Live the Good Life Outside: A Guide to Outdoor Furniture Care and Maintenance

Outdoor Furniture Cleaning Basics | Metal Patio Furniture | Teak Patio Furniture | Wicker Furniture | Treat Outdoor Wood Furniture | Plastic and Upholstered Furniture

The evolving concept of “home” includes outdoor living space. From the plushest estates to the most modest households, everyone finds ways to get outside for meals, games, visits, swims and more. Open air and sunshine or moonlight seem to enhance any experience.

Anyone who has invested in outdoor furniture already knows that it takes a bit of effort to maintain, but it yields great benefits. No matter what your patio furniture is made of, you’ll want to keep it clean and maintain it to prolong its beauty and prevent any nasty surprises such as mold or mildew.

Your pieces may come with manuals or labels that can tell you a lot about what it’s made from, as well as its cleaning and maintenance needs. If you don’t have the manual, don’t worry. The experts at INTERIORS HOME have created this comprehensive guide to outdoor furniture maintenance and cleaning.

Cleaning Your Outdoor Furniture: The Basics

To properly clean your outdoor furniture, you need to know what it’s made from. Is it metal and, if so, what kind? If it is wood, is it varnished wood or untreated? Wicker is popular, but some is natural, and some is synthetic.

There is an optimal way to clean and maintain each type. The more you can learn about the composition of your outdoor patio furniture, the better. You’ll know how to best clean and maintain your pieces, and you’ll also know how to prevent damage to them.

When it comes to outdoor furniture, there are some tried-and-true pieces of advice. To get the longest possible enjoyment out of your furniture, you should:

  • Clean your outdoor furniture regularly (as needed or twice a year) according to manufacturer’s instructions.
  • Cover the furniture when you’re not using it for more than a few days.
  • Be wary of harsh chemicals.
  • Clean your outdoor furniture regularly (as needed or twice a year) according to manufacturer’s instructions.
  • Start with the gentlest cleaning option and work up to the stronger methods.
  • Keep a low-pressure water sprayer handy.
  • Avoid using a power washer.
  • Use a soft-bristled brush (a spare paint brush works well) or vacuum attachment to remove loose dirt.
  • Have a supply of lint-free towels or rags in stock.
  • Keep spray-type silicone lubricant nearby to maintain hinges, glider parts, umbrella mechanisms and other components.
  • Test your cleaning or sealing solution on an inconspicuous spot before you use it.
  • Store some fine-grit sandpaper in the tool drawer.
  • Clean most pieces with ¼ cup of mild dish soap mixed with one gallon of water.
  • Flip the furniture to inspect each side for rust, mold and mildew, especially the underside of pieces that may not have a finish on them.
  • Take off any caps on furniture stored outdoors so water won’t pool in them.
  • Check bolts, screws, hinges and other working parts about every six months.
  • Dry furniture if it is wet from washing or rain.
  • Remove bird droppings as soon as possible.
  • Tip furniture on its side to drain water and help it dry.

While individual cleaning preferences vary, many people clean the furniture when it comes out of storage or gets uncovered for the season. Then, they clean it again before putting it back into storage for the cold Central PA winter.

If you use your outdoor furniture all year, inspect and clean it at least twice a year. When cleaning your furniture, look for any chipped paint, dysfunctional hinges, squeaky moving parts, stains on cushions, rust, loose screws, missing foot pads and other wear-and-tear issues.

How to Clean Metal Patio Furniture

Arguably the most durable and long-lasting of outdoor patio furniture, metal patio furniture comes in many styles to suit a range of tastes. Most of the pieces have a good weight and don’t blow over. They are also easy to maintain.

Every metal except aluminum can potentially rust, but most outdoor furniture is coated with some kind of rust-resistant finish. Metal pieces are typically powder coated, painted or varnished. Experts agree the most effective protection for any furniture is a cover.

To clean metal patio furniture, use a mild soap mix and a soft sponge or a lint-free rag. You can use fine-grit sandpaper, a small wire brush, auto-polishing compound or a brand-name liquid rust remover to work off stubborn stains or rust. After removing these spots, you’ll need to repaint the areas or the whole piece. Often, the manufacturer sells touch-up bottles in the colors of their furniture.

When you repaint the furniture, use a weather-resistant formula made for metal. Treat the sanded spots with a rust-resistant primer before painting. If you do need to paint or touch up the furniture, wait until a day when the humidity is low. Then, apply the color in long, even strokes.

After each season, clean and, if necessary, repaint your metal furniture. Then, consider rubbing on a protective liquid paste or wax. Auto wax works, and the application protects the finish, extends furniture life and helps prevent rust.

Taking Care of Teak Patio Furniture

Teak, which is made from durable Asian wood, is resistant to termites and water damage. Available in finished and unfinished pieces, it is perhaps the most aesthetically pleasing outdoor furniture. Highly popular in the 1950s, it is undergoing a resurgence. Now, today’s homeowners have to learn how to maintain teak outdoor furniture.

When cleaning outdoor teak furniture, clear surface dirt with a soft-bristled brush or vacuum attachment. Then, wash treated and untreated teak with a mild soap mix, washing or lightly scrubbing in the direction of the wood grain. Let teak dry for at least eight hours after washing.

The key to taking care of teak patio furniture is watching for your pieces to show age. They’ll become dull or gray in color, which is caused by oxidation. When this occurs, rub it lightly with 320-grit sandpaper to restore the original color and finish. When you’re completely finished sanding, wipe the piece clean with a soft, cotton cloth and carefully remove all dust particles.

Experts recommend that you apply quality teak oil after sanding, which soaks into the pores of the wood to protect it. Using a brush, apply the oil with a minimum of three strokes. Wait at least one hour of dry time between coats. The teak-oil product might say how many coats are needed, or you can decide according to how the color changes with each coat of the oil. You’ll be amazed at how it restores color while adding protective layers to the teak.

Treat your teak outdoor furniture twice a year to extend its lifespan. Wash, sand and oil as needed, depending on wear and exposure.

Teak and cedar are about the only kinds of outdoor wooden furniture that you don’t necessarily need to store inside. Both have natural oils that give them some protection from moisture, though nothing beats covers and inside storage.

Cleaning Wicker Furniture

Wicker is typically made of some type of tightly woven vine such as split reed, rattan, coated paper, bamboo or willow. Sometimes the wicker is reinforced with metal, and there are also resin-wicker items made of high-density plastic.

The right wicker furniture care depends on if it is resin-wicker or not. Resin-wicker can resist harsher cleaner practices.

For example, if you find difficult-to-remove spots, you can use an all-purpose cleaner on your resin-wicker pieces. Be sure to wipe or spray the cleaner completely off when you’re finished.

To clean any other wicker furniture besides synthetic resin, you need to use milder techniques. First, remove the loose dirt with a soft-bristled brush or vacuum attachment. Then, you can use a mild soap mix, a lint-free rag and an old toothbrush for the hard-to-reach places. Clean wicker at least every six months or, if you do a lot of outdoor living, as needed.

Should you need to spray your wicker piece with water, use a gentle-mist shower rather than a full-on flooding. Too much water will weaken the weave of the furniture. It is very important to let the wicker completely dry before using it again because it may take several days to regain its full strength. If the paint chips or peels on a wicker item, you can hit it lightly with fine-grit sandpaper, then paint over the sanded spot.

You can protect and maintain wicker furniture with a suitable lacquer, varnish, shellac or polyurethane, as well as a fresh coat of paint. After completing the initial finish, you can seal it with a thin coat of liquid furniture wax to add protection, taking care to wipe off any globs that form.

How to Treat Outdoor Wood Furniture

How you treat outdoor wood furniture depends on what it is made from. It might be bamboo, eucalyptus, wood-like resin, teak, mahogany or any range of treated or varnished wood. To determine the best course of maintenance and cleaning, learn what type of material it is, and if it has any protective coating. Experts agree that any piece of outdoor furniture needs varnish formulated for exterior use.

When cleaning outdoor wood furniture that has a varnish on it, you can safely use a mild soap mix or combine a gallon of hot water with powdered-oxygen bleach, which is non-toxic. You can find powdered-oxygen bleach in most stores, and the product chemistries vary. Take a look at the powdered-oxygen bleach container to get an idea of mixture ratios. Then, start testing effectiveness with the least amount of the product. It helps to have some lint-free rags and an old toothbrush handy. Never use chlorine bleach on wood because it will dry the material and fade its color.

It’s somewhat debatable whether outdoor furniture needs a sealant. Proponents say it will help prolong the life of the piece and protect its finish and color, while others say it’s not necessary since most outdoor furniture is made of materials that naturally resist the elements. The wood-look resin offers a tough and practically maintenance-free option that resembles wood but requires less maintenance. You can also clean a wood-resin piece with a mild soap mix.

If you do seal your pieces, get a clear, water-resistant, quality brand that protects against mildew or a stain that is semi-transparent. The manufacturer may have recommendations about how often to reapply the sealant, but generally every one to three years should be sufficient.

Keep any wooden legs out of standing water and don’t let furniture sit in damp soil for any extended period. One night for a party doesn’t hurt, but in time, the wood in the furniture foot and leg will wick moisture from the ground and begin to decay.

Some people use a wood bleach or brightener — products containing oxalic acid — to “fizz” the grime off and improve the look of the wood. There is a strong argument not to use pine oil, since it is made from tree resin that some consider harsh for wood.

Experts agree that you can remove tough stains and mold from wood with a fine-grit sandpaper. If you do have to deal with mold in your outdoor wood furniture care, tie a handkerchief or medical mask around your nose and mouth. You should also wear disposable rubber gloves and toss all the materials in the garbage when you finish. The best protection for outdoor wood furniture is to store it in a dry garage or shed.

How to Care for Plastic and Upholstered Outdoor Furniture

Plastic and upholstered outdoor furniture can be easier to maintain than metal, wood, teak and wicker. However, you still need to clean them periodically to ensure a long life and prevent mold growth.

  • Use the mild soap mix in your bathtub or utility sink to scrub outdoor cushions.
  • Defeat mold on upholstery with a mixture of two tablespoons oxygen bleach per gallon of warm water.
  • Treat upholstered items with fabric-protector spray to fend off the effects of weather. Krylon makes a product especially for outdoor use and UV protection.
  • Wash sunscreen off of plastic to prevent it from discoloring the furniture.
  • Clean plastic and acrylic with the mild soap mix.

Outdoor Furniture Maintenance: Restore Your Pieces

Before you give up on a piece of beloved outdoor patio furniture, consider what you can do to restore its life. You can replace many damaged parts, such as chair glides, vinyl straps, standard and custom chair slings, and arm and leg end-caps. Replacing these minor items restores and prolongs the life of your furniture. If the finish has no life left, or you’re tired of the color, consider getting it sandblasted then powder coated or painted fresh.

If you still think it’s time to get rid of your outdoor furniture, don’t just throw it in the trash. Instead, donate to a charity or recycle it. Many kinds of metal and plastic are recyclable, though some furniture might need to be stripped of accessories or disassembled before recycling.

Outdoor furniture adds immeasurable quality to life and the home environment. Everyone wants to live the good life outside, and effective outdoor furniture care and maintenance will help you enjoy that life longer. Outdoor furniture of all kinds needs regular attention, but the effort pays dividends in your enjoyment as well as the functionality, durability and lifespan of your furniture.