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How to clean outdoor items before storing and winterizing them

Posted by AMH Team

8m read time

Sep 25, 2023

If this summer felt particularly balmy in your neck of the woods, you’re not alone — 2023 was the hottest summer on record. But there’s hope on the horizon as summer turns into fall and fall turns into winter, bringing some very welcome cooler weather.


Your backyard, patio, porch, or deck likely contains furniture or other items that need to go into storage before it gets too cold. Those items may also require additional preparation to stay in good shape during the winter.


You’ve put effort into making your patio look great for spring and summer. Now’s the time to focus on gearing up for colder months. Here’s how to clean outdoor items before storing and winterizing them.


General rules for cleaning outdoor items


Before we get into specific items, there are a few general tips for cleaning outdoor items. Whether you’ve only got one outside chair to worry about or have an entire backyard and patio full of decor, follow these guidelines to stay ahead of the weather.

Do plan space for storage. Ideally, you’ll store delicate items, such as throw pillows, blankets, and other accessories, when you’re not using them. But you’ll also want to plan where to move a larger item like a sofa or table if it could get damaged by harsh weather. Consider your garage, or get creative with a nook in the house


Don’t wait until the last minute. Winterizing items isn’t the easiest household chore, but it’s quite doable with a bit of planning ahead. Don’t add unnecessary stress to the task by putting off that preparation.


Do opt for durable and stain-resistant patio furniture when possible. The best way to fix damage is to prevent it in the first place. Options like metal, concrete, plastic, and bamboo are more durable and can better handle weather and spills.


Don’t use a wire brush to clean most surfaces, including wood, concrete, or stone. Wire brushes are meant for heavy-duty tasks, like removing rust from something. For most everyday cleaning, they’re too harsh and can leave scratches and other damage. Consider a nylon abrasive brush instead, which is more delicate.


Do make light cleaning a habit. Dirt, dust, leaves, and other debris will almost certainly find their way onto chairs, loveseats, tables, and more. Wooden or wicker furniture can rot with too much grime, but regular cleaning can improve the lifespan of furniture by up to 50%. Sweep or run an outdoor vacuum over furniture at least once a month.   


Let’s look at some of the more common outdoor items you may have and how to prepare them for storage and winterization.


How to clean outdoor items for storing and winterization


Before it gets too chilly, take the time to clean your outdoor items. Clear a place to safely store everything that can come inside, such as a garage, or guest room.


How to clean plastic chairs


Plastic chairs are a common sight on patios. They’re less expensive than other options, resistant to harsh weather, and are lightweight and can be moved around easily or stacked on top of each other.


But plastic chairs — especially lighter colors like white or pale blue — can get dirty in a hurry if not regularly cleaned. Between spills, mud, grass, tree debris, and bird poop, there are a lot of potential challengers to a pristine chair.


If the chairs contain mold or mildew, combine one part water and three parts white vinegar in a spray bottle. Let that mixture sit on the impacted areas and wait 10 to 15 minutes before cleaning.


Multiple cleaning solutions will work on plastic chairs. Fill a bucket or large bowl with warm water and add between ¼ and ½ cup of either baking soda or dishwashing liquid. Stir well and use a soft-bristled nylon brush, sponge, or cloth to wash the chairs from the top down. Applying baking soda can help with particularly stubborn stains. Once the chairs have been scrubbed, wash away the suds with a garden hose, then air-dry or use a towel to finish up. 


How to clean patio cushions and loveseats


The best defense against the elements for outdoor furniture is to look for removable fabric. If a pillow or cushion has zippers or snaps, it’s much easier to separate and clean.


Depending on the type of stain, your approach will be slightly different. In most cases, your first step will be to shake off any loose debris or residue. Then, you’ll use an enzyme-based heavy-duty detergent or stain remover to treat the stain. Let this product do its thing for at least half an hour, then scrub the affected areas with a soft-bristled brush. Rinse away any suds with a hose. 


Not all stains are created equal, however. For example, tree sap and bird droppings require a bit more finesse in cleaning. Tree sap involves pre-treatment: use stain remover on the stain, let sit for 15 to 30 minutes, then apply a mix of powdered detergent and water or heavy-duty liquid detergent. Scrub the affected area — don’t be afraid of a little oomph — and wash in hot water with detergent and oxygen bleach.


For bird droppings, remove dried remnants with a stiff-bristled brush. If the poop is more recent, use a dull butter knife to scoop away the solid poops. Removing wet droppings with a brush will only add an unwanted design to your furniture. Once the droppings are gone, clean the stain with a solution of warm water and heavy-duty detergent, then wash the mixture away.  


If you can put the fabric in the washer (and there’s no mildew on it), run a load with heavy-duty detergent and cold or warm water. Put larger items on a tarp or clean spot on the deck, and use a mixture of warm water and heavy-duty detergent to scrub from the top of the item to the bottom. To avoid the detergent drying and seeping into the fabric, rinse away the solution in small parts. Once you’ve treated everything, hose down the entire piece of furniture. Air-dry on a clothesline or clean table.


How to clean wood furniture


Wood furniture adds rustic flair and a homey feel to any patio. It can also attract dust pretty quickly, so thoroughly dust with a microfiber cloth at least once per week, starting from the top and working your way down — and don’t forget the legs! Dusting helps preserve the finish of your wood furniture.


If the furniture is already finished — in other words, if it’s painted or lacquered — dampen a cloth with warm water and gently rub the surface of the wood. Avoid getting too much water on worn spots, which will look lighter than the rest of the furniture. Though special creams and polishes exist specifically for wood furniture, you can instead use dish detergent or an ammonia-free cleaner that’s safe for sealed wood. Combine either one with warm water and apply to the more stubborn stains. 


Use a minimal amount of liquid if the furniture is made from unfinished or waxed wood. Otherwise, water can get trapped inside the porous holes and warp the wood. Mix ½ cup of water with a tablespoon of vinegar and put a small amount on a sponge or microfiber cloth. A solution that’s 50% white vinegar and 50% water should knock tougher stains out. Use a microfiber cloth or soft-bristled brush to scrub, then wipe the area clean with a slightly damp cloth and follow it up with a dry towel.  


How to clean a grill


You can take a few proactive steps to keep your grill in tip-top shape. A vented grill cover will prevent rusting after rain showers and reduce the likelihood of mold or mildew on your grill. Regularly clean the grease trap by dumping built-up grease into a garbage bag before submerging the trap in hot, soapy water. Give it a thorough wipe, rinse, and let dry before replacing.


While regular cleaning is preferred, at least do a final deep clean before putting your grill away for the winter. Grab a grill brush and scraper to remove charred food and other buildup. A grill spray and grate cleaning brick can also help you reach every inch of the grill. 


For charcoal grills, clean the grates with a brick or wad of aluminum foil. Dump out that residue from the ash catcher into the trash. Use a rag to wipe down the entire grill with soapy water or specialized grill spray, and apply a light spray of cooking oil on the interior components. For grills with a propane tank, you’ll need to remove and scrub burners and burner tubes, too. Remember to turn off the propane tank and let everything cool before cleaning. 


How to clean gutters


Gutters collect leaves and other debris that can cause water to spill out onto the roof or walls, damaging the home’s foundation. Clogged water can also freeze and create cracks in your gutters. Even though you’re not “storing” your gutters anywhere, they should be winterized before it gets too cold out.


You have two options for cleaning gutters yourself: from the ground or on a ladder. If you choose the latter option — pardon the wordplay! — get a sturdy extension ladder. Brace it against your home’s siding and have an assistant nearby to hold the ladder and pass tools to you. A leaf blower or power washer removes built-up leaves and debris, or you can pluck that excess with your hands or a gutter scoop. Just remember to bring gloves and a bucket to drop everything into.


If you’d prefer to keep your feet on the ground, a wet/dry vacuum should do the trick. Depending on the height of your home, you may need to add a hose or curved attachment, but they’ll get rid of a significant amount of debris. Use a garden hose to wash the last bits out. 


However, our best tip is to hire a licensed contractor to clean your gutters. They’re specialized in this task and can do it quickly and safely, leaving you with time to focus on other to-dos that aren’t nearly as dangerous.


After how hot this summer has been, take some time to enjoy the cool weather that fall and winter brings. Cleaning and properly storing your outdoor items will ensure you can fully experience that relaxation.


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