How to paint a fence

To paint a fence may sound like a long and tedious job but forget slapdash and do it properly – your fence will thank you for it.

Your fence may need a simple spruce up or a complete colour change, but the principles are the same. Do it properly and the result will last for years. Slap a dollop of paint all willy-nilly over your fence and it will look a mess, annoy the neighbours and you'll be doing it all over again next year. It's your choice!

Sprightly new fences

It's a wonderful feeling to take delivery of your new fence and the best time to apply stain or paint is before it's put up. It's so much easier to paint when the panel is flat, hopefully in a garage, to avoid drips and any bad weather ruining the job. Quality new fences carry a guarantee against rot and so don't actually need any extra coatings from that point of view, but you may just want to brighten the thing up, blend or contrast with existing colours in the garden,  or even start a new colour trend. There are plenty of colour choices.

Tired old fences

Fence colours fade in time but can be rejuvenated with a new colour.  Adding a layer or two of preservative also extends the life of an old fence. Only treat a fence that is sound, as painting a fence that is already rotten through is simply wasting your time.

Painting your fence

Before you start

Gather all the materials you need to complete the job before you start. Spend money on quality brushes as often cheap ones lose their bristles, may be awkward to handle ( having rough edges = skin blisters on hands ) and can even be unbalanced or heavy. After all, the area of painting you will be doing is much bigger than your average interior house wall. Carefully calculate the amount of paint you need as the last thing you want is to run out with half a panel to go and the only stockist of your particular paint shuts in 10 minutes. All cans state the 'average coverage' figure. Another option to using brushes is spraying. Only use a sprayer made for the job as the viscosity of the paint will clog up ordinary garden sprayers. Oh, and have plenty of cardboard handy. Larger sheets are best and most shops will gladly give you the stuff (as they pay to have it taken off site!) It's the perfect material for protecting plants and neighbours.


Get yourself a wire brush and scrub off any moss, algae, spiders webs and any other debris on the panels (new or old). Put your rubber gloves on and using warm soapy water, wash off any bird droppings. Stand back, allow the now cleaned fences to dry and you are ready.


Read the instructions on the tin of paint and stir if it says 'stir', and don't stir if it doesn't! Obvious but products do have different requirements. Then aim to paint four or five sections of a panel at once – front and back. That’s because the paint will drip through any gaps in any slats and if left until you have completed one whole side, they too will have dried into streaks and blobs. It involves walking around to the other side of the fence, or even better, take the whole fence out, lay it flat and paint horizontally. Use a smaller brush to get into any small gaps and ensure any cut ends of wood are treated. Use some of that scavenged cardboard to slide under the panel to prevent drips marking patio surfaces or soaking into the soil. It also allows you to paint to the bottom edge or gravel boards without getting soil and debris on your brush. Use more cardboard to protect any plants growing near fencing. You can easily lean the cardboard against the plants without any damage. It is then easily slid away once the paint is dry.


Once completed stand back and allow the paint to thoroughly dry. Then you have that heart-wrenching decision to make – does it need a second coat? You won't want to do it but be honest. It may well look patchy as the wood, especially untreated wood,  absorbs paint at different rates and …..only you will know the answer. It's always better to do it right first time than to half do it. If it does need another coat then get the brushes out ( previously wrapped in cling film to prevent them from drying out) and do it all again.

The future

Fences usually need repainting every three years. It keeps them looking fresh, stops them from rotting and it gives you a close-up chance of checking on the health of your boundaries.

Top tips

  • Avoid painting in strong, direct sun as the paint dries too quickly (almost on the brush) and it is uncomfortable for you working so close to a surface.
  • Don't paint if rain is forecast within five hours – obviously, don't start in the rain unless you want a washed look to the finish ( and patio)
  • Paint sections of one panel and then paint the same sections on the reverse.
  • Wrap brushes in cling film when finished to prevent them drying out.
  • Use cardboard to protect the ground and your plants from excessive drips and splashes.
  • Read the tin before you start. Do as it says!

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