood will look almost like new. In some cases, a wood cleaner will need to be applied and left to penetrate the fence for a few minutes to loosen stains from dirt, mold, or mildew. If the fence has been previously stained or painted, the wood will need to be sanded or scraped to remove the old coating. Be cautious about pressure washing a fence too closely. The high water pressure can damage the wood and cause it to split.

Stain and sealant application. Once the fence has been properly prepped and cleaned, the stain and sealant are ready to be applied. Though they were once applied separately, stain and sealant are now typically applied at the same time. Stains with built-in sealants help the stain last longer by acting as a shield against damaging environmental agents.

The stain is painted or sprayed over the surface of the fence in the direction of the grain, and it should be distributed equally in all areas; if a certain area receives more stain than others, it will be noticeably darker in color, which will cause it not to match the rest of the fence. It is easiest to work with just a couple of fence boards at once, making sure not to stop or take a break in the middle of a board. Doing so will likely cause an area of uneven color.

Type of Stains and Sealants

Fence stains and sealants come in a wide variety of colors to complement the home. The concentration of pigment determines whether a stain is categorized as a semitransparent, clear, or solid color.

Solid fence stains work best on new wood. Like paint, they completely hide the wood grain of the fence. Solid stains can last between three and seven years—the longest of any type of stain—and protect against both weather wear and UV damage. However, over time, they may develop a surface film and become susceptible to chipping and peeling.

Semitransparent and semisolid fence stains only partially obscure the wood grain with pigment, leaving the natural handsome grain of a cedar or redwood fence still somewhat visible. These penetrating fence stains provide moderate protection from UV rays and water damage while enhancing the design of the fence. Semisolid and semitransparent stains generally require reapplication after about two years.

Clear fence sealants are generally applied to protect the fence from mold and mildew while showcasing the natural grain of the wood without adding any extra color or tinting. Clear fence sealants will need reapplication every year, and unlike fence stains or toners, clear sealants do not offer sun protection and will allow the wood of the fence to turn gray over time.

Oil-based sealants, which last between two and four years, are formulated with compounds that deter the growth of mold, mildew, and algae. They generally penetrate the wood more deeply than water-based sealants and provide a very durable waterproof and weatherproof finish while leaving most of the wood grain visible. However, many oil-based sealants contain solvents that emit volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which may persuade environmentally minded homeowners to use a different type of sealant.

Water-based sealants are much easier to apply and remove than oil-based sealants, and they do not emit pollutants or unhealthy fumes. They generally contain high levels of pigment that partially obscure the wood grain while providing an increased level of protection from mildew, mold, and damage from UV rays. Water-based sealants take about two hours to dry and usually need to be reapplied every year.