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Do You Stain a Fence by Starting at the Top or the Bottom?

Stain allows the wood grain to show through.

Fence stains increase the attractiveness of your fence, and thus the curb appeal of your house. Most stains also waterproof the wood so you can protect and enhance your wood fence at the same time. Staining should always be applied from the top to bottom as this allows you to avoid lap marks and clean up drips.

Choosing a Stain

Many homeowners choose stain over paint because it is more forgiving, lasts longer and doesn't cover up the wood grain -- stain actually seeps into the wood. Use those that contain wood preservative and water repellent along with the pigments, suggests the University of Wisconsin Extension. Often, it's simple to tell when it's time to stain a fence because the color is patchy and faded, but if you aren't sure, you can simply splash some water on it. If the water quickly soaks into the fence rather than beading up on it, it's time to apply more stain.

Preparing the Fence

Before you even start applying the stain, you have to prepare the fence -- and this means cleaning it. Knock down any insect nests, sweep away the dirt and use a stiff brush to get the stubborn stuff off. In some cases, using a power washer will make the job easier, but don't spray it too close to the fence as some power washers are strong enough to damage the wood. If you have mold or algae growing on the fence, you might need to use a cleaner designed to kill it. Instructions will vary depending on the brand, but in general, spray the mold or algae with the cleaning solution, let it sit on the mold or algae for about 15 minutes, remove it with a stiff brush, and rinse thoroughly. Be sure to protect your hands and eyes when using the cleaning solution.

Applying the Stain

It can take up to three days for a fence to completely dry after cleaning, but once it is, you can start staining it. First, protect your eyes with goggles, and your skin with gloves, long sleeves and pants. Apply the stain on a warm, still day. Start at the top of the boards and work your way down. Don't do more than two boards at a time. A pad is usually the best way to apply the stain, according to Thompson's Water Seal website, but a sprayer is fine as long as you back-brush it immediately afterward. Back-brushing means to go back over the stain with a brush or roller in order to push it into the nooks and crannies of the fence -- places that a sprayer may miss. A brush is also suggested for applying the stain to the sides of the boards and in tight corners.

After Staining

Staining should be done about every two to three years. In the meantime, take good care of your wood fence by keeping vines and other plants from climbing on it -- these can leave marks and can greatly weaken the wood -- and by inspecting it carefully every three or four months. During the inspection, remove any termite or wasp nests, brush off dirt and make note of any boards that need replacing.

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Sanders, April. "Do You Stain a Fence by Starting at the Top or the Bottom?" Home Guides | SF Gate, Accessed 03 April 2019.

Sanders, April. (n.d.). Do You Stain a Fence by Starting at the Top or the Bottom? Home Guides | SF Gate. Retrieved from

Sanders, April. "Do You Stain a Fence by Starting at the Top or the Bottom?" accessed April 03, 2019.

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