aged white picket fence

How to Maintain a Residential Wood Fence

So you’ve created your backyard paradise. The vegetable patch is looking healthy, the grass is mown, and your privacy is protected by a stunning wood fence. What could be better? Proper upkeep is what you need now to preserve your haven. And with a wooden privacy fence made from either cedar, redwood, or teak, just installing it is not enough to keep it in the best possible condition, and some fence maintenance is essential.

Wood, though it is a great renewable material and wonderfully workable resource for various fence styles, does not last forever. There are various elemental factors that will eventually degrade and damage the panels and planks of your privacy protector. If you want to know how to keep your wood fence looking new and functioning well, look no further than this article, where we will break down some of the dangers to a wood fence’s structural integrity and appearance, as well as some reliable methods for wood and privacy fence maintenance.

How Long Do Wooden Fences Last?

A good timber-based fence should last at least five years, however, when made with the right materials and cared for with the right level of maintenance, fences can stay standing for up to 30 years. The predominant belief is that hardwood fences, though they are more expensive, will act as a stronger investment, staying in better condition for longer. However, they are not immune to natural degradation.

Set Yourself Up for Success

It’s worth noting that the way you install a fence initially can have an impact on its lasting power. For example, if you install a cedar fence directly into your garden soil, the bottoms of the planks will become rotten and decay at a much faster rate than if they’re planted into a concrete base.

Similarly, you should consider the difference between using treated wood and untreated wood. While the raw woods that you can source for fence construction aren’t protected with the chemicals and pressure used to create treated wood, the wood itself is generally of better quality, meaning the trade-off may be irrelevant. If you take the path of treated wood, visit your local timber supplier in person and choose your planks personally, looking for discoloration and bends as signs of poor quality.

Once your fence is set up to a standard that you’re happy with, it’s important to take steps to maintain and preserve its quality. These processes should start on the first day that you set the fence up ideally, then you should repeat the steps once every year, few years, or thereabouts depending on the methods you choose to employ.

long wood fence with fence post caps installed

Wood Fence Maintenance #1: Fence Bleaching and Cleaning

Before you begin applying any preservative or repairing processes to a wooden fence, the first step should always be making sure that it’s totally clean. Fences bear the brunt of the elements year in and year out, and even those made from materials that are naturally resistant to decay and insect life will eventually become home to some uninvited organic material, like green or black mold and mildew.

To clean a fence properly you can use either a dedicated fence cleaner, picked up from a garden or hardware store, or you can make your own solution with one part bleach to two parts water. Once you have your desired cleaning solution at the ready, apply it to your fence with some sort of spray bottle, sponge, or any other way you can think of. Once it’s applied, wait 20 minutes for it to take effect, then rinse it away with either a power washer or a standard hose pipe. This should rid your fence of unsightly patches, then you just need to let it dry out before moving on to the next step.

Wood Fence Maintenance #2: How to Preserve a Fence

Once you’ve properly cleaned your fence to rid it of all unwanted mold, it’s time to approach the preservation of the wood. When it comes to the chemical preservation of your wooden fence, there are two main lanes that you can choose from, namely sealing or staining. Check out this article for a broader look at the different forms of wood finishes.

Sealing vs Staining

Wood Sealant:

Wood sealant is a protective chemical liquid that can be applied to wooden fences with a paint brush or roller. It’s designed to protect the wood from elements such as rain, other moisture, and insects. They’re made with the natural aesthetic of the wood in mind, mostly going on and drying out totally clear to preserve the visual quality of the natural wood grain.

There’s another variation of sealants, known as penetrating sealants, made using ingredients like tang, linseed, and hemp oil, which are designed to do much of the same as exterior sealants while also entering the wood itself to bring out some of its natural glow, or luster. Penetrating sealers can often be applied by hand (although you may want to watch out for splinters!).

Beyond these two forms of sealant, there are also coating sealants, which are often used to finish off the protective process. Varnishes and shellac are traditional forms of coating sealants, used to bring an added exterior shine to the wood, while also increasing the protection against moisture.

Wood Stain:

Wood stains have similar qualities to sealants, protecting wooden fences from moisture, rot, and mildew. One of the major differences between a stain and sealant is that stains are almost always closer to opaque shades, which while often hiding wood’s natural grain, also provide the wood with some valuable UV protection. Exposure to the sun will cause wood to fade in color, dry out, and even crack in many cases, and stain is a strong barrier against this outcome.

Stains should be reapplied once every 2-5 years, depending on the level of exposure your fence is bearing against the elements. There are a variety of shades and choices when it comes to wood stains, each with its own impact on the wood’s look as well as some distinction between their impacts.

The shade levels of wood stains include:

●Wood Toner: This stain is almost clear and designed to amplify the shades of the wood itself, rather than adding a particular color to the surface. It requires reapplication yearly.

●Semi-Transparent: This option will add a little more of a particular color, whilst still letting some of the wood grain through. It lasts 2-3 times longer than wood toner.

●Semi-Opaque: This stain will hide the vast majority of the wood's grain under a color, with maybe a little bit of transparency. It lasts around 3-4 years.

●Solid: These stains are only a step away from paint, entirely covering the grain, but still offering the same protections as other stains and then some for 4-5 years.

Sealant Pros & Cons:


●Preserves the natural grain and doesn’t alter the color of the wooden fence.

●Creates an effective water-resistant protective barrier.

●General protection for the wood against most elements.


●Sealant takes a fairly long time to dry out.

●It offers no UV protection, meaning wood can fade in color naturally.

●The UV rays can also lead to the drying and cracking of the wood.

Stain Pros and Cons:


●Protects your fence against rod, mildew, and mold effectively.

●Has various color and shade options.

●Offers valuable protection from UV rays and their damaging qualities.


●It will always at least hide some of the wood’s natural grain.

●A proper colored shade can take multiple coats before being realized.

●The fence must be thoroughly cleaned prior to being stained.

Wood Fence Maintenance #3: Repairs

When it comes to repairing splits and things of the sort in your wooden fence, there are a few quick fixes that you can complete, but often you’re better off replacing the broken planks outright. One of the quick fixes includes applying wood glue to hairline splits in the fence and laying tape atop it overnight, however, while this may work for smaller damaged patches, it’s not a sustainable fix. If you have the DIY knowhow, feel free to replace a plank yourself, just remember to give it the same treatment as the rest of the fence.

Keep Your Fence Clean #4

One of the most important parts of fence maintenance is keeping the fence clean. This can be as simple as spraying the fence down with a garden hose and scraping away any moss, algae, or bird droppings that may have accumulated. Every three to five years, a deep cleaning will likely be necessary. Many fence professionals recommend pressure washing all of the wood to get as much dirt and debris as possible.

Make sure to pressure wash at a low to medium pressure, as a high-pressure nozzle will damage the wood, especially if you hold the nozzle too close to the surface. For any leftover buildup, debris, or peeling paint, scrape with a flat-edged tool to remove as much as possible.

If you have continued issues with a buildup of dirt, moss, or algae, you may want to consult a professional or spray down your fence with a cleaning solution. A mixture of bleach and water is a great choice as it helps fight algae and mold.

Bonus Tips:

Install Rot Boards

Rot boards are a horizontal board installed along the bottom of the fence, filling the gap between the bottom of the fence and the ground. Installing rot boards helps to prevent moisture from the ground from rotting the vertical boards of your fence. Plus, they can make your fence look more polished.

Rot boards also need to be maintained and occasionally replaced. Regularly check your rot boards to ensure that they haven’t accumulated excessive moisture, mold, or algae. Repair or replace them if they become swollen, discolored, or rotten. This will protect the rest of your fence from further damage.

Maintain the Area Around Your Fence

If there are trees, vines, grass, or plants growing near the fence, keep them trimmed away from the wood. Otherwise, you risk moisture damage or structural damage. Trees planted too close can uproot fence posts, so you may need to remove any trees that are growing within a few feet of the fence.

Like any structure, it’s important that the fence is built on a solid, well-drained foundation. Check that the ground drains without an issue and fix this if needed. Otherwise, water can pool around the fence posts and cause them to rot. Sprinklers also should be turned away from your fence to keep the wood from absorbing water.

Got Gates? Oil the Hinges!

Most fences have metal attachments, hinges, or other movable parts. These non-wood pieces need regular maintenance as well. You should oil and repair these pieces just as often as the other parts of your fence– at least once a year, or if you notice any major damages. Just like with your fence wood, these parts need to be kept clear of any excessive exposure to water or outside elements.

If your hinges, metal parts, and movable parts are not properly maintained, the entirety of your fence can suffer. Plus, no one likes a squeaky gate!

Install New Post Caps

Does your wooden fence have caps on its posts? If it doesn’t, installing them is a simple, convenient way to prolong the life of your fence. Fence post caps can add to the beauty of your fence while protecting the wood from excessive moisture.

Post caps prevent water from soaking into the tops of the fence posts. This is important because moisture can damage the posts, causing discoloration, algae, and rot. Post caps can greatly reduce these issues!

Post caps are easy to add to an existing fence. We offer our American Made, 10 Year Guaranteed  Snap-Cap Post Capsmetalsolar, and finials. Figure out what type of fencing you have and decide which post cap is best for you.

What Now?

Now that you understand how to treat a wood fence with the respect it deserves, you can feel more confident than ever in making your purchase. Just remember to keep it clean, apply some sort of chemical treatment, and be careful when attempting to make repairs.

Once your well-maintained fence is set up and thriving, why not level up the look with some post caps from Atlanta Post Caps? These caps sit atop your fence posts, adding a touch of class and style, which can truly tie together an outdoor aesthetic. Click here to take a look at our range by type.