How to Clean and Maintain Your Patio Furniture

Meubles de jardin : comment les nettoyer et les entretenir

When the warm weather hits, you’ll want to be ready to lounge in the sunshine, dine al fresco and greet guests in the back garden—without having to pull out a bucket of soapy water before you can sit down. With some simple cleaning hacks and preventative maintenance tips, you can keep your patio furniture tidy and ready to enjoy, ensuring it lasts many years.

In this guide

1. Why is it important to clean your patio furniture?

Unlike the furniture inside your home, outdoor chairs, tables and sofas need some help to keep looking good and feeling comfy. Thorough and regular cleanings can brighten and protect plastic, metal, fabric and wood outdoor furniture. In addition, consistent maintenance will promote longevity in your furniture, helping you get the most wear out of each piece. If you do it right, your tables, chairs and sofas can look like new again, year after year. And best of all, you’ll always have outdoor seating ready at a moment’s notice.

2. How to clean your patio furniture

Whether it’s routinely drenched with wet towels, jumped on by dirty dogs, baked in the sun or sits collecting dust, outdoor furniture takes a beating—and requires a bit of TLC. Knowing how to clean your furniture and maintain the materials is a must. Inadvertently soaking wicker furniture will damage the wood, while mild soap and soft sponges will be insufficient to scrub the grime off a metal table, for example. You need the right products and techniques to get the work done right for each job.[1]

Teak and all-weather wicker patio furniture

A wicker side table.

Caring for wicker and teak furniture requires some effort. It takes extra time and energy to get between the grooves of a wicker weave, and neither material should ever be drenched with water because this can cause warping and blistering. So you’ll need to use some special tools and work in sections to get the job done right.

Cleaning tools needed:

How to clean teak and all-weather wicker:

  1. Wipe away leaves, dust and debris with a soft cloth.
  2. Swish an oil-based soap into a bucket of warm water. (Follow package directions for diluting instructions.) Next, gently wipe down each chair and table from top to bottom using a sponge or microfibre cloth. For woven wicker, a small cleaning brush (or even an old toothbrush) can help you get into the crevices.
  3. Rinse with a damp cloth and clean bucket of water—do not soak the wood.
  4. Wipe with a towel or microfibre cloth, then place in the sun to dry.

Tip

Whatever type of chair or table you’re cleaning, be sure to give the soap or washing solution a sufficient dwell time (roughly 15 minutes usually does it) to work on dirt and stains before you rinse it away.[2]

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Plastic and resin patio furniture

A pair of white plastic patio loungers.

Many chairs and tables designed for use on the deck and lawn are made from these inexpensive and versatile materials. The good news is that plastic and resin furniture is the easiest to maintain since dust, dirt and debris tend to wipe away. Steer clear of abrasive cleaners and sponges (which can scuff the surface and cause it to look worn more quickly). All you need is a soft sponge, a basic cleaning solution and some elbow grease!

Cleaning tools needed:

How to clean plastic and resin patio furniture:

  1. Use a dry cloth or a broom to brush away loose dirt and leaves that may have accumulated along the backs and arms of your chairs or on the top of your table.
  2. Use the garden hose, or a bucket of water, to rinse off the furniture.
  3. Fill a spray bottle with a multi-surface cleanser (or buy a ready-to-go spray cleaner) and spritz them down with the solution, focusing on areas with caked-on dirt or visible staining.
  4. Get your sponge or cloth wet and wipe down each piece of furniture, from top to bottom. Rinse each chair and table from top to bottom using a hose or buckets of clean water.

Tip

Automatic dishwashing detergent works great on white plastic furniture! (Be sure to wear gloves, as they often contain bleach.)

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Metal patio furniture (iron, aluminum, stainless steel)

A metal and wicker patio dining set with round table and four chairs.

Whether you have a stainless-steel outdoor dining set, an aluminum lounger or a wrought iron bench in your garden, metal outdoor furniture is durable and relatively easy to maintain. (Unless you find a section of chipped paint or a spot of rust. Metal patio furniture is often coated with a rust-resistant finish, but these wear over time. More on that below!)

Cleaning tools needed:

How to clean metal patio furniture:

  1. Remove loose dirt and dust with a soft-bristled brush or dry cloth.
  2. Mix a quarter cup of mild dish soap in a bucket of warm water. Use your brush or sponge to scrub away dirt and stains gently. Rinse thoroughly.
  3. If you notice any rust, use steel wool to remove oxidation.
  4. Consider giving your chair or table a touch-up, or even a once-over, with rust-resistant paint. First, remove chipped paint with a wire wheel, use a bleach and water solution to kill any mildew, then rinse, dry and prime. Once your clear primer coat is dry, use outdoor spray paint for a fresh look.
  5. To protect your furniture after cleaning, some people swear by a coat of automotive wax![3]

Tip

Never use a pressure washer on your patio furniture. It can strip the finish and damage the materials.

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Outdoor cushions and fabrics

A wicker chair with a cushion.

If cushion covers can’t be zipped off and tossed in the washing machine, you must clean them by hand. Whether your pillows, seat pads and fabric swing seats are made of vinyl or another exterior fabric, the cleaning process is basically the same. That said, you should always look to care instruction tags for direction and do a spot test before you get started.[4]

Cleaning tools needed:

How to clean cushions and fabrics:

  1. Lift loose debris and dust using your vacuum’s brush attachment.
  2. Swish a tablespoon of dish soap in a bucket of warm water. Use a soft sponge to scrub both sides of each cushion, seat pad and pillow, then rinse off with the hose.
  3. Use a towel to blot off as much water as possible from each item. Stand cushions on end in a sunny spot to dry thoroughly.

Tip

Don’t forget about your patio umbrella! If possible, remove the fabric and machine wash it, following the care tag instructions. If it’s permanently attached to the frame, follow the above cleaning instructions for cushions and fabrics.

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3. How often do I clean patio furniture?

Although outdoor furniture is designed to be durable, it’s not indestructible and, if not correctly cared for, can be vulnerable to stains, scratches, mildew and premature signs of wear and tear. So to keep it looking as good-as-new—and ready to use when needed—tables, chairs, sofas and cushions should be cleaned regularly. Ideally, it’s best to give your outdoor furniture a spruce-up four times a year: once in the spring, at the beginning of summer, at the end of summer and again in the late fall, before you cover them or pack them away for the winter.

4. How to reduce cleaning frequency

You can minimize the upkeep of your outdoor furniture by following a few golden rules:

  • Once it’s clean, consider sealing oak or teak patio furniture with a lightweight wood sealant to repel dirt and moisture.[5]
  • In the off-season, and even during a big summer rainstorm, protect tables and chairs from the elements with patio furniture covers or by storing them in a shed or garage.
  • When shopping for cushions, always opt for ones with removable covers that can be machine-washed and run them through the machine at least twice a year.
  • If you aren’t using your furniture daily, give tables and chairs a quick wipe and/or blow away dust and leaves with the leaf blower at least once a week to prevent staining and keep them ready-to-use condition.

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Karen is an award-winning journalist who writes about health, parenting and a variety of lifestyle topics. Her work is frequently published in Today’s Parent, Best Health and Canadian Living. As a busy Toronto-based mom of two, Karen runs on lattes (a lot of them!) and, as it happens, running.

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