The Perfect Patio Guide by Home Depot
We spend a lot of time inside our houses, but our favorite moments at home often occur outside of it. Our patios and decks are the places we unwind, celebrate good times on gorgeous days and spend quality time with family and friends.
These outdoor spaces can be as much a part of the home as any of the rooms inside, provided you design and care for them that way. That means considering not only what you want your furniture to look like but also how it will stand up to nature. Wherever you live and whatever you use your patio for, this comprehensive guide from Home Depot will show you how to pick the right outdoor furniture and show you how to keep it looking brand new.
One of the biggest factors that will determine what you buy is the region where you live. It’s important to be realistic about what your furniture will be exposed to on a daily and yearly basis in addition to how much time and effort you are willing to spend to keep it cleaned and cared for.
Hot and Humid Climates
Moist air, flash storms and beating sun all take their toll on things that are left outside. Luckily, there are plenty of options for furniture that’s made to last in these types of environments. Consider things like weatherproof fabrics for cushions, composite or rustproof hardware and sturdy, heavy furniture that can stand up to high winds.
Long periods of cold and snow mean that you’ll likely move your party indoors for the winter months. The same rule applies to your outdoor belongings, and ample storage space in a garage or shed is a benefit. If you have metal or wood furniture, winterizing it with silicone spray or waterproof coating will be an annual task.
Dry and Sunny
The good weather means that you’ll be spending a lot of time on your patio. Outdoor furniture is made to thrive in these conditions, so take advantage of where you live and buy comfortable furniture and a sturdy dining set that you and your guests can enjoy on a daily basis. Be aware that metal furniture can get hot in bright sunlight, and materials like dyed canvas might fade in these conditions.
Rainy and Damp
If you live in an area that is prone to extended periods of rain, you’ll likely have to spend a little time moving some furniture into and out of cover. Plastic and aluminum materials are lightweight and can fold or stack easily in storage. Also, consider purchasing heavy polyester covers and deck boxes to keep cushions dry when the weather breaks.
Should I Cover My Furniture?
Not everything needs to be covered, but based upon price and preference, choosing to cover it is never a bad choice. If you go that route, consider that many manufacturers make custom covers that provide a snug and stylish fit to maintain a good “look” even when the area is not being used.
“Many covers are made from polyester, so search for the highest grade you can find when covering more expensive items,” says Fran Donegan, a home improvement expert. “If you live in damp, cold or moist areas, think about covers with flaps for added ventilation. They are also a particularly good investment for vacation homes that don’t get daily traffic.”
If that home happens to be in an area where there are lots of leafy trees, flora, berries or birds, covering it can save you the time and elbow grease of cleaning your furniture.
Pro Tip: Start by at least covering your dining set. It’s often the most expensive piece, and the focal point of your patio, so it deserves a little extra care. If you have stackable chairs, you can buy a cover that fits over the entire stack.
– Terri Langdon, home stager and designer
Once you’ve figured out the materials that work best for where you live, the next step is deciding upon a look for your outdoor space. Choosing patio furniture to fit your taste and climate can be a daunting task for those who don’t have prior experience.
Kerrie Kelly, an interior designer from Northern California, has a simple theory about how to start: “Don’t think of a deck or patio as separate from your house—think of it as another room that happens to be outside. You’re basically expanding the square footage of your home, and your design should complement the rest of your personal style and decor.”
Kelly notes that your patio should reflect your lifestyle and taste. Start by surveying all of the patio furniture options to determine what you like, and then hone in on specific items by thinking about materials and styles that fit for your climate and intended usage.
Here are four of Kelly’s patio looks that fit specific purposes and regions:
Pro Tip: Building the Ultimate Zen Den
A covered outdoor space opens a whole world of possibilities for both furniture and accessories, whether they reside under a gazebo, pergola or structured awning. Interior designer Kerrie Kelly specializes in designing these “Zen dens”: outdoor spaces that incorporate form and function based upon individual preference.
“We always recommend that clients look at a few aspects before they start building an outdoor space,” she says.
“First, what are you going to use your space for? Are you planning on holding outdoor dinner parties or just want to cozy up to a fire pit with a book and a glass of wine? Even though they have some shelter, you should be honest about what your new furniture and decor can stand up to. Choose a style and then fill in the blanks as you go with accessories you find on your travels, or even antiques, that will personalize the space.”
In damp environments, Kelly recommends avoiding absorbent furnishings (such as untreated wood or wicker) that can warp easily when wet. Those in dry, warm climates typically have more flexibility with their furniture material choices.
Outdoor furniture is specifically designed to withstand the elements, but like anything else in your home, it needs upkeep. What you define as regular maintenance is a personal choice, but it’s best not to neglect your tables, chairs and other furnishings for more than a few weeks during prime usage.
Cleaning and/or covering the furniture each season not only keeps it looking new, but also protects it from corrosion, decay and premature weathering. Take the time each year to store, treat or re-paint your furniture to ensure that you can enjoy it for years to come.
Below are some of the common materials used in outdoor furniture, and some tips for how you might choose a material type and then clean and maintain it. Be sure to also check your manufacturer’s guide for specific maintenance recommendations.
Metal furniture provides homeowners with a variety of benefits, including a wide array of styles, superior durability and relative ease of care and cleaning. Depending on climate and upkeep, some metal furniture can last several generations before needing to be replaced. However, the variety, style and longevity of metal furniture can sometimes come with a slightly higher price tag.
Some metals, particularly cast iron, can be very heavy and hard to reposition without a helping hand. If you live in an area with a lot of wind and storms, that extra weight comes in handy, but you will have to take precautions to protect your metal furnishings from rust and corrosion. If your space is uncovered, metal furniture sitting in direct sunlight can be hot and uncomfortable to touch.
Metal furniture comes in assortment of forms, with iron, steel and aluminum being the most popular:
- Iron: Wrought and cast iron furniture is incredibly durable and can stand up to the elements. It’s also very heavy and can’t easily be tipped over or moved. While it’s more expensive than other metals, it often lasts for decades. Adding cushions to iron patio furniture makes it just as comfortable as wicker or any other material.
- Steel: Steel, especially stainless steel, is an excellent option for those that live in wetter climates. It resists corrosion and is synonymous with strength, beauty and simplicity.
- Powder-coated steel: Powder coating is a finishing process in which a dry powder is applied before heat is used to finalize the coating. It yields a thick, hard finish that is tougher than conventional paints, resistant to rust and available in a wide variety of colors.
- Aluminum: Aluminum furniture is durable, affordable and portable. Perhaps the greatest benefit is that aluminum furniture will never rust, since it contains no iron or iron alloy (like steel). While some oxidation can form and leave aluminum with a slight “pitted” look, that can be cured by gently wiping with a solution of equal parts water and white vinegar. Aluminum is among the most popular choices for both its style and versatility.
Metal Furniture Cleaning and Care:
- All metals can be cleaned with a soft cloth and a mild soap and water solution.
- Never use an abrasive scrubber or cleaner, as they can scratch protective surfaces and potentially expose the metal to moisture.
- If you find rust spots, sand the area with a fine-grit sandpaper and apply some rustproof touch-up paint or silicone spray to seal it.
- Be sure to keep wheels, joints or hinges on metal furniture lubricated with a rustproof lubricant like WD40.
Metal Furniture Storage:
- If space isn’t a factor, it’s always a good idea to store metal items before a particularly cold or rainy season.
- Clean and fully dry the items before you put them away in a garage or shed.
- Consider buying pieces that fold or stack if storage space is limited.
Pro Tip: After washing aluminum furniture, use automobile wax to spiff it up. It will provide a nice shine, fill in small scratches and give it a little extra protection from the elements.
– Home improvement expert, Fran Donegan
There’s nothing that quite compares with wood furniture for a timeless, authentic feel. From classic Adirondack chairs to sturdy dining tables, wood offers a natural but elegant look. It is extremely durable, with hardwood styles like cedar, redwood and pressure-treated pine that can last decades without corrosion or decay. In fact, time and exposure can add a weathered patina that some think makes the wood even more attractive. It’s malleable too – you can change the look of an entire space with one coat of stain or paint.
While wood has a long shelf life, it can require more regular care than other materials to keep it looking new. Mildew, mold and other elements need to be watched for closely. Also, if you’re not a fan of the weathered look, you’ll need to clean it and apply wood oil every couple months to keep the color fresh.
Finally, wood is not always the choice for those that have budget restrictions. It is an extremely good value, but the initial price tag can be daunting.
Wood Furniture Cleaning and Care:
- Use mild soap and water and a soft rag for basic cleaning. However, make sure you rinse the furniture immediately and dry with a soft towel.
- Never pressure wash wooden furniture, no matter how resistant it may seem to be. Even the hardest woods are susceptible to slight cracks, which only grow with the addition of pressurized water.
- Use furniture oils to shine up dull wood surfaces. Get a soft cloth and wipe the oil evenly along the grain.
- About every year to two years, you should apply a new coat of water sealant to your furniture. Sealants come in a variety of stains, including clear. Lightly sand the wood before applying, and make sure it is completely dry and dust free. Note: If you have doubts about the color of the stain, always err on the lighter side.
- If your furniture has metal bolts or hinges, make sure to check them often for rust. If you find any, it’s best to either spray it with a corrosion-resistant spray or, better yet, replace it with new hardware.
Storing Wood Furniture:
- Clean the furniture fully before storing it. It prevents the spread of mold and mildew (See sidebar "Breaking the Mold") and it will be ready to go when it gets nice outside.
- Regular washing with soap and water is preferred, but for tough stains like berry or bird droppings, use a solution of one cup ammonia in a gallon of water. Adding a half cup of baking soda will help to loosen sticky substances.
- Rinse and dry thoroughly before storing (let sit for several days if possible.) Storing wet furniture increases the potential for it to rot.
- Adding a water sealant prior to storage is a good idea. It allows plenty of time for the sealant to absorb.
Pro Tip: If you do decide to apply a coat of sealer to wood furniture, make sure it is an exterior-grade varnish. Exterior varnish or spar varnish contains ultraviolet light inhibitors. They also expand and contract with the wood, helping to prevent cracking of the finish.
– Fran Donegan
Plastic furniture is by far the most affordable and easy to maintain of outdoor furniture materials. It can often be moved effortlessly, comes in dozens of different colors, and is, of course, resistant to both sun and rain, making it a good choice for any climate.
Plastics tend to come in two varieties – molded PVC and composite/resin. Resin furniture, in particular, is appealing for its ability to be molded into the most contemporary and unique shapes, while having the appearance of natural material.
However, depending on the type of plastic in question, it can be less durable and prone to cracking over time. If you live in a particularly windy area, plastic furniture has a habit of relocating after a good gust. However, resin or composite furniture can be very heavy and harder to move. Here are a few options for plastic patio furniture.
- Molded Plastic: PVC plastic furniture is great for people who use their space sparingly, or host large parties and need additional tables and chairs that they can move around quickly.
- Polyethylene: This higher-density plastic imitates the look and feel of wood, at a fraction of the cost.
- Resin Wicker: Resin or composite plastic, particularly in wicker or rattan style, is a dense and extremely durable option. It is often combined with aluminum frames to give a contemporary look that will last with good upkeep. Polymer versions are UV-protected to keep their shape and color.
Plastic Furniture Cleaning and Care:
- Use mild soap and water to clean plastic furniture. If stains are more pronounced, a little baking soda and water on a rag will loosen grime without scratching the furniture.
- It’s not recommended to use bleach, chlorine or any other heavy chemicals to wash plastic furniture.
- If you’ve left your chairs outside for a long time and they have a grey film, it can be easily removed with a pressure washer—no soap needed.
- Dust and dirt that gets between the cracks in woven furniture can be removed with a clean paintbrush.
Plastic Furniture Storage:
- One of the benefits of many plastic pieces is that they are stackable and easy to store. Drop a plastic tarp or cover over them for added protection.
- Polyethylene can be left outside year-round.
A True Green Option
Plastic bottles are increasingly being recycled to make everyday items in our modern life, including outdoor furniture, but there’s another environmentally conscious material that has been around for much longer: bamboo. Bamboo is a type of grass that grows in thick stalks—it’s not a tree, as its tall stature suggests. That means when you cut it, it begins to regenerate, just like your lawn.
Demand doesn’t affect the resource, since it’s constantly re-growing in the place where it was harvested. Now for the really good news: Bamboo is among the strongest materials you can use to make woven furniture, since it resists moisture and rot and isn’t susceptible to termites. It also has a versatile look that fits into most outdoor styles.
Outdoor fabrics are incredibly versatile. They come in a variety of materials, colors and patterns and can help define the style of your outdoor space, as well as make it more comfortable to use. Some are designed to stand up to the elements for years, yet still remain extremely affordable.
Depending on the material and where you live, cushions and fabrics may need to be cleaned and stored on a regular basis. It’s best to avoid non-water resistant fabrics in tropical, humid climates or places where it tends to rain a bit each day. Be sure to provide shade for any dyed fabrics, as the colors can fade if not protected from the sun.
There are a few different outdoor fabrics that can suit your patio furniture:
- T-Spun: T-Spun fabric is commonly used in outdoor folding chairs and provides versatility of design and a soft, smooth feel. Since the fabric is 100 percent polyester, T-Spun is waterproof and has a much greater longevity than cotton canvas.
- Olefin: Olefin (polypropylene or polyethylene) is a synthetic fiber that is incredibly strong and weather resistant. It is hard to stain, fade or tear, and best suited for spaces that get a heavy amount of use and exposure.
- Sunbrella: Sunbrella is an acrylic fiber that combines durability and comfort. You may recognize its name from boat or sail covers, as it is marine grade and resists the growth of mold and mildew (see sidebar). Sunbrella fabrics and cushions are as close to a “worry-free” accessory that you can use outside.
Fabric Furniture Cleaning and Care:
- It’s best to start by using an outdoor or shop vacuum to remove loose dirt. Then mix warm water, dish detergent and a little Borax or baking soda and gently rub with a sponge or scrub brush.
- As a general rule, bleach should only be used when trying to combat mold or mildew. Make sure to check the tags on your fabric for specific instructions prior to using bleach, and test on a small area 24 hours prior to cleaning.
- Fabric protector sprays such as Scotch-Gard can be added to repel liquids or block stains, and it won’t change the feel of the fabric.
Fabric Furniture Storage:
- To save yourself time and effort, store removable cushions, rugs and other fabrics in a dry area when you won’t be using them for a long time. If garage space is limited, consider purchasing an outdoor deck box or storage bag.
Pro Tip: Outdoor furniture is meant to be enjoyed, not tip-toed around, so I recommend Sunbrella fabric for its fashion forward style as well as its incredible durability. It can be used both indoors and out and some clients actually prefer it when designing their interior.
– Kerrie Kelly
Breaking the Mold (And Mildew)
Many things can affect the look and longevity of your outdoor furniture, but few things do more harm than mold or mildew. Both can leave a bad impression on your furniture and your friends. Mold and mildew can spread rapidly across all of your outdoor belongings, and even cause health problems, so it’s important to react quickly at the first sign of either.
Mold and mildew are simple, microscopic organisms that thrive anywhere there is moisture. Mildew, which is mold in its early stages, often targets the harder surfaces of the furniture, growing from the damp dirt residue on wood, plastic, metal and other materials. If untreated, the pale film can develop into dusty splotches of brown or black.
Mold is more pronounced, characterized by a fuzzy, overgrown appearance in a wide spectrum of colors. Have you ever flipped over a seat cushion, opened an umbrella or removed a cover and seen what looks like cotton growing underneath? That’s mold growth, and it can quickly spread and destroy the fabric.
Whether you’ve avoided mold or mildew so far or have greeted the season with some new spots on your patio, there are steps you can take to prevent this small life form from becoming a major beast.
- Dry your furniture fully before covering it. Mold and mildew fungus only needs a moisture source to grow, and trapping it under a cover for even 24 hours can begin the cycle.
- Don’t leave wet rags, towels or other cloth materials on furniture.
- Don’t touch or sit on anything you suspect has fungus. Mold spores are transferable by both skin and clothes.
- Wash your furniture regularly with a mixture of one gallon of water, a ½ cup of bleach and a ½ cup of a mild detergent or soap (dishwashing liquid will do.) If you are using the solution on colored fabrics, be sure to test a small area first to make sure no discoloration results.
- A diluted ammonia solution is another option, but never mix ammonia and bleach. The resulting chemical fumes are highly toxic and can damage your eyes, skin and lungs.
- For severe cases of mold or mildew, you can first use the soap solution with a gentle brush and then rinse with a high-powered hose or pressure washer.
- Use disposable rubber gloves when treating any surface that has mold or mildew.
- If you live in particularly damp climates, you may want to consider Sunbrella fabrics, as they are specifically designed to resist moisture and stand up to mold and mildew. They also hold their color longer than non-marine fabrics, as the thread itself is colorized.
The difference between a good outdoor space and one that truly sets itself apart from the rest is all in the details. Chairs, tables and recliners are the foundation, but what you put on and around them makes them infinitely more usable. There are no limits here—you can decide what makes your patio the most comfortable and user-friendly. Here are some popular places to start.
An outdoor fireplace or fire pit can extend the use of your patio even after the weather turns cold. Small, portable models are very affordable and easy to use, but depending on construction and care, may need to be replaced every few years. A permanent fireplace is an investment, but it can be the centerpiece of an outdoor space all year round.
Care and Maintenance:
- A fireplace has to be dry and ash-free in order to work properly, so make sure to clean it after each use and store portable models out of the rain.
- Metal fireplaces can be treated like other metal furniture, with outdoor grade paint and silicone sealants to protect the finish.
Canopies and Umbrellas
A canopy or umbrella is an affordable way to provide both sun protection and a classic look. Many are made from the popular Sunbrella fabric and come in a spectrum of patterns or colors that can make your outdoor area more cheerful.
Care and Maintenance:
- Always collapse umbrellas after you are finished using them.
- If you’re expecting high wind, dismantle umbrellas and canopies so they don’t get damaged, particularly if they have wooden frames.
- Follow the care and maintenance instruction for your specific fabric. In most cases, you can wash it with a soft cloth and mild soap solution.
- Never pressure wash a deployed umbrella; it puts undue stress on the fabric.
Pots, planters, hanging baskets and barrels are natural choices to spruce up your patio. Small terrariums filled with annuals make great centerpieces on side tables and are simple to maintain. On the perimeter, home stager Terri Langdon suggests stone pavers leading up to the patio: “They can be an inexpensive way to provide continuity from your home to your yard and be arranged in different shapes to make the area unique.”
Pro Tip: I often find my buyers at the end of a home tour sitting on the patio of the home for sale, envisioning how they might live in the house. An inviting and usable outdoor area can easily set a property apart from its competition if you’re trying to sell your home, especially when it’s in a buyers’ market.
– Chris McDonnell, Coldwell Banker real estate agent
A good grill can be the focal point of any outdoor space. After all, your guests don’t always show up just for the company. While grills come in all shapes, sizes and price ranges, many believe that choosing the right one comes down to a single question: charcoal or gas? There’s certainly merit to that argument, especially for serious grillers. But fuel doesn’t cook your food, heat does, so it’s important to look at a few other factors before you decide.
Durable construction is the hallmark of a grill that is both long-lasting and versatile. Well-constructed grills are usually made of stainless steel or cast aluminum. Look for tight seals on grill lids that will help to hold in heat and cook food faster if necessary, as well as vents to regulate airflow and ensure even cooking over longer periods. Keep a special eye out for heavy-duty heating elements on gas-powered grills. These are the curved brackets that cover the actual flame, and are what actually deliver heat. Flimsy heating elements that need to be replaced every year or two are both annoying and costly.
Finally, don’t forget the real “touch points”: grates. Hefty, cast aluminum or anodized grates are an investment that provides both versatility and longevity. They defend well against corrosion and chipping, and some master grillers even like to throw small, flavored wood chips in the channels to add extra flavor close to your food.
- Gas Grills: The main advantage of owning a gas grill is obvious: convenience. Simply flick a switch and you’re off to the races. As for flavor, there are those that argue that gas is just as good, if not better, than charcoal. They contend that juices dripping on the heat sources in turn provide the flavor, not the actual flavoring of the source itself (i.e. hickory charcoal, etc.) While this may be the cause for some heated debate, there is no denying that gas powered grills are invaluable to those who like to cook out often, or at the spur of the moment, without the hassle of building a charcoal fire.
- Charcoal Grills: There is an “art” to mastering the potential combinations of food and charcoal, but it comes with a price: time spent creating a fire, and cleaning up afterward. The good news is that the actual price of charcoal grills can be much lower than their gas counterparts. And if you are only going to cook out occasionally, it may be the best option to save money and yet not diminish from the experience. Of course, if you are inclined to spend a bit more and invest in one of the many large, ceramic-lined charcoal or hardwood burning models, you would be hard pressed to find a grill master that says it was money poorly spent. Again, just be aware that there will be more time on the front and back end when not cooking with gas.
- Electric Grills: For those who set up an outdoor space on the balcony of an apartment or condo, an electric grill is sometimes the only option allowed by the fire code. These grills use an electric tube to heat the entire oven, and do not produce any flame or smoke. Electric models were once considered “space-saving” options, and while there are still many small models available, they have increasingly grown in proportion to their demand.
Care and Maintenance:
- Simply use warm, soapy water to clean any type of grill. Soak the grates for several minutes and then use a wire brush to rid them of any leftover residue. Towel-dry every part of the grill after cleaning to prevent rust.
- After use, make sure the grill is completely cool, and empty of ashes. It’s best to have a metal ash bucket to use on a regular basis, and NEVER throw coals in the trash can until you are sure they are extinguished.
- For gas grills, detach the fuel source and cover any valves with heavy duty plastic or aluminum foil to prevent them from getting wet. You can hose down the interior of the grill and clean with soap and water. Avoid heavy chemicals that can corrode metals and potentially be flammable the next time you start your grill. After washing, towel-dry completely and reconnect any gas hoses.
- When the grill is cool, use some lubricating spray on wheel nuts, lid joints and other moving parts.
- Always unplug an electric grill before cleaning.
Covering and Storage:
- No matter what model of grill, it is always recommended to buy a heavy-duty vinyl cover and to use it often. Rain and subsequent rust can be a costly enemy of grates, heating elements and the non-coated moving parts of any grill. Always store a portable grill out of the elements during the off-season, taking special care to fully clean it of ashes prior to putting it away. For propane grills, disconnect the tank and put it in a dry area away from any potential heat source, including a dryer or furnace vents. Finally, don’t forget to use a wire brush to clean any food particles from inside the grill, to discourage mice, rats or other critters from setting up a winter home.
Hammocks are a great way to add a carefree vibe to your outdoor space. Originally created as a tool to provide protection from mud, disease, insect and animal bites, they have become the symbol of lazy days and time slowed down. Modern hammocks come in an array of materials, colors and patterns and can even be custom made to complement an established decor. As for maintenance and care, John Powell, of Pawleys Island Hammocks, has the following recommendations:
“Materials such as Duracord and Sunbrella are designed to resist mildew, rotting and fading from the sun,” he says. “When not in season, we encourage users to clean and store their hammocks in a dry environment. A 5-to-1 water to bleach solution can be used for stubborn cleaning issues, though avoid getting the solution onto hammock spreader bars, and be aware that bleach can also harm nearby plants and animals. Rinse the hammock thoroughly, and allow it dry completely before hanging it up and storing it.”
Here are a few other helpful hints:
- When hanging a hammock between two trees, the amount of “sag” will be determined by the distance between attachment points. Start high and far apart, then adjust according to personal preference. Attachment lines should have an angle of roughly 30 degrees.
- The wider, the better. Stretching diagonally over a large hammock provides the most room and support. A wide hammock is also more comfortable when someone wants to join you.
- For ease of entry and exit, the long edge of the hammock should be at roughly the height of a common chair or stool. It’s better to slide down onto a hammock rather than climb up into one.
A well-furnished outdoor space makes a home fun, functional and welcoming, and is often the site of life’s sweeter moments. Like the rest of your home, designing the right one just takes a little thought and care. Don’t forget the most important part: enjoying it!