Many homeowners choose a wood fence over other materials because the classic look of a wood fence is hard to beat. However, over time the elements can dull a wood fence’s appearance and leave it looking worse for wear. If you live in a dry area, the combination of UV rays and dust can make your fence look washed out and old. Those of you in wetter climates have probably seen slimy stains on your fence and other wood outdoor surfaces that darken with each successive rainy season—telltale signs of mold and algae. The good news is that fence maintenance has come a long way since Tom Sawyer and his bucket of whitewash, so if you wish your wood fence looked new again, there’s no need to worry. There are several options to restore your fence to its original appearance and make it a beautiful addition to your property once again.

Call a Pro

Pressure washing is the most efficient way to revitalize your fence. You should hire a professional if you’ve never worked with a pressure washer before; in order to remove the grit and muck from surfaces, pressure washers must be very powerful—units used on home cleaning projects typically produce 1,500 to 3,000 psi—and in untrained hands that much force can be dangerous. If used improperly, a pressure washer can also splinter softwoods like cedar and thereby ruin a fence.

To ensure a job well done, hire a competent cleaning or fencing company to do the work. Remember that professional cleaners can pressure wash a wood fence just as easily as they can clean your siding or driveway, so consider any other pressure washing your property may need before hiring a contractor.

Do It Yourself

If you’re thinking this is more of a DIY project, the following tips can help you pressure wash your fence without damaging it:

  • Rent or buy an electric pressure washer; gas-powered units can deliver too much pressure for cleaning a fence.
  • Use the appropriate nozzle heads; try 15-degree attachments for tough grime and 25-degree attachments for dirt that washes off more easily.
  • Keep the nozzle one to two feet away from the fence to avoid damaging it; try beginning farther away from the fence and then gradually finding the right distance for cleaning.
  • Use cold water; hot water can “raise the grain” of the wood and make staining or sealing the fence more difficult.
  • Lay down plastic sheeting to protect the grass around the fence.
  • Be careful when using the pressure washer; protect your eyes with safety glasses, and never direct the water stream toward people, pets, or electricity sources.

You can also wash your fence the old-fashioned way: by hand. Depending on the size of your fence, this can be a much longer and tougher job than using a pressure washer. Washing by hand will require an effective cleaner in lieu of powerful water pressure, so be careful when handling these concentrated chemicals. Appropriate cleaners are available at your local hardware store; all you need to add is elbow grease. With any cleaning solution, it’s wise to test it on an inconspicuous area of your fence before spraying a larger area.

If you really want to keep your wood fence looking great for years to come, consider other treatments such as staining and sealing, which are detailed further in Part 2 of our blog.

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