How to Maintain Your Outdoor Furniture

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outdoor furniture

Taking advantage of summer is all about getting out of the house. Lounging in the backyard, napping in a hammock, and enjoying meals outdoors are just a few of the things summer-lovers crave.

Those of you who have outdoor furniture know that it does not come cheap. Wood, metal or otherwise, patio sets bear the brunt of Mother Nature and can start to look pretty shoddy after just a season or two. Who hasn't been asked to sit down on a splinter-ridden bench or rusty chaise lounge? Prevent this from happening to your outdoor furniture by mastering a few simple cleaning and maintenance tricks.

The Basics

The good news is that outdoor furniture is made to endure harsher conditions than your indoor stuff, so it can usually be cleaned with the hose and your average household detergent. Always refer to the manufacturer's instructions for cleaning and maintenance tips. If you have lost them (and really, who hasn't?) we can tell you all you need to know.

Under Pressure

To really give the furniture a good scrub-down with half the effort, rent or buy a pressure washer (aka power washer). Consider the money spent an investment in spring cleaning and use the pressure washer for other outdoor areas too. Use a low setting as not to damage the furniture (especially wood furniture). Anywhere from 1200-1350 psi (pounds per square inch) will work. The pressure washer can be quite powerful nonetheless. Go slowly and check the furniture after a few seconds to assure there is no damage being caused by the washer itself.

Fabric Cushions

If your furniture comes with fabric-covered cushions, remove them from their padding and machine wash on the gentle cycle. If they are in really bad shape, consider taking them to the dry cleaner. They might be able to take out any major stains and spruce up their overall appearance. If worse comes to worse, you can always have them replaced. If you do, keep the plastic they come in and reuse them to store in the winter, or use heavy duty garbage bags instead.

Jane Tip: Don't dry cushion covers in the dryer! If they shrink you are sunk. Instead, air dry them only by placing them back over their frames to keep their original shape and size.

Acrylic Cushions

Much of the furniture you see today comes with acrylic cushions. These may seem easier to care for since you don't have to remove a covering to clean them, but be careful because they are known to attract and retain mildew. To avoid this, do not store the cushions in a plastic bag when you aren't using them. Instead, let them breathe.

To clean acrylic cushions, first remove them from the frame and spot clean with everyday detergent and a rag. If they are pretty heavily infected with mildew (just smell them—you'll know right away) a thorough cleaning is all that's needed. Mix one cup of bleach, two cups of detergent and a gallon of water. Pour into a spray bottle and spritz the cushions liberally. Let the mixture soak for a half hour, and then scrub with a brush and clean water. To dry, leave the cushions in the sun.

Hammocks

Who can resist the joy of lazing in a hammock on a hot day? If you are lucky enough to own one or are thinking of purchasing this summertime staple, remember two things: Hemp and nylon will hold up better than cotton and can last for years if well maintained.

Definitely take down the hammock and store it when the cold weather creeps in but make sure it is dry when you do, otherwise you will uncover a moldy mess next year. If it needs a wash, it's an easy process: Tie the ends together and soak in the sink or a bucket of detergent and water for a few hours. You won't need a ton of soap here, otherwise it will take forever to rinse. (Some hammocks are even machine-washable.) After soaking, rinse with cold water (think about using the hose) and let dry in the sun. If it has a frame, place it back in the frame before it is completely dry to avoid or limit shrinkage.

Jane Tip: If you live near the ocean, rinse your hammock at least once a month to rid fabric of damaging salt spray.

Umbrellas

The patio umbrella may take the worst beating of all your outdoor furniture, so treat it with care! First, consider where you place the umbrella. Try to avoid tucking it somewhere where debris may fall on it, such as near a messy tree. Sap, leaves and bird droppings can all alter the appearance and eventually ruin your umbrella.

Always close the umbrella when not in use and, if it comes with a cover, use it. Unfortunately, a lot of patio umbrellas don't come with a cover, so it's definitely something to look into buying. If you have already dropped a ton of dough on your outdoor furniture and don't want to spend any more, wrap it in an old sheet or a large heavy duty trash bag and secure with safety pins. It may not match, but it does the trick.

Clean the umbrella with cold water, a mild detergent and a soft brush and remember to oil the joints regularly.

Maintaining Your Furniture

Wood

Wooden furniture may need special attention, depending on what type you have. If it's finished, you can usually clean it with soapy water. If it has not been finished, apply a coat of wood varnish especially made for exterior use. Bring in wooden furniture (with the exception of teak and cedar) during the winter.

Jane Tip: If your wood is painted, coat with a clear varnish once a year to preserve the color.

Teak, Cedar and even Redwood are rather expensive, but often worth the cost because they will last decades if well cared for. You should treat your furniture with oil (chosen according to the wood type) annually to keep its original appearance, though some people like the way it looks when it ages. Weathering eventually fades the wood's appearance, giving it a rustic look. Water spots can be removed by sanding. Teak and cedar are both okay to keep outdoors all year though consider buying a tarp to cover it when it's not in use.

Resin

Extremely durable, resin furniture requires the least amount of attention. Simply wash with a gentle cleaner (always avoid bleach and other harsh solvents) and water when it starts looking a little skuzzy. To keep it looking like new, apply a coat of resin wax, available at most home improvement stores. The wax will make it look like new while offering protection from the elements.

Iron, Steel, and Aluminum

These days most patio furniture is rust-resistant but if not, you can battle rust with paste wax or naval jelly beforehand and WD-40 after. Use steel wool to combat any corrosion and don't forget about your furniture's joints. After time, the joints may become stiff and squeaky but can be treated with WD-40 (or even a little vegetable oil applied with an eye dropper). Metal patio furniture can be washed with household soap and water when needed.

Wicker

Some kinds of wicker are weather resistant, but you will usually find this type of furniture indoors. It's a good idea to wax and varnish wicker furniture prior to using it and then every year thereafter. You can wash wicker furniture using the hose or a pressure washer on a low setting, or by taking soap and a sponge to it. It's extremely important to let wicker dry for about 24-48 hours after cleaning. Using the furniture while it's still wet can cause major damage. If you spot mold, spray it immediately with a mixture of 1 part bleach to 3 parts water.

Though this may seem like a heavy workload, maintenance actually won't take more than an hour or so once a year. The result is better looking furniture year after year after year after...well, you get the idea!

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