How to Clean and Care for Your Outdoor Furniture Throughout the Year

Consider this your guide to cleaning, maintaining, and storing every piece you have in your backyard.

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Beige garden furniture with striped pillows on wooden terrace with pink flowers and poufs
Photo: Getty Images

Indulging in the beauty of the outdoors is made easy with a lounging setup in your backyard. Simply taking a seat on your outdoor furniture can help you relish all that nature has to offer—that is, if you take care of it. While outdoor furniture is made to withstand the elements, it's still not resistant to dust, dirt, mold, animals, and insects. Plus, as harsh conditions set in, especially during winter, you'll need to tend to your pieces to make sure they stay in their best condition.

"Some people are lucky enough to use their outdoor furniture all year long, and this is a nice refresh before the late fall and winter seasons begin," says Mark Feldman, the chief home officer of online décor marketplace Riverbend Home. "For others, you'll be storing your furniture in the later part of the year, and thorough cleaning will help keep your furniture looking and feeling new season after season."

Routine Cleaning and Touch-Ups

General cleaning best practices for outdoor furniture starts with sweeping. We recommend clearing off the surfaces as needed using a soft-bristle brush, and rinsing with water. From there, wash the surface using this method:

  • Combine 1/4 cup mild dishwashing liquid, such as Ivory, and 1 gallon of 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.
  • Pro tip: Do not power-wash or use chlorine bleach, pine oil, or abrasive cleansers unless directed. Test new solutions on a hidden area.

If you notice any mold, follow the practice above. Continue by scrubbing or sanding lightly to remove the mold. Wear gloves, and discard used supplies to avoid spreading spores.

Woman smiling, leaning over to clean a table outdoors in summer
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How to Deep Clean Every Type of Outdoor Furniture

Feldman recommends deep cleaning your patio furniture at least twice a year: once in the spring before you start using it regularly as temperatures rise, and again in the fall before you put it all away for the winter. "With proper care and maintenance, your furniture should provide you with many years of comfort and pleasure in your outdoor living spaces," he says.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Fabric-Covered Furniture

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.

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 of gentle liquid soap, such as Ivory, and 1 gallon of lukewarm water (do not exceed 100 degrees), swishing gently. Rinse, and air-dry.

To clean mold from solution-dyed fabrics, mix 1 gallon of warm water with 2 tablespoons of 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.

Plastic Furniture

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.

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.

Women friends sanding chair
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After a few seasons on the porch, your furnishings may start to show their age with rust marks, mildew, or stains. These general maintenance tips will ensure that your chairs, tables, and cushions look beautiful for years to come.

Wicker Furniture

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.

Wood Furniture

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 one to three years.

Metal Furniture

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).

Fabric-Covered Furniture

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.

Plastic Furniture

Sunscreen residue can discolor some plastics, so wipe furniture with a wet cloth and a mild soap solution soon after exposure.

A rain wet wooden deck with a covered lawn chair
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No matter what type of outdoor furniture you have, we recommend covering items when they're not in use, or storing them indoors. Remove the foot caps on chairs and tables, and keep furniture upright to allow accumulated water to drain.

You can take storage a step further, depending on the season or conditions. Aside from placing covers on furniture after the fall to protect it from winter weather, move any cushions into inside environments like a garage, storage unit, or a shed, Feldman suggests. "If you do, you want to be sure to store your cushions in a tightly sealed cloth bag or airtight container," he says. In between other seasons, use a dehumidifier in the storage space to avoid mildew.

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