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Outdoor Furniture:
Tips for Cleaning Furniture

Even though I live in a mild climate here in Southern California, I still have to watch my outdoor furniture to make sure it is clean and not deteriorating. But even here it is a challenge. Moisture and sun can cause furniture to become pitted, corroded, discolored or even develop rust. So here are some brief tips you may find very useful this spring and summer:

  • Wash the furniture off regularly with a hose or damp rag. A gazebo or canopy will provide some protection, but not from dew and general moisture and dust. The more shaded the area, the more moisture will cause problems.
  • Soap and water applied by hand is always safest, however many people use pressurized water to clean their furniture.
  • To remove soap residue afterwards, use the "sprinkle" option on your hose and gently wash it thoroughly after using soap.
  • In all cases, use a mild detergent and spray runoff into the landscape where it can be filtered automatically.
  • Wipe down each piece first with a dry towel and then set the furniture out into the sun to dry.
  • Check the fasteners when done to make sure they are not loose. Tighten as needed. To lubricate, use a silicone spray.
  • Aluminum outdoor furniture can pit, giving it a "pockmarked" look. Use a little elbow grease and some steel wool to get rid of this problem.
  • After you smooth the aluminum again, wash it with a mild soap and water, rinse and dry it. Use car wax to buff it to prolong its life.
  • Wrought-iron furniture will rust in time and needs more protection than other types of furniture. To remove the rust, use steel wool. Then prime the area with a rust-resistant metal primer. A finishing coat of paint, the kind used for metal, is the last part of the task.
  • While redwood furniture is probably the most common outdoor furniture, if you leave it untreated, it will turn gray. Rarely will it warp or split, however.
  • To restore redwood furniture, wash it thoroughly. Replace or tighten fasteners. Use 150-grit sandpaper and lightly sand the surface.
  • Use a rag dampened with paint thinner to wipe away the sawdust.
  • You can also use a redwood stain which you can get at any hardware store. But don't forget the two coats of water-repellant sealer.
  • Wicker furniture brings good news and bad news. You don't want to leave it long term in direct sunlight as it will cause dryness, fading and breakage.
  • To clean wicker, use your vacuum's attachment to remove dirt and debris. Then wash with warm, soapy water.
  • You can even soak the furniture in water so the wood fibers get a good "drink" to keep them from drying out.

Naturally finished wood furniture that becomes dulled can be brought back to life with lemon oil. Always keep some on hand.

Vinyl furniture is a good choice. It will prove to be weather-resistant, resists fading, cleans up easily and quickly.

  • Once a year or twice, spread out a large expendable blanket, tarp or plastic sheeting. Use a garden hose with a pressure nozzle to eliminate any loose dirt or debris.
  • Use a spray-on cleaner that contains heavy bleach. Be sure to place the furniture on the blanket, tarp or sheeting and keep the spay confined.
  • Leave the furniture in the sun for about an hour, allowing the sun to bleach the vinyl and remove the ingrained dirt that has hardened.
  • If necessary, use the grit side of a sponge. Spray another dose of the bleach product and rub off the dirt with the sponge.

Choose the same time of year to clean your furniture and it will be easier. If you have maintained your furniture regularly and find that it still doesn't look clean, it's probably time to donate it and get some new furniture.

But remember: perhaps all your furniture needs (after a good cleaning) is the replacement of cushions, slings or straps. Or perhaps you just need something new to get you excited about spending more time outside. There are currently many new colors and fabrics on the market that haven't been available in years past. So whether you stay with the old or get something new, I hope you'll be enjoying your back yard, deck, patio more this summer.

Quick Links for this Issue
March's Decorating Issue I
March's Decorating Issue II
New Style Doormats
Exquisite Patios
Outdoor Decorating
Patio Furniture
Beautiful Patios
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Barbara Jennings is author of 10 decorating books: Decor Secrets Revealed, Rearrange It, Home Staging for Profit, Home Staging for Yourself, Arrange Your Stuff, Advanced Redesign, Pro Art Consulting, Where There's a Wall - There's a Way, The Art of Hanging Art, Great Parties! Great Homes!

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