After a few seasons on the porch, your furnishings may start to show their age with rust marks, mildew, or stains. These general care tips will ensure that your chairs, tables, and cushions look beautiful for years to come. Outdoor woven fabrics generally undergo a chemical treatment during manufacturing to increase stain and moisture resistance, regardless of whether they are made from synthetic fibers, such as vinyl-coated polyester or acrylic, or from cotton blends.
- 1. Read Care Guidelines.
First, some basic furniture care rules to follow. Familiarize yourself with the manufacturer’s instructions. Using unsuitable products may damage items and void the warranty.
- Start with a Light Cleaning.
Sweep surfaces as needed using a soft-bristle brush, and rinse with water.
- Use a Gentle Cleanser.
Combine 1/4 cup mild dishwashing liquid, such as Ivory, and 1 gallon warm water. Use a sponge or a soft-bristle brush to scrub the furniture’s surface thoroughly. Rinse, and then pat dry with a lint-free cloth.
- Avoid Harsh Treatments.
Do not power-wash or use chlorine bleach, pine oil, or abrasive cleansers unless directed. Test new solutions on a hidden area.
- Manage Mold.
Scrub or sand lightly to remove mold, depending on the material. Wear gloves, and discard used supplies to avoid spreading spores.
- Protect Furniture.
Cover items when they’re not in use, or store them indoors. Remove the foot caps on chairs and tables, and keep furniture upright to allow accumulated water to drain.
- Caring for Wicker Furniture.
This pliable weave used to make furniture is traditionally constructed from rattan, split reed, or coated paper and is sometimes reinforced with metal. Coats of clear varnish, paint, or a combination of the two are often applied to protect the surface. Sunlight is the primary enemy of wicker. Always cover wicker furniture if you intend to leave it outside for more than two or three weeks.
Deep Cleaning. To remove dirt and debris, vacuum with a dust-brush attachment or use a dry paintbrush. Clean with a mild soap solution. Scrub, and rinse. Avoid using too much water, which can weaken the fibers. Dry as described.
Maintenance. Regular cleaning is recommended for wicker, as it generally cannot endure harsh or abrasive treatments. This also minimizes mildew buildup. Sand lightly with fine-grit sandpaper to remove any peeling paint, and touch up with paint as necessary.
- Caring for Wood Furniture.
Most lumbers used for outdoor furniture naturally resist decay and withstand the elements. Although sealants help preserve color and protect against wear and tear, they aren’t necessary. Left unfinished, the wood acquires a silvery-gray patina and requires little maintenance.
Deep Cleaning. To remove stains or mildew, mix 1 gallon hot water with powdered oxygen bleach according to directions. Scrub the area with a soft-bristle brush, and rinse. To remove rust stains or bird droppings, or to restore original color, sand lightly along the grain using fine-grit sandpaper, and rinse. If the area is too large to sand, mix hot water with oxalic acid crystals (also called wood bleach or wood brightener) according to directions. Apply with a soft-bristle brush, and rinse. Don’t use chlorine bleach, which can damage wood fibers.
Maintenance. To protect from ultraviolet rays, dirt, and moisture, or to preserve restored color, seal the wood. First, clean surfaces, and sand off any existing finishes. Touch up with paint if needed. Apply a clear water-repellent preservative, which contains a mildewcide, or a penetrating semitransparent stain. (The pigment in the stain helps minimize sun damage.) Consult the manufacturer’s instructions to learn how often to reapply; in general, you’ll need to do so every 1 to 3 years.
- Caring for Metal Furniture.
Aluminum, iron, steel, and other metals can be wrought (heated and hammered into shape), cast from molds (often in solid pieces), or formed into hollow tubing. Because most of these, except aluminum, are subject to rust, metal furniture is usually finished with layers of clear varnish, paint, or a durable powder coating.
Deep Cleaning. Use a mild soap solution, and scrub, rinse, and dry as described. To remove rust stains or mold, sand the area lightly using fine-grit sandpaper. Wipe it clean, and apply touch-up paint if needed (available through the manufacturer) in several thin layers. Let dry between coats. Humidity may affect the paint, so it’s best to work on a dry day.
Maintenance. After cleaning, apply a coat of quality liquid or paste auto wax with a lint-free cloth if recommended by the furniture’s manufacturer. Use a silicone spray to lubricate swivels and glides on chairs, as well as ribs and poles on umbrellas. Inspect for rust or chips regularly, especially in hidden areas where the surface may be unfinished (even stainless steel can corrode in salty environments).
- Caring for Fabric.
Material for outdoor use, often called performance fabric, is designed to resist sun damage, stains, moisture, and mildew. Solution-dyed fabric, woven with pigment-infused fibers, is less prone to fading and can handle more-aggressive cleansers than printed or piece-dyed cloth. To determine which you have, check both sides of the fabric. If they are identical, it’s probably solution-dyed. Otherwise, it’s printed or piece-dyed.
Deep Cleaning. Removable covers sometimes can be machine-washed in cold water, using mild, bleach-free laundry soap, and then air-dried. To hand-wash, submerge the fabric in a solution of 1/4 cup gentle liquid soap, such as Ivory, and 1 gallon lukewarm water (do not exceed 100 degrees), swishing gently. Rinse, and air-dry. To clean mold from solution-dyed fabrics, mix 1 gallon warm water with 2 tablespoons oxygen bleach if the care guide lists it as an approved cleaning agent. Wet the affected area, and scrub with a soft-bristle brush. Rinse, and air-dry.
Maintenance. Regularly brush off dirt and debris, and rinse as needed. Wipe spills and stains immediately with a wet cloth and a mild soap solution, because certain liquids, such as sunscreen, may cause discoloration. Some fabrics have a water-repellent finish (check care guide) that loses effectiveness over time. To restore repellency, clean and dry the material, and then apply a fabric protector, such as 303 High Tech Fabric Guard (not suitable for vinyl or plastics). Let dry between coats. Repeat once a year or whenever water stops beading on the surface.
- Caring for Plastic.
Resin or all-weather furniture is generally made from plastic, either polyvinyl chloride (PVC) or polyethylene (PE). These plastics are manufactured with a number of chemical additives, including ultraviolet stabilizers and fungicides, and can be shaped to mimic wood, wicker, and items such as woven chair straps and slings.
Deep Cleaning. Use a mild soap solution, and scrub, rinse, and dry as described. For tough stains or mildew, try a solution of 10 parts water to 1 part chlorine bleach if the care guide lists bleach as an approved cleaning agent.
Maintenance. Sunscreen residue can discolor some plastics, so wipe furniture with a wet cloth and a mild soap solution soon after exposure.