A practical guide to cleaning outdoor furniture

July 28, 2015

Whether it's to get it ready for summer or put it away for winter, cleaning your garden furniture is a chore you simply can't avoid. The good news? A garden hose is the most complicated tool required. Here are some tips and techniques you'll need to clean practically any type of furniture.

A practical guide to cleaning outdoor furniture

1. Start when dry

Before even turning on the hose you should first brush off any large debris – such as leaves, sticks, spiderwebs, pine needles and bird droppings – stuck to (or accumulated on) the furniture.

  • You can put on gloves and clear off the furniture by hand. You could also use a stiff nylon-bristled brush.
  • If you have a leaf blower, you might be able to blast loose dust, dirt and yuck off of heavier garden furniture. However, smaller pieces could blow away in the gusts so this may not be practical in all situations.

Generally, cleaning schmutz off while furniture is dry is easier. What's more, there is a smaller chance for staining to occur.

2. Bring out the hose

Sometimes a stiff brushing isn't sufficient to remove stubborn dirt that's stuck on surfaces. Now's the time to haul out the hose!

  • To remove dirt, pollen, tree sap and other grime, use a hose to first spray down your outdoor furniture. Next, scrub it with a nylon-bristled brush dipped in a bucket of warm water to which you have added a squirt or three of dishwashing liquid.
  • Use an old toothbrush for cleaning out small crevices.
  • Rinse by spraying with the hose.

Although it might be tempting to use a pressure washer instead of a garden hose, it's not always a great idea: the pressure from the nozzle can potentially damage wood surfaces. Just like the hose, a pressure washer can also blow away lighter furniture.

3. What about mildew?

Mildew grows only on organic material, which means that if you have mildew-covered vinyl seat cushions, the mildew has probably sprouted on pollen and other organic droppings that have accumulated. What to do?

  • The good news is you don't need to use bleach to kill mildew. Just scrub off the organic matter and the mildew will be gone, too.

If mildew is a recurring problem, your hardware store or local home improvement centre can sell you a cleaner that is specifically made for outdoor furniture.

  • This special cleaning solution not only inhibits mildew but also cleans and protects a variety of materials – such as plastics, resin, vinyl, PVC, canvas, wrought iron, wicker and rattan – from becoming faded and discoloured.

4. To protect patio furniture frames

Any parts of your furniture that are made from metal, aluminum and plastic are susceptible to weathering. To help protect patio furniture frames:

  • Polish them with a car wax. Following the manufacturer's instructions and lightly wax the frames' arms, legs and other exposed areas.
  • Two thin coats are better than one thick coat.
  • Use it on painted metal, aluminium and plastic.

Car wax gives the furniture a nice shine and protects it from rain, dust, tree droppings and other harmful substances.

  • Be careful not to get the wax on the vinyl seat cushions. It can stain vinyl and plug the pores of the material that's commonly used to cover patio seat cushions. Like leather, vinyl needs to breathe to stay pliant and strong.

5. To restore aluminium furniture's shine

Aluminum can lose it's lustre quite quickly thanks to harsh weather, pollution and the heat of the sun. To restore its "good looks":

  • Wipe it down with a cloth soaked in a one-to-one solution of vinegar and water.
  • Aluminium does not rust, but it can tarnish when exposed to airborne pollutants.
  • The vinegar solution helps bring back the shine, as does coating the frame with car wax.

Never clean aluminium with cleansers that are alkaline. They will discolour aluminum.

  • Products to avoid for use on aluminum includes anything with ammonia, baking soda or lye soap.

6. Wooden outdoor furniture

This type of furniture is usually made of teak, western red cedar or other hardwood species. Although outdoor wooden furniture is designed to withstand the weather, a little care and cleaning will help keep it looking good for much longer.

  • Grey or mildewed hardwood tables, chairs and benches can be restored to their former natural wood colour by scrubbing with a deck cleaner, according to directions on the container.
  • After the furniture is completely dry, the clean timber should be protected with a wood oil or stain.
  • This protective treatment should be applied annually, to protect and preserve the wood's natural finish.

Wood furniture requires a bit more maintenance, but the natural beauty of wood in harmony with the environment is unbeatable.

7. Canvas director's chairs

These comfy, easy-to-store chairs are a classic look on any patio. Moreover, you can bring them indoors in winter for extra seating as they blend right in with rustic décor. Not enough space? Simply fold them up.

To keep this type of chair in good condition, simply treat spills and stains as soon as possible. To do this:

  • Scrub dirt with a nylon brush dipped in soapy water and rinse material thoroughly.
  • Treat stubborn stains with a paste of baking soda, leave for five minutes, then rinse off.
  • Allow the canvas to dry completely in the sun before folding the chair for storage, otherwise you may be greeted by a stinky, stained mess next spring.
The material on this website is provided for entertainment, informational and educational purposes only and should never act as a substitute to the advice of an applicable professional. Use of this website is subject to our terms of use and privacy policy.
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