Outdoor living spaces have become very popular in recent years. The furnishings that decorate these outdoor areas are usually quite durable, but most will need regular maintenance to look their best. Frequent washing is one of the best ways to preserve outdoor furniture. When dirt and residues are allowed to set, metals corrode and become pitted, while plastics and fabrics lose their color.
Wash outdoor furniture at the beginning of each outdoor season. First dust each item, then wash it in a solution of mild detergent and water. Dry thoroughly. Check all nuts, bolts and screws and tighten any that are loose. Missing, broken or rusted fasteners should be replaced with rustproof ones made of aluminum, galvanized steel or stainless steel. Next, lubricate all hinges and wheels with a silicone lubricant. Oil should be avoided because it tends to cake and attract dirt. Additional care depends upon the material the furniture is made from.
Aluminum furniture resists rust but has to be safeguarded against any type of pitting that gives the metal a dull patina. Frequent washings help prevent this condition if the metal is in good shape or has an enameled or baked-on finish. If the metal is already in poor condition, more than washing will be needed to revive it. If the aluminum furniture is in poor condition, rub each piece briskly with a steel wood pad. If this is unsuccessful, try a No. 00 steel wool pad soaked in kerosene or paint thinner. Once the metal is smooth again, wash it in a mild detergent and water solution. Rinse and dry thoroughly. Protect the rejuvenated finish with a light application of automobile wax, then buff to remove any excess. Ideally, aluminum should be washed and waxed every few months.
Plastic resin is extremely durable and weather resistant. It can withstand the elements, the stress of ordinary use, and the extra wear that outdoor furniture endures. In addition, resin furniture can be easily stored because the pieces usually break down or stack to take up less storage space. Most soil and stains can be cleaned off with a non-abrasive all purpose cleaner, a glass cleaner, or a cleaner-polish, following label directions. Or, wipe the surface with a sponge or cloth dipped in a solution of hand dishwashing detergent and warm water. Rinse thoroughly and dry with a clean soft cloth.
Redwood furniture is attractive and weather resistant in that it is not likely to rot or warp. It can split, however, and will almost surely turn grey within a year if not cared for properly. Commercial brands of redwood stain and sealer are available to help prevent discoloration. Before applying the sealer, wash the furniture and replace any fasteners that are starting to rust, as they will eventually stain the wood. Lightly sand all exposed parts with No. 150 or 180 grit sandpaper. Dust and finally wipe with a rag that has been moistened in paint thinner. The final step is to apply one or two coats of water repellent sealer specially made for redwood.
Wicker furniture is weather-resistant, but it can dry out in the sun. Wicker is best kept in the shade. Once a year, soak it in water to put moisture back into its fibers. Undamaged wicker simply has to be washed and refinished periodically to keep it in good condition. Vacuum the furniture first, then wipe it down with a rag soaked in a mild detergent and warm water solution. Use an old toothbrush to remove stubborn dirt. An ice pick can be used to remove paint that has lodged into the weave. If mildew is a problem, wash the furniture with a solution of 3/4 cup chlorine bleach and one quart of water. Since the bleach may lighten the wicker, apply it to the entire piece of furniture. Wear gloves when working with bleach and protect your clothing from splashes and spills. Wicker furniture with a natural finish that has dulled can be restored by applying lemon oil furniture polish. Scratches can be minimized with products specially formulated for this purpose.
Wrought iron can look good for many years if it is touched up whenever bare metal is exposed. Use a rust-resistant metal primer on these spots to prevent rust from spreading under the paint.
With regular maintenance, outdoor furnishings can remain attractive and enjoyable for many years. If your outdoor furniture looks worse for the wear, repair and restoration may be on your list of things to do this winter.
This article originally appeared in the August 9, 1996 issue, p. 142.