How to Clean Garden Furniture

When the weather turns warm and the sunshine first begins to peer over our hedges, most of us are keen to spend as much time in the garden as we can. Whether you have a green thumb, or just love to dine al fresco, investing in some stylish garden furniture is a great way to make the most of your outdoor space.

From balconies to patios, or setting up a bistro set on your lawn, garden furniture can help turn your garden into a space for entertaining and relaxation. However, what many people tend to overlook, is how to keep your garden furniture clean, and in great condition.

Why is it important to clean your garden furniture?

There are a wide range of benefits to cleaning your garden furniture, regularly and thoroughly. These include:

  • Making sure it’s always ready to use, on unexpected sunny days
  • Preventing damage – for instance, from standing puddles of water
  • Spotting cracks or flaws in your furniture which will may require fixing
  • Improving the overall appearance of your garden

Although many people will clean their garden furniture only once a year, at the beginning of summer, it’s better to do smaller cleans throughout the year. This will help you to protect your furniture depending on the season and weather conditions, as well as making it easier to maintain and longer-lasting.

Regular cleaning can help you to identify and prevent issues such as rust, rot, and sun damage, before it’s too late.

a black bistro set in a yard

3 Ways to Clean Dirty Outdoor Furniture

Three of the fastest and most thorough ways to clean loose dirt, grime, or moss from your garden furniture are as follows:

Soap and water

The simplest way to wash your garden furniture, is typically with items you already have around the house. Mild soap, which is wood and furniture safe, mixed with hot water can be an extremely effective cleaner for your garden furniture.

Simply take a sponge or soft cloth, fill a bucket or washing-up bowl to the recommended ratio and gently clean your furniture using a circular motion. Rinse afterwards with water to remove any excess soap, and enjoy!

Note: Ensure any soaps you use on your garden furniture are suitable, multi-purpose soaps which don’t include any abrasive chemicals. For instance, certain soaps or polishes can damage the paintwork of garden furniture, or even the material below if it is made of wood or metal.

Garden hose

For a quick wash, to blast away things like dead leaves, mud or cobwebs, a quick rinse with a standard garden hose may be good enough. If you’ve recently cleaned your furniture thoroughly, rinsing with a hose can be a great way to spruce it up, without spending an hour or more scrubbing.

Pressure washing

Pressure-washing is a high-intensity process, involving specialist equipment. You can rent a pressure-washer, or even hire a professional to pressure-wash your garden furniture for you.

Pressure-washing blasts your garden or patio furniture with a forceful stream of water, dispersing dirt, grime, and more in an instant! Highly efficient, but potentially costly, pressure-washing can be a good option if you have a lot of furniture to wash.

Or, if you would like to wash other areas of your garden as well, such as patio paving. This will help you to get your money’s worth if you’re buying, renting, or hiring a professional pressure-washer for the day.

These three furniture-cleaning methods above are normally fine for most garden furniture. However, some furniture types need more specialised care – we’ll cover the main types. Always check manufacturer instructions, but these are the tried-and-tested methods that our team of furniture experts recommend.

Cleaning Metal Garden Furniture

Metal garden furniture typically requires a little extra care, thought, and attention before you begin cleaning it. Although most weatherproof patio sets, benches, or other items of metal furniture will be safe to clean with hot water and a mild soap, you should always check first before using any products on it.

Metal patio furniture may be subject to rust or tarnishing over time, but you can minimise this and ensure your garden furniture looks nice for longer by using the correct cleaning methods. Regular maintenance, treatment, and proper storage will also help you to get the most use out of your metal furniture – which, after all, is built to last!

Read on for our top tips on cleaning metal garden furniture – from common metals such as stainless steel, to cast iron and aluminium.

How to Clean Metal Patio Furniture

What to Use: Warm water, a mild, non-detergent soap and a soft cloth or sponge.

How to Clean: For standard metal patio furniture, you can typically use soap and water, along with a cloth or sponge. Take your time, and avoid using abrasive scrubbers, which can spoil the finish or create small scratches which can lead to rust.

Wash your metal furniture in a circular motion, changing the water often and rinsing it thoroughly once you’ve finished, to remove any remaining soap suds or residue.

How often to clean: Seasonally – 4 times a year, or more.

What to do in between cleaning: Although most metal patio furniture is weatherproof and features a water-resistant coating or finish, you can protect it from sun damage by using a furniture cover. This can also save you time when it comes to cleaning, by keeping dirt, water and fallen leaves off your furniture.

a white bistro set on a patio

How to Clean Cast Iron furniture

What to Use: Warm water, mild non-detergent soap, a soft cloth, a sponge or nylon scrubbing brush. Optional: diluted distilled white vinegar and protective wax-based coating.

How to Clean: Cast iron outdoor furniture is more susceptible to rust, so we advise a careful and considered approach to cleaning it. If your cast iron garden furniture has a weatherproof painted finish, take care not to damage or chip the paint while washing, as this increases the likelihood of rust.

To clean cast iron furniture, you should check for any chipped paint, or if your iron is uncovered, make note of any areas of rust or tarnish. We will discuss what to do with rusted furniture down below.

Clean your furniture with warm water, mild soap and a cloth or sponge. Again, take care not to chip the paint or finish. You can also use diluted, distilled white vinegar in your cleaning mixture, which is cast iron safe.

When you’ve cleaned your furniture, rinse well to remove any residue. You may also like to add an optional protective product, such as a purpose-made wax coating, to protect your cast iron furniture from the elements, and avoid rusting or other forms of tarnish.

How often to clean: Seasonally – 4 times a year, or more.

What to do in between cleaning: You may like to invest in furniture covers to protect your cast iron furniture from sun damage and scratches. We’d also recommend regularly checking for early signs of rust, chipped paintwork or scratches, and to address these as early as possible to protect your outdoor furniture.

How to Clean Cast Aluminium Patio Furniture

What to Use: Warm water, mild, non-detergent soap and a soft cloth or sponge are ideal for cleaning aluminium patio furniture. Aluminium-safe cleaners and waxes are also a good option, but be sure to check the label.

Avoid harsh, degreasing cleaners, or alkaline-heavy cleaners which are high in chemicals such as ammonia. These can cause oxidisation in aluminium patio furniture, which we will cover in more detail below.

How to Clean: Wash your aluminium furniture carefully in a circular motion, rinsing well to avoid leaving any residue, soap suds or standing puddles of water on the surfaces.

How often to clean: Seasonally – 4 times a year, or more.

What to do in between cleaning: Aluminium can be discoloured and lose its shiny finish when subject to alkaline-rich water, and even certain types of dirt or soil. A protective cover is a good idea for this material.

How to Restore Cast Aluminum Patio Furniture

You may find that over time, your aluminium garden furniture discolours, or begins to have a spotted or stained appearance. This is likely due to oxidisation, where the aluminium reacts to water, dirt, or even air and oxidises, causing a change in appearance.

If oxidisation occurs, there are ways to restore cast aluminium patio furniture – but the sooner you act, the better. Longer-lasting tarnish can be tougher to address. You can shine up your aluminium furniture using a steel wire brush and an acidic solution of distilled white vinegar, diluted with equal parts water. If you don’t find success with this method, there are a number of aluminium cleaners on the market which can be used to treat more severe oxidisation.

Once you’ve done this, you can use an aluminium-safe outdoor furniture wax to seal the furniture and preserve its overall appearance.

How to Remove Rust from Garden Furniture

There are a number of ways to remove rust from garden furniture. It’s always best to research which method is the most effective for the material your furniture is made from (e.g. cast iron, stainless steel, or other metals). However, the most common methods are as follows.

  1. Chemical rust removal. Many people choose to use purpose-made products to remove rust from garden furniture. These solutions often come in cream or powder form, which loosen the rust, allowing it to be removed using a wire brush or similar abrasive. The non-rusted metal below can then be buffed and shined so that it appears almost new.
  2. DIY rust removal. The above process can sometimes be replicated with common household products, such as white vinegar, baking soda, lemon juice, and even cola! Be sure to research any DIY methods thoroughly, and perhaps consider testing them on a small area of the furniture before addressing large areas of rust.
  3. Replacement of parts. If your garden furniture has severe rust, or has even rusted through, you may be better off replacing parts of it – such as legs, or screws, which have succumbed to rust. Rust holds onto moisture, and spreads, so it’s best to remove areas of rust as early as possible, if you wish to preserve your patio furniture for longer.

Once you have removed rust from your garden furniture, it’s a good idea to treat it with a sealing, or wax product, to prevent rust from returning. This will also help to prevent excessive weathering on the areas where you have removed the rust, which will likely be more vulnerable to rusting in the future.

Cleaning Plastic Garden Furniture

What to use: Warm water, soap or distilled white vinegar, and a soft sponge or cloth.

How to clean: Plastic garden furniture is lightweight and low-maintenance, meaning it requires little cleaning in between uses. You can use warm water and soap, or diluted white vinegar, to remove dirt and grime from the surface with a sponge or cloth.

Pressure-washing can also be effective, but be mindful that thin, very lightweight plastic furniture could shatter if a pressure-washer is used on it. There’s no need to use a sledgehammer to kill a fly, in this case! Standard soap and water works very well on plastic garden furniture.

How often to clean: Seasonally – 4 times a year, or perhaps a little more or less, depending on the frequency of use. Again, plastic garden furniture is very low maintenance!

What to do in between cleaning: While plastic garden furniture is typically weatherproof, particularly with such mild weather as we have in the UK, you may still wish to cover it to prevent damage from the sun. Whilst the structure of our plastic furniture should withstand the elements, colourful plastics can suffer from ‘sun-bleaching’, losing their vibrancy and pleasant appearance over time.

You can cover your plastic furniture, store it in the garage or shed when not in use, or simply move it to a shady area of your garden.

a plant storage stand

Cleaning Wood Garden Furniture

What to use: Warm water, mild soap or detergent, white vinegar, a sponge or soft cloth, and a bristled brush.

How to clean: When cleaning wooden garden furniture, you can take the approach of mild soap and warm water. Spots of mildew can be addressed with diluted white vinegar, and any stubborn dirt can be taken off with a bristles cleaning brush, before going over it with a soft sponge or cloth.

Depending on how porous your wood garden furniture is, be careful not to oversaturate it, as this can cause swelling and cracks in extreme cases. The ideal time to clean wood furniture is on a sunny day, so the wood can dry quickly and naturally.

Once the wood is cleaned and dried, you may like to apply a stain, for an improved, refreshed appearance. Once this has dried too, you can add any weather-proofing treatments or waxes, which can help to ensure your garden furniture looks its best and lasts longer.

How often to clean: Seasonally, with a weather-proofing treatment to be applied at least once a year, if appropriate.

What to do in between cleaning: If your wood furniture is particularly porous, you may wish to invest in a waterproof furniture cover. This can prevent the wood from being ‘sun-bleached’ and losing its colour, as well as stopping moss or mildew from forming in the wetter months.

Cleaning Rattan or Wicker Garden Furniture

What to use: A vacuum cleaner or soft-bristled brush, warm water with mild soap, and a soft sponge or cloth.

How to clean: Wicker or rattan furniture has a number of gaps and a textured surface that dirt and soil can stubbornly stick to. Using a vacuum cleaner nozzle, possibly with a brush attachment, hoover up loose dirt. If you don’t have a vacuum cleaner, you can also do this with a soft-bristled brush by sweeping the first away.

Once you’ve done this step, wash the furniture in the same direction as the strands of wicker or rattan, using long strokes with a cloth or sponge with warm, soapy water.

Try not to saturate your wicker furniture with water, particularly if it’s wood-based, as this can cause moisture to be trapped and cause mould or swelling. However, if your wicker or rattan furniture is synthetic or plastic-based, you don’t need to worry about this too much.

How often to clean: Seasonally – around 4 times a year.

What to do in between cleaning: You may like to cover your wicker or rattan furniture when it isn’t in use, to protect it from sub-bleaching and the elements. This can also make seasonal cleaning much easier, as you won’t have as much dirt and fallen leaves to contend with.

a parasol in a garden

Cleaning Fabric Garden Furniture Accessories

When it comes to cleaning fabric garden furniture accessories, such as cushion covers and weatherproof covers, we would recommend always checking the washing instructions included on the label.

Whereas most indoor furniture fabrics and upholstery is machine washable, fabrics for outdoor furniture are frequently treated with weatherproofing solutions, which can break down in the washing machine.

Ensure you get the best and most effective use from your outdoor fabrics, particularly those which are plastic-lined for wet weather, by checking the care instructions, and hand-washing at low temperatures and with mild soap if you’re unsure.

Cleaning Garden Furniture: FAQs

What is the best way to clean garden furniture?

The best way to clean garden furniture can vary, depending on the material, finish, and whether it’s an all-weather or seasonal piece of furniture. Always consult the manufacturer’s care, maintenance, and cleaning instructions for your garden furniture – particularly if it’s made of wood or metal.

If wooden or metal garden furniture is cleaned improperly, it can lead to tarnishing, rust, or rot – so always make sure to consult the manufacturer’s instructions!

How often should I clean my garden furniture?

The amount of times per year you should clean your garden furniture will depend on the type of item it is. However, a good rule of thumb is to clean and maintain your garden furniture seasonally (e.g. 4 times a year, or more).

By cleaning and maintaining your furniture at different points of the year, you can prepare it for different weather conditions, such as front, or intense sunlight. This can be particularly useful for wooden furniture, as it allows you to keep it looking nicer for longer, as well as extending its overall lifespan.

What products should I use to clean my garden furniture?

The type of products used to clean your garden furniture will depend completely on the type of material used. Although mild soap and warm water can typically be used on most metals and wood, consult the care instructions for your product to ensure that there are no recommended cleaners, or things to avoid.

I haven’t cleaned my garden furniture for years. What should I do?

If your garden furniture is old, or has been neglected for a number of years, you should first inspect it for any damage or tarnishing. Wooden garden furniture can be vulnerable to rotting, whereas some metals have a tendency to rust.

Check for any broken or unsafe pieces before committing to cleaning the furniture, as you should fix these before you begin cleaning. Then research how best to treat the materials and if you can find the care instructions for the piece of garden furniture online, even better.

What kind of garden furniture requires less cleaning?

If you’re looking for low-maintenance but attractive garden furniture, then plastic furniture typically requires the least amount of cleaning and maintenance. Whereas wooden furniture can suffer from rot, and metal furniture can rust, plastic garden furniture is lightweight and can be cleaned easily with soap, water, or even a garden hose.

Thank you for reading our comprehensive guide to cleaning garden furniture. If you’re looking for a selection of stylish, yet affordable patio sets, outdoor benches, parasols and more, be sure to visit our Garden Furniture product category to browse the full range.

And for more tips for your home and garden, feel free to visit the Big Furniture Warehouse blog, which is filled with advice and handy hints to make your house into a home. You might like to start with The Best Small Garden and Patio Layout Ideas or 6 Affordable Ways to Create Shade in your Garden.

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