Ways to Protect Restaurant Outdoor Furniture During the Winter

ways to protect restaurant outdoor furniture

| Oct 12, 2022

Outdoor furniture is a significant investment for restaurant owners. A beautiful, welcoming patio can attract more clientele and drive increased business during warmer weather. However, it’s crucial to keep your outdoor furnishings well-maintained, especially when they’ve undergone heavy use. 

When winterizing your outdoor furnishings, take care to clean and store them correctly so they last many more seasons to come. Follow our guide to winter protection for restaurant furniture for patios and outdoor dining to learn more about how to winterize your furnishings. 

Consequences of Not Protecting Outdoor Furniture in the Winter

Failing to sufficiently winterize your outdoor furniture might be expensive. Furniture that faces prolonged exposure to harsh winds, freezing temperatures, and pelting rains will be more likely to wear out prematurely. Depending on the material, your outdoor furnishings can experience different types of damage.

Below are some possible outcomes of not protecting different types of outdoor furnishings during the winter.

Wood is a highly porous material

Wood 

Wood is a durable and long-lasting material that lends itself well to outdoor furnishings, provided it’s well taken care of. Failing to seal and protect wood furniture during the winter can lead to costly damage.

Wood is a highly porous material, meaning it invites lots of moisture. Water ingress into wood material leads to rot, which weakens it. As the wood’s strength becomes compromised due to invading moisture, it’s more susceptible to warping, splitting, cracking, and peeling.

Improper wood winterization practices lead to the wood itself becoming damaged while increasing the risk of pest infestations. Since wood is an organic material, it tends to harbor organisms, including bacteria, mold, and insects that make a home in the moisture-rich wood.

Plastic furnishings

Plastic 

Many people who purchase plastic furniture assume it’s a longer-lasting and more durable alternative to wood. They prefer plastic furnishings because they perceive it as a low-maintenance material that can withstand extreme conditions. However, this is not always the case. All materials are susceptible to damage from neglect, including sturdy plastics.

Plastic isn’t porous like wood, so it won’t absorb moisture the same way. Instead, the most significant threat to plastic furnishings is freezing, which can make them brittle and prone to cracking. That’s especially the case with specific types of plastic, including polypropylene, which can shatter if temperatures drop below minus 4 degrees Fahrenheit. 

Metal's biggest threat is moisture

Metal 

Like wood, metal’s biggest threat is moisture. When metal faces prolonged exposure to moisture, it begins to show signs of oxidation. Rust weakens metal, causing it to wear out and eventually break down. Even furniture made mostly from aluminum, which is rust-proof, can start to wear out due to components like bolts and brackets rusting.

Over the winter, metal outdoor furnishings will encounter lots of precipitation, including rain and snow. Within a few months, rust can form, damaging your metal outdoor furnishings and reducing their useful life. By not taking the proper precautions to winterize your metal outdoor furniture, you may allow your furniture to weaken more rapidly than necessary.

wicker material

Wicker 

Wicker furniture faces a significant threat of developing a heavy amount of grime and dirt within its crevices. Dirt and grime buildup that goes unaddressed for too long leads to premature wear. Over time, wicker furniture can deteriorate and lose its overall quality.

Since wicker is a woven material, it can also harbor a lot of moisture, potentially leading to warping and splitting over time. Additionally, material like rattan or bamboo makes wicker furniture susceptible to mold and mildew. Since it’s lightweight, wicker furniture is also at risk of getting tossed around and damaged during windy winter storms. 

Natural fabrics

Fabric

Outdoor furnishings with fabric coverings or cushions also face threats during cold winter conditions. Natural and synthetic fibers can get damaged over the winter when freezing temperatures wear away textiles, leading them to lose their strength and shape.

Natural fabrics that retain moisture are an invitation to mold, mildew and pests, while the stuffing inside cushions acts as the perfect winter haven for rodents and insects. Fabrics exposed to winter elements can also become discolored and stained when improperly winterized. Inadequate protection can cause fabric coverings to develop rips and tears. 

Start by Cleaning the Furniture

To keep your outdoor furnishings in pristine condition during the winter, you want to start by thoroughly cleaning every piece. Accumulated dirt and grime cause materials to wear out prematurely or develop rust, discoloration or other imperfections. Washing your furniture will prevent it from developing excessive wear while in storage.

Here are some tips on properly cleaning your furniture before storing it for the winter.

  • Wash with soap or bleach: Wash the surfaces using a soapy water solution or a bleach-detergent mix, depending on the material and the finish. Scrub the surfaces thoroughly with soap to remove caked-on dirt, dust and biofilm. Be sure to rinse off any soap residue with water. 
  • Clean crevices: If your furniture has a few crevices, such as corners or woven sections, you’ll want to remove dirt from the tight spots. Use a toothbrush or wire brush to sweep away any dirt, rocks, leaves or rust.
  • Let air-dry completely: Once you’ve rinsed your furniture, let it air-dry. Ensure it dries out completely before storing it. Putting away furniture while it’s still wet can lead to mold or rust.
  • Vacuum upholstery: Use a vacuum to clean outdoor furnishings with fabric covers or cushions. Vacuuming will get rid of visible dirt, while removing dust and other invisible contaminants.

Repair Any Damage

When cleaning your furniture, pay attention to any noticeable damage that needs repairing. Make these fixes before storing your furniture. Remember, various materials will have different repair needs, so be sure to inspect your furnishings carefully for the types of possible damage.

Below are some tips to follow as part of your restaurant’s outdoor furniture winter maintenance checklist:

  • Tighten bolts, screws and brackets.
  • Reinforce any weakened weld points.
  • Replace broken slats, glass or caps on the feet of the furniture legs.
  • Clamp, fasten or glue any peeling or lifting laminate or finishes.
  • Sew torn fabric and replace broken zippers or buttons on cushion covers.

If you’re not particularly handy or lack the necessary tools, you may need to outsource some repair jobs to a professional. Find an experienced service provider who can help you preserve your furniture correctly.

examine your furniture

Paint and Seal if Necessary

If your furniture needs repainting, it’s wise to do this job before storing your furniture for the winter. That way, when you pull your furniture out of storage in the spring, it will be ready to use and there will be no extra hassle before setting up your restaurant patio.

Examine your furniture for faded paint or scratches along the surfaces. If you had to remove any rust from your furniture, you may want to paint over these worn patches. Mark areas that require a fresh coat of paint with painter’s tape to make the process easier. After your paint has dried, apply a protective sealant to your furniture to lock it in and keep your furniture safe from surface damage. Sealants also protect your furniture from dirt and organisms, which is especially crucial for wood and wicker furnishings. 

You can use different sealants depending on the furniture’s material. You might want to get a protective clear coating or use a wax protectant, such as automotive wax. The best type of sealant to use and how to apply it also depends on the furniture’s surface smoothness. You can apply sealants with a brush, cloth or sponge, or use a fine paintbrush to get into the crevices. You can also apply a fabric sealant to your cushion and furniture coverings to protect your fabrics from dirt and moisture over the winter.

Prepare for Storage

Once you’ve cleaned, repaired, painted and sealed your outdoor furniture, you can consider it ready for storage. To store your outdoor furniture properly, you need to take a few steps to protect all pieces while they sit dormant for several months.

Follow these steps to prepare your furniture and storage space for winter storage.

  • Disassemble the pieces: To ensure your furniture is safe while in storage, you’ll want to take it apart as much as possible, then neatly stack the pieces without fear of them toppling over to keep your storage area organized and save space. Unscrew the legs, tabletops, arms, umbrella stands or any other pieces that can come apart. For easy reassembly, store the hardware in a sealed container with the corresponding furniture.
  • Cover with plastic wrap: Keep out moisture and protect your furniture from dirt and rodents by wrapping each piece in a tight plastic wrap. Or, if any coverings came with the furniture, store them in those. Be sure to seal off the covers with tape to keep out contaminants.
  • Choose your storage space: To protect your furniture as best as possible, you’ll want to choose a storage space that has ample room, is temperature-controlled, and doesn’t get sunlight exposure. Stack the furniture, placing each piece flat on the ground. Alternatively, you can fasten hooks or rails on the wall and hang each piece. Ensure hooks are sturdy enough to hold each piece and evenly distribute the weight across each item.

Learn more about how to store commercial outdoor furniture during the winter

How to care for wood furniture

How to Care for Wood Furniture

When preparing your wood furniture for winter storage, there are some unique care tips to consider. Wood has unique maintenance, care and storage requirements, especially regarding the need to keep it dry.

Below are some top care tips for wood furniture in the winter.

  • Clean with a mild detergent: To clean your wood furniture, use a mild detergent with warm water. Gently scrub the wood surface using a microfiber cloth or a soft sponge. If there are stained patches, such as from bird droppings, use a more abrasive sponge to help loosen these areas. 
  • Apply fresh new paint: Wood furniture is prone to paint chipping and peeling, especially if it undergoes heavy use at a restaurant. Annually applying a fresh coat of paint  can help preserve your furniture’s appearance. Painting your furniture ahead of winter storage ensures that your items are ready for use right away when needed in the spring or summer.
  • Coat with a wood sealant: It’s critical to coat your outdoor wood furniture with a protective sealant made for wood. Without a sealant, moisture will enter the wood, freeze over the winter and then thaw in the spring, causing the wood to develop micro-cracks. Wood sealants, such as oils, protect the material from moisture by repelling water so it can’t seep into the wood’s pores. 
  • Avoid pressure washers: Don’t use a pressure washer to rinse your wood furniture after cleaning. Even on a low setting, the powerful streams can split the seams. Use a bucket or garden hose instead.

How to Care for Plastic Furniture

Plastic outdoor furniture is resilient, durable and relatively easy to keep clean. While it’s the lowest-maintenance option of all the different outdoor furniture options, it still has particular care needs.

  • Wash with dish detergent: Give your plastic furniture a thorough cleaning before storing it for the winter. Use a soapy detergent mix and a soft washcloth. Scrub the furniture surfaces to remove as much dirt as possible, then repeat. On areas with tight crevices or hard-to-reach spots, use a soft toothbrush to loosen grime and wipe it clean.
  • Avoid scratching surfaces: When washing your plastic furniture, don’t use an abrasive sponge or scourer. These products can scratch the plastic surface and damage the finish, causing over-scrubbed patches to loosen, peel or crack. Stick to soft scrubbing products and scrub using circular motions to achieve a total clean.
  • Disinfect using bleach: Plastic furniture is simple to keep sanitary. After the end of the season, apply bleach to the surfaces, leaving it on for up to five minutes. This waiting period allows the product to thoroughly disinfect the furniture before it goes into storage. Don’t let the bleach sit for too long, as it will eventually stain the paint. Keep it on only long enough to kill microbes.
  • Let air-dry: As with all furnishings, let your plastic outdoor furniture air-dry before storage. Turn the chairs upside down to allow the water to drain away and the pieces to dry completely. 
How to care for metal furniture

How to Care for Metal Furniture

Metal furniture has unique care considerations that wood and plastic don’t. Since metal corrodes under prolonged exposure to moisture, it’s prone to developing rust patches. Rust can weaken metal and cause it to wear prematurely. To protect your metal furniture during the winter from rust and other types of damage, follow these metal outdoor furniture care tips.

  • Remove rust spots: If your metal furniture has rust, remove it before storage. Apply a rust-neutralizing primer product to all rust patches. After allowing the primer to set, brush away the rust. For small patches, use a wire brush to scrape away the rust.
  • Clean furniture with soap: After removing the rust, clean the entire piece with a solution of dish detergent and warm water. Give your furniture a thorough clean, repeating multiple times if necessary. Once you’ve removed all the dirt, rinse the furniture and let it air-dry.
  • Perform repairs: Spruce up your metal furniture with a fresh coat of paint, particularly in areas where you removed rust. Reinforce any weld spots or weld over rusted areas to ensure furniture remains solid. Tighten screws and bolts and check the frame’s sturdiness. 
  • Apply a wax coating: Finally, protect your metal outdoor furniture with a wax coating to seal the paint and protect metal from corroding if it gets exposed to moisture while in storage.

How to Care for Wicker Furniture

Wicker’s ability to withstand the elements makes it a resilient material for outdoor furniture. However, wicker has some particular care needs you should follow to keep it looking newer, longer. 

  • Clean the crevices: Wicker chairs and tables naturally have many tiny gaps and spaces that need cleaning. To remove all the dirt and contaminants from between each weave, use a toothbrush or wire brush. You can also run a vacuum crevice tool along the surfaces before cleaning to remove dust.
  • Clean with a light bleach solution: Wicker tends to harbor mold and mildew due to the number of crevices. Using a mild bleach-water solution will kill any microorganisms within the wicker weaves. Rinse the furniture thoroughly after using bleach to avoid leaving behind residue that might stain the furniture. 
  • Repair broken wicker: If any wicker strands are broken or losing their tension, be sure to tighten them or fasten them securely. Perform any other necessary repairs to ensure your wicker outdoor furniture is pristine before putting it in storage.
  • Apply a moisture repellent: Finally, after thoroughly cleaning and repairing wicker furniture, apply a final coating to protect it. Use a moisture repellent or a wax paste to keep the furnishings sealed.

How to Care for Fabric and Upholstered Furniture

Fabrics have special care requirements compared to other types of outdoor furniture materials. Unlike a solid surface that you can wipe clean, fabric is a soft and porous material that absorbs dirt and cleaning agents, staining easily. To keep your outdoor furniture fabrics looking new, try these winterizing and cleaning tips.

  • Vacuum the fabric: Vacuuming is a convenient way to get rid of surface-level dirt and dust that has sunken into the deeper layers of fabric. Fabric attachments are safe to use on your furniture cushions and coverings without damaging the fabric.
  • Use a fabric cleaner: Fabric cleaners are safe to use on upholstery. Spray your fabrics according to the directions on the bottle, being careful not to leave them on the fabric surface too long. Alternatively, you can use a vinegar solution as a fabric-safe cleaning agent.
  • Apply a fabric protectant: Fabric protectants shield your cushions and coverings from moisture, mildew and other contaminants. Coat your fabrics with a fabric sealant before storing them for the winter. 
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Prepare Your Outdoor Furniture for Winter

Knowing how to properly protect your outdoor furniture ensures it stays safe and in good working condition throughout the winter so it’s ready for use in the spring or summer. Follow cleaning, maintenance and storage best practices for each furniture material to keep it safe from the harsh winter elements.

High-quality outdoor furnishings from Wabash Valley Site Furnishings are durable and long-lasting, made from recycled plastic materials that withstand outdoor conditions. Learn more about our outdoor furnishing products, including dining sets for restaurant patios, commercial umbrellas, and other outdoor furniture accessories. Browse our Wabash Valley blog for more inspiration and resources on how to design beautiful and functional outdoor spaces, or learn more tips on how to maintain commercial outdoor furniture. To request a quote or ask questions about what we offer, contact us today.