Keeping outdoor furniture clean can be a challenge. Have you ever tried to degrease a glass patio tabletop? It's an exercise in futility. You wipe it, it dries, and streaks multiply.
The same types of challenges arise with wicker, aluminum, wood, and other outdoor furniture. You're battling Mother Nature here, after all.
Here are the dirty little secrets to mastering the art of buffing outdoor furniture.
Most cushions have synthetic covers and polyester fill and are
designed to withstand the elements. Still, they could use some help if
you'd like them to last for the long term (or at least a few seasons).
Here's how to take care of polyester-coated cushions with polyester fill (cotton, foam-filled, and floral acrylic covers require different care).
1. Hose down cushions weekly. Turn them often for even wear and sun
exposure, just like you do your couch cushions. Avoid getting sunscreen
on the cushions. Hose off spills or sunscreen smears immediately.
2. Remove serious grime. Use a spray enzyme product on stubborn spots. Set the cushions on their ends in the sun until they are completely dry.
3. Mildew patrol. If you detect mildew, put the cushions on an outdoor surface. Saturate with a solution of 1 cup of bleach, 3 gallons of warm water, and 1/4 cup of laundry detergent. Let the wet cushions sit in the sun for several hours. Rinse. Let them dry in the sun for several days if necessary.
The problem with "outdoor living rooms" is that they get dirty a heck of a lot faster than the indoor ones. Fortunately (or maybe wisely) outdoor furniture is constructed to take abuse and soil.
Generally speaking, if your outdoor furniture is near a pool or spa, hose it down once a week. Chlorine can damage most finishes.
Here's how to care for the most common outdoor furniture:
1. Aluminum: Wash aluminum with mild liquid detergents; rinse and dry. Coat with an automotive wax every six months. Sunscreens can stain aluminum and many other kinds of outdoor furniture. If you're wearing sunscreen, protect the chair you're sitting in with a towel.
This substance doesn't require much care. Wash it with a mild soapy
solution, hose it off, and towel dry. Avoid products with ammonia, but
use a diluted bleach solution for stains. Polish resin furniture with
car wax if desired.
3. Teak: Teak is a popular choice for outdoor furniture because it weathers well. Do not use teak oil on outdoor furniture because it will act as a magnet. Buff teak with a mild soap solution and a soft brush. Rinse well. Keep teak furniture in the sun because dampness will cause mildew.
4. Vinyl: Wash vinyl with warm, soapy water. Never use bleach because it can damage the finish, allowing the porous material to stain, fade, and weaken faster.
5. Wicker: (natural): Clean wicker only once a year unless you have spills (ha!). For natural wicker, first tip the chair to one side and vacuum it well. Then wash it with a solution of mild detergent and water, using a toothbrush to get at those hard-to-reach spots. Rinse it with a garden hose. Towel the wicker dry, and let it sit for 24 hours before using.
6. Wicker (resin or vinyl): Wash synthetic wicker in soapy water, and then rinse and dry it. You can polish it with a spray-on polish.
7. Wood: Buff outdoor wooden furniture at least one a year. Wash it with a mild detergent and scrub brush.
8. Wrought iron: Wash wrought iron with soapy water; rinse and towel dry. Wax or polish it twice a year. Touch up any rust spots immediately.
9. Floors: Most patio floors are designed for easy case. Simply sweep and/or hose it down frequently. Some flooring (such as finished concrete) must be sealed. Many patios could benefit from pressure washing every couple of years. Decks are best cleaned professionally.
10. Hammocks: Cotton hammocks soak up water like a sponge. When you first bring them out, spray them with a water repellant to minimize water retention. To clean hammocks, lay them flat and scrub them with a solution of hand dishwashing detergent in warm water using a nylon scrubber. Rinse and clean the other side. Rinse again and hang to dry. Never use bleach on these natural relaxers-it will rot the fibers.
11. Tabletops: These are really hard to clean flat. The trick to cleaning a patio table is to turn it on its side (very carefully, if you're dealing with glass), and hose it down first. Then wipe it off with a sponge dipped in soapy water. Hose again. Then wipe dry. If you can't turn it sideways, move the chairs back and hose from the traditional angle (but it might take a couple of tries.)
12. Umbrellas: To really refresh an umbrella, take it apart and put the top part back into the stand so that it's within reach. Then crank the umbrella open and wash it with a liquid cleaner and a sponge. If your umbrella's vinyl, use the detergent made for convertible car tops. It works wonders on these sun-beaten skin-savers. Dry the umbrella open in full sun for a day or two. Never put an umbrella away even slightly damp. That's a recipe for mildew.
About the Author
Tara Aronson is a native Californian. Having grown up in San Diego, she studied journalism and Spanish to pursue a career in newspaper writing. Tara, whose three children - Chris, Lyndsay, and Payne - are the light of her life, now lives and writes in Los Angeles. She also regularly appears on television news programs throughout the U.S.