How to care for your garden benches and outdoor furniture

From rattan to wrought iron, outdoor furniture sets come in a variety of durable and long-lasting materials. However, if your garden tables, chairs and benches are not maintained properly they are at risk of being damaged by bad weather, rust and dirt.

As with indoor furniture, the key is caring for and protecting your outdoor items from day one, to help them last longer. You can also consider cleaning or painting a wooden garden bench to give it a new lease of life or clearing away rust from your metal garden table. With this in mind, our guide shows you the best maintenance and prevention techniques for garden furniture, so that your outdoor space looks good throughout the seasons.

Protecting your garden furniture

Whatever type of garden furniture set you have, you can protect it from the weather to avoid damp and dirt spoiling the joints and surfaces. Simply place a garden furniture cover over the bench in the summer and store it safely inside during the colder months of the year. Bring any chair cushions indoors when not in use or place high up in a dry part of your garden storage shed. Where possible, place garden chairs and tables at an angle so that any rainwater or damp will run off the surface, and if you have a folding conversation set or something similar, store folded up to prevent moisture collecting.

Caring for a wooden garden bench

High-quality benches will be made out of hardwoods like teak and oak, which should not need to be treated as they contain natural oils, making them very robust. With softwoods like pine, you may need to apply a wood sealant or treatment when you buy, and repeat once or twice a year to maintain the finish.

Re-treating wooden garden furniture

To re-treat your wooden garden furniture, brush down with a dry brush first to remove any dirt from the cracks. Wipe clean with a soft, damp cloth and some soapy water if there’s any mud or marks. If you don’t have the time to spare for sanding and sealing, a quick clean like this is enough to maintain in between proper treatments.

Wait until the wood is dry and then use a sanding block to deal with rough or weathered sections. Use some fine-grain sand paper to smooth over afterwards and wipe off the dust with a clean, dry cloth.

Finally apply a wood stain or waterproof sealant that matches the original colour of your garden furniture set. Using a wide flexible brush, place a modest amount of product on the surface – taking care not to overload the brush in case of drips – and paint on with long strokes, moving with the grain. Allow to dry before placing some newspaper on the ground and turning over the bench to do the underside.

Caring for metal garden furniture

A metal garden bench, like most furniture constructed from metal, is usually made out of iron, steel or aluminium. Whether you have a wrought iron or formed steel set, most metal pieces should come with a protective coating of plastic, paint or varnish to prevent rusting. However it’s still worth maintaining your garden furniture as cracks can appear in the coating and allow the metal to oxidise. Aluminium doesn’t normally rust, but it can react with the oxygen in the air and result in a damaged surface.

Cleaning metal furniture

As with wooden benches, metal furniture needs to be cleaned with a cloth or sponge and some liquid detergent. Use warm water and rinse afterwards with a hose to make sure all suds are gone. Leave outside to dry. Check over for rust spots every time you clean – look on the underside of benches and around table legs to make sure there are no hidden surprises!

Tackling rusty garden furniture

If your metal garden bench has already rusted, it may take a little more effort to clean, but it’s still possible to get it gleaming again.

Smaller spots and patches of rust can be sanded with some sandpaper and a sanding block – if you’re worried about scratching, ask an expert which type of grain you should use for your metal furniture. More stubborn patches can be tackled with white wine vinegar; soak the area for a few hours and scrub with a cloth dipped in vinegar. Other household items like lime and salt, and baking soda can be applied in a similar way.

Use an electric sander on larger surfaces where the rust has spread. Wipe the dust off with a dry cloth or old towel.

Re-apply a clear coating made of polyurethane or similar plastic, once every two years. If paintwork starts to flake off you can re-touch with a suitable garden paint or spray.

Caring for rattan garden furniture

Rattan is a popular material for garden furniture sets for its natural, country-style finish and comfort appeal. Though rattan is a plant material, it’s still hard-wearing and the relatively low cost also makes it a good choice for your space, but it’s necessary to keep it well-maintained so it continues to offer value for money.

Cleaning and treating rattan

Rattan furniture is just as long-lasting as wood and metal garden furniture, but it takes a different, more regular kind of care. The woven surface can be a magnet for dirt and dust, so every couple of weeks, give it a clean with a stiff-bristled brush, or vacuum the furniture if possible. You can use an old toothbrush for really fiddly areas.

You don’t need to wash rattan garden furniture so often, but it’s a good idea to do monthly, or at least seasonal maintenance. Mix some dishwashing detergent with warm water, but take a cloth and only use the bubbles on the surface to clean, rather than soaking the rattan.

It’s also possible to treat spoiled or aging rattan with linseed oil. Dab some on a dry cloth and work into the weaves, leaving the furniture in a well-ventilated area to breathe afterwards.