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How to Stain a Previously Painted Fence


If your existing painted fence could use a refresh but you don’t want to go to the effort and expense of removing all the paint before refinishing, staining over paint is an option. However, there are special considerations for preparing a previously painted surface for staining. Proper prep is key for the stain to adhere properly and avoid issues with peeling or premature wear. With some work on the front end, you can change up the color of your painted fence by applying stain while allowing some of the original finish to show through.

This article covers the steps involved in prepping, cleaning, priming, choosing the right products, application, and curing when taking on a staining-over paint project. Things like tightly adhered paint versus thick, damaged coats require differing degrees of prep. Learning the proper weather conditions, application techniques and drying times help ensure staining success. Follow these tips for achieving a beautiful, long-lasting stained finish on your worn but still solid-painted fence.

Assessing the Current Paint and Fence Condition

When preparing to stain over an existing painted fence, the first step is to assess both the fence itself as well as the current paint that has been applied. Check for areas of the wood that may be rotting or damaged and repair or replace boards as needed – any bare wood will readily soak up the stain, which can lead to a splotchy, uneven appearance.

Examine the existing paint for damage or excessive cracking and peeling. Use a wire brush to remove any loose, flaking paint so the stain can properly adhere. Determine if a single paint layer was applied or if the fence has been painted multiple times over the years with color build-up. Staining over extremely thick layers of paint generally isn’t advisable.

Read: Why A Wood Fence Turns Green

Cleaning and Light Sanding or Stripping

Thoroughly clean the previously painted wood using either a commercial wood cleaner/degreaser or a DIY solution of one part bleach to three parts water mixed with a squirt of dish soap. Let the boards dry completely. Apply a wood brightener after cleaning to help lift stains from the boards and properly prepare them for new stains.

For a painted fence in good shape, light sanding to degloss and roughen the surface may be sufficient preparation for applying stain. Use 120-150 grit sandpaper and take care not to sand all the way down to bare wood. Wipe away sanding dust using a tack cloth.

If the paint is extremely thick, cracking, or blistering, you’ll get the best staining results by chemically stripping the fence using a product like Citristrip before sanding. Removing paint down to the bare wood allows for superior stain absorption.

Priming Bare Wood and Contrasting New Growth

Before staining, it’s important to prime any exposed bare wood on the fence with an exterior oil-based primer. This prevents uneven absorption and spotiness when the stain is brushed or sprayed on. Contrasting green wood that wasn’t originally painted on the fence posts or crossbeams will also readily soak up stains. Prime end grains and contrasting wood separately to help even out stain absorption.

Choosing Your Stain and Top Coating

When choosing a stain for previously painted wood, select an oil-based penetrating formula that flexes well with shifting temperatures to prevent future cracking or peeling. Sample different stain colors on a small section of the fence before fully committing to a hue to ensure it provides the desired tone. Purchase enough stain for the whole job and mix all cans together to prevent color variations if an extra batch is needed.

While stain helps protect and beautify wood, an added topcoat of exterior-grade polyurethane, varnish, or sealant is highly recommended when restaining a previously painted fence. The topcoat evens out stain color, provides extra UV protection to prevent fading, and helps the finish better stand up to the elements over time. Apply two to three thin, even coats over stained wood allowing proper drying time between applications.

Weather Conditions and Application

When taking on a fence restaining project, weather conditions play a key factor. Avoid staining on extremely cold or hot days or if rain is expected within the next 48 hours. The wood needs sufficient drying time after power washing and between coats. The ideal temps for staining are between 50-90°F with low humidity.

Use a paint sprayer for the most efficient stain application on fencing. This provides an even coat and allows the stain to readily penetrate wood pores. Back brush right after spraying each section to properly work the stain into the grain before moving on to the next area. Apply stain in the direction of the wood grain for a smooth appearance. Use a paintbrush for finicky areas like fence posts.

Letting the Stain Cure

It’s important not to replace items back up against your newly stained fence until the finish has fully cured. While the stain may dry to the touch in 2-4 hours, full curing can take up to two weeks. Avoid activating the latch on a gate until the stain beneath it has cured, otherwise you’ll end up with an obvious unfaded mark. Drape tarps to prevent potted plants from bumping up against freshly stained boards.

With proper prep and application, a stained fence can be kept looking beautiful for years before maintenance is needed. Always check for damage after harsh winters and spot-treat any problem areas that arise by cleaning, sanding, and reapplying stains.

Also See: How To Cut Fence Post Tops

Tackling Peeling Paint Before Staining

If your painted fence shows signs of extensive peeling or cracking paint, addressing these problem areas before staining is crucial. Use a wire brush or paint scraper to remove all loose, flaking pieces down to the bare wood. Sand rough edges smooth. Check boards for signs of rot and replace any section that feels spongy or damaged.

Apply a primer like Kilz Premium to seal bare spots, allowing it to fully dry. Then use a high-quality exterior caulk to fill any remaining cracks or gaps in the paint before staining. Caulk helps prevent moisture intrusion that can lead to further paint failure. It also allows for smoother stain application over uneven surfaces.

Choosing the Best Type of Stain for a Painted Fence

When deciding which type of stain to apply over painted wood, oil-based formulas are best. Oil penetrates better and doesn’t form a plastic-like surface coat like latex or acrylic stains. This allows for greater flexibility as wood expands and contracts through seasonal shifts.

Pick an oil stain that offers UV protection, such as Sikkens Cetol 1, to prevent graying and wear. Semi-transparent stains work well to alter color while letting some of the original painted surfaces show through. Different tones can be achieved depending on how much you strip. Allow the fence paint patina to guide your stain shade selection.

Avoid “opaque stains” which essentially serve as solid paint requiring complete paint removal for application. Instead, opt for a penetrating stain your fence can “breathe” through for the longest-lasting results of staining over paint.

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