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“My Fence Officially Looks Bad. Now What?” 

Half clean, half dirty wooden fence

At some point in homeownership, you realize that your once beautiful fence has now aged into a lackluster version of its former self. Upon further inspection, you notice problems from fading stain to splitting wood boards. You might even be a little embarrassed at this point. When you arrive at this unfortunate realization, you probably ask yourself: What now?  

In this blog, I am going to cover a few dos and don’ts of wood fence rejuvenation. Hopefully, you will be able to conclude if this is a DIY situation you are ready to dive into, or if it’s a project best left to professionals like those at McFly Pressure Washing. Either way, let’s jump right into it.  

Step 1: Diagnose the Issues at Hand 

Just like an engineer, doctor, or mechanic must diagnose the root problem, we must do the same. For example, if you have broken pickets or organic growth on your fence, you can’t just throw stain on it and call it a day. Technically, you can, but you are just putting a Band-Aid on your problem, not fixing it. Your fence will be back to its previous not-so former glory before you know it.  

Now, take a minute to look over your fence and make sure there is no major damage to any pickets. If you have damage, you should replace or repair the affected areas so that your fence does not lose its structural integrity. You don’t want to “Put lipstick on a pig” because at the end of the day, “it’s still a pig.”  

The most common problems you will find on your private fence will include algae growth which is greenish-brown in color, moss, dirt, and failed stain. You might even be plagued with sprinkler stains on your fence; you can thank your local sprinkler installer for those. If you do not know what these stains look like, a quick online search will benefit you greatly.  

Step 2: Selecting the Correct Cleaning Method 

Now that you have rooted out any major problems and diagnosed what needs to be cleaned off your fence, we are ready to select a cleaning method. You may be thinking that your fence is not “that” dirty and that you can skip this step. That would be ill-advised. Before applying stain, the wood needs to be as clean as possible to ensure a good bond between the coating and the wood. Also, if you leave organic matter on the fence, it will eat through the stain, and you will be back to step 1.  

Below, I will list the best cleaning methods for each problem you are likely to encounter.  

Algae:

To properly clean algae, you will need to use a mixture of sodium hypochlorite (bleach) and water. You will need to apply a mix of one part bleach and two parts water to the affected areas. After applying, you will need to rinse very thoroughly so that the bleach does not cause damage to the wood.  

WARNING: If you are dealing with bleach, there are many precautions you must take. Always read the SDS label before attempting to use chemicals you are not familiar with. Misuse can easily result in blindness and severe skin irritation. That is why the pros at McFly Pressure Washing are highly trained in chemical use and wear appropriate PPE. Also, if you do not adequately pre- soak and post-soak the grass where you are working, you will kill it.  

Tip: If you just use water to clean algae, it will come right back. You must kill the algae to make sure your fence stays pollutant-free for a longer time. Also, do not use high pressure water on your fence, you can easily cause permanent damage to the wood, and you may not notice until it is dry.  

Moss:

Cleaning moss off your fence is a very similar process to cleaning algae. The main difference is that you will likely need to brush the fence to dislodge the larger growth. To summarize, you should treat the affected areas, gently brush the affected areas, re-treat, then rinse. Again, follow all precautions on the container of the chemical you choose to use.  

Dirt:

If you are lucky, your fence is just plain old dirty. There are plenty of consumer-level cleaning agents you can find at your local hardware store.  

Failed Stain:

Failed stain is likely the most difficult and time-consuming problem that you can face. To properly remove old stain, you will need to use a wood stripper, a sander, or both. Depending on how adhered the stain is to the wood, you may need to use a more dangerous caustic stripper instead of a safer solvent stripper. Removing stain makes for a time consuming and possibly dangerous task; you should do plenty of research if you plan to attack this type of project yourself.  

Step 3: Selecting the Perfect Stain 

Alright, let’s take a deep breath. Now that you have identified the problem and know how to clean your fence, it’s now time to select your wood stain. Your local hardware store should have a decent selection to choose from. The type of stain that you choose is just as important, if not more important, than the color itself. When you are browsing for stains, you will typically see transparent, semi-transparent, and solid color options. Transparent stain, as the name suggests, does not include any color tints. Although there is no color, a transparent stain should highlight the characteristics of certain types of wood while offering moisture protection. Transparent stain does not offer very good UV protection, so keep this in mind if you live in a hot climate. If you do not have a cedar or redwood fence, a transparent stain might not be for you. Semi-transparent stain will allow you to alter the color of your fence while showing off the original wood pattern underneath. It should provide good moisture and UV protection. Solid stain will look like a painted fence and leave your wood with a bold color, but you should still be able to see some of the wood grain. There are many factors to consider when choosing the type of stain to use including: the style of your home, the type of climate you live in, and how often you plan to maintain your fence. As we touched on earlier, it is very difficult to remove stain, so make sure to buy a sample try a test spot to make sure that you are happy with the color before staining the entire fence.  

Step 4: Buying Stain 

Now that you have settled on the perfect color, it’s time to purchase some stain. The first step to buying the right amount is by measuring the square footage of your fence. For those of you who skipped middle school math class, you need to measure the length and height of your fence and multiply those two figures together. For example, if your fence is 6 foot tall and the length is 100 feet, the square footage is 600. (6 ft x 100ft = 600ft) 

On the label of the stain that you plan to purchase, there should be a coverage rate which shows you how much stain you need for a certain amount of square feet. Using the example above, if one gallon of stain covers 150 square feet, then you will need 4 gallons of stain to cover the 600 square foot fence. Keep in mind that certain types of wood and older fences will need more stain, since they will be more porous.  

Step 5: Applying Stain 

At this point, you might have stain in your shopping cart, but how do you plan to apply it? The two most common ways to apply stain are using an airless sprayer or using a roller and a brush. The main benefit of an airless sprayer is that the process should be much quicker. The potential downside is that an airless sprayer takes time to get used to, and you might make a mess in the process. A roller and brush are obviously going to be the simpler choice. This application method, however, will take significantly longer. I would suggest watching some YouTube videos of experts applying wood stain. If you apply too little or too much stain in certain areas, you could have a blotchy fence.  

Now that you know how to diagnose and fix your fence’s issues, put together a game plan for cleaning your fence, know how to decide on wood stain, and know which supplies you need to apply the stain, you are now ready to make the big decision. Is this a DIY project you are ready to embark on or is this a job better left to the pros at McFly Pressure Washing? If you enjoyed this blog or have questions or remarks, leave us a comment below. To make sure you never miss out on handy tips and special offers, follow us on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, X, and Pinterest to see all the latest updates!

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