How to clean wooden outdoor furniture: revitalise your garden's seating area with these tips

Wondering how to clean wooden outdoor furniture? Follow our advice on washing, sanding and oiling to make tables and chairs look as good as new

how to clean outdoor wooden furniture: teak table and chairs
(Image credit: Barlow Tyrie)

Learning how to clean wooden outdoor furniture isn't complicated. But, doing so will enable you to turn a shabby seating area into something spectacular.

From garden benches and tables to wooden swing seats, after a few months of withstanding winter weather, they might look a little lacklustre. Often a greyish patina can occur over time, or perhaps they're all just looking a bit grubby. 

Either way, now that warmer weather is around the corner, it's time to get your plot looking shipshape. Just one sunny afternoon can be all it takes to get the best garden furniture ready for summer BBQs and alfresco evenings.

We've rounded up some expert tips to help you on your way, so keep reading to find out more.

1. Wash your furniture with warm, soapy water

how to clean outdoor wooden furniture: soapy sponge

Start with a gentle clean

(Image credit: John Slater/Getty Images)

When it comes to cleaning your outdoor wooden furniture, start gently. For teak especially, 'The best way to remove dirt, moss and lichen is to use mild soapy water and plenty of elbow grease,' says Peter Tyrie, Managing Director of Barlow Tyrie.

Peter adds that it's better to avoid using strong chemicals, as this can damage the finish of the wood and impact its visual appeal. However, if you feel more comfortable using a ready-made product, there are lots of wood-friendly cleansers available to buy. Just use in conjunction with a soft cloth to wipe away grime, as The Home Depot explains in their video on patio furniture. But, check the instructions on the label before you begin. It's also a good idea to test new products in an inconspicuous area of your furniture first, to make sure it won't effect the overall look.

If you're tempted to speed things up and are already reaching for the best pressure washer, you might want to reconsider. 'You’ll find video after video on the internet of members of the public recommending the use of a jet washer to clean teak and other wooden furniture. We cannot stress enough that this is not recommended,' says Peter Tyrie.

'While power washing is very tempting to achieve quick results, aggressive spraying could destroy the cellulose fibres and structure of the wood, which could irretrievably damage your furniture. However, should you choose to use a power washer, turn the power down and do not direct the jet into the joints.'

2. Lightly sand away any stubborn dirt

how to clean outdoor wooden furniture: sanding table

Gently sand away grime

(Image credit: FilippoBacci/Getty Images)

Even the best garden benches can acquire a few stubborn stains over time, and for these, a simple wash might not be enough. Alternatively, try a gentle sanding, starting with a rough-ish 80 then going down to a finer 120 grade, suggests Peter Tyrie, Managing Director of Barlow Tyrie. 

Even old teak that has developed a silvery patina can be brought back to its original glory by removing the very top surface in this way. Be sure to brush away any dust afterwards.

3. Protect the wood with paint, oils, or stains

how to clean outdoor wooden furniture: oiling bench with brush

Give your outdoor wooden furniture a protective coating

(Image credit: FilippoBacci/Getty Images)

Once your outdoor wooden furniture is clean, it's time to get the brushes out to give it a protective coating. 

If you're looking to give your table or chairs a fresh new look, then try a few coats of coloured paint, as suggests Homebase

We've already selected our favourite best exterior wood paints, and have lots of extra advice on painting garden furniture in our guide.

Or, for a more rustic feel, try applying a teak or hardwood oil, which will nourish the wood whilst letting the natural patination shine –  Cuprinol has a good range. 

Alternatively, you can use a wood stain for your best wooden garden furniture. This will tint the wood as well as giving it protection – try Sadolin or The Home Depot.

Whichever you go for, always apply in the same direction of the grain, and allow it to dry completely between coats and before you use it.

Should I cover my outdoor wooden furniture?

how to clean outdoor wooden furniture: tables and chairs

Keep your wooden furniture pristine by using covers when not in use

(Image credit: omersukrugoksu/Getty Images)

'As teak can withstand the harshest elements, covers are not necessary,' says Peter Tyrie, Managing Director of Barlow Tyrie. 'Ultimately, pure grade A teak can stay outside, uncovered, as long as it's in an airy environment.' 

'However, breathable covers are useful for keeping your furniture clean and pristine,' Peter adds. Make sure you put your outdoor furniture away completely dry, so not to encourage mould-growth inside the covers.

Take a look at our best outdoor furniture covers for ideas.

Follow all our advice, and that wooden garden furniture you'd almost given up on should soon be looking as good as new.

Holly Crossley
Acting Deputy Editor

The garden was always a big part of Holly's life growing up, as was the surrounding New Forest where she lived. Her appreciation for the great outdoors has only grown since then. She's been an allotment keeper, a professional gardener, and a botanical illustrator – plants are her passion.