Should I Stain or Paint a Fence

To make an informed decision on whether you should stain or paint a fence, you need to understand how each of the treatments works. The stain has a light consistency and once applied it is absorbed into the wood. It accentuates the raw wood aesthetic.

Paint on the other hand has a heavier consistency and it coats the surface of the wood, preventing water and mold from accessing the wood surface. This article is the ultimate guide, providing details on factors that may influence your choice of fence treatment.

should i paint my fence or stain it

Fence Surface

There are different types of fence surfaces including metal, chain-link, and wooden fences. While paint may be suitable for all three, the stain is only suitable for wooden fences. For the purpose of this article, we concentrate on them.

The wooden surface will determine the choice of finish to apply. For instance, a previously treated wood fence is more suited for paint application because the wood can barely absorb any stain. Besides, a fence that had been painted before may involve too much work if you choose to stain it.

However, a surface that was previously stained may be painted with ease, without the need for many prep steps. The type of wood may also play a role in determining whether to paint or stain a fence.

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For example, you might wonder whether you should stain or paint a cedar wood fence. Cedarwood does not take paint very well as it may reduce the fence’s life span considerably. Paint also gives it an uneven finish. This means wood stain would be more ideal for a cedar fence.

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Ease to Apply

Application of stain or paint varies considerably because of the difference in their consistency.

Paint has a heavier consistency and, therefore, a paintbrush will be more suitable for its application. Additionally, you must consider that the fence has to be prepared by coating it with wood paint primer before the paintwork is done.

The following steps are to apply paint:

  • Trim any vegetation around the fence.
  • Wipe dirt and debris off the surface of the fence and wash the fence using equal parts of water and bleach to remove mold if any.
  • Allow the fence to dry for at least 24 hours or depending on the prevailing weather conditions.
  • Scrape off any old paint and sand the surface down to smooth it.
  • Protect the hinges and nuts using tape.
  • Place a cloth or tarp to prevent paint from getting to the lawn or the area around.
  • Apply primer and allow it to sit for a few hours.
  • Apply paint, preferably an oil-based one, ensuring uniformity by brushing in one direction.

The paint application process, as such, involves more work and more steps, compared to staining the fence.

With wooden fence stain which is of lighter consistency, you can choose to either use a brush, a roller but the most appropriate equipment to use is a stain sprayer.

With this, you will need to wear protective eye goggles and a dust mask to avoid stain particles entering into your eyes, and their inhalation respectively.

Follow these simple steps to apply stain:

  • Do landscaping around the fence.
  • Clean the surface of the fence and rid it of all debris then allow it to dry up to ensure it is ready to absorb the stain.
  • Place a drop cloth or tarp to protect the lawn or sidewalk.
  • Spray the stain on the fence, maintaining uniformity throughout, and let it dry. Drying might take up to 2 days.

Avoid spraying in windy conditions because it will lead to more wastage of the stain and it poses more risk of inhaling the product, which may cause respiratory incidents.


Durability and Maintenance

Both painted and stained fences require regular maintenance. You should reapply stain every 3 to 4 years and paint every 5 to 6 years.

The difference between paint and stain is in the overall look of the fence a few years after application of either. A fence with stain will maintain the original look for longer and does not require much maintenance before reapplication.

However, a painted fence will require regular touch-ups if it is to maintain the original look. Without that, the paint may start to look dull and chipped. Depending on the various weather conditions and environmental elements, the paint is also susceptible to cracking.

All factors holding constant, a fence with an uneven surface will be more durable with the stain than with paint. This is because the paint may flake or peel with time. After all, it covers the surface and that affects how it settles on the wood.


Paint is a favourite for most people looking for vibrant colour and an opaque treatment of their fence. This is because paint provides full coverage of the surface and it comes in a huge variety of colours.

There is also the possibility of mixing different hues in proportions to come up with a unique look. With paint, however, you will not be in a position to appreciate the wooden look and texture.

With stain, however, it is more transparent and some stains have a light hue that is not likely to change the general appearance of the wooden fence because the stain soaks into the wood.

Recently though, more manufacturers are producing a variety of stain hues and with different levels of opacity. The main advantage of stain is that it is easy to attain uniformity in the final look.


Staining a fence is cheaper than painting it. The national average cost to stain a fence is $263-$628, while the average cost to paint a fence is $386-$754.

It is, however, important to note that you will tend to use much more stain than paint because it is absorbed into the wood. This is unlike paint that sits on the wood surface. The number of reapplications needed for paint may nonetheless make it more expensive than stain needed.

Should I Paint Or Stain My Fence?

There is no definite answer you should stain or paint a fence. It will all be determined by your preferences on the overall look with paint providing more coverage on the fence while the stain enhances the wooden aesthetic without covering it up.

The type of fence you have will also determine your course of action because some wood types such as cedar should only be stained and not painted to maintain their quality and longevity. Your budget will play a role in that paint is more expensive than the stain.