Should You Stain or Paint a Fence? The Pros & Cons


There are probably a few pesky projects that need to be done around the house One of the most obvious projects is that of painting or staining a fence. A fresh fence can make a world of difference, but people often get caught up in the question of whether they should paint or stain.

Both staining or painting fences can work but staining a fence is generally because stain works better on wood, is more cost-effective, easier to apply, and does not chip. However, paint is better for those who have metal or brick fences or want an array of color or finish options.

Read ahead to learn all about the pros and cons of painting a fence, and also the pros and cons of staining, both of which are equally popular methods of maintaining a fence.

Should You Stain or Paint a Fence?

Every new homeowner wonders whether or not they should put a little extra money into projects around their house.

Is painting or staining a fence is worth the time, effort, and money it takes?

Other than being aesthetically pleasing, it’s been shown over time that painting or staining your fence can help it last decades longer than it would otherwise, leaving you with more money in the long run and much less work to do in the years ahead.

Painting or staining your fence can add instant curb appeal and your neighbors will appreciate the effort made to help keep the block looking fresh and clean.

Both options keep natural elements from ruining a beautifully cut and built fence.

Whether your wood is the type that shines all on its own, or it needs a fresh coat of color, both options are fantastic ways of keeping your fence in tip-top condition.

In the end, staining a fence is the best option for bringing out the natural beauty of the wood while painting a fence gives a lot more creative ability. It all depends on what you think would work best for your home.

The Pros and Cons of Painting a Fence

Here is the basic breakdowns of the good, the bad, and ugly when it comes to painting a fence.

ProsCons
Paint– freedom of color
– variety of finish options
– works better on non-wood materials
– fills holes better
– can last up to 10 years
– helps wood in resisting rot and other damage
– dries quickly
– easy to paint and re-paint.
– flaking and chipping
– more expensive
– not good on cedar, redwood, or cypress
– difficult to get a uniform look
– hard to change color once it’s been painted dark

As you can see, it has a lot of good things. But, some of the cons of painting are big ones, so let’s delve in deeper.

Pros

First, let’s look at the benefits. We will address everything in the table.

Freedom of Color and Finishes that Work for a Variety of Fence Materials

You have a lot more freedom when it comes to painting a fence than with staining a fence. While staining requires you to stick to brownish, neutral tones, you can pick any color or shade with paint.

You can even try out a rainbow fence where each post is a different color or attempt a mural that is sure to make visitors take a second look.

It’s easier to paint on a variety of materials than to stain. Metal and brick surfaces pick up paint more easily than a stain.

There are also many more varieties of finishes when it comes to painting, ranging from matte to eggshell, to satin, to glossy. With metal fences, in particular, glossy paints are especially long-lasting and durable.

Longevity

Paint jobs last longer than a stain job. If done right and with the right materials, paint jobs on your fence can last up to ten years.

Covers Up Flaws While Adding Protection

Paint is much better at filling in holes and cracks than stain, allowing you to cover up any unseemly areas of your fence.

Due to its thickness, paint is much more rot resistant and more able to protect your fence from the damaging effects of extreme weather.

Application Bonuses!

Paint dries quicker. Most latex paints dry within hours, as opposed to stains, which can take up to a few days to completely dry.

You can paint over almost anything! While stain doesn’t allow you to cover up over old, chipped paint, new paint can cover up just about anything.

Just lightly sand the more chipped areas to create a smooth surface and you can make it look new again with a fresh coat of paint.

Cons

This is where paint isn’t so great!

Flaking and Chipping

With paint, a large downside is that it will start to flake over time due to exterior elements. So instead of fading uniformly like a stain, paint can look like a chipped mess after about 2-3 years unless routinely taken care of.

If you want to paint a fence that already has been painted and is starting to chip away, you may need to sand over it to get a smooth surface. This is the only way your new paint job won’t immediately start to flake, leaving you with yet another job to get done.

Cost

Paint is about $12 more a gallon than stain, costing around $36 vs the $24 it costs to buy a gallon. If you have a large fence to do, this can be a huge difference.

It Isn’t Good on Everything

You really shouldn’t use paint on cedar, redwood, or cypress wood. They are some of the more popular types of woods for fencing due to their beauty, durability, and natural resistance to bugs and elements. To help keep moisture out, it’s best that you stain cedar, redwood, or cypress.

Application Troubles

Paint isn’t as forgiving as a stain if you want a uniform look. Paint requires more work to keep shades consistent throughout, especially if you are mixing paint colors and fail to properly mix them.

If you want to paint a light color on your fence but it’s already painted a dark color, you need to either sand it down to its original wood or apply a bleach and vinegar solution.

The Pros and Cons of Staining a Fence

Stains are great in many of the areas that paints fail, but still have some issues as well. As mentioned above, stains are usually the choice for fence, especially wood, but can have some problems as well.

Here is what you need to know.

ProsCons
Stain– enhances beauty
– perfect for wood
– generally easy application
– protective
– cost-effective
– re-apply every 2-3 years
– uses a lot of stain and other materials
– Re-applying stain can be tedious

Pros

The benefits here definitely can persuade one to choose to stain.

Natural Feel

Stain brings out the natural beauty of wood and its layered texture, rather than covering it up. With some wood costing you a pretty penny, it’s best to leave some fences as natural as possible.

Staining your fence can also create a warm, natural barrier from the outside (and maybe some pesky neighbors.) If you’re unsure of what kind of style you want for your home, it’s best to stick to neutral, relaxed tones that blend in with the environment.

Added Protection

Fences made of wood are especially subject to the weather. Moisture can wreak havoc on a wooden fence. With wood like cedar, it’s best to stain it to help to avoid shrinking in the long term.

It also helps that stain protects wood from the inside out, soaking into the wood to create a deep layer of protection and doesn’t chip or peel.

With metal fencing, such as chain link, staining can keep fencing from rusting, which doesn’t take long to start happening (especially in more humid environments.)

Ease

Stain can be easier to apply because a majority of stains don’t require primer, while paint won’t last very long without it.

Since wood soaks up stain and doesn’t allow drips to dry into place, it can be much easier to apply.

Cost

This is always a big one: It’s cheaper! On average, stain costs $12 less than paint per gallon.

Cons

Although stains have a lot of benefits, you need to know what you are getting yourself into ahead of time.

Re-Applying

Stain will always naturally fade away, meaning that you will need to give your fence a coat of stain every few years.

You can’t stain over a previously painted fence. First, you would have to sand it down to its original form, which could take a lot of time or a stripping agent.

Use of Materials

Staining wood means having to clean up the excess material when applying it to your fence. This can mean ending up with a bunch of rags that need to be carefully discarded. Rags full of stain are dangerous due to the fact that they can easily spontaneously combust, leaving you with a bigger mess to clean up than a few used paintbrushes.

Staining requires a little more material than you might think. Since wood soaks up the stain, it can take more mixture to fully coat a wood fence. It all depends on how absorbant your wood is.

Even a brick and sheet metal fence can be painted or stained.

Whether you like the look of natural wood or a bright green or red border, there’s a lot of fun to be had with fences. It’s really up to you, as the owner, to not only take care of your home but to also allow it to show your personality and taste.

For more information on how to put this knowledge to good use, scroll through my other article here, on how to prepare a fence for painting or staining.

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