How do I care for outdoor wooden garden furniture?
Extend the life of your timber furniture with a little maintenance
Kingston teak bench (pictured above)
First of all the question is how do you want your timber garden furniture to look; do you want it to remain pristine and the same colour as when purchased, do you want to let it weather to a silvery/grey, do you want it painted to go with the design of your outdoor space or do you want it to acquire lichens, mosses and algae to blend in with a quintessential English country garden? The answer to this question will determine how you clean and treat your furniture and whether you go for a hardwood or a softwood product. Hardwoods are much more durable and long-lasting than softwoods and generally include courbaril, cumaru, eucalyptus, iroko, oak, roble and teak. Softwood is generally pine but doesn’t last as long but it can be painted.
- Apply any protectors or treatments on a dry day with a little breeze, above 5C (41F).
- If the furniture has been neglected for a long time and acquired a covering of mosses, lichens and algae scrape them off or else use a stiff brush. Then sand down to reveal new wood.
- Don’t use a pressure washer to clean as if there is a nick in the wood the pressure can cause it to splinter; also the force can knock over and damage the furniture.
- Mildew forms when conditions are warm and damp and there is a poor air flow; for example if the furniture is covered too tightly in non-breathable covers. Remove the dark stain with a very mild bleach solution but test it first on an unobtrusive area as it could discolour the wood. You can also use a weak solution of white wine vinegar and warm water, but again do a test patch first.
- If you are covering your furniture in winter make sure you use a good quality furniture cover which will be breathable and leave a gap at the bottom so that air can circulate. This will lessen the chances of mildew and fungi growing.
- Always scrub or sand along the grain of the wood.
- Avoid getting sunscreen lotions on the wood as this can turn it black and will be very difficult to remove. If you are going to regularly use garden furniture while wearing a sunscreen consider purchasing a good quality weave set as this material is impervious to the sunscreen.
- Standing your furniture on a hard surface such as paving, decking or gravel will minimise the chances of the legs rotting. Also, in winter, don’t leave the furniture standing parallel to the ground, leave it stood at a tilt to stop water pooling on the surfaces.
Hardwood or softwood?
- Long lasting
- Will stand outside uncovered in winter
- Requires little maintenance
- Expensive initial outlay
- Can’t be painted
- Fairly cheap initial outlay
- Can be painted
- Needs regular maintenance
- Benefits from some protection in winter
Caring for hardwood
- Once a year give the furniture a good brush and wash down with a mild solution of washing-up liquid in warm water. Rinse off and allow to dry naturally.
- Teak weathers from the brand new reddish/brown to a silver/grey, so if you don’t want this to happen then you must apply a teak protector.
- Only apply a teak oil to new teak furniture to prevent it splitting and cracking, but be careful when using the furniture that the oil doesn’t transfer to your clothes.
- Don’t use oil or a sealant on new oak as it will turn black.
- You can’t paint hardwood as you won’t get an even coverage due to the high oil content and it may not dry completely.
- Recommend the Alexander Rose Timber Treatment to keep your hardwood furniture looking pristine.
Watch the video showing you how easy it is to assemble a solid teak garden bench
Caring for softwood
- Wash down each year with a wood cleaning product then treat with a stain or paint; there is now a huge colour range of weatherproof timber paints. You may have to do this every year.
- Furniture made from softwood must be treated otherwise it will only last a couple of years, before it starts cracking, the joints will shrink and become loose, water will penetrate once it is cracked and then it will start rotting.
- If you have previously stained the furniture and now require a lighter colour it will have to be stripped back to the natural wood, then you can start again with a new stain.
- Only buy softwood furniture if it has been tanalised and carries 10 or 15 year warranties; most reputable suppliers’ softwood furniture will be treated and carry a guarantee.
- Preserve your softwood with an oil based paint or varnish, such as Cuprinol.
How to: How do I care for outdoor wooden garden furniture?
This guide will take you through the steps you need to take in order to retain the new colour of your wooden garden furniture and ensure your furniture lasts as long as possible.
How to care for wooden garden furniture
Not all wooden garden furniture needs to be treated, particularly the hardwoods, however the softwood furniture must be treated in order to stop it rotting. Teak will age to a silvery grey if left untreated but if you want to retain the new rich colour then it will need to be treat with a dedicated preservative. Wooden furniture is designed to be left out in all weathers so does not necessarily need to be covered in winter, however if you do wish to use a cover make sure it is breathable otherwise you will get condensation which in turn will lead to mould and algal growth.
Preparation of new furniture
New furniture can be treated as soon as you receive it without you having to do any preparation. Softwood can be varnished or painted with approximately 3 coats of a thin paint specifically formulated for outdoor timber structures and furniture. Hardwoods just need treating with the appropriate solution or linseed oil; if using linseed oil wipe down thoroughly afterwards with clean dry cloth to remove any excess and prevent it staining clothes. Don't treat new oak as it could turn black.
Preparation of old furniture
Scrape off any moss or algae and brush down with a stiff brush to remove any dirt from the crevices. Wash down with a mild solution of washing-up liquid and warm water, rinse and allow to dry naturally. Don't do this on a damp cool day as you need it to dry as quickly as possible. Don't use a pressure washer as this can expand any cracks in the timber. If treating old softwood furniture which has started to show signs of rot, scrape out all the rotten wood then paint with a solution which sets hard and will give your furniture a little longer lifespan.
Applying the treatment
Always use the appropriate treatment for the type of timber. Don't paint hardwood as the high oil content of the wood makes the paint patchy also don't oil or treat new oak as it tends to turn black. Apply in 2 - 3 thin coats rather than one thick one and brush well into the grain. Leave to dry well before using the furniture.
How often to apply a treatment
Most timber furniture will need to be re-treated every 2 - 3 years depending upon where it is positioned in the garden; if it is sited under trees it may need doing every couple of years and in-between treatments remove any moss or algae.