Can You Paint a Fence with Engine Oil?


Preserving a fence is a top priority when building a new fence. There are lots of options when it comes to fence paints. Using engine oil often isn’t an option most people think of when considering painting their fence but using engine oil as a fence paint used to be common practice before recycling was an option.

You can paint a fence with engine oil. Engine oil makes a great long-lasting fence paint. Engine oil can be applied the same way as any other paint. This was used often as a fence paint until the rise of recycling.

How To Use Engine Oil To Paint

At its base, engine oil is still mineral oil. All mineral oils have excellent preserving qualities. Luckily, all mineral oils are also very easy to apply. You can use a sprayer or a brush to cover your fence in engine oil.

When using a sprayer it is best to filter the oil and mix it with diesel. Mixing with diesel is very important because it dilutes the oil, making it more absorbable by the wood. Using diesel is also important because it is fire resistant. “If the diesel is under the 126 to 205 degree Fahrenheit flashpoint (which is usually the case) it will not light with a lighter or other ignition source.” Source

Using straight oil doesn’t pose a problem with flammability either. The flashpoint for engine oil is between 302 and 392 degrees Fahrenheit. “According to the OSHA standard, 29 CFR 1910, motor oil is a combustible liquid, but not a flammable liquid”. Source

The more diesel you use the lighter the fence stain will be. The same is true for the age of the oil. If the oil has been used in an engine it will leave a darker stain. The more it has been used the darker the stain will be.

Here is a video showing how easy it can be to put the oil on a fence. There is good information in this video. It could be considered a little careless though. We will address environmental concerns a little later in this post.

When To Use Engine Oil Paint

Determining when to use an engine oil is almost as important as knowing how to use it as a fence paint.

The most important idea you have to consider is how long you want the fence to be up. Motor oil will preserve wood for over 25 years. It’s a long term commitment. So using engine oil as the paint will preserve your wood for a very long time.

If you are concerned about rot and bugs, painting your wood in engine oil and diesel will be very useful. The oil will repel water so long as it penetrates the wood thoroughly.

The oil diesel mix will also repel bugs. Bugs despise the smell of diesel which makes it effective in keeping them away. It’s not a perfect solution, but it does work. Be sure not to get it on your clothes though.

Soaking into the wood will limit the smell. Getting it on your clothes will result in a smell that would take a few washes to get out. The smell may not ever fully come out.

Environmental Concerns

We’re talking about used engine oil here. It’s a big concern for the environment. In the video above, the old man said that the oil won’t hurt the environment. The truth is it’s more complicated than if it hurts or not.

The question isn’t if it will hurt the environment. The question is which option is best for the environment. Being a hot topic let me just post some basic findings.

In a study conducted by three plant scientists, it was found that as the number of pollutants in engine oil increased, the health of the plant decreased. Source

Keep in mind that this has been a very common practice in the south-eastern agricultural United States for a few generations. These people have experienced little harm to crops and plants from this practice.

This is likely because it preserves so well and you only need to paint your fence with oil every time you build a new fence, which isn’t very often because of how well it preserves.

It keeps ground and water pollution to a minimum.

What this means is that if you are going to paint your fence with engine oil, you need to be careful and plan. Do not paint your wood over dirt. Make sure that if you are growing plants under your fence to aerate the soil and promote health after you paint it to minimize effects.

Application Options

As you decide what type of treatment meets your needs best you will need to decide how to apply it to your fence. Keep in mind that these materials are considered toxic. Your options for application are either a paintbrush or sprayer.

Use a paintbrush only if you are using straight oil. The contaminants in the used oil will clog a sprayer if the oil has not been filtered. Using a paintbrush is also a good way to get more oil on the fence than a sprayer in one go.

A sprayer is nice because it does the job fast. Use this if you are opting for the diesel/oil mix. You may need to do a couple of coats, but that might not be a bad idea anyway.

It is my opinion that painting your fence in engine oil is best done on a concrete surface with good ventilation. This will help minimize the oil seeping into the ground while allowing the wind to take any harmful fumes away.

Since these materials can cause damage to one’s health, it is a good idea to use protective gear while handling them. Not necessarily required, but a good idea.

Long Term-Effects

As stated above, there are long-term effects to keep in mind when painting a fence with engine oil.

The most glaring is the environmental effect. Both sides of the argument are valid so one must weigh both the pros and cons and decide what is best for themselves.

There is no doubt that engine oil can seep into the ground and harm the plants and water in the area. This in turn hurts the living things in the area, which can also include people.

On the other side, using oil preserves your fence so well that you probably won’t need to build another one for decades. Building a new fence repeatedly could be considered just as bad for the environment as painting your fence with oil once every couple of decades.

The last thing to consider would be how long you want the fence to last. If you’re looking for a permanent solution that would go away for a very long time paint away. Just be careful as you do.

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