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It's almost patio season! But before we get ahead of ourselves, let's take a closer look at the tables and chairs we left outside all season. Winter's harsh elements are not kind to patio furniture. Some materials hold up better than others, but rotting leaves, hard rain, hail, snow and freezing weather are all difficult for even the toughest materials to manage.

If your space allows, it's always best to store patio furniture inside over the winter. If this isn't an option, try moving it to a less exposed area and covering it with patio furniture covers or a tarp.

If you didn't protect your outdoor furniture during the frigid months, you've likely ventured outside recently and found your tables and chairs dirty, damaged, slimy, rusty, and/or moldy. It might look like a lost cause, but it isn't. You can still have that furniture clean in time for guests to arrive.

Adirondack chairCorbis

Freezing weather is the biggest threat to your wood furniture. Water will seep into the smallest crack and expand when it freezes -- expanding any cracks as well. Cracks that were hardly visible before become more significant and can threaten the structural integrity of your wood furniture.

Most wood varieties (cedar, oak, pine) should be stored inside in the off season, if possible. You should take the time to give the wood a good clean before putting it in storage. That way, it just needs a quick dusting before taking its rightful home on the spring patio.

If you have no choice but to keep your wood furniture outdoors all winter, at least cover it and keep it all in a protected area. You can also protect wood furniture with paint, water sealers and varnish. If winter crept up on you this year and your wood furniture has been exposed to the elements, it isn't a lost cause (though it may have looked that way after the snow melted).

If you find that your wood patio furniture has cracks in it, repair them right away so they don't have the opportunity to expand further. For smaller crack, you can use wood putty. Found at your local hardware store and available in a variety of colors, pick the one that best matches your furniture. Here's how to repair a small crack:

1. Clean out the crack with a knife, making sure it is free of dirt and splinter wood.
2. Apply the putty with a wood scraper (sometimes this will come with your putty, other times you'll find it on the shelf where putty is sold).
3. Smooth the putty over the crack, filling it generously, accommodating for the changes that occur when it dries.
4. Wait two days, then sand the putty down, blending it into the furniture surface.
5. Larger cracks might require a more involved fix.

Here's how to patch a larger crack in wood:

1. Clean out the crack with a knife. Cut away and rough edges so the hole is smooth.
2. Cut a piece of wood to match the crack.
3. Cover the patch with carpenters glue.
4. Carefully hammer the patch it into the crack.
5. Let the glue to dry for 24 hours.
6. Touch up the crack with wood putty, following the same instructions you would for filling a smaller crack.

Water is not only harmful to wood when it freezes, though. It can also cause discoloration, rot, and warping. In addition to keeping wood furniture under cover, try adding rubber feet to tables and chairs so they aren't sitting in damp grass or puddles that have collected on the patio. If you find water damage on your furniture, soak up as much as you can with a thick towel. Wipe off any dirt with a damp cloth then leave it out in the sun or bring it inside until it has dried completely. Once the piece is clean and dry, you can patch the cracks. If the discoloration is severe, you might want choose to refinish the piece.

Teak furniture is widely considered a superior product. Teak isn't vulnerable to the issues that plague other wood. Resistant to moisture, wind, pests and humidity, teak furniture in its untreated form can last up to 75 years outdoors. It's also one of the most expensive types of outdoor furniture.

Left unprotected, teak will turn a silver-gray color. The only reason to protect the wood is to preserve the honey-brown color, so it's entirely a matter of taste. If you want to protect it, apply a teak oil or teak protector.

For general cleaning, a mild dish soap and water is sufficient. If it's particularly bad, add a splash of bleach and scrub the soiled spots.

Iron is a beautiful material, particularly in outdoor furniture. Unfortunately, it rusts easily. Many manufacturers accommodate for this by applying rust-resistant paint to iron furniture. You can reapply it as needed or add a protective coat if your furniture didn't come come with a painted finish. Before applying any paint, make sure the surface of your furniture is clean and rust-free.

Sand away any corrosion; this will take patience and a strong arm, but it's important that every last bit of rust is gone. If you need some reinforcements, try some of the tips used for removing rust from tools. Once the piece is rust-free, clean the wrought iron furniture with a mild dish soap. Rinse the dish soap off and dry the furniture well before painting it.

Aluminum is a sturdy, reasonably priced material. Most outdoor aluminum furniture is painted to seal the metal and prevent corrosion. Paint touch-ups as soon as you notice worn patches and a new paint job every few years will keep the aluminum in top shape. In between paint jobs, wash the aluminum with soap and water. Rinse the soap off with clean water and dry it thoroughly.

To clean unpainted aluminum furniture, use a metal polishing paste. If you're worried about the tiny abrasives in metal polish, don't resort to baking soda as a substitute. The chemical make-up of baking soda and washing soda will damage untreated aluminum.

Instead, for a natural solution, try two parts boiling water and one part vinegar. This should take care of most discoloration and scale deposits cause by hard water. If the corrosion build-up is too much for the vinegar solution, you will need to scrub it. Avoid a steel brush as it leaves behind bits of metal that eventually rust. Use sandpaper instead.

wicker furnitureGetty Images

Wicker is an inexpensive outdoor furniture option and is available in painted or natural varieties. Wicker furniture is intended for use in a covered area that's protected from the elements. Clean your wicker furniture by vacuuming it with a soft brush and wiping it down with a damp cloth or wood oil. Doing this once a month will avoid bigger issues.

If the wicker is damaged and the strands are falling apart, it can be repaired with glue. Here's how:

1. Lay a damp cloth over the damaged area
2. Cut a new strand of wicker a couple of inches longer than you need
3. Soak the new strand in warm water. This will loosen it and make it easier to work with.
4. Apply glue to the damaged area
5. Weave the new strand through the existing wicker, keeping the pattern and making sure it comes in contact with the glue.
6. Allow the glue to dry completely before painting it to match the rest of the piece if necessary.

Resin or plastic patio furniture is an inexpensive, durable choice that's available in any color to match your outdoor decor. Because of its durability, plastic furniture is often left out in the harshest weather rendering it extremely dirty.

Cleaning resin furniture
is simple. First, brush off loose dirt and dust, then mix one cup of vinegar with one gallon of warm water and two tablespoons of dish detergent. Using a sponge, wash the plastic furniture. For additional cleaning power, add a splash of bleach, but don't do this too often as it weakens the plastic over time. If you have a particularly tough stain, magic erasers work well too, but I prefer a baking soda paste as a natural alternative.

If you've decided that your plastic patio pieces are beyond repair, check the recycle code before hauling them to the curb. Lots of resin furniture is made from #2 plastic, which can be recycled.

If you left your cushions outside all winter, you'll probably find them covered in mold and mildew. Some cushions come with specific cleaning instructions and others are machine washable. For everything else, this method will take care of the mold and mildew that cover your cushions.

Water (warm water and clean water for rinsing)
Scrub brush
Dish detergent
Baking soda
Fabric protector

1. Remove surface dirt and dust by shaking it out and wiping it with a damp cloth.
2. Mix dish detergent and warm water. Dip the brush in this solution and scrub the cushion in circular motions.
3. Rinse the cushion with clean water.
4. If there are still persistent stains, apply a paste of baking soda and water. Scrub it in a circular motion until the stain is gone.
5. Rinse the cushion again.
6. Let the cushion sit until it is completely dry.
7. Apply a fabric protector spray.

Once your cushions are back in shape, it's a good idea to pack them away, even at night. A sturdy deck box works well; just toss them in at the end of the night and bring them out again the next day.

Once your furniture is patio-ready, you can keep it looking good through the summer by washing it regularly with soap and water. Avoid ground water because it can contain sulfurs and iron oxide which can stain the furniture.

Now that your outdoor furniture is ready for the warmer weather, call your friends and fire up the grill. But first you should clean that too.

  • Margie Harper

    Good article.

  • Janice

    Try Awesome from the dollar store. Spray it on and watch even your cement become spotless. Grab a hose and you are all set. Best product ton the market.

  • Paulette Mattson

    This is better than rust paint. You can get it at paint store or hardware, yellow bottle called Rust Converter. Leave rust on , spray or use cheap brush to put it on. I worked automotive and this is the best ever. Permatex rust convertor,I tried, is not as good as Rust Convertor. Then paint the color over it. It turns a dark grey great primer and will not rust again.

  • Ken

    Rust converter is a quick fix (and it won't last) for the lazy. If you are going to use Rust Converter, chip, or wire brush all the rust you can get...and if you get that far, get it all down to bare metal. Don't be lazy when it comes to rust. Get it all and do it right.

  • greg praytor

    for a great deal and goodqaulity patio furniture i bought mine from patio furniture plus in ontario cal. . they have a huge selection of cast aluminum and vinyl wicker . phone.909 947 4600

  • johnsmith

    Thanks for the super article......Furniture packages are created to help shoppers get everything they need for the rooms in their home without worrying whether the pieces work well together or they are coordinated for a complete and well put together room. When you select one of our furniture packages, all you will have to do is make a choice in the colour of the fabrics and furnishings.
    Furniture Packages Bulgaria

  • 6 Comments / 1 Pages

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