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Should You Paint Your Wooden Fence?

Being one of the earliest resources available to us, wooden fences have long been part of the iconic American image. Over the years, we've developed various ways of protecting our wooden fencing material, while also putting our own stamps of creativity and preference into them. Two of these methods are outdoor paints and stains. So if the question is should you paint your fence, there isn't a hard and fast answer. In truth, it's down to your personal preference.

Outdoor Paint

Paint Cans

Outdoor paint is a much tougher, and longer lasting version of the paint that you'd use on your interior walls. Outdoor paint has a tendency to let off harmful chemicals during the first few weeks after application, which is the main reason it should never be used indoors--the amount of chemicals being let off will go down overtime, but will continue for a few years.

This type paint consists of solvents, pigments, additives and binders--all meant to protect the material that it's coated over. It comes in any color you can imagine, allowing homeowners to customize their fencing to their liking.

Very much like stains, there are different types of outdoor paints, such as:

  • Oil-based
  • Latex-based
  • Acrylic-Latex based

Wood Stain

Wood Stain

Wood stain is a type of lacquer like paint, consisting of colorants and dyes suspended in a solvent like solution. When painted onto the wood, the coloring seeps deeply into the material, giving it a rich color that will last for many years once properly sealed.

Stains can come in many different colors, some include:

  • Beige and cream colors
  • Blue and teal shades
  • Brown, tan and other natural neturals
  • Grey
  • Reds and pinks

Many organic colors and tints can additionally play up the natural beauty of the material, such as:

  • Maple
  • Oak
  • Mahogany
  • Pine
  • Chestnut
  • And more!

There are also various different types of stains. These different bases can have various effects on the stains themselves. These stain types include:

  • Oil-based stain
  • Water-based stain
  • Gel stains
  • Lacquer stains
  • Varnish stains
  • Metalized stains
  • Water-soluble dye stains

What's the difference between Paint and Stain?

The difference between paint and stain is mostly in the way that they hold onto the material they are applied to. Paint coats over and grips the surface of the wood, but doesn't change it's actual coloring. Stain will change the overall color of the wood, but will fade over time as the color is exposed to the natural elements, once the protecting sealant has faded away.

Over time, the two substances wear differently. Paint will eventually begin to bubble, peel and crack away from the surface of the wood, necessitating the removal and reapplication of the paint. The heavy layer of the paint restricts the wood from 'breathing' as a natural material. However, with fencing there's always part of the wood sunk into the ground. The earth is naturally moist, and the wood will absorb that moisture. With paint covering its surface, that moisture is retained within the material. This retained moisture can make the paint pop and peel much faster than it normally would, while also accelerating the natural decomposition process of the wood, leading to lots of maintenance over the years. A good quality outdoor paint can last anywhere from 5-10 years, but it all depends on the amount of strain that it'll have to hold up against. Sun, wind, rain and excessive temperatures in summer and winter can all have an ageing effect on the paint.

With stain, the process is slightly different. Over time, the stain will fade from the top layers of the wood once the initial sealant has worn away. Stain doesn't require sanding, or scraping off the old material--you can simply reapply and seal the wood once again. Once done, you won't have to worry about further maintenance for a few seasons. Stain, when properly sealed can go between reapplication anywhere from 2-5 years.

What if my fence is already painted?

Painted Fence

It happens all the time. You move into a new home with a lovely fenced in backyard and the fence is already painted a pleasant color, but you'll need to redo it soon. Of course, if you like the look of a painted fence, you're more than welcome to strip off the old and apply a new layer.

If you prefer a more natural look, you can also strip off old paint and stain the fence, as long as the wood is still in good shape. Some homeowners decide to go for a more unique look, and combine the paint and stain to create a new aesthetic all together.

Is stain or paint better for my wooden fence?

At the end of the day, it's all down to a few factors:

  • The amount of maintenance you're willing to put in
  • Your preference for aesthetics
  • Your budget


If you prefer a more natural look, stain may be the better choice for you--however, if you're looking to do slightly less maintenance, and live in a fairly easy climate, paint may win out. Neither is better or worse than the other, and where they truly differ is in cost, appearance, and longevity. Paint or stain will adequately protect your fencing for years to come, and your local exterior paint and stain expert is just a call or click away, so get started today!

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