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Fence Staining: Is Brushing, Rolling, or Spraying Best?

Staining a fence is not just about enhancing its appearance but also about preserving the wood from the elements. Choosing the right method for staining can make a significant difference in the aesthetic appeal, duration of the staining project, and longevity of your fence. In this article, we'll explore three popular methods: brushing, rolling, and using an airless sprayer, detailing their pros and cons.

peeling fence stain
Peeling Fence in Madison, WI

1. Brushing:

Brushing is the traditional method of applying stain to a fence. It involves using a brush to coat the surface of the wood with the stain by hand. Brushing is an ancient method and has been recorded in China as far back as 3000 BCE.


  • Precision: Brushing allows for precise application, ensuring thorough coverage even in hard-to-reach areas and intricate details.

  • Control: With a brush, you have complete control over the amount of stain applied, allowing you to achieve the desired depth of color.

  • Penetration: Brushing allows the stain to penetrate deep into the wood fibers, providing excellent protection against moisture and UV rays.

  • Cost-effective: Brushes are relatively inexpensive and can be reused multiple times with proper care. Brush care includes thorough washing after use, using a brush comb, proper brushing technique, and not letting stain dry on the brush.

  • Low-Waste: Brushing uses the least stain out of any of the available methods if done properly.


  • Time-consuming: Brushing is incredibly labor-intensive and time-consuming, especially for larger fence projects. Brushing takes about twice as long as rolling and ten times as long as spraying in our experience.

  • Fatigue: Continuous brushing over extended periods can lead to hand and arm fatigue. This should not be underestimated as brushing a vertical surface requires the use of your shoulder muscles on the dominant hand the entire time.

  • Brush marks: If not applied evenly, brush marks may be visible on the surface, affecting the overall finish. Even application can be challenging for a novice.

EcoWash fence staining
EcoWash Crew Brushing and Rolling Finishing Touches on a Fence in Verona, WI

2. Rolling:

Rolling involves using a paint roller to apply stain to the surface of the fence. It's a faster method than brushing and provides more consistent coverage.


  • Efficiency: Rolling is about twice as fast as brushing, making it ideal for covering large areas in a shorter amount of time if a sprayer is not available.

  • Smooth finish: A paint roller can create a smooth and even finish, minimizing the appearance of brush marks.

  • Ease of use: Rolling is less physically demanding than brushing, reducing fatigue during application.

  • Versatility: Rollers come in various sizes, allowing you to choose the most suitable option for your fence.

  • Cleanup: Cleaning paint rollers is less time-consuming than cleaning brushes, requiring less thorough rinsing to remove all traces of stain.


  • Limited precision: While rollers provide good coverage, they may not reach into tight corners or intricate details as effectively as brushes.

  • Splatter: Rolling can sometimes cause splattering, leading to stains on unintended surfaces or nearby vegetation. This is common if working fast as the rotating motion of the roller will cause stain to splatter due to centrifugal forces.

  • Waste: Rollers may absorb more stain than brushes, leading to potential wastage, especially with thicker stains.

ecowash fence stain spraying
A fence being sprayed in Menasha, WI

3. Airless Sprayer:

Using an airless sprayer is a modern and efficient method of applying stain to a fence. It involves spraying the stain onto the surface using a high-pressure pump.


  • Speed: Airless sprayers are the fastest method of staining, covering large areas in a fraction of the time compared to brushing or rolling.

  • Uniform coverage: Sprayers provide a consistent coat of stain, reaching into crevices and pores for comprehensive coverage.

  • Versatility: Airless sprayers can be adjusted to deliver different spray patterns and thicknesses, allowing for customization based on the fence's condition and the desired finish.

  • Reduced fatigue: Spraying requires minimal physical effort compared to brushing or rolling, reducing strain on the body during application.


  • Overspray: Without proper technique and control, airless sprayers can cause overspray, leading to wastage and staining of unintended surfaces.

  • Masking: Spraying may require extensive masking of nearby structures, vegetation, and surfaces to protect them from overspray.

  • Cleanup: Cleaning an airless sprayer thoroughly after each use is essential to prevent clogs and maintain optimal performance.

  • Skill requirement: Achieving professional results with an airless sprayer requires practice and skill to control the spray pattern and avoid uneven application. A novice will struggle with the use of an airless sprayer. Watch our YouTube tutorial on the use of an airless sprayer and troubleshooting here.

fence staining orange
This fence in McFarland, WI was sprayed. The rocks beneath the fence have intentional overspray as the client was replacing the rocks.


Q: Can I mix different staining methods for my fence?

A: Yes, you can, and you should. Many homeowners and professionals choose to use a combination of methods based on their preferences and the specific requirements of their fence. For example, you might spray or roll the majority of the fence and use a brush for hard-to-reach areas or for a final coat to ensure even coverage.

Q: How long does it take for the stain to dry?

A: The drying time for stain varies depending on factors such as temperature, humidity, and the type of stain used. Generally, it can take anywhere from a few hours to a full day for the stain to dry completely. It's important to follow the manufacturer's recommendations (usually on the stain can) for drying time before applying additional coats or exposing the fence to moisture.

Q: How often should I restain my fence?

A: The frequency of restaining your fence depends on factors such as the type of wood, the climate, and the quality of the stain applied. In general, you may need to restain your fence every 2-5 years to maintain its appearance and protection. Inspecting the fence annually for signs of wear and weathering can help determine when it's time for maintenance.

Staining your fence is an investment in its longevity and visual appeal. By understanding the pros and cons of each staining method and selecting the one that best suits your needs, you can achieve a beautifully stained fence that enhances your outdoor space for years to come. If you are looking for a professional to stain your fence, reach out to EcoWash to get in touch with a knowledgeable professional in your area.


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