How to Care for Outdoor Furniture

Home, Home & Family, Outdoors
on June 25, 2011

Outdoor furniture is available in a variety of materials, and each requires specific care. Use the following tips to clean, protect and extend the life of your picnic tables, chaise lounges, patio chairs, cushions and umbrellas.

Wash all types of unfinished wood with 1 cup regular ammonia and 1/2 cup vinegar mixed into 1 gallon water. Wash painted or stained wood with dish soap and water. Rinse, blot excess moisture and allow to dry in the sun. Prolonged exposure to dampness rots wood, so don’t leave wooden furniture on the lawn or in other areas where water collects.

Furniture made from teak, a popular but expensive wood, is durable and easy to care for, says Greg Curtis, owner of The Good Earth Garden Center in Little Rock, Ark. “All it needs is an occasional wipe to remove pollen, sap or mildew,” he says. Teak oil applied once a year will slow but not stop the weathering process.

Clean aluminum, iron and steel furniture with water and mild soap. Most aluminum furniture is finished with a powder coating that resists damage. Remove scuffs with a nonabrasive cleaner and a soft cloth or sponge. If you live near salt water, wash aluminum furniture monthly to avoid pitting.

Metal furniture other than aluminum can rust. If rust develops, remove it with fine sandpaper, feathering in your strokes, advises Pat Foley of The Southern Company, a furniture refinisher in Willow Grove, Pa. After sanding, spray the area with an exterior, rust-resistant metal paint, allow paint to dry, then apply car wax. If the design is ornate, use spray wax.

Before cleaning dingy cushion covers, check the label. To avoid removing the moisture- and stain-resistant finish on many acrylics, spot clean covers with dish soap and water. If fabric is stained or mildewed, wash with a mixture of 1/2  cup nonchlorine bleach and 5 gallons of water, then apply an outdoor fabric protector.

Some liquids, such as sunscreen, can discolor fabric. To minimize staining, wipe spills immediately with a damp cloth and mild soap. If cushions get doused in a storm, stand them on end to promote drying.

Machine-wash cloth chair covers and hammocks on the gentle cycle. Before the fabric dries completely, stretch it over the frame to avoid shrinkage.

Clean umbrellas by hosing and leaving them open to dry. Take them indoors during high winds or heavy rain.

Clean natural wicker, made from willow, rattan or bamboo, with a vacuum cleaner’s brush attachment. If heavily soiled, wipe with a rag and as little water as possible. If paint needs touching up, first remove peeling paint with a soft wire brush. It’s best to use natural wicker furniture indoors.

“Outdoor” wicker usually is made of a weatherproof compound that can be cleaned with soap and water. Dislodge stubborn dirt from small spaces in the weave with an old toothbrush.

Plastic or Resin
Scrub plastic furniture with mild soap and water, rinse and dry. If mildewed, try a solution of  3/4  cup household bleach and 1 tablespoon laundry detergent mixed into 1 gallon of water. Use the same solution to scrub stains from nylon webbing and mesh. Protect your hands with rubber gloves.

Off-season, store all types of outdoor furniture indoors and uncovered so air circulates, Foley advises. Remove foot caps from tubular furniture and stand pieces upright to allow any water to drain.