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Outdoor Furniture Cleaning and Repair




Periodic, thorough cleansing and simple mending keep outdoor furniture in top shape for years. The techniques vary according to the type of material.

Manufacturers protect furniture with paint or clear finish to prevent corrosion that pits the surface. Prolong the coating's life by keeping it clean (never use alkaline products, such as ammonia, a component of window cleaners) and treating with car wax. Recoat scratches promptly with exterior metal paint. Furniture that has a "powder coat" (applied by spraying electrically charged dry paint onto grounded metal, and then baking) needs special touch-up paint, available from the manufacturer.

Cast Iron and Steel
Regular attention is required to prevent rust, which left unchecked will eat through the metal. Inspect frequently, especially at welded joints. If paint is peeling or reddish rust stains appear, sand problem area down to bare metal; prime, and then coat with a rust-resistant metal paint rated for exterior use. Follow up with car wax. If the design is ornate, use a spray wax.

Many cushions are covered in acrylic or polyester-coated vinyl fabric. Acrylics, such as Sunbrella, are coated with a moisture- and stain-resistant finish. Detergents remove this, so clean with gentle soap. If stained or mildewed or if water no longer beads on the surface, wash with 1/2 cup non-chlorine bleach in 5 gallons water, then reapply an outdoor-fabric finish. Polyester-vinyl fabrics, such as Textilene, do not need this coating. Brush away dust, then clean with soap. For stubborn mildew, use bleach solution. Store protected from rain. If cushions become wet, stand on end to speed drying.

Resin (Plastic)
Furniture plastic is porous, so stains sink in. To prevent this, apply car wax. If stained, try scrubbing with mild detergent or dishwashing soap. If that doesn't work, try a 10 percent solution of bleach or vinegar with water, or use a resin-furniture cleaner or a deck wash with phosphoric acid. Nonabrasive household cleaners may also help. Polish clean surfaces with car wax.

Do not oil outdoor teak; this encourages mildew growth. The rot-resistant wood needs only periodic cleaning if you accept its naturally weathered look -- gray with small surface checks. Retaining the original color takes so much work that it's probably not worth it. If you want to try, wash new teak with soap and water. When dry, apply teak sealer, which blocks some of the sun's ultraviolet rays. Then, whenever the wood looks parched, scrub with a teak cleaner, and rinse. Follow with a teak brightener (oxalic acid) to restore the wood's color. Finally, when dry, apply more sealer.

These are usually made from acrylic, polyester-vinyl fabric, or cotton canvas (clean as cushions, above, and rinse thoroughly). For easier access during cleaning, open the umbrella on a driveway or patio. Prevent mildew during storage by making sure umbrella is completely dry when taken down. Companies that specialize in cleaning awnings can often clean umbrellas.

For both traditional and "outdoor" wicker (woven from resin or coated paper), the chief challenge is dealing with the textured surface. To remove dust, vacuum or use a soft-bristled brush. When that isn't enough, scrub with soap and water. If traditional wicker cracks, the fibers are too dry. Apply boiled linseed oil, and wipe dry (the used rags are flammable; soak them in water and wrap tightly in plastic before disposing). To repair traditional wicker, apply a damp towel to any loose strands until they become flexible enough to reweave (about an hour). If necessary, tack with an exterior brad.

Wood (Painted or Stained)
Clean with soap and water. If repainting is necessary, roughen glossy paint with sandpaper or a trisodium-phosphate-type cleaner. Scrape off loose paint, and sand lightly to smooth edges of paint on remaining areas. Prime, let dry, and repaint. Stained wood is easier to care for because stains do not peel. For deep cleaning of clear-stained furniture, use a deck wash, and apply stain. To retain wood's natural look, choose a stain with "semitransparent" pigments in a tone that matches the wood. The stain will block ultraviolet rays, which break down wood fibers. To apply color to unfinished furniture, choose an opaque stain, which looks like flat paint.

Martha Stewart Living, June 2002



Reviews (9)

  • outdoor-furniture 5 Jul, 2014

    I recently purchased some wicker chairs from Premium Patio is there any good tips for keeping them looking new? I would prefer not to use some kind of harsh chemical. I have yet to find any good ideas. I like the chairs but want to know about cleaning idea for wicker.

  • Austin_Roque 10 Jul, 2013

    Very true. I had make the mistake of leaving my patio equipment out in the open over the winter for years and ruined them each time. Now I store them in the garage. It also helps if you have no cloth or wood. I like to use plastic because its more durable and holds up.

  • Outdoorfabricscom 13 Jun, 2013

    Great article...many of my customer's ask me what is a "gentle soap" when I provide them the cleaning and care information for Sunbrella. A natural soap may be Woolite or Ivory or liquid soaps made for delicate's and hand washables. Tracy 800-640-3539

  • Tuffcookie 17 Jul, 2010

    I purchsed the chaise lounge for my back yard. The holes that are drilled into the parts do not align properly making it very difficult to fit the pieces together so the bolts can go in. I would love to have the matching glider/loveseat but I will have to think long

  • sandy_swiss 28 Jun, 2010

    Maintaining outdoor furniture can be tough especially if you have upholstered furniture. Olefin and acrylic outdoor furniture fabrics work well for durability and for cleaning. I got some beautiful fabrics from I'm very pleased with my furniture!

  • ChristineRut 2 May, 2010

    I purchased the carousel table and chairs, along with the sofa, 2 rockers and table. Shortly after I purchaced it I had to replace parts of the rockers. Then even tough I keep the funiture under a gazebo in the summer and put it away for the winter, large pieces rusted and fell off. Some of the chairs are unusable because of the rust slivers. The turntable no longer turns as it has rusted.

  • NoMoreTrash 2 Apr, 2010

    Why do you do nothing about your dangerous glass tables spontaneously shattering? Why does your outdoor furniture rust so quickly? People, don't waste your money on Martha-Stewart-Made-in-China-very-poorly trash. See

  • ginnypurcell 22 Jun, 2008

    I recently saw a product for this purpose in a garden catalog. It was a replica of a paper wasp nest. Apparently other wasps and bees do not like to build near anything that resembles a paper wasp nest. Hope this helps.

  • Janescorner 19 Apr, 2008

    I used the suggestions on cleaning upholstered deck chairs and needed to use bleach in order to get the mildew out. I thank you for suggesting the non-chlorine bleach for doing this. We live on the water and humidity is a problem.
    I do have another problem. Yellowjackets as well as bees like to make a home in the pleats of my umbrella. I am allergic to bee-stings. How do I keep these insects from invading my umbrella?