The end of spending time outdoors is coming up, so get a head start on buttoning down the yard before a cold-climate winter.
Read on to learn how to clean different types of outdoor furniture and accessories. Here’s a hint: Start with the simplest option, then move on to more aggressive methods. You also should consult any available care instructions.
First and Last Steps
The first step in cleaning any type of outdoor furniture or furnishing is always the same: remove loose dirt and debris. A brush works well, but you can also vacuum the pieces.
The final step is also the same, no matter what you’re cleaning: put the piece in the sun to dry. You want everything to dry completely, including the fillings of pillows, and as quickly as possible. This way you’ll avoid mold and mildew’s developing and undoing all of your hard work, whether you’ll continue using the piece for days or weeks to come or will be storing it for winter.
Start by hosing off the piece using a light spray. It might be tempting to power-wash it, but most experts say that can damage the finish and weaken the joints. Follow up by using a soft cloth to wipe off the surface with a few drops of mild nondetergent soap mixed with warm water (about 100 degrees Fahrenheit, or 37 degrees Celsius). You can use dishwashing soap or an oil-based wood cleaner. You also can find commercial cleaning products, but be sure to select a good choice for the type of wood you’re cleaning.
If some stains remain, use a soft scrub brush and a dishwashing soap-and-water solution or an oxygen bleach; follow the grain of the wood, especially when cleaning softwoods. You also can try lightly sanding the spots, again going with the grain of the wood.
If mildew or mold is a problem, use a soft cloth to apply distilled white vinegar to the spots (keep vinegar away from plants). Let sit, then rinse. For more stubborn problems, mix two parts vinegar with one part baking soda and warm water. Apply and let sit for about 10 minutes, then use the rest of the cleaning solution to scrub the spots with a soft cloth or brush. This also will work on algae. Once the piece is clean, rinse it thoroughly.
Wicker furniture is an outdoor favorite. Natural wicker has long been in use, but you also can find weatherproof wicker made of woven resin or another synthetic material. It has the same look but is less prone to breaking down when exposed to the elements.
The basic cleaning is the same for both wicker types. Use a mild mix of a few drops of a nondetergent dishwashing soap in warm water and wipe with a soft cloth. For natural wicker, you also can use an oil-based soap. A soft toothbrush is a good tool for cleaning any grooves or crevices. If your furniture is painted, scrub gently to avoid damage to the surface.
Tackle stains with a mild solution of white vinegar and warm water. Rinse lightly, then remove excess water with a damp cloth before setting the furniture out to dry.
Metal furniture, whether stainless steel, tubular steel, wrought iron or aluminum, is durable and easy to care for. Aluminum is rustproof, although it can develop pitting from oxidization. Other metals can rust but are generally finished with paint or a powder coating to prevent this. With basic cleaning and maintenance, metal furniture should last for many years.
Clean with a mild nondetergent soap mixed with water, then wipe dry. Use a multipurpose cleanser for stubborn dirt. Avoid using an abrasive cleanser, as that can scratch the surface, exposing it to the possibility of rust.
When cleaning, also look for scratches and touch them up with paint. For mold or rust, lightly sand the area and apply a rustproof paint. If you see signs of oxidation on aluminum furniture, use a 1:1 solution of vinegar and water to remove it. Avoid using alkaline cleaners, as they will cause oxidation.
Plastic outdoor furniture, which also can be made of polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and resin, has come a long way in looks and durability, but it remains as easy-care as its early incarnations. Hose off each piece, clean with soap and water or an all-purpose cleanser, then wipe off the cleanser. If stains have set in, tackle them with baking soda sprinkled on a wet cloth or sponge. Avoid abrasive or corrosive cleansers, such as those with bleach or chlorine, and rougher brushes, as those can scratch the surface. Once the piece is clean, wipe it down, lightly rinse it off and let it dry.
The newer materials are more fade-proof, but not permanently so. If your furniture has lost its luster, you can head to a hardware or home improvement store to pick up a restorer that will bring back some of the shine.
Glass tabletops add sparkle and shine to a yard, but they do require regular cleaning to look good. Dirt and grime are immediately visible, and they can harden in place. You’ll also need to use glass-safe cleansers that aren’t abrasive. Good choices include warm water with enough nondetergent dish soap to provide suds, white vinegar or a white vinegar-water solution, and commercial glass cleansers.
Start by applying a cleaning solution to all stuck-on debris. Let it sit for about 10 minutes, then scrub it off. Follow up by spraying the cleaning solution on the glass and wiping it off. Be sure to do the underside of the table as well. Rinse off the glass, remove most of the water with a cloth and then put the piece in the sun to dry.
Cushions and Pillows
Outdoor cushions and pillows need periodic attention to keep them fresh and inviting, even if you’re not doing a deep clean. Brush or vacuum them on a regular basis to keep surface dirt and debris from accumulating.
When it’s time for a deeper clean, take out any insets and brush or vacuum the covers both inside and out. (If you can’t remove the insets, just clean the outside.) Mix a 1:2 solution of a nondetergent dish soap and warm water and apply it to the cushions. Let it soak in for a few minutes for regular cleaning and up to 15 minutes or so for stained areas. Then scrub thoroughly with a brush or cloth. Repeat as needed, letting extremely set-in stains sit for up to two hours.
Another option is applying a 1:3 solution of vinegar and water and letting it sit for an hour or more before scrubbing. Test in an inconspicuous spot first to be sure it won’t remove the color. Once the stain is gone, rinse the area and let it dry.
Once you’ve finished scrubbing, rinse off the item with a garden hose or a bucket of water. Let it air-dry completely to prevent mold and mildew. Wait about a day before putting the piece back in place.
Like their indoor counterparts, outdoor rugs attract dirt and grime. To get rid of accumulated debris, approach them as you would your interior floor coverings. Start by picking up the rug. (You may need a helper for a larger one or need to drape it over a piece of furniture, fence or railing.) Move to a grassy or out-of-the-way area where you don’t mind any dirt’s settling, and shake the piece well a few times. Brush off any remaining debris with a brush or broom.
Follow up by vacuuming the rug on both sides to remove any fine dirt or debris still clinging to the fibers. You can use anything from a handheld vacuum or an indoor vacuum to a heavy-duty wet-dry model if the rug is tightly woven. The more powerful the vacuum, the more dirt you’ll remove.
Most outdoor rugs are washable, but check the care instructions to be sure. Set the rug on a flat surface (one that is slightly inclined will help with water runoff) and lightly hose it off. You can then wash it gently with warm water and a few drops of a nondetergent dish soap or a gentle commercial cleanser that’s safe for your pillows and cushions. Scrub with a soft brush to create a lather and remove dirt.
If stains are set in, sticky or stubborn, try treating them with a paste made of hydrogen peroxide and baking soda. Club soda is good for removing red wine stains. White vinegar and baking soda are good for treating mold and mildew, but test first to be sure they won’t harm the rug’s fibers or color. Rinse the rug with water after treating and lay it flat to dry. Turn it over once the top is dry so the underside will dry completely too.
Umbrellas attract a lot of dirt and debris, so you’ll want to clean them on a regular basis. Start by removing the umbrella and frame from the stand. If it’s easy to take the umbrella on and off the frame, you may want to do that instead. You can keep it in place, but it will be bulkier to deal with. In either case, you’ll need to work in sections.
Once you’ve brushed or vacuumed off debris, rinse off the umbrella. Mix a solution of ¼ cup laundry detergent in a gallon of warm water and apply it to the umbrella material with a soft brush. Let it sit for up to 20 minutes, then spray off the solution. Treat both sides of the umbrella. Let the fabric dry.
If you have mildew stains, apply a solution of equal parts white vinegar and warm water. Scrub with a soft brush and then rinse off the umbrella.