Sharing a meal or relaxing on a deck, patio or balcony can be the highlight of a summer day. And when the season changes, proper care can make your outdoor furniture last for summers to come.
Whether you have a pricey patio set or something more modest, experts recommend some simple steps for upkeep and storage.
Often, outdoor furniture "is a bit of an investment, so it makes sense to put effort into protecting and maintaining what you have in your yard," says Matt Blashaw, a licensed contractor and host of DIY Network's "Yard Crashers."
Ideally, it's best to store any type of patio furniture - metal, plastic or wood - indoors during harsh weather. If that's not possible, Blashaw recommends weather-proof covers, or at least some simple poly/vinyl tarps secured with straps or weighted down.
"There are furniture covers of just about every shape and size available," he says, adding that the newest ones are waterproof and UV-treated for excellent protection.
Measure your pieces before you buy covers to ensure the right fit. You can also ask for manufacturer guidelines that may help you choose the correct style.
Don't forget fire pits and chimeneas. There are elasticized covers made for them, too, and it's important to keep water from rusting their metal burners and grates.
As for acrylic cushions and fabrics - even ones made for outdoor use - store them inside. If you just don't have the space, Blashaw recommends putting them in air-tight bags.
Before you store patio furniture, make sure it's free of dirt and debris.
"Who wants to spend the first warm days of spring on furniture cleanup duty anyway?" Blashaw says.
Many experts recommend regular cleaning of outdoor furniture, but it doesn't have to take a lot of time or effort. Lowe's Home Improvement spokeswoman Colleen Maiura tells customers to check the manufacturer's directions before using any cleaning products. For most materials, however, you'll just need soap and water, she says. Consider using a pressure washer on a low setting (1,200 to 1,350 pounds per square inch) to make the job go even more quickly.
For acrylic cushions, Maiura recommends spot cleaning with a sponge, mild soap and water. Make sure the cushions are completely dry before storing them.
While many outdoor cushions are mildew-resistant, you can use a solution of 1 cup bleach, 2 cups detergent and 1 gallon of water to clean. Spray it on, allow it to soak for 30 minutes, then scrub with a sponge or rag.
Fabric pieces such as hammocks and cloth chairs can be machine-washed on gentle. Stretch them back over the frame for the right fit and to make sure the fabric is dry before storing indoors.
Some additional maintenance can keep your set functional and looking fabulous.
For wood, you may need to oil or varnish it, depending on the type. For wicker, you may have to wax if it's not water-resistant. Some metal frames require paint touch-ups, but most are made to be rust-resistant or rust-free. If your set is not, consider using paste wax or naval jelly for protection. Some rusted metals can be professionally powder-coated, making them look new again.
Check your manufacturer's directions or website for details on what maintenance your outdoor furniture requires. You can also find tutorials at sites such as YouTube.com.
WEAR OUT THE WARRANTY
Blashaw says one of the biggest mistakes homeowners make with outdoor furniture is throwing it out instead of making simple repairs with parts covered under warranty.
"Keep the receipt, and if the furniture does not hold up to the regular 'wear and tear' promise within the warranty period, contact the manufacturer and get yourself a brand new set," he says. "Many homeowners throw the warranty card away and, in turn, throw big money in the trash."
RESEARCH THE RIGHT STYLE
If you're in the market for a new patio set, consider what maintenance it will require. Do you have time to paint wrought iron, wax wicker or oil teak?
Inspect the furniture closely to make sure there aren't big gaps in joints that would allow water to warp or rust the pieces, and that the hardware is capped to keep out moisture. Try out the cushions to see if they fit snugly and are comfortable.
According to Consumer Reports, you should check whether the seat height feels right for the table, making sure that armrests aren't too high to pull chairs close, and that there's plenty of leg room without feet getting caught up in the table base.
Blashaw notes that maintaining a budget-friendly patio set properly can save you from having to buy an expensive, weather-resistant one.
"This will make taking a seat that much sweeter," he says.