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Caring for patio furniture

Aside from being unsightly (which can cause one to lose his appetite), stained and dirty patio furniture can turn a clean pair of shorts or a skirt into something that looks more like an automotive shop rag.

Even worse than getting dirty is getting hurt. This can easily happen if a chair leg is loose, rusted, bent or cracked.

More often than not, regular cleaning and periodic repair and maintenance can prevent accidents from occurring. If people treated their outdoor furniture like they treat the outside of their cars, it would look better, last longer and be safer.

A thorough rinsing with the garden hose once a week usually is all that is required. Most furniture should be thoroughly cleaned every four to six months with a solution of dishwashing detergent in warm-to-hot water. Use a sponge, cloth or soft nylon brush to apply the solution. Never use abrasive cleaning products or an abrasive applicator such as a scouring pad or steel wool as these could permanently damage the finish.

Among the most difficult-to-remove stains are those caused by tanning lotion. We suggest that a towel be placed between the tanning body and the chair or lounge to prevent staining.

Outdoor wicker is becoming increasingly popular for patios. The wicker and cushions periodically should be vacuumed using an upholstery tool. Both the frame and wicker can be washed with the detergent solution referred to earlier. Wipe dry with a soft, clean, dry cloth and apply a coat of auto wax to the frames.

Wax my patio furniture? Have the Carey Brothers gone nuts? Well, not totally. If it's good for your fancy set of wheels why not your outdoor furniture? Be it plastic (PVC), vinyl-coated, fiberglass or metal, a coat of wax can make your furniture look almost new. What's more, the wax will help the finish to resist staining, make it easier to clean and slow down natural deterioration that results from prolonged exposure to the elements.

Acrylic cushions should be spot-cleaned by sponging briskly with soap in lukewarm water. The area should then be thoroughly rinsed with clean water to remove the soap, and allowed to air dry. Stubborn stains generally can be removed with a commercial cleaning product or stain remover.

Solution-dyed acrylic does not promote mildew -- dirt does. Therefore, if mildew is present, you're sure to get rid of it using our famous solution that consists of one-third cup powdered laundry detergent, one quart of liquid chlorine bleach and three quarts of warm water. Add the bleach to the water first and then the detergent. Put the solution into a spray bottle and apply it onto the affected areas. But don't let it dry. Rinse with fresh water, and towel dry. Even though this solution is mild, you should wear rubber gloves and safety goggles, and be sure to have plenty of ventilation.

Many people have outdoor furniture with vinyl straps. These should be cleaned as previously outlined. Wash with a mild detergent solution, rinse, and towel dry and wax. Using an electric buffer can make the job of waxing your patio furniture much easier. Scuffmarks usually can be removed using a soft dry cloth and a dab of toothpaste.

Rusted wrought iron furniture should be cleaned using a wire brush and rust removal product. Any rust that remains should be painted with a rust converter. Bare metal should be primed with a metal primer. A high-quality oil-base semi-gloss or gloss enamel is your best bet when it comes to painted furniture.

Wood patio furniture should be washed at least once each year with a solution of synthetic trisodium phosphate (TSP) and coated with a high-quality stain or penetrating oil finish.

Tip: A great way to improve the lasting quality of your outdoor furniture is to store it indoors during damp weather when it is not being used.


James Carey and Morris Carey are nationally recognized experts on home building and renovation.

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