How to Clean Outdoor Patio Furniture

If you want to learn how to clean outdoor patio furniture you’ve come to the right place! Whether you’re cleaning your wood, synthetic, or metal furniture, scrubbing those outdoor tabletops clean, or need to wash your patio cushions we’ve got all the best tips and products to get the job done.

No matter how sturdy, how outdoor oriented your patio furniture may be, it can still get dirty: leaves, twigs, cobwebs, dirt, are but a few examples of what can pile on if you don’t pay attention for a while—and that’s without getting into the inevitable smears, spills and stains while you or yours are seated.

By the time we’re done here, you will know the best ways to take care of your chairs and tables—how to make them shiny again, without damaging their specific material!

Protect Your Furniture: Use a Cover

Before we go any further, there’s nothing to lose (and much to gain) by going into preventative measures: an outdoor cover will do wonders in keeping your furniture free from stray leaves and debris, allowing you to space out your cleaning sessions a bit more.

Covers are available in multiple sizes and shapes, and some will even cover an entire set. Whatever your piece may be, it is quite likely you’ll find a matching cover for it.

Outdoor furniture is made in a variety of materials—wood, plastic, rattan, metal—and they are all treated differently when it comes to cleaning. Below we will be outlining the different strategies to follow, depending on how your pieces are made.

A Guide to Patio Cushions

patio cushion

If your chairs are marketed for outdoors use and come with any sort of padding, then you can be sure that the covers will be up for the task, made in special fabrics that are resistant to UV and water. Here, we feel compelled to insert a parenthesis: water resistant is not the same as waterproof.

Whereas the latter signifies that the item in question could be dunked into the pool without suffering any change, water resistant relates only to light spills. This distinction is important; it means that, in case of rain, your cushions should be brought into cover, even if that means moving the entire piece or furniture.

Back to the topic at hand: if you’re replacing your cushions, or providing padding for a piece that came without it, you should focus on finding products that are made for the outdoors. Typically, this involves a synthetic fabric such as acrylic or polyester, further treated to prevent fading due to sunlight, and for water resistance.

You can find them in all sorts of shapes and sizes, be it for two-seaters or singles, and as a one-piece or a pack for seat and back. Remember to take the relevant measurements (height and width for back; length, depth and desired thickness for seat) before shopping.

How to Clean Outdoor Cushions

Given its makeup, this sort of upholstery is not too hard to clean, although it does have some special requirements—most commonly, no machine washing, unless the cover is removable (but even in this case, check the label first). If the cover is removable, you can clean it as follows:

  1. Remove the filling.
  2. Give it a pass or two with a brush to remove as much dirt as possible; if you deem this unnecessary, move on to the next step.
  3. Dunk it into a bucket of soapy water. Remove it, and use a light brush to gently scrub both sides of the cover.
  4. Dunk or soak with clean water, to rinse thoroughly. Let it dry completely before reinserting the filling.

If the cover is non removable, then all it takes is spot cleaning. Rub all over it with a sponge drenched in soapy water, use a clean rag or sponge to rinse completely, then set the cushion on its side to let it dry.

In case of spills, spot cleaning with a rag or sponge and soapy water should suffice, as soon as possible.

Cleaning Patio Furniture Frames

This will be our longest section; while cushions are fairly standard in terms of material, the part that gives a piece its form and bearing capacity comes with far more variety. Thus, we’ve sought to organize it in such a way that you find the one you need to learn about, as quickly as possible.

How to Clean Outdoor Wood Furniture

Here we have another timeless classic—from furniture to entire houses, this material has been part of our lives for as long as Humanity can remember.

With time comes innovation; certain species that have become increasingly popular in recent years, feature a peculiar resilience against the elements, which is why it becomes necessary to break this down into separate sections. Let’s begin with the better known alternatives.

Tips For Cleaning Conventional Woods

This refers to the usual choices, such as oak or pine. While potentially cheaper than our next alternative, furniture made in basic woods is not so impervious to the elements, and requires a bit of extra diligence in its maintenance.

  1. Reminder: cushions out.
  2. Gently scrub with a soft-bristle brush to sweep away superficial bits and dust.
  3. Prepare a soapy solution by mixing a few tablespoons of dish soap into a gallon of warm water, soak your sponge in it, and rub all over. Power washers are not recommended, as the stream could cause damage to the wood.
  4. Give it a pass with microfiber to scoop up the water excess on the surface, then let it dry on its own.

How often you clean your hardwood furniture will depend on the look you’re going for. If you like the natural, original brown color, then you should do your cleaning more frequently, and give it an additional treatment with furniture oil. If, on the other hand, you prefer the weathered look of lightly discolored wood, then you can do your cleaning about twice a year. Other factors will be your area’s weather and how often the furniture is covered or sheltered.

Teak

teak patio furniture

You may have heard about this wood when looking around for patio furniture. Teak is a tree with wide presence in Asia, and which yields one of the hardest woods available. Peculiar in that it has its own oil, it is remarkably resilient, nearly immune to sunlight, rain, or even snow.

This has made it popular for building ship hulls, and more recently its use in making furniture has been steadily growing.

Teak furniture is somewhat expensive, but it is worth its asking price considering how sturdy it is. If you have one such piece, or are considering buying one, its maintenance will vary depending on where you are situating it, and the look you want for it.

As time goes by, teak tends to take on a silver-gray hue that is merely visual (not a sign of physical deterioration), and which some owners may find attractive. If this is something you like, then you need to do nothing additional.

If you prefer that nice brown color it comes with, then it is a good idea to periodically apply a special oil to help preserve it. This option is better for furniture that will go indoors; if placed outdoors, the oil may cause the piece to develop uneven coloring. For this latter case, a light layer of sealer on top of the oil might be more appropriate.

If the pieces are new, it is often recommended to let the furniture sit outdoors for about 2 weeks before proceeding to maintenance.

When this time has passed, clean the wood (the treatment we discussed for hardwoods should serve you well here too), apply your choice or treatment—oil, sealer or both—, give it about an hour and then apply again. Wait 6 hours before using your furniture.

Wicker

wicker outdoor furniture

True, it’s not exactly wood,  but it is similar enough that we feel its inclusion here appropriate. One of the most popular applications for furniture—and with a long, storied past—, it is also notoriously vulnerable to water or ice, which makes it a tricky one for cleaning, though far from impossible.

  1. Worth reiterating: remove all cushions beforehand.
  2. Apply a soft-bristled brush to remove any outstanding bits of grime.
  3. If there are any bits in between the weave, which your brush cannot reach, you can take care of them using a vacuum with a small brush attachment like this one. Remember to use the vacuum at the lowest possible setting to avoid causing damage.
  4. Prepare a mild soapy solution like the one we discussed earlier. Dab a cloth into the solution, without soaking it; it should be only damp enough to be actually good at cleaning. Scrub gently all over the surface.
  5. Scoop up the most outstanding moisture with a dry rag, dabbing gently all over the surface. Then, you can either use a blow drier to finish the job, or let it sit out to dry, preferably in the shade.

Wicker furniture should be cleaned roughly every month, as the numerous little crevices in the weave are prone to collecting dust and debris; you might want to do this a bit more frequently if you or someone you know suffers from allergies.

Alternatively, you can simply use your vacuum and brush attachment on the piece, to rid it of superficial dust and help it stay clean a little longer.

A good way to help your wicker last longer, is to treat it with linseed oil once or twice a year. Rub it in with a rag, and then use a different, completely clean rag to wipe off the excess. Remember that it may take a while to dry off completely—even weeks. Until then, the piece should not be used, especially if it is intended as a seat.

If you are a fan or wicker, but don’t like how delicate it can be, you can always go for a synthetic variety made of molded resin, aptly called ‘all-weather wicker’. This one won’t be affected by moisture, sunlight or ice, and looks just about the same as the real thing. Cleaning it will be the same as we just discussed for its natural counterpart; no treating this one with oil, though.

Cleaning Synthetic Furniture

Many furniture pieces in today’s market are made in materials that do not exist in nature. This makes them resistant to water and sunlight, sturdy without being too heavy, and also reasonably priced in most cases. They are also easy enough to clean, though there can be some variations.

Plastic & Resin

The cheapest alternatives when it comes to furniture; pieces made in plastic will often come without any padding, relying on a certain degree of flexibility to provide comfort. If you happen to provide cushions separately, remember to remove them before proceeding to clean.

For routine cleaning, a soapy solution will do. Drench a sponge in it and rub all over. Do not use anything abrasive (steel wool, for example), as it might scratch the surface. Remember to rinse thoroughly afterwards; letting the chemicals sit on the surface for too long might cause discoloration.

If your plastic is colored, dish soap might not be the best bet, as many of these products come with a little bit of bleach in them, which can affect the coloring. In this case, an often recommended alternative is vinegar; you can always go for a variety made especially for cleaning.Dampen a rag, and rub all over. Bleach and similarly potent chemicals should be out of the question, as they can corrode the material.

In some cases, this sort of furniture shows a degree of visual deterioration when left under the sun for long enough. It will often lose color, or develop a white layer that looks like someone had run a piece of chalk all over it.

The loss of color cannot easily be remedied (though it can be prevented; more on that below), but that chalk-like layer can be dealt with by passing your sponge with a sprinkle of baking soda on it. This strategy, and the vinegar path, can both be useful in case of particularly tough stains.

Once your furniture is shiny and dry, you can protect it with automotive paste wax: apply all over, give it 5 or 10 minutes to dry, and then use a soft cloth to buff it. This will help preserve the original color.

How to Clean Metal Patio Furniture

Used for centuries to make all sorts of items, this is a material one can rely on to last. The main concern when it comes to anything outdoors (such as furniture), is rust. Certain metals are better at resisting this sort of decay, whereas others, heavier and sturdier, are not so lucky. The following guidelines apply to all metals:

  1. After removing every bit of upholstery, lightly hose down the entirety of the bare frame to wash away most of the dirt.
  2. Give it another pass with a soft cloth soaked in soapy water; remember to pay attention to the underside and joints. Rinse the cloth, and pass it all over again, to rinse.
  3. Use a dry non-abrasive cloth for drying.

When cleaning, be sure to steer clear of anything corrosive such as bleach, alcohol, ammonia—anything acid or solvent; agents such as these can make rust appear faster. Steel wool and other abrasives should also be avoided so as to not risk scratching the metal’s surface

With that out of the way, let’s go into the specific care recommendations for each type of metal your furniture might be made in.

Aluminum

What makes this one special is its inherent resistance to rust. It’s lightweight too, making it easier to move your chairs around, though this may also mean a heightened propensity to bending or denting under excessive pressure, which may compromise any protective coating.

For this reason, one should be careful when moving the furniture into storage, out of it, or to a new location for use.

Aluminum pieces can be scuffed if they come into lighter contact with other hard items such as tools or shoes. To remove these marks, apply a non-abrasive cleaner (dish soap should be fine for this) with a soft rag soaked in water.

Rub gently into the area until the mark disappears; it might take a few attempts, but it should come off sooner or later.

Steel

For outdoors applications, this alloy comes in two varieties. Let’s discuss them separately.

Stainless. The name is a little bit misleading, as this type of steel can develop stains (rust included) depending on its grade. 316 stainless steel, intended for marine applications, is pretty much immune to rust; 304, for its part, can become weakened under certain conditions, such as salty environments.

Grease smudges can be cleaned by rubbing vinegar on them, using a soft cloth. Once the grease is gone, the area should be appropriately rinsed. For rust signs, a paste of baking soda applied with a soft brush should suffice; the area should be rinsed afterwards.

Galvanized. This one is so named because of the layer of zinc oxide it sports on the exterior; intended to protect it from corrosion, it can still degrade over time. To slow this down, your galvanized steel furniture should be cleaned regularly.

For this, you should use a brush whose bristles are nylon or plastic, as other materials may affect the color of the steel. Scrub with soapy water, paying particular attention to any areas where dirt or grime might have accumulated. Do not use stronger cleaning products, as they could speed up the zinc layer’s degradation.

Iron

Strong and heavy, this one has enjoyed enduring popularity for many generations. Its one nemesis, as we know, is rust. Before we get into that, we should also remark that iron furniture tends to feature intricate patterns, making it more prone to collecting dust in all sorts of crevices. This can be addressed by using a vacuum with a small brush attachment, similar to wicker.

After that’s done, you can proceed with the steps we outlined as a general procedure for metals, except that you should also use a brush to scrub all bits of stubborn debris off any nooks and crannies.

Fine and dandy so far but, what about rust? What to do if it has already started appearing? You can remove the larger bits with a putty knife, then scrub with a wire brush to clear everything else out. You can finish it with 180-220 sandpaper to smooth out the surface. To help prevent rust from reappearing, you can repaint the surface, and apply a rust inhibitor such as this one.

Tips for Cleaning Outdoor Tabletops

If you own, or have seen, an outdoors table, then you are likely aware that one outstanding feature is the top being different than the legs; it is, after all, the main focus, the part that everyone deals with while seated.

While resilient against the elements, the materials in this case will be fairly different from those used for frames—you can’t comfortably sit on glass, after all, but you can certainly rest a drink on it.

Several patio tables come with a detachable tabletop. If this is your case, then you may benefit from removing it for a more thorough cleaning, but this should be done right: hold it vertically as you raise it, supporting the bottom side, lets it crack at the middle. If it’s too heavy, it’s better to get to people to do the job.

Now that we know how to handle removable tabletops, let’s go over how to clean them depending on their material.

High Pressure Laminate

This sort of finish consists of a compact, hardened, smooth sheet that has become popular for furniture (especially outdoors), due to how resilient it is; no weather pattern will get the best of it, and it is also not easy to scuff it.

For this reason, cleaning is fairly simple—just use dish soap and water to wash away any blemishes, rinse with another damp cloth, and then let it air dry on its own. The one point worth remarking: do not use any abrasives like steel wool, as they may cause scratches on the surface.

Glass

For cleaning, this material is also easy enough to clean, and carries the same exception—no abrasives. Microfiber and mild soap is all you need to get it back to full shine. Remember to rinse with a damp cloth, and allow to air dry.

The top side of the glass sheet should be cleaned roughly every two weeks, the underside can be handled once a month.

Here, we might as well insert a note on a material of similar characteristics in terms of resistance and fragility: ceramic. It’s not so very common, but just in case your tabletop is one of these: use mild detergent soap and a rag to wash, rinse with a damp cloth, and wipe dry with another, dry rag. With this one, you can space out your cleaning sessions to twice or thrice a year.

A Note on Tougher Stains

So far, we have covered ordinary cleaning and spills. Let’s face it, though—furniture that sits outside is exposed to more stubborn grime, such as tree sap and bird droppings.

For these cases, there are products you can rely on. This cleaner, for example will work on (aside from the two aforementioned) grease, mildew and food stains, and it is safe to use on most furniture materials: wood, plastic, metal, glass, to name but a few. Thicker layers of mold may be more difficult to deal with, but it is still doable:

  1. Verify the piece is completely dry before commencing.
  2. Scrub all over the piece with a soft brush to remove as much mold as possible.
  3. Rinse with a hose, then let it dry.
  4. Work with your brush and vinegar (cleaning vinegar might be even better) on the more stubborn patches. This should remove every bit of mold still left.

In Closing

Anything that stays in an open space—such as your patio—will be more likely to get dusty, or dirty. This doesn’t mean that you can’t have a perfectly serviceable area for sitting, dining or lounging. All it takes is to verify what material you’re dealing with, and treat it accordingly; and your furniture should stay shiny and usable for quite a while. Just remember: if it’s a spill, it should be taken care of immediately.

Hector