wood fence maintenance tips

Simple Tips for Maintaining an Iron or Wood Fence

Reports from the construction sector show the majority of homes in America are surrounded by fences. While businesses once fell behind a bit in this regard, new figures show they’re now taking extra measures to improve their appearances and ramp up security.

Numerous fencing options are available ranging from standard chain link to vinyl and composite. Of the various materials at home and business owners’ disposal, wood and iron are among the most popular. Both offer a number of benefits, such as durability, longevity, security and aesthetic appeal. In order to continue living up to their expectations, though, they require a certain amount of ongoing care and maintenance.

How to Maintain a Wood Fence

Though wood species like redwood, cypress, pine and cedar can last for decades, heat, humidity, wind and cold tend to take their toll over time. Without proper upkeep, even the most enduring woods can succumb to the elements.

Check Meticulously for Problems

First off, it’s important to perform a walkaround once each year to inspect the fence for damage, decay or other problems. Loose or broken boards, missing nails or screws, decaying posts or other issues should be repaired as soon as possible. Also check the soil around the fence posts to ensure it’s firmly packed and isn’t eroding. If the soil is loose or sinking around the posts, this is a sign of insufficient drainage.

During the inspection, remove any tree branches hanging over the fence or growing through it, and trim back any hedges growing against it. Overgrowth adds weight to the fence and increase moisture exposure, both of which can shorten the lifespan of the wood.

Cleaning Your Wood Fence

Opinions vary when to comes to how often a wood fence should be cleaned. Some insist annually is best whereas others say it’s only necessary every three to five years. In truth, you can’t go wrong in playing it by ear. If the fence is covered with mold, mildew or other types of buildup, go ahead and give it a thorough scrub.

Using a pressure washer is certainly the fastest and simplest way to clean a wood fence. When taking this route, though, caution is recommended. Pressure washers can cause cracked wood to chip and splinter in some cases. Handwashing takes a great deal more time and elbow grease, but it’s gentler on the wood.

Cleaning solutions formulated specifically for wood decks and fences are readily available at home improvement stores. A mixture of bleach and water or a mild cleanser, such as dish detergent, can also be used.

Whether using a pressure washer or otherwise, consider covering the grass and flowers or shrubs along the fence with tarps to keep from damaging them. Also use gloves and safety glasses to help protect you from the cleaning chemicals and flying debris.


Repairing and cleaning go a long way toward extending the life of a wood fence, but maintenance doesn’t end there. After the fence has dried thoroughly, it’s time to refinish it. Allowing it to dry at least a week before refinishing is advised.
Several finishing options are on the market. Some choose clear sealers because they allow the natural color and character of the wood to shine through. Numerous stain shades are also available. They alter the color of the wood without covering its grain and other features. Painting is also an option.

If you decide to stain the wood fence, be sure to choose a version containing sealer and UV inhibitor. Without these additives, the stain will do little to deflect moisture and extreme temperatures. Should you choose to paint, use an exterior latex or oil variety.

Don’t refinish the fence if the immediate forecast calls for rain or high humidity. Be sure to seal, stain or paint when temperatures are between 40 and 90 degrees. This will help ensure the finish soaks into the wood well and doesn’t produce a cloudy or muddled effect as it would in more extreme temperatures.

Iron Fence Care and Upkeep

With prompt maintenance, iron fences can last a lifetime. Still, they’re notorious for rusting especially in areas with high levels of moisture or salty air. As is the case with wood fences, annual inspections are recommended. Walk along the fence, checking for scratches and areas where rust is beginning to form.

Rust Removal

Any rust should be removed. In some cases, this can be done with a toothbrush or other type of lightly abrasive scrubber. Rust spots that can’t be scrubbed away with these tools require more in-depth attention. They’ll need to be removed with sandpaper or a fine wire brush.

Further Measures

Clear away vines and other plant life as well. Foliage growing on or hanging over the iron fence exposes it to excess moisture. Rose bushes and other thorny growth may scratch the fence. Both issues promote rust formation.

Cleaning and Preventative Maintenance

Clean the fence by hand with warm, soapy water. Once the fence has dried completely, it’s time to protect it from further exposure to the elements and resulting damage. Water-repelling coatings are available, but automotive wax also works well for safeguarding an iron fence against weathering and rust. If desired, you can paint the fence. Be sure to use an oil-based paint containing rust inhibitor and meant for outdoor use.


Fences are integral components in protecting homes and businesses as well as boosting visual appeal and property value. Both iron and wood offer long-lasting security and beauty. While iron could be considered the more decorative of the two options, wood can provide greater privacy.

Annual cleanings may not be necessary, but fences begin to grow dull and stained over time. If left to their own devices, dirt, algae and other buildup can detract from the appearance of a fence and cause it to age prematurely.

Although both materials can last for several decades, ongoing preventative maintenance and repairs help extend their lifespan and keep them looking their best. Annual inspections are the key to catching damage and other problems early and taking care of them before they have a chance to get out of hand. All these efforts will help ensure you get the most out of your fence for years to come.

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