Rick Ray, manager of Spring Valley Patio, an outdoor furniture store in the District (202-966-9088; www.springvalley
patio.com), also warns against power washing, even on the sturdiest of outdoor furniture. “It can cut the life of teak by 70 to 80 percent,” he says. Even a single power-washing can start the damage. “Teak is very dense. When you power-wash, it opens up seams in the wood, and then they open up and form cracks. That’s a big thing people don’t know.”
What else is there to learn?
For a cleaning solution that will work on any material, mix a quarter-cup of clear dishwashing liquid meant for hand washing, such as Dawn, in a gallon of water. In general, warm water dislodges grime better than cold water. But don’t get it too hot when you’re cleaning outdoor furniture, especially slings and cushions. Many manufacturers of outdoor fabrics warn against using anything hotter than 100 degrees.
Why use clear dishwashing liquid, rather than a creamy type or a different kind of detergent? Creamy formulas contain ingredients you don’t need. And laundry and dishwasher detergent are more caustic than formulas made for skin contact.
If the standard cleaning with dishwashing soap and water still leaves pieces looking grubby, put on rubber gloves and clean again with a quarter-cup of dishwasher detergent in a gallon of water, or with up to 2 tablespoons of oxygen bleach (such as OxiClean Versatile Stain Remover) per gallon of water. Dishwasher detergent and oxygen bleach contain sodium percarbonate, which reacts in water to form hydrogen peroxide (a bleach that eventually decomposes to water and oxygen) and sodium carbonate, a cleaning agent also known as soda ash. To lighten any mildew stains that remain even after you have rinsed off this second cleaning solution, use 1 cup bleach per 1 gallon water. Rinse and let dry. If the furniture then looks good, polish with paste wax, like you’d use on a car. The slick surface helps repel dirt and makes the pieces easier to clean.
What if your plastic furniture looks faded or stained even after cleaning? Though you might be tempted to toss it out and start over, you can probably salvage it with paint. Scuff up the surface first with fine sandpaper or steel wool. Wipe off the debris, then spray on a finish such as Krylon Fusion for Plastic. Or use a mini roller and brush to apply a “sticks to anything” primer such as Zinsser’s Bull’s Eye 1-2-3. When dry, top with standard water-based paint. It’s a great way to use up leftovers.