Cleaning and Reviving a Wood Fence
How to Power Wash Fences
Fences are a great addition to any home. They keep pets in the yard, help prevent kids from running into the street, and provide privacy from your nosy neighbors. However, being exposed to the elements 24 hours per day, 365 days a year can really take a toll on your wood fence.
Fortunately, a pressure washer can turn back the hands of time and make your old wood fence look like new again. All it takes is the right tools and a little know-how.
Before Getting Started
The first thing to remember is that there is another side to a wooden fence and whether it's facing the street, a neighbor's house, or the wilderness, ensure that you know what is behind the fence at all times for proper safety. Pressure washers can cause harm to people, animals, and plants - even through the holes of a wooden fence. A few other things to keep in mind before cleaning:
- Remove tripping hazards, plants, animals, and other obstacles from the area
- Close doors and windows, if applicable.
- Choose the proper spray tip and accessories for the job. Avoid using the zero-degree tip and consider using a turbo nozzle, for example.
- Be aware that pressure washing a fence will inevitably lead to water runoff.
1. Clean With Detergent First
You'll want to lather up your fence with detergent or soap before cleaning it, especially if green moss, mold, bird droppings, or various other baked-on stains have formed. This will make it easier for you to clean, and you'll get better results if you want to restain or refinish the fence afterward.
Pro-Tip: Before cleaning, spray down surrounding foliage as well to saturate the soil prior to using detergent. This will help to encourage the runoff of detergent water to prevent harming your plants.
To get started, work in sections. Start from one end of your fence and wet the first section of fencing. Then, switch your pressure washer's detergent tank to "On" and begin applying detergent from the bottom up to avoid streaks. Let the detergent settle for 5-10 minutes to give it time to work. Continually add water to any areas that start to dry.
Especially dirty spots may need to be washed using a rotating scrub brush. The soft inner bristles of the brush are propelled by water pressure from the power washer, and will easily take care of heavy stains.
2. Rinse Using a Pressure Washer
Use a low-to-medium pressure spray pattern when rinsing the detergent. Wood is soft, and you don't want to cause any damage or streaking on the surface of your fence. A fan pattern with moderate pressure is a good bet to cover medium-large areas.
Switch your detergent tank to "Off," and squeeze the trigger to flush out the remaining detergent in the lines. Start from the same part of the fence you began on when applying detergent, and work from the top down this time to rinse all detergent from the fencing. Work with the grain of the wood. Cover 1 to 2 boards at a time, working in identifiable sections.
Repeat the process of applying detergent and rinsing it clean for each section of fencing. Applying detergent to the entire fence prior to rinsing will cause the detergent to be absorbed and dry onto the fence before you get to spray it off. You don't want this to happen. Keep the detergent wet until it's rinsed away to prevent spots and streaks from the detergent.
3. Apply Paint or Sealant
After pressure washing your fence, let it dry for at least 48 hours. You want to allow enough time for all of the absorbed water to evaporate from the wood so it doesn't get sealed in.
Once your fence is fully dry, it's important to paint or seal it so that it doesn't become damaged by the sun and wind. You can either paint your fence for a bright new look, or you can seal it to allow the wood grain to show through.
Seal it fully, and don't miss the edges of the boards between the gaps. The boards on privacy fences may be too close together to seal between them, but spread sealer into the grooves between the boards to cover any exposed wood the best you can.
After the sealer is dry, your fence will look brand new, like it was put up yesterday. Pressure wash your fence annually to keep it looking new. You shouldn't have to apply fresh paint or sealant every year, but you should reapply it every few years or so to keep it protected.
How to Clean Vinyl or Metal Fences
There are different types of fence materials out there, but the laws of cleaning fences are almost universal. You'll still want to work in sections, soak your fence in the proper detergent for the material/application, rinse after giving it time to soak in, then use the pressure washer to spray the fence clean.