Outdoor Living
Mar 11, 2008

Cleaning your outdoor furniture

By: Heather Camlot
Style at Home
Outdoor Living
Mar 11, 2008

Cleaning your outdoor furniture

By: Heather Camlot

The basics
Regardless of the type of outdoor furniture you have, some guidelines apply.

  • Start with water and a mild dishwashing detergent. The gentle mixture won’t scratch or bleach.
  • Always test any specialty products in an inconspicuous place first. Two new environmentally friendly cleaning products from Canadian companies: Simple Wash (biowash.com) and Eco Mist All Purpose Cleaner (ecomistsolutions.com).
  • Don’t use a power washer, says Stephanie Hauser of Hauser Company Stores, a Canadian manufacturer of casual furniture celebrating its 60th year. “If you look at what power washing can do to your deck, imagine what it will do to furniture.”
  • Take care of your pieces now so you’ll enjoy them for years. “It all depends on how disciplined you are,” says Christina Siokas, seasonal merchandiser for RONA. “If you maintain the furniture religiously at the end of each season, it will last. And bringing it indoors whenever you’re not using it is the best way to preserve it.”
  • Cover up with breathable fabric furniture covers. (Although waterproof, vinyl doesn’t breathe, so it can trap moisture, leading to mould.) While covers aren’t an absolute necessity, they can extend the life of your patio set. Use them over the winter in particular, if you can’t store your pieces indoors, says Andrew Bockner of Andrew Richard Designs.
  • Dress up tired furniture with a new umbrella and colourful cushion fabrics to give it a whole new look, says Christina.


Image courtesy of Pottery Barn.

Cleaning Traditional wicker’s open weave makes it a target for dirt buildup. Wipe it away with a soft bristle brush or use a vacuum. If necessary, spongeclean with an oil-based soap; rinse with water.

Care tip
Wicker is sensitive to the elements, so it should be placed in covered areas only.

Wrought iron/steel

Cleaning Metal furniture usually has a powder coating to combat rust, but those pesky red stains can still show up, especially if seams aren’t properly
welded. Remove rust with fi ne sandpaper, wipe with a tack cloth, then touch up with the supplied paint or an exterior-grade paint that protects against rust and corrosion. For ornate designs, apply a few coats of car wax paste or spray. To clean stainless steel, Andrew suggests using the same polisher you use on your stainless steel refrigerator; apply once a month to remove dull film from rain and pollution.

Care tip
To protect from the elements and guard against rust, it’s imperative to cover pieces when not in use and store them indoors for the off-season.

Cleaning Teak is naturally waterproof and resistant to rot and warping because of its high oil content. Wash with mild soap and water. Use a specially formulated teak cleanser for stubborn stains, and fi negrain sandpaper or steel wool to remove any surface stains. Andrew Bockner recommends oiling cleaned pieces at the start of each outdoor season.

Care tip If you don’t mind the grey patina that develops as teak ages, then cleaning four or five times a year will do. If you prefer to maintain the honey colour, clean the piece, let it dry, then apply a teak brightener to restore colour and a sealer to protect from UV rays.


Cleaning Also called new or synthetic wicker, this waterproof braided plastic is a fan of summer showers because rain helps keep it clean, says Andrew. Occasionally hose down and wipe with a soft bristle brush to rid crevices of dirt; repeat every few weeks to prevent buildup. Wipe away stains with mild soap and water; if stubborn, try vinegar or bleach mixed with water, or a special resin cleaner.

Care tip Because resin is porous and therefore ripe for staining, protect with a few coats of car wax.


Cleaning There are many types of wood, from pine to cedar to acacia (like the chair shown). Whether the item is varnished, stained or painted, clean with mild soap and water. To wash away mildew, try a soft bristle brush and a mixture of oxygen bleach and water.

Care tip Unfinished wood greys with age. To revive the colour, apply a semi transparent stain when clean; it will guard fibres from the sun’s rays. There are also many oils and varnishes that add a protective finish; check recommendations for the wood you have. “Ideally, use a sun shelter or umbrella to prolong the life of your wooden patio set,” says Christina Siokas.Plastic
Cleaning “Plastic lasts a long time, but you need to clean it well each season,” says Christina. Start with mild soap and water. For stubborn stains or mildew, scrub with a soft bristle brush and a household cleaner. You can also purchase special cleansers for use on white plastic.

Care tip Like resin, plastic has little resistance to staining because it’s a porous material, so protect the surface with a few coats of car wax.


Cleaning Aluminum furniture is low maintenance, but because of its baked-on powder coating, which protects it from corrosion, you want to avoid using anything harsh on it, says Andrew. Stick to mild soap, water and a soft cloth. Any scratches should be dealt with immediately – most manufacturers supply a small tube of touch-up paint for that reason, says Christina. If your set has lost its sheen, apply a thin layer of car wax to the fi nish, says Stephanie Hauser.

Care tip Cast aluminum can stay outdoors year-round. But do store tubular aluminum indoors during winter, says Stephanie, because if moisture gets trapped inside, the metal will expand and contract with temperature changes, which can lead to cracking or peeling.

Cleaning Use mild soap and water and scrub with a sponge. Spot-clean stains with a fabric stain remover, says Christina. You can also try a mixture of nonchlorine bleach and water for stains or mildew.

Care tip
Some cushions are constructed of an outdoor drain-through foam core (for better drying) wrapped in polyester fill to maintain comfort and longevity. Although it’s best to bring cushions indoors when not in use, you
can’t predict the weather: if they get wet, lay them on their side to drain more quickly, suggests Stephanie. At the beginning of the season, spray fabric with a protector like 303 High Tech Fabric Guard, which guards against UV rays, water, mildew and stains, and helps reduce fading (though
some is inevitable).

A guide to painting perk-ups
Paint does wonders for reinventing your patio furniture. A fresh coat can coordinate mismatched pieces, save dingy plastics from landfi ll, prevent wood from rotting and reduce the risk of metal rusting. But don’t think you can just start spraying. Prep work is a must if you want your chairs and table to look as good as new (or even better!). Mark Ksiezyk, senior product manager for Krylon Retail, offers the following tips.

  • Trapped dirt and moisture can make paint pop off, and glossy surfaces will keep paint from adhering, so when it comes to a painting project, “the golden rule is clean, dull loose paint, remove dust with a tack cloth, then let dry. and dry,” says Mark. Follow the cleaning tips on these pages, sand any slick surfaces or loose paint, remove dust with a tack cloth, then let dry.
  • Spray-paint outdoors whenever possible; if painting indoors, make sure the area is well ventilated. Avoid painting in very hot weather and in direct sunlight, or paint will dry too quickly, which will result in an uneven finish.
  • Protect your surface by spreading out drop cloths or pieces of cardboard. Tape off any areas of the piece you don’t want painted. If spray-painting a small item like a pot, you can create a “spray booth”: place the item inside a large cardboard box turned on its side.
  • Start with an oil-based primer as necessary (especially important in the case of wooden furniture), then add a top coat in your colour of choice.

Spray technique tips

  • Shake the can vigorously before spraying. Practise your technique on scrap material a few times to make sure you’re not overspraying and causing drips. Mark recommends starting and ending your spraying motion off the piece, releasing the button at the end of each pass. Use an even side-to-side motion, with each pass overlapping by about one-third.
  • "Applying one thick coat is the worst thing you can do," says Mark. Take your time and apply multiple thin coats.
  • Check the can instructions for the recoat time – the drying time recommended before applying a second coat.
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Cleaning your outdoor furniture