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TLC for Wood Patio Furniture

Even though outdoor furniture is typically made of resilient hardwoods or naturally rot-resistant softwoods, it’s not immune to the elements. Here’s how to keep your deck or patio set in top form

START WITH CLEANING > Working in the shade, clean furniture using an oxygen bleach to remove any loose remnants of old finishes, dirt, and mildew (unless it’s redwood; then opt for oxalic acid to help maintain its color). Mix the bleach in a garden sprayer following the manufacturer’s instructions. Spray it evenly on each piece, let it foam up for 15 to 20 minutes, then gently scrub with a soft-bristle brush and rinse with water. When dry, you may need to lightly sand the wood surface.

SEAL OUT WATER > Water is wood’s biggest enemy, and the most important line of defense is proper sealing. To that end, skip polys, varnishes, and paints, which form films that sit on the surface and eventually crack or peel, as well as some natural oils, like linseed, which can be food for mold and mildew. Instead, opt for a synthetic penetrating wood finish like Seal-Once Exotic Premium Wood Sealer ($28 per quart; Seal-Once). Apply it following the manufacturer’s instructions; expect to repeat every one to three years.

KEEP COLOR LOOKING NEW > Clear sealers don’t offer protection against the fading and graying caused by UV rays. But you can maintain or restore wood color by following up the cleaning just described with a tinted wood stain like Messmer’s UV Plus for Hardwood Decks ($42 per gallon; OPW). The pigments in a stain act as a sort of sunscreen to keep gray away.

DO ROUTINE MAINTENANCE > Get in the habit of blowing or sweeping leaves, dirt, and debris off the furniture as frequently as possible. Each month, give furniture a thorough but gentle scrub with a solution of 1 tablespoon of dish soap per gallon of water, and clean with a soft-bristle brush.

COVER IT UP > At the end of the year, store your outdoor furniture in a covered area (if you get cold winters, indoors is best). Not an option? Use furniture covers or tarps, but make sure they’re breathable. Don’t tie the bottom of a tarp so tightly that it traps moisture and inhibits air circulation. Wood needs to be able to dry out.

Thanks to: Tim Carter, founder,