There are many products you can use to clean your patio furniture, but most include strong and potentially toxic chemicals – so using vinegar is a great natural alternative.
Vinegar works well in solution to clean patio furniture made of plastic, resin and glass, and also aluminum, wood and some fabrics. Simply mix 1 cup of white vinegar with 1 gallon of water, then wipe down your patio furniture with a cloth, leave for 10 minutes then gently rinse the solution off.
Let’s look at why white vinegar is such a great organic cleaning agent, and outline a step-by-step process for cleaning your patio furniture with it.
Why Vinegar is a Good Natural Cleaning Agent
Outdoor furniture lives, well, outdoors. In the great outdoors: the wind blows, birds poop, it rains, there’s lots of dirt, clouds of pollen, leaves fall and dogs pee. Patio furniture is designed to be durable in the elements. But because outdoor furniture is, well, outdoors – it needs a little help staying clean.
The amount of TLC your outdoor furniture needs depends primarily on your climate. Patio furniture by an ocean needs routine freshwater rinsing. Outdoor furniture under a stand of trees may have sap and lots of bird poop. Deck furniture in the mountains needs help with extra-strength UV rays.
Humidity and shade create ideal places for mold and mildew. Inside your home, molds can damage walls, and even health. Outside, molds and mildews are harmless to humans. BUT – who wants to sit on them?
Molds and mildew can also be a little stinky – musty.
Lots of chemicals are available at your local hardware store or garden center for help with mold and mildew on your patio furniture. But there’s also a natural, organic solution – vinegar.
White vinegar is a great addition to your pantry. You can use it for: cleaning your keyboards, cleaning litter boxes, washing dog’s ears, soothing aching muscles, killing weeds, in the dishwasher, fighting athlete’s foot, for sunburn, for a sore throat, in cut flower water, for descaling coffee makers, in stinky sinks, and the list goes on.
But for our purposes you can definitely use vinegar to clean your patio furniture too.
White vinegar is a safe, natural, mild acid. White vinegar will kill most known molds and is a “green clean” choice for your garden furniture. Left as a thin coat on patio cushions, it can prevent future mold growth.
Some resources recommend using bleach on outdoor furniture to kill mold and mildew. Bleach is a powerful and harsh cleaning agent. It can harm your skin, your clothes, kill the grass, and potentially bleach your furniture in an unforeseen and bad way.
Another common method for cleaning outdoor furniture is pressure washing. Pressure washing doesn’t use harsh chemicals, but it does use a lot of force. For plastic furniture, high pressure might work well, but a high-pressure wash can rip cushions or cause paint to flake on metal furniture.
So vinegar is a good organic alternative. The biggest downside to vinegar is that you may not like the smell. To overcome that, you can add fresh-smelling essential oils, like grapefruit seed extract. Some essential oils actually help to break down stains.
What Type of Garden Furniture Can You Clean With Vinegar?
Vinegar works well on most garden furniture. It should not be used on furniture with stone tabletops, because it can etch them. Some materials, like plastic, are ideal. Some, like woods and molded aluminum, may need a more dilute vinegar solution. Cast iron is not a good candidate for any water-based cleaner. The best advice is to test a small, out-of-the-way area.
Vinegar works great on plastic, resin and glass. Plastic furniture includes woven, strappy, molded and recycled “Polywood”. Glass tabletops will sparkle after cleaning with vinegar.
For wood and aluminum furniture, use a more diluted (double the water in the recipes below) white vinegar solution for overall cleaning. Be sure to test a hidden area first. Spot cleaning with higher strength vinegar works well if you have small areas with mold, mildew or hard water stains. Wipe or rinse off the vinegar solution thoroughly and then wipe dry with a microfiber cloth.
Vinegar should never be used to clean stone.
Garden furniture cushions, too, will benefit from a cleaning with a vinegar solution. If the fabric unzips, you can use the gentle cycle on your washing machine. Otherwise, a soaking and scrubbing with the vinegar solution works well.
Here’s a comprehensive article for cleaning all types of outdoor furniture.
The Tools You Need For The Job
- One or two large buckets, big enough to hold several gallons each
- Soft bristle brush
- Large sponge
- Several microfiber cloths
- Hose with medium-pressure nozzle
- Spray bottle
- Toothbrush, optional
- Tarp, optional
- Gloves, optional
- Earbuds or outdoor speaker with tunes blasting, optional (NOT)
The Cleaning Process Step By Step
- Choose the area to clean the furniture. Vinegar is handy for killing weeds but be aware it will also kill flowers and grass. Because vinegar is a mild acid, it may etch cement pavers or flagstones. Test out your vinegar solution on a small area of your patio. Spray or sponge a small amount onto the patio and check for fizzing. If fizzing occurs, you are dissolving a small amount of your cement paver or flagstone. You may need to spread a tarp out to protect your patio or move to another area.
- Mix up the vinegar solution. In a big bucket, mix 1 cup of white vinegar with 1 gallon of water. If you want add some essential oils to mask the vinegar smell.
- Remove the cushions. If possible, unzip the outer cushion fabric and wash them in your washing machine. Use the gentle cycle and add a cup or two of white vinegar, then air dry. If your cushions don’t zip off, spread them on a suitable surface (see #1). Apply the vinegar solution with a spray bottle, brush or sponge, wait 10 minutes to an hour, then rinse. To gently scrub stubborn stains, you can soak the sponge in the vinegar solution, sprinkle some baking powder on the sponge and scrub. If your cushions are greasy or food-stained, adding a little organic dish soap to the vinegar solution will help. After rinsing off the cushions thoroughly, a re-application of the vinegar solution (no rinsing) will help prevent future mold. Don’t forget to check the “dark side” of your patio umbrella – a sponging or spraying of the vinegar solution will kill any mold or mildew there.
- Clean up the hard surfaces. Get rid of leaves, dirt, or bird poop first with water from a medium-pressure hose nozzle, a soft-bristle brush or both. Then, wipe the surface with re-usable, microfiber cloths.
- Check out your furniture. Chances are, steps three and four were all you needed. If you still have discolored areas of mold and mildew, then you need to mix up a batch of vinegar solution.
- Do a test area. If you have plastic, resin or glass furniture, vinegar will work great and no testing is needed. For wood and metal, find a hidden area and apply the vinegar solution with a sponge or microfiber cloth, then wipe or rinse it off. Dry with a cloth. Inspect your test area before using the vinegar solution for the entire set.
- Clean with the solution. Depending on the type of furniture you have, you can apply the solution with a spray bottle, a soft-bristle brush, a sponge or a cloth. For small areas, stubborn stains or braided resin, a toothbrush works well. For stains that need soft abrasion, soak a sponge in the vinegar solution then sprinkle some baking powder on the sponge and scrub gently. To get rid of grease on plastic or glass, add a small amount of organic dish soap to the solution.
- Rinse. Rinse the furniture well with water. You can use a pressure nozzle with a hose but keep it at a medium spray. You can also rinse using a spray bottle, sponge or brush. Dry with a microfiber cloth. In some climates, air drying works great.
- Finishing touches. Plastic furniture can benefit from a small amount of WD-40, sprayed onto a cloth and rubbed in. Car wax paste can also be applied to plastics for UV protection. Car wax can help prevent rust for metal furniture.
If you’re looking for a viable organic alternative to some of the more chemically enhanced cleaning products on the market, then vinegar is a great option for cleaning your patio furniture.
In particular, white vinegar in solution (masked with fragrant essential oils), is an effective way to remove dirt and mold from resin, plastic and glass outdoor furniture.
If heavily diluted in water, vinegar is also great for cleaning wooden and some aluminum furniture – and can even be used to spot clean the fabric on patio furniture cushions.