Protecting Your Patio Furniture From The Elements

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Just like you strive to protect your skin outdoors, your patio furniture needs to be safeguarded from the elements as well.  The constant, daily barrage of wind, rain, and sunlight--maybe even a little snow and ice, depending on where you live--can prematurely ruin your deck chairs and patio swings, and replacement costs can easily run into the thousands if you don't have a patio cover.

To make matters more complicated, outdoor furniture can be constructed from a variety of materials--and it's easy to get the proper care methods confused.  Obviously, a little soap and water goes a long way for cleaning just about anything, but some materials have a few particular requirements.

Here's a simple guide to help you care for every sort of patio furniture:

  • Wood:  Hopefully you knew when you purchased your wooden furnishings that they would require a little extra TLC.  Like other materials, wood must be cleaned regularly--and it may also need a coat of varnish.  (Check with the manufacturer to see if the wood was pre-treated or sealed.)  Also, with two exceptions--teak and cedar--wooden furniture needs to be stored indoors for the winter. 
  • Wicker:  Wait, isn't wicker just a kind of wood?  Not necessarily.  The term "wicker" refers to the process of weaving fibers together to create an object--a chair or basket, for instance.  The fibers may be constructed from a variety of natural and man-made materials.  Just as you would any other type of furniture, clean wicker with soap and water.  Then, use a paste wax to maintain shine and protect damaged areas.
  • Wrought iron, aluminum, and steel frames:  Many newer metallic furnishings are made of rust-resistant alloys.  If yours are not, then diligence is required to stop small spots of rust from growing into large, untreatable areas.  Treat the furniture annually with a rust-repellent spray, and immediately spray any rust spots that appear.  Spots that do not respond to the repellent will have to be sanded off with medium-grade sandpaper, then painted over.
  • Resin:  What it lacks in character and originality, resin more than makes up for with its durability and resilience.  Simply clean with soap and water, maybe even a pressurized washer.
  • Fabric/upholstery:  Outdoor furniture is usually more than just a frame.  Sometimes--with hammocks, for example--there's no frame at all!  Many patio furnishings have colorful cushions and decorative pillows, all carefully coordinated to accent the landscape.  How can you save them from the weather?  Store them indoors all winter, during thunderstorms, and at night, if convenient.  Don't store them in plastic, as the lack of air circulation promotes mildew growth.  (Treat mildew with a solution of 1 cup of bleach and 2 cups of detergent per gallon of water.)  For cloth hammocks, covers, and awnings, simply machine wash and dry outside.

Finally, consider this question: What's the most common, most important means of protecting your skin from the elements?  Clothes!  Likewise, you should clothe your patio and furniture with outdoor covers--they don't want to be naked outside anymore than you do!