The tenets of good homekeeping reach beyond the walls of a home, into all of our outdoor spaces. Porches, pergolas, arbors, garden rooms, patios, balconies, decks, and terraces can all be thoughtfully planned, furnished, and maintained, in the same manner as indoor rooms.
Every week, sweep the floors with an outdoor push broom, dust the windowsills, door frames, and ceiling-fan blades using a counter brush.
Every month, wash light fixture covers. Because insects tend to collect in them, always remove covers to clean them. Rinse and dry thoroughly before replacing them.
Sweep away cobwebs and debris from walls and ceilings with a corn broom, and wash down the walls with a solution of all-purpose cleaner and water using a large polyester sponge.
After thoroughly sweeping the floor with an outdoor push broom, scrub away grime with a long-handled deck brush and a solution of all-purpose cleaner and hot water.
If you notice an accumulation of mildew on the floor, scrub with a solution of one part oxygen bleach to three parts water using a deck brush. (Wear protective gloves and goggles.)
Clean porch screens with warm water and a nonammoniated all-purpose cleaner using a scrub or utility brush, washing the mesh as well as the frame. Rinse the screens thoroughly with a garden hose, and allow them to air dry. Between deep cleanings, whisk away dust and dirt with a hand-held vacuum or a soft counter brush.
Wooden porch floors and steps look best and last longer if they are painted. Paints formulated specifically for porches and floors are latex or oil-based, self-priming, and are durable enough to withstand the elements. Painting a porch floor is no different from painting any other surface; you must clean and sand first.
Every week, sweep deck floors and thresholds with an outdoor push broom (or more frequently, if necessary) to remove leaves and other debris. Dust railings and windowsills with a counter brush.
Always shovel your deck after snowstorms. The weight of snow can damage the deck and the excess moisture can harm untreated wood.
To wash a deck by hand, first sweep thoroughly and use an old saw blade or putty knife to remove any debris caught between the boards. Next, hose down the deck and scrub it with a long-handled deck brush and a solution of all-purpose cleaner and water, working in strokes that run parallel to the grain of the boards. For tough stains, use a commercial deck brightener or oxalic acid, which lighten dingy, gray wood.
If you have a large deck or porch, a power washer saves time. This machine uses high-pressured water to blast away dirt, mildew, and some stains. However, power washers can open the pores in untreated wood surfaces, exposing the surface to the elements and decreasing the deck's life span.
Once the deck is clean, check for wobbly nails that may have come loose over the winter. Remove them, and replace with galvanized, all-purpose deck screws, which are less likely to pop out of wood than nails are. Fill holes with wood filler, and sand smooth. Carry out any other repairs, such as replacing a splintered or warped board, before the damage worsens.
Once a year (or when drops of water no longer bead on the surface but are absorbed into the wood), coat the deck with a water-based waterproofing sealer. Choose a sealer that contains a UV protector to help block the sun's damaging ultraviolet rays.
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.
Once a week, hose fabrics down to remove dust, dirt, and body oils. To deep clean, scrub with a utility brush and a solution of mild soap, such as Dr. Bronner's, and lukewarm water. Avoid detergents and hot water, which can strip the protective coating off of outdoor fabrics. If fabrics are badly stained or mildewed, scrub with a solution of 1/ 2 cup oxygen bleach and 5 gallons of warm water.
Store all outdoor cushions in a covered area to protect them from rain. If cushions become wet, stand them on end to expedite drying.
Rinse regularly with a spray hose throughout the outdoor season, or all year if you live in a warm climate or humid environment. If mildew is present, remove the cover from the frame, if possible, and brush away any mildew.
If the label says "machine-washable," place it in a washing machine filled with cold water and a cup of oxygen bleach. Agitate to mix and let the cover sit overnight. Next, drain the water and spin, then launder the cover in cold water using mild soap such as Dr. Bronner's. Return it to the frame, in the open position, to dry in the sun.
Rinse regularly with a spray hose throughout the outdoor season. Allow the awning to air-dry thoroughly after cleaning; always open awnings after rain to let them dry thoroughly. For a deep cleaning, first rinse the awning, then use a long-handled brush to apply a solution of water and mild soap, such as Dr. Bronner's. Rinse again. Clean awnings thoroughly and let them dry completely before storing. Store awnings off the ground to lessen the chance that they will become winter homes for rodents.
Driveways, Walks, and Patios
Although driveways and walks are utilitarian, they are extensions of the home, and one of the first things people see when entering your property. Regular care of these areas will prevent them from becoming damaged or unsightly. Sweep weekly with an outdoor push or corn broom or rinse with a hose to keep surfaces clean.
Get more advice on the maintenance and cleaning of all types of outdoor floors.
This article was excerpted from "Martha Stewart's Homekeeping Handbook."