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Nothing lasts forever, and this is true of your casual outdoor furniture. Body oil, exposure to the sun, suntan lotion, pool chlorine and bird excrement conspire to slowly destroy your patio furniture.
A $250 set of patio furniture from a big-box store probably isn’t worth the time, effort or expense of fixing, says Dan Mattingly II, who has been repairing patio furniture for 33 years and owns D&J Patio Furniture & Repair in Tucson, Ariz. Just toss it.
However, if your outdoor furniture represents a major investment, is still serviceable and the problem areas are minimal, save some money by having it professionally refurbished — or do it yourself.
Intrepid DIYers can take heart; fixing up patio furniture isn’t as daunting as it appears. It’s more a function of time and patience than hard work and skill.
“If you can do yard work, you can do it. And there aren’t a lot of tools required, but it can be time-consuming,” Mattingly says.
Find materials online
Having the time and wherewithal to research online is critical.
The Internet is a rich source of how-to information that includes videos and places you can find all the materials necessary to complete most successful DIY patio-furniture refurbishing projects.
Patio furniture is available in a variety of materials. Frames can be wrought iron, aluminum, wicker or wood. Better pieces that are new can run from $75 for a cane chair to several thousand for a chaise lounge at a retail site.
Most casual furniture cushions are disposable but can be cleaned. Dirt and mildew can be washed off with a mixture of dishwashing detergent and warm water in a spray bottle. Use a soft brush and rinse thoroughly.
“I’d use a bleach-water solution when there is a real mildew problem,” says Dan O’Connell of Florida-based Patio Products.
Buy new furniture materials
If all else fails, buy new. You can order an outdoor seat-and-back cushion at websites such as Lowes.com or CSNStores.com, with prices sometimes starting at as low as $20.
Strap, sling and wicker are the most popular types of casual patio furniture. Wicker is made of hard-woven plant fiber. Strap types have vinyl straps attached to each side of a metal frame. Sling refers to metal-framed furniture with fabric strung within the frame.
According to O’Connell, strap and sling furniture lasts eight to 10 years, offering excellent opportunities for a DIY project.
Excluding wicker, wrought iron and teak, most patio furniture framing worth refurbishing is painted or powder coated (where a part is cured after dry paint is applied). Dull finishes on painted framing can be renewed and protected as any painted metal surface using automotive paste wax.
“A lot of time, aluminum tubing can be brought back with a little wax compound,” Mattingly says.
When the enamel or powder-coat finish on strap or sling furniture is worn, spot-paint the trouble spots with the appropriate color. Both finish types are available in 16-ounce aerosol cans, with prices ranging from $15 to $25.
When touching up any painted surface, be sure the problem area is clean. Lightly sand any loose paint. Mask all parts of the furniture not to be painted and use a drop cloth. But be warned: Once spray paint is airborne, it can land anywhere.
“After touch up, give the areas plenty of time to dry, and then a polyurethane clear coat should be sprayed over the areas to seal them,” O’Connell says.
Sling furniture requires a specialized fabric treated to prevent most stains and withstand the elements, but it does wear out.
Replacement requires removing the side rails, extracting the old fabric, inserting new spline into the edges of the replacement and sliding it back into the side rails. Then reattach the side rails and trim the excess spline.
Don’t try to cut corners using fabric that isn’t specifically designed for patio furniture. “You have to use sling fabric because it stays taut. Other fabrics will stretch,” O’Connell says.
According to O’Connell, buying and cutting bulk fabric requires sewing seams on all four sides. A household sewing machine will do the job, but here again special, 92 weight, polyester thread should be used.
Fabric is sold by the yard in a 54-inch width and costs as little as $16 per yard. Several online sites such as ChairCarePatio.com offer premeasured, sewn sling pieces for $60 and up.
The average DIYer can probably re-sling four chairs in four to six hours.
For strap furniture, removing light stains as well as mold and mildew requires a solution of bleach and water. Begin with one part bleach to three or four parts water, spray it on, lightly scrub with a brush and rinse. Rinsing is extremely important. Bleach is one of those furniture destroyers.
According to Mattingly, replace straps when small cracks become visible along their edges. He recommends using only replacement straps of 100 percent vinyl because they last longer. A 100-foot roll of 1.5-inch, vinyl strapping costs about $60.
Measure new straps and slings accurately
Replacing straps or slings requires accurate measuring. When attaching new straps, the pieces must be precisely cut and then softened in near-boiling water for 15 minutes so they can be stretched over the frame.
“The worst mistake people make is not doing a test strap or two before cutting all the replacement straps. Do one or two test straps and attach them to make sure your measuring is accurate,” Mattingly says.
Wicker, engineered for open-air applications, is treated with a plastic resin, protecting it from nearly everything but wear and tear. It will eventually break down and generally can’t be repaired.
Melissa Hammer, a senior category manager at CSNStores.com, says resin wicker is much less prone to damage than indoor wicker, but it does get dirty. It can be cleaned with a mixture of mild detergent and water.
Cleaning is important to prolong the life of all types of patio furniture, and not just wicker. Patio pieces should be cleaned once a week, Mattingly says. “Furniture would last much longer if people would just clean it more than they do,” he says. “Just clean it.”