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For best results, you should clean outdoor furniture four times a year.

Routine cleanings are the key to keeping your outdoor furniture in pristine condition. For best results, you should clean outdoor furniture four times a year: once at the beginning of summer, once at the end of summer and a couple of times in between. Store furniture indoors during winter months to prevent additional weathering and staining — and to make your routine cleanings easier.

Wood (includes teak and wicker)

Regularly wiping down wood to remove dirt, debris and excess water is the best way to protect it. You can also hose down wicker every few weeks to prevent dirt buildup in crevices — but sometimes you need more than water and a rag to get wood furniture clean.

Commercial wood cleaners are often the most effective on lawn furniture, but be sure to read directions carefully. Wicker and painted woods might require diluting the solution; if in doubt, go for a gentler mix. And if you’re concerned about commercial cleaners, you can also use a mild oil-base soap, such as Murphy Oil Soap, mixed with warm water. For a do-it-yourself cleaning solution, mix 1/4 cup ammonia, 2 tablespoons white vinegar and 1 quart warm water.

For hard woods, consider annually sanding and applying a fresh coat of protective finish, such as oil, stain or a polyurethane coating to help keep weather damage to a minimum. Then clean as directed a few times a year.

Metal (includes wrought iron, cast iron and aluminum)

Oxidation is the most common problem with aluminum furniture. Before cleaning, remove as much of the imperfection as possible using a metal polishing paste or a 1:1 solution of white vinegar and water. You can combat rust by sanding it off, along with damaged paint. Wipe off metal residue with a cloth dampened with mineral spirits or naphtha. Use a rust-resistant primer before painting with a rust-resistant paint.

You should wash aluminum frequently to preserve its natural luster. You can remove scuff marks from aluminum with a soft cloth dampened with a nonabrasive product, but avoid chemicals such as ammonia and trisodium phosphate (TSP); alkaline cleaners cause oxidation.

Consider having your wrought-iron furniture sandblasted or powder-coated for added protection; to protect after cleanings, apply a coat (two for iron) of automotive wax.

Glass

Dish detergent and home cleaning solutions are the most effective cleaners for glass. Remove any stuck-on debris with a glass-safe, nonabrasive material. Many scrub brushes will scratch glass, so opt for one designed to tackle tough cleanup jobs without marking your furniture. And be sure to clean the underside of glass tables at least once a month to prevent irreversible grime.

After an initial cleaning, spray on white vinegar or glass cleaner and wipe away with a microfiber cloth or paper towel. You can fix small scratches and chips in glass with a glass-repair kit from an automotive retailer. Clean the frames of glass tables according to their material type. Finally, cover a glass table when it’s not in use. Commercial window cleaners can’t always keep your glass tables clean.

Plastic (includes hard-resin materials)

There are several cleaning solutions you can use on plastic — but avoid the temptation to use bleach or chlorine on white plastic, as it eats away at the material. Instead, try one of these options:

  • 1/2 cup washing soda mixed with 1 gallon warm water
  • 3 tablespoons automatic dishwasher detergent (contains mild bleaching agent) mixed with 1 gallon warm water
  • For colored plastic: 1⁄4 cup vinegar mixed with 1 quart warm water
  • For stubborn stains, dampen a clean rag with white distilled vinegar and wipe down the piece.

Once you’ve chosen your solution, sprinkle baking soda on a wet sponge to create a mild abrasive that will peel away stains but won’t scratch surfaces. (Don’t use abrasive cleaners; they will scratch plastic.)

You can use WD-40 to restore shine; spray onto plastic and wipe clean with a dry cloth. And after washing your plastic furniture, protect it with a coat of automotive paste wax.

(Better Homes and Gardens is a magazine and website devoted to ideas and improvement projects for your home and garden, plus recipes and entertaining ideas. Online at www.bhg.com.)

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