I’m lucky enough to own a house with an abundance of outdoor living space. There’s a large brick patio with an in-ground pool and a long wooden walkway separating the pool area from the vegetable garden. As you’d expect, it’s furnished with the requisite chaise lounges for sunning.
We also have a cast-aluminum café table and matching chairs set in the shade of a graceful Japanese maple. In summer, we set out a white wicker loveseat and two rockers, accompanied by a matching storage chest that doubles as a coffee table. And at the side entryway to our kitchen, there’s a concrete patio shielded from the street by a long curved brick planter and tall, leafy shrubs. That’s where I keep my barbecue smoker, around the corner from a grassy area with a horseshoe pit.
You might have similar outdoor areas, and you probably have the same issues with keeping your furniture clean, dry and out of the sun. I’ve got a shed and some teak storage chests, but when my kids’ friends come over to swim, they take things out and move things around. If I didn’t occasionally make the rounds, the wet towels and seat cushions—not to mention the empty pizza boxes and soda bottles—would be out there forever.
If you’re removing your outdoor furniture from storage and realizing you could have done a better job of prepping these items for their hibernation, this article is designed to help you plan for next fall by getting your furniture back into shape now, keeping it that way all summer and properly prepping it for its next storage period.
The most important aspect during summer is to keep furnishings as clean and dry and protected from excessive sunlight as possible. Most outdoor furnishings are designed to endure a little weather, but I try to put cushions away — in the teak storage boxes or in the shed — when they’re not being used. If they’re wet, I let them dry out first in the sun to prevent mold and mildew growth. I shake them and dust off pollen with a brush. A little enzymatic stain remover works wonders on soiled spots.
Every week or so, I try to pick the leaves and twigs off the seats and tabletops. I spray the furniture with a garden hose and scrub grimy-looking surfaces with a brush. Some will advise you to use a pressure washer to keep outdoor furniture clean, but you won’t get that from me. It reminds me of the saying, “To a man with a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” I save the pressure washer for the brick and concrete patios—and maybe the smoker grates on occasion.
Preparations for Winter Storage
If you want your outdoor furniture to last for a long time, it should be put under cover for the winter. That means in a shed or other dry storage space, or at least under a tarp. If you do use a tarp, make sure to tie securely so that it won’t blow away, but leave a little space around the bottom of the package to promote circulation.
Before putting outdoor furniture away for the season, however, it should be thoroughly cleaned, repaired (if necessary) and protected for the long haul. The best way to go about this depends on the material the item is made from.
Fabric Cushions and Other Fabrics
If the cushions have removable covers, take them off and launder them, with a little bleach if the label allows, to kill mildew.
Restore the dry covers to the cushions and stack loosely in a clean, dry space off the floor. If storing in an outdoor shed, you might want to cover the stack with a cloth tarp, not a plastic one.
Wash cloth or rope hammocks in the washing machine with laundry detergent; dry and fold. Store indoors.
Wash umbrella fabric with brush and mild detergent. Let dry in open position, and lubricate switches, locks and pivots. Store in closed position.
Wash all surfaces with water and detergent; scrub with a brush and rinse with a hose.
Inspect all surfaces for rust or other oxidation. If you find any, treat the area with a rust-neutralizing primer. Smooth the treated area if necessary with steel wool, then apply spray paint of a color that closely matches the original finish.
Apply a thin protective coat of car wax to all surfaces and buff.
Brush all surfaces with a bleach-and-water solution to clean and remove mildew; rinse gently with fine spray from a garden hose and let furniture dry thoroughly.
Repaint with spray paint, if needed, to freshen finish.
Apply moisture repellent to end grain on feet and legs.
Store wicker furniture in a dry place on blocks to keep feet off the floor or ground.
Wood Furniture Other Than Teak or Cedar
Wash thoroughly with a water-detergent-bleach solution and a mildly abrasive sponge. Rinse thoroughly with a garden hose and let dry.
If wood is painted and the finish needs restoring, don’t wait for it to get worse. Do it now.
If wood has a natural finish that still looks good, apply clear water repellent and a protective coat of paste wax.
Teak and Cedar Furniture
Apply a bleach solution to kill mildew and lighten the wood. Let the bleach act for a day or two.
Sand surfaces with 120-grit abrasive.
Apply tung oil (also called China wood oil).
Treated teak and cedar can be left outdoors.
Plastic Resin Furniture
Wash thoroughly with detergent solution and rinse.
Store where the temperature won’t drop below freezing.
Follow these instructions and there won’t be much to do next year, other than set out your furniture and keep after the kids to take good care of your stuff—just like you do.
Michael Chotiner is a DIY expert and homeowner who writes about home improvement projects for Home Depot. He spends a lot of time outdoors around the home, and offers time-tested ideas about keeping outdoor furniture in tip-top shape. A variety of outdoor furniture from Home Depot’s Home Decorators collection can be found online.