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How to Properly Clean Stains from Your Garden Furniture

Accidents happen. A glass of wine spilled during a dinner with friends. A toddler’s greasy fingers wiped on a seat pad one lazy summer lunchtime. Or suntan lotion on the cushions of your favourite sun lounger… it’s all too easy!

This means that, over time, your garden furniture needs a spot of care to keep it looking in tip-top condition.

Here’s our guide to dealing with some of the most common stains your garden furniture will likely suffer. We will tell you how to tackle them and how to keep your garden furniture looking great year after year.

Deal with stains quickly

The faster you can deal with a spillage or stain, the better. The longer the spillage is left, the longer it has to soak into the material and the more likely it is to leave a permanent mark. This is especially important for fabrics and cushions, of course.

Modern furniture sets are usually treated with stain-resistant finishes. This will usually include the soft furnishings too. However, there are limits to the performance of even the best outdoor furniture brands. Red wine left for several hours or overnight to soak into a seat pad can be too much for even the best stain-resistant finish!

However, a few simple care tips and stain removal techniques can help to restore your garden furniture to its former condition. The best approach will differ according to the stain in question and, of course, the material suffering the stain or spillage.

How to properly clean stains from your garden furniture by type of stain ?

We’re going to look at how to properly clean stains from your garden furniture according to the type of stain. But we’ll also highlight different stain-removal techniques for different outdoor furniture materials, as appropriate

How to remove grease stains

Grease stains on upholstery can be very ugly. Dark, shiny patches really age your garden furniture. But it doesn’t need to be so. Grease stains can be easily removed by applying some grease-busting washing-up liquid to the affected area.

Apply the detergent neat and leave for a few minutes for the grease-softening action to work. Then use a soft cloth and some clean, warm water to lift the detergent from the fabric. When you have removed all the detergent from the fabric, you should find the stain has been removed.

If you haven’t managed to lift the stain completely, you can repeat the process until all the discoloration has gone. Laundry detergent is another option; this will also act to break down the grease and make it easier to lift the stain.

Getting greasy stains on wooden furniture can be more problematic. Left for too long, they can permanently discolour the area. However, the quicker you act, the easier it will be to remedy the situation.

If the spillage or mark is still wet, then you can simply wipe the grease away with a soft cloth. If the grease has dried in, then you can try to lift it by applying some white vinegar to the area. Besides being a natural product, the advantage of white vinegar is that it cuts through oil and grease whilst also doubling as a sanitiser without leaving any film or residue behind. If you’re concerned about the scent of vinegar, wash the area with some warm soapy water and then rinse and dry naturally.

It’s really important to lift grease from surfaces as soon as you can because it can become a magnet for other dirt and dust – which will only make the problem worse.

How to remove suntan lotion stains

Suntan lotion can be very greasy and can leave dark marks of shiny discolouration if you don’t act quickly to remove it. If you can wipe off the worst of the spillage before it dries in, this is a good idea.

Because most sun creams are oil-based, if they do get rubbed into your garden furniture upholstery and soft furnishings, you will need to apply something to break the oil content.

White vinegar is one option. You can apply it topically to the affected area. Rinse the vinegar out with a soft cloth dipped in a solution of warm water and washing-up liquid. Then rinse with clean water and allow to dry thoroughly.

The other option is to apply some laundry detergent to the area since this should also break down the oil content in the suntan lotion. Again, you will need to rinse off with warm water to ensure that no soapy residue is left behind and then leave to dry thoroughly.

If your soft furnishings are white, you may need to take further action, since the suntan lotion may leave a discolouration despite your best efforts. If this is the case, a fabric-safe bleach-based cleaner will be your best bet to restore the fabric to a clean white.

For a more natural approach, you could try applying lemon juice to the area and then allow this to dry naturally in the sun. Lemon juice is known to lighten fabrics, so this could help you restore your fabric to its original white without having to resort to a bleach-based cleaner.

How to remove wine stains

Red wine stains on upholstery fabric are notoriously difficult to remove. If you can, blot the wine from the fabric as soon as possible. For most modern, stain-resistant garden furniture fabrics this should be enough to prevent a stain.

However, if you don’t know there’s been a spillage and the wine has had time to soak into the fabric, you’ll need to apply a little elbow grease. If you add a little washing-up liquid in some warm water and then add a tablespoon or two of white vinegar, this solution should be enough to draw away most red wine stains.

Apply with a soft cloth and blot gently to remove the stain. Rinse with some warm water and then allow to dry thoroughly.

If this fails, you could try a mixture of white vinegar and bicarbonate of soda. This mixture will froth up considerably, but apply it to the area and leave to soak in for a few minutes. This should lift stubborn wine stains. Wipe away with a soft cloth and some warm water, then allow to dry thoroughly. If there are any residues of bicarbonate of soda left on the fabric once it has dried, you can simply vacuum or brush these away.

How to remove charcoal stains

Charcoal can be a very stubborn stain if you allow it to be ground into upholstery fabric. Try to avoid this by vacuuming the affected area without pressing on the fabric. Hopefully, this will lift most of the charcoal powder.

If the charcoal has been rubbed into the fabric, try washing it out with a soft cloth dampened in a solution of washing-up liquid and warm water. Don’t rub it too hard and try not to get the fabric too wet. Then allow to dry thoroughly.

If the charcoal residue is mixed with grease, for example if a barbeque tool has been left on a cushion or seat pad, then a little more work will be required to lift the greasy stain. You may need to invest in a dry cleaning solvent to get rid of this stubborn blend of grease and charcoal.

Always test this type of cleaning product on an inconspicuous area first before applying more widely or to an obvious area.

How to remove bird poo stains

When you leave your garden furniture outside for any length of time, you’re likely to suffer this problem.  For plastic and glass, this isn’t such a problem since bird poo can be hosed off these surfaces easily.  However, the job is a little more unpleasant if you need to clean upholstery.

There are two approaches here.  If the stain is wet, you could try to lift as much as possible from your fabric using a flat piece of plastic or the edge of a knife.  However, if you try this, you risk rubbing the bird poo further into the fabric (which you obviously want to avoid).

Assuming you manage to scrape off the majority of the droppings without rubbing it into the fabric, you can then blot up the remaining residue with a damp piece of kitchen paper.  Wet the paper in some cold water mixed with washing-up liquid and blot gently.  Try not to rub!  Finally rinse with clean water and allow to dry thoroughly.

The other option is to allow the bird poo to dry before removing it.  This way, you should be able to hoover the dry droppings from the fabric.  It’s probably a good idea to blot the area after vacuuming with kitchen paper dampened with a solution of warm water and washing-up liquid.  Again, avoid rubbing.  Rinse with clean water and allow to dry thoroughly.

How to remove bug stains

Insects and spiders and other creepy crawlies often like to make a home in garden furniture because it provides lots of nooks and crannies for them to hide in.

You can try to keep them away by dusting regularly with a feather duster or giving your furniture a vacuum now and again. Vacuuming is a particularly useful way to keep your artificial rattan weave furniture bug-free.

Of course, you can try natural bug-deterring approaches:
• burn citronella candles when sitting outside at night;
• plant a few dwarf eucalyptus trees in pots and keep them close to your outdoor furniture set;
• wedge a few cinnamon sticks into the cushions or tape them under patio chairs or outdoor tables;
• deter spiders with a few judiciously placed conkers down the sides of cushions or elsewhere around your patio set.
These natural remedies can help you to avoid issues of bug stains.

If you do have a serious bug problem and squished insects have been ground into your soft furnishings, then you will need to blot them away with a soft cloth dipped in a solution of warm water and washing-up liquid. This should be enough to remove most stains. Remember to rinse with clean water so you don’t leave a soapy residue on your furniture or upholstery. Then allow to dry thoroughly.

If your furniture is made from artificial rattan weave, use a toothbrush soaked in a solution of warm water and washing up liquid to release stubborn debris. Then rinse with clean warm water and allow to dry naturally.

Issues like woodlice in wooden furniture tend to indicate a more serious problem of rot. If you notice that your wooden furniture is suddenly attracting a lot of bugs, carefully check for signs of rot. You can read our tips for protecting your garden furniture here.

How to remove tree sap stains

Leaving your furniture outside under trees might seem like a great idea on a sunny day when you would like a bit of shade. But some trees can drip sap onto the furniture. Tree sap stains can be very difficult to remove.

The worst offenders are maples, walnuts, birches and cherries. If you have any of these trees in your garden, try to avoid placing your outdoor furniture beneath them for any length of time. You definitely should not park a vehicle beneath them because tree sap can damage automotive paintwork.

If the sap is still wet, try to remove as much as possible with a dry cloth. Then use warm water and washing up liquid to remove any residue. Rinse with clean water to ensure you don’t leave behind any soap residue and allow to dry naturally and thoroughly.

If sticky, stubborn sap has firmly dried on to any furniture or outdoor furniture fabric it can become a bit of an effort to remove. To deal with the oily or waxy component of the stain, you should use an enzyme-based stain remover or heavy-duty detergent. Apply it directly to the areas where sap has built up.

The enzyme-based stain remover or heavy-duty detergent will break apart the oil and make it easier for you to lift the sap from your fabric or furniture. Allow ten to fifteen minutes for the stain remover to work. Then wash away with a solution of warm water and washing-up liquid. Rinse with clean water and allow to dry thoroughly.

It’s not advisable to use powerful cleaners like this on artificial rattan weave furniture because you may damage the weather-resistant, stain-resistant finish. This would make staining a bigger problem over the long term. Instead, use a soft bristled toothbrush to remove debris that has built up between the weave. If necessary, you can apply neat washing-up liquid to the tree sap before brushing. This should help to break down the sticky sap so you can clean it away more easily.

How to remove mildew stains

If moisture is allowed to build up on any garden furniture, fungus and other organic growth can be a problem. In the past, preventing fungal growth and mildew was particularly troublesome for garden furniture cushions and upholstery.

Today, this is less of an issue because most high-end outdoor upholstery fabrics have been specially developed to resist fungus growth. Nevertheless, if moisture is left unchecked, mould and mildew can occur.

Prevention is very definitely better than the cure. Before you pack away any cushions or pads for the winter, clean them thoroughly to make sure you aren’t storing dirty or greasy cushions. Once cleaned, make sure they are thoroughly dry. It takes around 24 to 48 hours for a pad to dry out completely.

Be sure to store your cushions and seat pads in breathable bags and check them regularly to ensure there is no moisture build up. If you do detect damp, unpack the cushions and allow them to air for a few hours.

If you leave it too long between checks and mould or mildew do develop, take action as soon as you can. First of all, wash the affected area with warm soapy water and then rinse away soapy residue thoroughly. This should clear mild problems. Be sure to allow all pads and soft furnishings to dry completely before repacking them away for storage.

If you have a more significant build up of mould or mildew on your garden furniture upholstery, you will need to use a fabric-safe bleach-based product. Always check the solution on an inconspicuous area first before applying more widely in order to check that it doesn’t discolour the fabric.

Fungus and mildew can be a problem with some wooden furniture too. If you notice fungus growing on your wooden furniture, remove it as soon as you can. Brush off with a stiff nylon-bristle brush and follow up with a bleach-based cleaning solution. If mould has made its way into the wood, you can use a fine-grained sandpaper to remove it. Treat the affected area afterwards to protect it.

What you use to protect the wood will depend on the type of wood from which your outdoor furniture is made. For example, teak will need a specialist teak oil, whereas pine will need a specialist wood treatment product. For full details of the best way to protect your garden furniture according to the construction materials, read our blog post here.

Artificial rattan weave furniture is treated to resist water and mildew. However, if you store your furniture in a very damp place, it can sometimes occur. Apply some white vinegar to the area and then clean and rinse thoroughly before allowing to dry naturally.

General tips for cleaning your garden furniture

As we’ve seen, there are several principles that hold true whatever stain you are trying to remove from your outdoor furniture and furnishings:

  • washing-up liquid will help deal with most stains
  • never leave soap residue behind – dry thoroughly or you may cause worse problems
  • always dry thoroughly before packing away – otherwise you can cause damp, rot or mildew problems that can result in even worse wear and staining

Additionally, it’s important to use a soft cloth or soft-bristled brush when cleaning your furniture.  Never use abrasive materials or cleaners to clean your furniture. They can damage the surface, leaving unsightly scratches. They may even leave the furniture more susceptible to stains in the long run, as a result of the protective finish being damaged.

Furthermore, while it is ok to use a hose to clean off your furniture, you should never use a pressure washer to clean your outdoor furniture.  The pressurised force of the water can damage fabrics, cause problems with artificial rattan weaves and even reveal previously unnoticed weaknesses in wood.

Conclusion: How to Properly Clean Stains from Your Garden Furniture

It’s really important to act quickly to mop spillages as soon as you can.  When it comes to stains, prevention is very definitely better than the cure!

However, it is possible to remove most stains from your garden furniture.  With a bit of research and informed care, you can keep your garden furniture looking great for many years.

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