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How to Pressure Wash a Fence Before Staining

Our outdoor surfaces go through a lot throughout the different seasons. They collect dirt and grime, their old paint flakes off, and they’re exposed to all the elements like rain, snow, wind and heat. Even films from air pollution can cover our outdoor surfaces.

Fences can be especially prone to collecting dirt and grime and weathering the elements. They’re outside 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Cleaning them can be really tough, and making sure fences are clean is important – especially before staining. Staining a fence can make it look good as new, but it’s almost imperative to clean a fence well before staining it! Luckily, there’s an easy and effective solution to cleaning your fence before staining, and that’s pressure washing.

To pressure wash a fence before staining, there are a few important steps. First, you’ll need to gather the materials needed. Then select the correct tip and pressure for the pressure washer so as not to damage the fence. Next, you’ll use the correct techniques for actually spraying the fence. Lastly, you’ll need to tidy up any debris that’s collected at the bottom of the fence and wash it away.

To make sure you have all the information you need to pressure wash your fence before staining, we’ll walk you through what pressure washing actually is, what staining a fence entails, why it’s important to pressure wash a fence before staining, and the techniques for pressure washing your fence before staining for the best results. You’ll be a pressure washing pro in no time!

All About Pressure Washing a Fence Before Staining

Before we get to the practice of pressure washing a fence before staining (which we’ll cover in depth), there’s some other important information you’ll need to know. Think about what pressure washing is, why it’s important to pressure wash a fence before staining, and what can happen if you don’t wash a fence before staining it.

What is Pressure Washing?

To know how to pressure wash a fence before staining, you’ll want to know what pressure washing is. Pressure washing is the use of high-pressure spraying water to remove things like dirt, grime, old paint, mud and mold from surfaces like buildings, vehicles, and of course fences.

Pressure washers are a tool that incorporate two to four high-pressure jets that swivel around each other when water is flowing. This creates a high pressure flow of water that can clean surfaces very quickly.

Pressure washers are very versatile and have been known to be used on a large variety of surfaces, like decks, roofs, gutters, driveways, house siding, vehicles and automobiles, parking lots, sidewalks, and patios. 

What is Staining?

If you’re planning on staining your fence and pressure washing it beforehand, you likely already know what staining is. Regardless of if you’re experienced with staining or if you’re new to it, it’s helpful to know more about it.

Staining wood (and in this case, staining a fence) entails applying a type of finish to wood to alter its appearance. The stain can be used for a number of things, like bringing out the grain of the fence, changing the color of the fence, protecting the fence from the elements, or all of the above.

Staining your fence has a lot of benefits, much like the ones discussed above. Fences of course require maintenance, and staining your fence will help maintain its quality, protect it from the elements, and of course alter and better its appearance. Staining a fence can get it looking good as new. 

Why Pressure Washing a Fence Before Staining is Important

You may think that applying the stain to a fence is the most important part of staining a fence, but that’s actually not entirely the case. One of the most important steps of staining a fence is actually cleaning the fence before applying the stain. An effective and easy way to clean a fence before staining is through power washing. 

So, why is it so important to pressure wash and clean a fence before staining it? Before applying any type of finish to a fence, including stains, you need to remove any old finish(es) and remove any built up dirt, dust, grime or other substances from the fence. If you don’t, there’s a high chance your new stain might not work at all.

Not pressure washing and cleaning a fence before staining will allow the new stain to sit on top of the old stain and also on top of anything else that may have been sitting on the surface of the fence, leading the new stain to peel off prematurely instead of actually penetrating the wood.

Pressure washing a fence before staining it will also ensure blemishes are removed that could show through the surface of the stain. Additionally, pressure washing before staining removes any debris that has collected between the wood, which thwarts mold and fungus from growing.

What Can Happen if You Don’t Pressure Wash a Fence Before Staining

So, maybe you’re still considering not pressure washing your fence before staining. You definitely should pressure wash your fence before staining, and here’s why. 

If you don’t pressure wash your fence before staining, it’s more than likely that the new stain won’t penetrate the wood as it will just sit on top of the old finish(es). Your new stain will peel off the wood, and possibly look even less appealing than it did before. 

Additionally, if you don’t pressure wash your fence before staining, you’ll see many more blemishes and undesirable spots in the wood

How to Pressure Wash a Fence Before Staining

Now that you know how important it is to pressure wash a fence before staining, you can learn the process of actually pressure washing your fence. We’ll give you a brief overview of the steps, and then go through the steps in depth so you know exactly what to do and when.

Overview of Steps to Pressure Washing a Fence

We’ll go through these steps in depth, but here’s an overview of the steps to pressure washing a fence to make sure it’s prepared for staining:

  1. Collect the necessary materials
  2. Follow the right technique for spraying the fence
  3. Tidy up the fence and around the area
  4. Wait for the fence to dry
  5. Get ready to apply your stain

Step One: Collect the Necessary Materials

Pressure washing a fence is relatively simple and doesn’t require a ton of materials, but you’ll still want to make sure to collect all the materials that are necessary. To pressure wash your fence before staining, you’ll need:

  • A pressure washer (preferably gas powered)
  • The correct tip or nozzle for your pressure washer
  • A water source
Getting the Right Pressure Washer to Use on a Fence

There are two main types of pressure washers: electric pressure washers and gas pressure washers. When it comes to either type of pressure washer, the higher the pressure per square inch (psi) means the tougher the job they can take on. They use a steady stream and source of water to deliver a certain amount of gallons per minute (gpm).

Electric pressure washers are great for light-duty cleaning on things like garage floors, outdoor grills and vehicles. They deliver a pressure per square inch of about 1,300 to 1,400 and about 1 to 1.5 gallons per minute. 

For pressure washing a fence before staining, a gas pressure washer is optimal. As it turns out, most of the pressure washers that are commonly for rent or for sale are gas pressure washers. This is great, because it means it’ll be easier to find a pressure washer to rent or buy in order to pressure wash your fence.

Gas pressure washers deliver a psi of up to and beyond 3,000, and about 2-3 gallons per minute. As you can see, they’re a bit more powerful and use more water than electric pressure washers. Gas pressure washers are great for bigger and heavier duty jobs, like deep cleaning concrete, preparing siding for painting, and of course cleaning a fence before staining.

How Much PSI Do You Need To Pressure Wash Your Fence?

Most fences are made of pine or cedar, although cypress and redwood are also popular. I’m sure there are other woods that are used to build fences. Since fences are made of different materials there is no one PSI that is good for all of them.

A good strategy to use is to start between 500 to 800 PSI. Try spraying an inconspicuous area and see the effect on your fence. If it’s not cleaning it properly you can increase the PSI. If it’s damaging your fence then you need to lower your PSI. After you find the right PSI, you can start cleaning the rest of your fence.

What Type of Pressure Washer Soap Do You Need for Your Fence?

There are a lot of soap options out there to clean your fence. From the simplest dish soap to the most specialized pressure washer soap for deck and fences. You can even make your own soap for your fence.

Getting the Correct Tip/Nozzle for the Pressure Washer

There are several kinds of nozzles and tips for pressure washers that have different uses. If you plan on renting a pressure washer to use to clean your fence, you’ll want to make sure to ask for some advice from whoever is renting out the power washer on the type of tip or nozzle you’ll need.

When it comes to tips and nozzles for pressure washers, the wider the spray means the lower the pressure. For example, a 10 degree tip will deliver a focused, very pressurized blast of water, where a 40 degree tip will deliver less pressure in a wider spray.

For pressure washing a fence, the recommended tip/nozzle size is 25 degrees. It delivers enough pressure to effectively clean the fence while not damaging it or creating cuts and visible marks.

Step Two: Follow the Right Technique for Spraying the Fence

Once you’ve got the right materials to pressure wash your fence, the fun part begins! You can begin spraying your fence. There are some steps and techniques to follow to make sure you’re doing it properly and now at risk of damaging your fence. 

Prep Before Starting the Pressure Washer

First things first, there’s some prep to be done before even starting your pressure washer. To do this, start by making sure sure everything is good to go with your water supply. 

Usually, for a garden hose to be able to deliver the 2-3 gallons per minute a gas-powered pressure washer needs, the garden hose needs to be 50 feet long or less, have a ¾ inch inside diameter, and have ¾ inch standard hose fittings to connect to the pressure washer’s inlet.

Additionally, make sure the garden hose and pressure washer hose are both free of kinks or folds. 

Next, tighten all your hose connections so they’re air-tight. Set your spray wand to a low or no power setting so that there’s no surprises or kickbacks when you turn on the pressure washer. If your gas-powered pressure washer has variable nozzles, make sure the nozzle is on a wide-fan and low pressure setting. If your pressure washer has different individual tips, completely remove the tip. 

Once you’re completely sure your water supply is running correctly for your pressure washer, and once you’ve tightened your connections and turned down the pressure washer’s settings, turn off your water supply. Squeeze the spray wand trigger of the pressure washer to prime its pump and get any air out of the system. Now you’re ready to start the pressure washer!

Starting a Gas-Powered Pressure Washer

Starting a gas-powered pressure washer is relatively simple. Follow these steps to ensure everything is done correctly:

  1. Clean any debris from the inlet filter.
  2. Connect any accessories you wish to use with the pressure washer. This is the time to reconnect your tip nozzle if you removed it.
  3. Run water through the pressure washer for approximately one minute. This removes any leftover air and primes the pressure washer’s system.
  4. Squeeze the trigger of the spray wand to bleed the water pressure.
  5. Pull the starter cord and get ready to spray!
Techniques for Spraying a Fence with a Pressure Washer

Wood is soft, and that can make it more prone to damage done by pressure washers. To ensure your fence gets clean without any damage, you’ll want to make sure to follow the correct technique for pressure washing your fence.

First things first, position yourself at least 3 feet away from the fence. Spray in long continuous lines, working your way from the top of the fence to the bottom of the fence. Follow the grain of the wood while doing so. Cover a few boards at a time and work in identifiable sections. 

Continue this process until your entire fence is rinsed down by the pressure washer.

Step Three: Tidy Up the Fence

While you’re spraying the fence with the pressure washer, you may notice that debris you’ve washed off has collected at the bottom of the fence. This is normal and nothing to worry about, but you need to make sure to tidy up the fence and rinse off any debris left over at the bottom of the fence. 

Using your pressure washer, rinse off and tidy up any debris that has collected on the bottom of the fence to ensure all the boards are clean.

Step Four: Let the Fence Dry

Before even thinking about staining the fence, you need to let your fence dry. Having a completely clean and dry fence before staining will ensure the best results! It’s recommended to let your fence dry for at least 48 hours after pressure washing and before staining. 

Step Five: Get Ready to Apply Your Stain

Now that you’ve successfully pressure washed your fence, it’s time to get ready to apply your stain! 

Tips for Pressure Washing an Extra-Dirty Fence

Like you surely know by now, fences are really exposed to the elements. Some areas may make fences more dirty than others, as can neglected care. If you’re planning on power washing an extra-dirty fence, there are some tips to ensure you get all the gunk and grime off to get your fence ready for staining.

Create Your Own Cleaning Solution

When plain old water isn’t doing the trick on your fence, you can create your own relatively simple and inexpensive cleaning solution to use inside the pressure washer. To do so, use ¼ cup bleach and ¼ cup laundry detergent in every gallon of your pressure washer.

This will help remove built up stains, mold, mildew and virtually anything else your fence has weathered. 

Get a Scrub Brush Attachment for the Pressure Washer

Pressure washers are very versatile, so naturally, they have different attachments to aid with all sorts of jobs. For a particularly dirty fence, you can get a rotating scrub brush attachment for the pressure washer.

Rotating scrub brush attachments use soft inner bristles that won’t damage the wood of the fence. The bristles are spun and propelled by the pressure from the pressure washer and really get into the wood to remove built up or stubborn stains and grime.

Safety Tips for Using Pressure Washers

The most important part of using a pressure washer is making sure to be safe while doing so. To ensure your safety and the safety of others when using a pressure washer, follow these tips:

  • Never put your hand in front of the nozzle of a pressure washer.
  • Never point the nozzle at other people, children, pets, or surfaces not intended to be pressure washed. 
  • Stand at least 3-4 feet away from any surface being pressure washed. 
  • Engage the safety lock on the sprayer’s trigger when changing nozzle tips or when not actually using the pressure washer. 
  • Never use a pressure washer while standing on a ladder! Recoil and pressure can knock you off the ladder.
  • Wear safety glasses when operating a pressure washer.
  • Stay at least 6 feet away when using a pressure washer around power lines or electrical outlets.

Information About Staining Your Fence After It’s Been Pressure Washed

You’re now a professional on pressure washing your fence before staining it – congrats! Now for the part that will really make your fence as good looking as new: staining your fence. 

Like we briefly discussed before, applying a finish like a stain to your fence is a great way to bring it back to life, keep it looking new, and also to protect it from the elements. Staining is a win win all around! 

Let’s walk through some basic information about staining your fence after it’s been pressure washed so you get the best results possible.

Overview of the Basic Steps for Staining a Fence

We’ll go through these steps in more detail, but for a quick glance, here’s an overview of the basic steps for staining a fence. 

  1. Gather the necessary materials
  2. Conduct any extra cleaning or repair needed
  3. Protect surrounding areas you don’t want stained
  4. Stain the fence 
  5. Let the stain dry
  6. Apply a sealant
  7. Let the sealant dry
  8. Reveal your finished product

Materials Needed for Staining a Fence

Just like you needed some materials to pressure wash your fence, you’ll need some materials to stain it. Luckily, staining is a pretty simple and inexpensive task. To stain your fence once it’s been pressure washed, you’ll need:

  • A stiff bristle brush
  • Rubber gloves
  • A bucket and bleach (if there are still any mildewy or moldy spots on your fence after you’ve pressure washed it)
  • Fine grit sandpaper (optional and just in case)
  • Painter’s tape
  • Drop cloth
  • Oil-based wood stain
  • Wood filler (if there are any nicks or blemishes in the fence that need to be filled)
  • Clear outdoor wood sealant

Once you’ve gathered your materials, you can move on to the basic steps for staining a wood fence once it’s been pressure washed. 

The Basic Steps to Staining a Fence

Since you already know how to pressure wash your fence or have already pressure washed your fence, there are some steps we’ll get to skip here. Nice! These basic steps to staining a fence begin right after you’ve pressure washed your fence and waited at least 48 hours for it to dry.

Extra Cleaning and Repair

This step isn’t always necessary if your fence is in good shape. Inspect your fence to see if there are any mildew or mold spots on the fence. Also look for any blemishes, chips or cracks in the fence that might need to be filled. 

If you see any mold or mildew deposits, take your bucket and fill it with a solution of bleach and water. Put on your rubber gloves and apply the bleach to the affected areas with a garden sprayer. Let it settle in for a few minutes and then rinse the solution down with your pressure washer. 

If you have to do some additional cleaning with your bleach solution and water, you’ll need to wait at least another 24 hours for the fence to dry out once again before resuming the staining process. Don’t worry; it’s worth the wait!

If you see any chips, cracks or holes in your fence that need to be filled, repair them with wood filler and let the wood filler dry. 

Protect Surrounding Areas You Don’t Want to Stain

If there are areas of the fence you don’t want to stain, use your painter’s tape to tape off those areas. Additionally, use your drop cloths to protect the areas beneath the fence if you desire. Doing so will help protect any vegetation beneath the fence. 

Stain the Fence

It’s time for the main event: staining the fence! Staining works best when applied with a natural-bristle brush. This allows for the stain to permeate the wood and create a great finished product.

To apply wood stain to the fence, start by dipping the tip of the brush into the can of stain. Coat any fence slats that are horizontal in a left-to-right motion. For vertical slats, coat them from top to bottom on the entire length of the slat. Stain one to two slats at a time. 

Some people prefer to use a roller or sprayer instead of a brush when applying stain. If that sounds better to you, then by all means, use the method you prefer! Remember, if using a sprayer to apply stain to a fence, wear a mask over your mouth and protective glasses.

Additionally, if you plan on using a sprayer to apply stain to your fence, try not to apply the stain on a windy day. This will prevent the stain from going where it’s not intended – even on you!

Let the Stain Dry

Just like with the pressure washing, you’ve got to let the stain on the fence dry. Let the fence dry as long as instructed on the can or on instructions from the manufacturer. If you wish to have more color or more depth to the stain, you can apply additional coats of stain to the fence once the first coat has dried.

If you choose to apply additional coats of stain to the fence, follow the same techniques as with the first coat of stain. Then, let each additional coat dry as with the first coat. 

Apply a Sealant

To really (literally) seal the deal on your fence and protect it, apply a waterproof sealant to the fence once all the coats of stain have effectively dried. This can prolong the appearance and livelihood of your fence – and who doesn’t want that?

Allow your sealant to dry completely as according to the can or the manufacturer’s instructions, like with the stain. 

Clean Up and Reveal the Finished Product 

Once the sealant on the fence is dry, remove any of your tape and drop cloths and clean up your area. Once you’ve done your clean up, it’s time to reveal your newly revived and beautiful fence (and be proud of all your hard work)!