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In many parts of North America, the end of "porch season" has arrived. Whether you're clearing out for some oncoming bad weather, closing up the cottage for the season, beating the vandals on devil's night, or just retreating to your nest for the winter, you'll want to store away all of your outdoor items with maximum care.

Dirt particles can settle deep into fabric and wood fibers and making tiny cuts that hasten their deterioration. Untreated soiled spots can become irremovable stains. Moisture can breed mold, mildew and rot. Rust will spread, eating through metal. So proper storage will not only make your spring set-up more pleasant, it will prolong the life of your furnishings and décor.

The first step is to clean and dry all pieces.

Remove any loose dirt and dust from all pieces. For cushions and wicker furniture, use a vacuum or a soft-bristle brush. Then attack any specific problems.

• If there are mildew spots from a humid summer, remove them with a bleach and water solution (1/4 cup bleach to 3 gallons of water).

• Remove rust spots on metal frames; sand the area lightly to remove as much as possible.

• Use toothpaste applied with a dry cloth to get rid of scuff marks on vinyl furniture or strapping.

• Once specific areas have been treated, wash all pieces with mild soap and water and rinse well. If you have cedar furniture that is dingy, you can use a pressure washer set on low to help restore its lustre. Umbrellas covers may need to be scrubbed with a bristle brush.

• Wipe down all pieces with a dry cloth and then leave to thoroughly air dry. This is probably the most important step.

Secondly, repair and protect surfaces.
• Apply vinyl protectant to vinyl straps.
• Oil moving parts such as wire umbrella frames and hinges by spraying silicone on the joints.
• Use furniture paste wax to polish wooden umbrella poles.
• Apply car wax to non-textured metal finishes, and baby oil to textured ones. This will help maintain the surface.
• If there were rusted spots that you have cleaned up, apply touch-up paint or clear lacquer.

Third, store your items away.
• If you live in a climate with long snowy winters, seriously consider indoor storage of your furniture & decorations for the season, whether that's in your back shed, a neighbour's garage, or a rented storage facility.
• If you cannot store your items inside away from the brunt of winter's fury, then do cover them - but make sure the furniture is dry before you cover it! If it is not, the plastic tarp can promote mold growth. Inspect the tarp carefully for tears so that water and snow do not leak in.
• Some furniture, such as teak benches, cedar chairs and wrought iron table sets are designed so that they can be left in the elements year round. If you have some of these furnishings and will not be using them in the winter, bring them in if you have the space. Yes, they will endure the winter, but winter protection will extend their life.

So take some time now to store away your outdoor paraphernalia. It will pay big dividends next spring.

Debbie Rodgers owns and operates Paradise Porch, and is dedicated to helping people create outdoor living spaces that nurture and enrich them. Visit her on the web at and get a free report on "Eight easy ways to create privacy in your outdoor space".
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