The weather is turning the corner, and that means one thing for certain: It’s patio season. Before you resurrect the outdoor space of your dreams, though, give your patio furniture the spring cleaning it deserves.
Here’s how to get your furniture ready.
Assess the damage
Before diving in, give your furniture a visual inspection. For wood furniture, you may find that the wood has bowed, cracked or discolored during the cooler seasons. Look for signs of rust on metal furniture, for any cane unraveling on your wicker, and tears or animal damage on fabrics.
A visual inspection, said Josh Bateman, owner of Prince Gardening in Pittsburgh, can help to establish a cleaning “game plan.”
In addition to dirt, your furniture may have organic matter in hard-to-reach places. Cobwebs, insects and leaves are likely to accumulate on furniture that has been sitting around unused. Regardless of your furniture’s material, “the first step is to take a soft-bristled brush or cloth and wipe down any dust, dirt or leaves,” Bateman said.
Dawn Hollier, owner of Sparkleyard Outdoor Maids in Los Angeles, said, “A good bench brush and pretty much any rag you have lying around the house will get you far.”
For furniture with more to eliminate, consider a garden hose with a targeted spray nozzle, which will quickly wash away anything too large or sticky for a sponge.
Leave the power washer for more durable materials, though: “These can often damage all types of outdoor furniture,” Bateman said.
Small crevices that are dusty and dingy — as well as hard-to-clean spaces between pieces of wicker — will benefit from canned air, which is typically used to clean computer keyboards and is available at most office supply stores. A leaf blower also works for more stubborn debris.
Make necessary repairs
After surveying your furniture, determine what kind of repairs it needs. For small cracks in wooden chairs or tables, use wood putty to fill in gaps, said Jenna Shaughnessy, founder of JennaKateAtHome.com, a home décor and DIY site.
“Loose joints can easily be fixed with wood glue,” she said. “If the furniture was previously painted, I like to give it a quick sanding and apply a fresh coat of exterior-grade paint to freshen it up.” Faded plastic furniture, she said, can be brought back to life with spray paint made especially for plastics, like the Krylon Fusion brand.
To sand wood furniture, use a 120-grit pad to remove the graying layer, exposing the wood’s original color beneath. Apply stain (or paint) using an old cloth and allow it to dry for one hour, repeating if necessary. Once the stain is fully dry, which could take one to two hours, apply an outdoor sealant to protect against the elements.
Loose caning can be a persistent problem with wicker.
“If a customer has invested in higher-quality woven furniture from a specialty retailer, they can sometimes order additional material that can then be woven into their existing area and secured,” said Brad Schweig, vice president for operations at Sunnyland Outdoor Living in Dallas. Mass-produced wicker and resin items, though, he said, don’t offer parts or materials, so he suggested gluing this type of caning back in place if it comes loose.
In metal furniture, scout for rust. “If you spot any, rub it down to bare metal with steel wool and paint to match,” Bateman said.
But don’t forget about swivels, wheels and hinges, Schweig said. “From time to time, lubrication of all moving parts is recommended to extend the life and minimize squeaks or noises,” he said. He recommends using WD-40 or a “similarly lubricating process” to keep these parts moving smoothly.
Deep-clean cushions and frames
Some outdoor cushions have zippered, removable covers that can be laundered. Remove these protective covers and vacuum, or most can be tossed in the washing machine with a little color-safe bleach and then air-dried. Foam inserts can also be vacuumed and cleaned with a hose before being set out to air dry.
For cushions without removable covers, or to clean cushions without removing the foam insert, Shaughnessy suggests a solution of warm water, one to two tablespoons of liquid dish soap and a quarter cup of Borax.
“Thoroughly soak the cushions with a garden hose,” she said, before using a nylon-scrubbing brush to generously apply the solution over the cushions. Allow the solution to sit for 10 to 15 minutes, scrub to loosen stains and spray the cushions with a high-powered garden hose spray nozzle until the water runs clear.
Leave the cushions out to air dry, about four to 12 hours, depending on the weather. (Place them on their sides for faster drying.) Fabrics, Hollier said, benefit from “an ounce of prevention,” too. “Brush off dust weekly to keep molds from developing and staining the fabric,” she said.
For cleaning wood, metal and resin frames, Shaughnessy said to fill a large bucket of warm water with a quarter cup of dish soap. Using a cloth or soft-bristle brush, remove dirt. In stubborn spots where the dirt does not lift easily, allow the soapy water to sit for a few minutes before scrubbing. Rinse off any residual soap with clean water.
You can also make a more aggressive cleaning solution, using one cup of bleach, one cup of water and one cup of laundry detergent. (Don’t use this on metal because it can cause discoloration.) For wicker or resin, use a brush with long, soft bristles, as well as an old toothbrush, which will help excavate anything left behind.
“I really recommend cleaning wicker furniture at least twice per year to prevent too much mildew, because the tight weaves can make cleaning difficult,” Bateman said.
To clean outdoor umbrellas, Bateman recommends a solution of a quarter cup of laundry detergent and 1 gallon of warm water. Remove the umbrella fabric from its frame and spread it out on a clean, flat surface, such as a tarp. Vacuum up loose dirt, soak the umbrella with a hose and then scrub the fabric with the cleaning solution, using a soft-bristled brush or cloth. Let the solution sit for about 20 minutes before rinsing and letting dry in the sun.
“Umbrellas are also prone to mildew,” he said. “If this is the case, mix equal parts vinegar and warm water, followed by light scrubbing and a rinse.”
Protect from the elements
The final step in getting your furniture ready for the season is to protect it. Teak can be oiled yearly with tung oil to prevent the gray patina, but oil should be applied after the furniture is fully clean and dry. The patina, Schweig said, helps protect the wood. If you prefer to maintain the original teak color, he said, clean the teak and apply sealant, which must be stripped off before the next cleaning.
Wicker furniture in the sun, Hollier said, “should be conditioned monthly with a UV protectant.”
Dry cushions and covers can be sprayed with a fabric protectant, like Scotchgard’s Water & Sun Shield, or with a UV protectant like Nikwax’s Tent & Gear SolarProof. For metal furniture, add a rust protectant, like Rust-Oleum’s Rust Inhibitor. (That brand also makes a line of sprays that can be applied to rusty metal, making it possible to paint directly over the damage.)
For ongoing care, Bateman recommended bringing outdoor furniture inside when the weather turns “to prevent further distress and fading.” He also said to be vigilant. Addressing rust and mold early on “is crucial to the longevity of patio furniture.”