When you’ve invested in a set of garden furniture, it’s natural to expect years of use and enjoyment from it. To keep it looking good and to extend its life, you’ll need to protect it from the worst of the elements.
Storage is key
If you have space in your shed, garage or conservatory, moving your garden furniture inside during the winter months is a good way to protect it. However, this isn’t necessary for all furniture – teak garden benches, for example, often look better when left out in the garden all year round.
Quite often, the best way to protect your garden furniture will come down to the materials used in its construction.
How construction materials affect care
The time and effort required to care for your garden furniture and keep it looking good can vary dramatically, depending on the material you choose.
For example, hardwood furniture can age very gracefully in your garden, with very little care and attention. Softwood furniture, on the other hand, needs a considerable amount of care each season. You’ll also need to consider how to store or protect it during the winter months.
Artificial rattan weaves are the easiest of all garden furniture to look after. These materials have been specially developed to withstand the rigours of outdoor use throughout the seasons.
Plastic furniture can age very quickly, especially if it is left out in bright, direct sunlight or extreme temperatures. However, even with plastic furniture, there are techniques you can employ to protect and restore it.
How to protect your garden furniture by type
To really understand how to best protect your garden furniture, we need to tailor advice about protective care to the type of materials used in its construction. So let’s look at what you can do to protect your furniture for each type of common construction material.
Metals: Wrought-iron garden furniture
Wrought-iron furniture can live outside in the garden all year round. However, it can be susceptible to rust. Stay vigilant. If you do see rust developing, take swift remedial action.
This will mean getting rid of all rust that has appeared with a wire brush, wire wool or sandpaper (depending on the severity of the problem). Once you have eliminated the rust, you’ll need to treat or repaint the affected area.
Wrought-iron garden furniture is best painted with enamel paint. If you prefer a more environmentally friendly water-based option, you could opt for a specialist outdoor paint for exterior metal. Little Greene and Farrow and Ball both offer this option is a broad range of colours.
To avoid further problems with rust, you can treat your wrought-iron garden furniture with a layer of protective wax at the start of each summer season. You don’t need a specialist product. Clear car wax or carnauba wax. Prep the surfaces so they are clean and dry then apply a light covering of wax. The wax will help to repel water and reduce UV damage – helping to avoid rust issues in the long term.
Metals: Plastic-coated metal garden furniture
Plastic-coated metal garden furniture is difficult to maintain. Water can catch in the joints between the plastic covers and cause rust to develop. Rust often sets in quickly, as the metal underneath is not always treated for outdoor use.
You’ll need to store the furniture inside when it is not in use. And there’s another reason to be wary of buying it: given the mixed materials, it is also harder to recycle at the end of its life.
Metals: Aluminium garden furniture
Aluminium garden furniture is designed to be left outside. Because it doesn’t rust, it’s easy to care for. However, if you do have room in a shed or garage, it can be a good idea to store it inside during the worst of the weather. This is because aluminium can oxidise over time.
To keep the furniture looking its best, you’ll need to give the furniture a good clean from time to time. Wait for a sunny day, so it can dry out naturally. Make sure you use a non-abrasive cleaner. A mild mixture of white vinegar diluted with water is a good option. This is because alkaline cleaners, including most detergents, can cause oxidisation. Vinegar is acidic so it won’t cause oxidisation. Rinse, then leave to dry.
Hardwood: Oak garden furniture
Hardwood garden furniture is designed to be left outside throughout the seasons. You won’t need to bring it inside over winter. However, if you have a lot of space, you may choose to do so to extend its life. If you don’t have room, don’t worry. It should last for years even if you leave it standing outside year-round.
Oak is one of the most commonly used hardwoods for garden furniture in the UK. As with other hardwood garden furniture, there are some things you can do to keep it looking good for longer. For example, tip horizontal surfaces to a 45-degree angle during wet weather. This way, you can avoid issues resulting from standing water on flat surfaces.
Another good tip is to think about the surface under your oak garden furniture. If the legs are left standing on wet or boggy ground, they are more likely to rot. This makes hard surfaces like your patio a better place to place your hardwood furniture than grass or soil. Pebbles are another option since they drain freely.
The other thing to remember about oak furniture is not to use oil to treat it. Using an oil on oak will change the colour of your garden furniture. Unless you don’t mind a darker finish, of course.
Hardwood: Teak garden furniture
Teak is another hardwood commonly used for garden furniture in the UK. Like oak, teak is robust and long lasting and can be left outside all year round.
When teak ages, it takes on an attractive silvery grey colour. This looks fabulous in traditional English cottage garden schemes. The pale hues of passing time suggest a gentle timelessness, especially when your furniture is covered in pale silvery green lichens and soft moss as well.
However, this look isn’t to everyone’s taste. If you prefer your teak garden furniture to look box fresh year after year, you’ll need to do a little work. Apply teak oil when new and then reapply every two or three years. Simply wash the furniture with a mild solution of washing up water to prep. Leave to dry naturally for 24 to 48 hours. The furniture should be completely dry before you apply a thin coat of teak oil.
Hardwood: Other hardwood garden furniture
Besides oak and teak, there are a number of other hardwoods that are used to make the garden furniture that is widely available to buy here in the UK. Eucalyptus is often sourced from sustainably managed forests in Europe, which helps to reduce the carbon miles travelled. However, you will also find tropical hardwoods, such as courbaril, cumaru, iroko and roble, used in some garden furniture.
To ensure your furniture is ethically sourced from sustainable forests, make sure you buy furniture with an FSC or PEFC certified source. Usually, you will need to oil the furniture when new, and then wash and oil it every two to three years.
As with other hardwood furniture, you can leave it outside all year round. But think carefully about its location. And tip up in wet weather to avoid issues caused by standing water on flat surfaces.
Softwood garden furniture
Softwood furniture is not season-proof. However, it can be a lot cheaper than buying hardwood furniture. The most commonly used softwood is pine. This has the advantage of being able to be sourced locally from sustainably managed forests. Remember to look out for FSC or PEFC certification.
Some pine furniture has been tanalised. This will give the furniture much greater longevity. Even so, your softwood garden furniture will require more care than a hardwood alternative and can be prone to staining. We have an article on out how to remove stains on furniture.
Softer wood rots more easily than hardwood. You will need to be especially careful about where you place your furniture. And ensure that it never has standing water on its surfaces. Store it inside or under cover during winter if you can.
You will need to treat your softwood furniture to keep it looking good. Wash it down every year. Dry thoroughly. Then paint with a specialist wood treatment for outdoor furniture. Alternatively, you could opt for a few coats of paint instead. Water-based paints that have been specially formulated for outdoor use are a greener option.
Painted wood garden furniture
Painting hardwood furniture isn’t a good idea because of its high oil content. However, specialist outdoor wood paint can be a good option to keep softwood furniture looking good.
Choose a water-based paint that has been specially formulated for outdoor use to get a good balance between longevity, good looks and environmental care.
Natural rattan garden furniture
Natural rattan is having a moment right now. It looks great in your conservatory or covered porch. However, it shouldn’t be left outside.
To keep your rattan furniture looking good, you can wash it with a mild solution of water and white vinegar. Use a toothbrush to get in between the weave and knock out any stubborn dirt. You can use a boiled linseed oil to treat worn rattan, following a thorough clean. Once absorbed, it will create a water-resistant protective barrier.
If your rattan furniture is looking really tired, you could choose to paint it with a water-based wood paint. Bear in mind this option is a one-way trip!
Artificial rattan weave garden furniture
Artificial rattan weave garden furniture is the easiest to care for of all. Artificial weaves have been specifically developed to withstand the seasons. This means they can be left outside all year, with minimal care requirements.
To keep your artificial weave garden furniture looking good, most manufacturers do recommend using covers over the winter months or when not in use. Investing in covers will help your furniture to look good for longer. If you use them whenever the furniture is not in use, they will also protect from fading caused by UV damage.
Use a soft cloth when you want to clean your artificial weave furniture. Never use abrasive cloths or cleaners as this will damage the finish. Usually water will suffice. For this reason, it’s best to wait for a sunny day. Remove the cushions. Then simply rinse with a hose and allow to dry naturally.
Don’t replace the cushions until it is completely dry. Although most cushions are season proof, the insides can take a long time to dry out if they get wet.
Never use a pressure washer on your artificial rattan weave furniture. The force of the water may damage the weave. Nor should you use a foaming cleaner. This can leave a residue behind that encourages mildew. If you do spot signs of mildew, a mild solution of water and white vinegar will help you restore your furniture’s good looks.
Plastic garden furniture
Plastic furniture is another low-care option. However, plastic can discolour or go brittle in extreme weather conditions. Ideally, you should store your plastic furniture inside when not in use. Keep it away from windows or cover it in dust sheets, to avoid fading.
The other disadvantage of plastic furniture is that it can scratch easily. Always use a soft cloth or sponge when cleaning to avoid scratching your furniture. Rinse thoroughly, since soap residues can also cause discolouration.
To give your plastic garden furniture an extra layer of protection, you can apply a thin coating of wax once a year. Carnauba wax or a clear car wax is ideal. Simply apply lightly and rub in.
Cushions and soft furnishings
Cushions and soft furnishings should be stored in a dry place when not in use. Parasols should be closed when not in use. Store them indoors in stormy, windy or extreme weather conditions.
When storing cushions and soft furnishings, do not use a plastic bag. Any storage container should be breathable. This minimises the likelihood of mildew developing. Most manufacturers recommend you check your cushions on a weekly basis to ensure mould or mildew doesn’t develop.
We recommend you do this with all cushions – even “all season” cushions. While the outside fabric may be mildew resistant, the inside pads can take a long time to dry. If your cushion pads do get wet, give them at least 24 to 48 hours to dry out. Make sure they dry out completely before storing.
If possible, clean your cushions using a vacuum. This way, you avoid getting them wet. You should always avoid washing them in your washing machine, as this will affect the fire-retardant coating. If you do need to wash your cushions, use a specially formulated upholstery shampoo. Choose a sunny day, so your cushions can dry naturally but quickly outside.
If you are going to be storing your furniture outside over winter, it is a good idea to invest in furniture covers. This holds true whatever it is made from. Your outdoor furniture is a big investment. It makes sense to protect that investment and keep your furniture looking good for as long as possible.
Covers should be made from breathable material. Never put them over furniture that is already wet. Check every few weeks to make sure that mould or mildew is not developing.
Conclusion: How to protect your garden furniture
Taking the time to protect your garden furniture will help to protect your investment, so you can have many years of enjoyment from it. Ideally, you should protect your garden furniture from the extremes of the weather.
However, even if you don’t have room to over-winter your furniture under cover, there are plenty of things you can do to protect it. Note that the amount of time and effort involved will often depend on the material from which your garden furniture is made.
Recommendation: Think about care when choosing your garden furniture
When selecting outdoor furniture for your garden, patio or terrace, comfort and good looks are usually top of the priority list. However, it’s really important to bear in mind the furniture’s construction and care.
The choice of material will affect the number of years of use you can expect to get from your garden furniture. It will also affect what you need to do to protect your garden furniture. And the time and effort that requires!
Consider: how much time and effort are you willing to put in to protect and care for your furniture? If you don’t want to spend time, you might want to splash out on a low-care solution, such as artificial rattan weave.