How to clean and store outdoor furniture for winter

If you live where the snow flies and you have outdoor furniture, you’ve likely been wowed by the snow that accumulated on it one time or another. It’s a little surreal, thinking about how not that long ago you were sunbathing on that very chaise lounge or having lunch at that picnic table. And, if you’re like me, you may also have wondered if your outdoor furniture was going to be worse for the exposure. Here’s what you need to know about preparing your outdoor furniture for winter.

How should I clean my outdoor furniture?

Fall — before anything is put away for winter storage — is a good time to clean outdoor furniture. Here are some tips.

Wood 

Clean wood furniture with a mild, oil-based soap and warm water. (I like to use Murphy’s oil soap.) A soft brush can clean into the grain (brush in the direction of the grain). Rinse gently. Don’t use a power wash or strong spray nozzle on your hose, or you might damage the wood. Pat dry with an absorbent towel. Then allow to dry thoroughly in the sun before storing.

Note:  If your wood furniture develops a rough texture over time from washing, you can lightly sand it.

wood outdoor furniture on a grass lawn

If your wood furniture is dry, you might apply a little furniture oil to it. If it hasn’t been sealed, or the sealant is worn off, this would be a good time to apply a sealant. It’s also a good time to sand and paint or stain wood pieces. Paint, stain, and sealant will all keep moisture from freezing in the wood grain over the winter months and cracking the wood. 

BTW, in the spring, it’s a good idea to check your wood furniture for loose joints — wood expands and contracts over the winter and can loosen things up. 

Plastic

Wash plastic furniture with warm water and a mild cleanser. Use a sponge or cloth. Don’t use abrasive cleaners or scrubbers — these can scratch the plastic. Rinse with a hose and dry it well with an absorbent towel. Place in the sun to finish drying.

Wicker

Wicker can be tricky to get clean because of all the hiding places for dirt. Don’t use a power wash or strong spray from your hose nozzle — these can damage the wicker. Instead, spray gently, then wash with a soapy, soft brush or sponge, rubbing into all the nooks and crannies. (An old toothbrush comes in handy for difficult crevices.) 

Rinse again with the hose and let dry thoroughly in the sun. 

Metal (including wrought iron and stainless steel) 

Gently hose down, then wash with a mild dish soap and water, using a sponge or cloth. Rinse, dry with a towel, and let the sunshine finish the job. 

Ornate white metal outdoor furniture set on a lawn with red flowers in the foreground

For metal with intricate textures — such as ornate wrought iron furniture — vacuum out the dust and dirt first with a small brush attachment. Then use an old toothbrush to clean in the crevices with soapy water. Rinse and let dry in the sun.

Rusting not only looks bad, it also weakens the metal. If your metal furniture has rust spots, remove them using steel wool. Then gently sand. Cover the spots with a rust-neutralizing primer paint. Gently sand again, then cover with a paint to match the metal. 

If your metal furniture is painted, this would be a good time to give it a new paint job. (Spray paint works well on metal furniture.) For extra protection, add a coat of car wax to your metal furniture before using it next season.

Fabric

Use soapy warm water to spot clean. Check the manufacturer’s directions; in some cases, you can remove fabric covers (pillow or cushion covers, for example) and machine wash them. Don’t put them in the dryer though, or you’ll risk shrinking them, and they’ll no longer fit. You might apply a fabric protector after the fabric is clean and dry, to prevent future stains.

What if my outdoor furniture has mold on it?

That’s not uncommon. It sits outside in the rain and humid weather, after all. If your outdoor furniture has mold or mildew on it, use a soft brush to brush it off, then rinse it with a hose. Then rub with a half-and-half solution of vinegar and water. (Bleach works, too, but it can sometimes discolor and isn’t a good environmental choice.)

Won’t it be lovely to pull clean, ready-to-enjoy furniture out next spring? If you follow these tips for cleaning — and the ones below for storage — your outdoor furniture is likely to be in good shape for years of summertime fun.

Should I bring in my outdoor furniture in for the winter? 

It depends. Some outdoor furniture is built to be left outside year round, and it will fare pretty well. And some of it is just too cumbersome to move indoors — that picnic table, for example. Or maybe you have no shed or extra garage space for furniture storage. Or maybe you just want a piece to stay put year round — like a garden bench that you want to remain part of the landscape during the winter months.

Two light wood chairs beside a pool and pool house

So you certainly can decide to leave furniture outdoors through the winter. In terms of longevity, it’s never a bad idea to bring it in if you have the space. Anything left outdoors will be stressed by winter weather — wood can freeze and crack, plastic can become brittle and crack, and metal can rust. 

If you do leave furniture outdoors, consider covering it. Some people like to wrap furniture that they’re leaving out in plastic. In fact, there are companies that will come to your yard and basically shrink wrap your outdoor furniture for you. The problem with such a thorough plastic covering, though, is that any water that gets in (from a little puncture in the plastic, for example) can’t evaporate, which can lead to mold and mildew. 

You can also tie a tarp over your furniture — just be sure to attach it securely so it doesn’t blow off or topple your furniture if the weather gets blustery. 

if you have furniture that you want to leave out, your best bet may be to invest in outdoor furniture covers. Choose covers with breathable fabric. Some even have mesh vents to allow for air flow.  (Also check with the manufacturer; some wood and composite furniture is better off left uncovered.)

Be sure to brush off snow or water that accumulates on top of the covers. 

Outdoor pillows, cushions, and umbrellas can be placed in storage bags and stored in a shed, garage, or attic. 

Outdoor table and two chairs on a wooden deck beside a gray house

If you have the space and desire to store your outdoor furniture inside, clean it up first, make sure it’s completely dry, then put it in a dry spot in a shed or garage. Cover with a tarp or with furniture covers for extra protection. 

Do you haul all your outdoor furniture inside for winter protection or do you leave it out? Any tips you’d like to share?

You might also enjoy:

How to store your lawn mower for winter

Fall maintenance for your home and yard

Mums‚ How to grow and keep chrysanthemums blooming

Saving geraniums — How to overwinter your geraniums

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