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Outdoor Spring Cleaning

Before summmer gets into full swing, take a weekend to get your home ready for outdoor living.
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When spring is in the air and the season for outdoor living heading our way, now is the time to get a jump start on reconditioning the things around the yard that we use so much in warmer weather. Has the deck seen better days? Before you put those screens back up, do they need cleaning? Is the barbecue ready for your first cookout? And could the lawn furniture use a facelift before you bring it out of the garage for another year?

Here are some tips to help you get all these summer items ready. With a little bit of know-how, getting your outdoor living areas ready for spring doesn't have to be a chore. Instead it can be sort of fun to dust off the winter cobwebs. A deck that was built a few years ago of pressure treated lumber, after lots of weathering may be looking pretty dark and dingy. The first step to cleaning the deck is to sweep all the surface dirt and tree droppings off; then spray on an oxalic acid solution, which is what professional deck cleaners recommend, and let it sit on the section for about a half an hour. You can spray it on with any garden variety sprayer.

Will this stuff kill the lawn? No, it's actually a naturally occurring acid that won't hurt plants or fish. It's still acid, though, so you should really wear eye protection and gloves when you use it. For the next step, you really need about 3000 psi behind the water rinse to get off all the grime. You can rent a sprayer from most rent-all centers. The key to using a sprayer to get the acid off the deck is the nozzle. It's specially shaped so you don't scar or scrape the deck as you work.

If I don't have a mega sprayer, can I just scrub the deck with bleach or a fungicide? You really shouldn't use bleach, because it eats away at the wood and can inhibit its ability to hold a seal. Fungicide will only drive the problem deeper into the wood, and sometimes you'll see little black spots, which are actually mildew spores, forming on the wood surface in a few weeks. You really should use the oxalic acid it's considered a wood restorative. The acid penetrates the wood and kills microorganisms and restores the wood's pH. And you will see, it does a pretty good job on the appearance! It will be ready to treat with a good sealant in 24 to 48 hours, as long as the weather is good.

Can I hire someone to do this for me? Professional deck cleaners are definitely another good way to go. An average size deck, that's never been treated with sealant before, will run about $500 to clean. If your deck's already got sealer on it, there's a stripping treatment that may need to be applied before the cleaning treatment, and that costs more.

Additional Deck Cleaning Resources:
But what about the grill? What if you forgot to clean it before putting it away for the winter? First you want to be sure that last year's gas connection is still safe. Just mix some dish soap and water and brush it onto the connection, so that if any bubbles form when you turn on the gas, you will know there's a leak and it's not safe. The next step is to use a wire brush to get off as much of the baked-on grease and food that you can. Sometimes it's easier to do this if the grill is hot. Also, a little trick to make cleaning easier next time is to spray on some nonstick cooking spray. Watch How To Clean and Maintain a Grill.

What's the best way to clean screens before you put them back in place for the summer? Many people remove screens from windows and doors for the winter and store them. Before you put the screens back in for the summer, you can give them a quick inspection. You may notice that they've accumulated some serious grime: flyspecks, street dust, etc. Obviously you don't want to put them back in a door or window before cleaning them. And you don't want to try to clean them by holding them upright, because you can stretch or even break them if you're not careful. The best way to clean them is to put down a cloth to keep from scratching the frames, then lay them flat on a hard surface, hose them down and scrub them with a little all-purpose cleaner. Rinse them, tap off the excess water, and you're good to go. What is the best cleaner? Lots of supermarkets and home improvement stores are carrying a variety of environmentally-friendly, biodegradable cleaners now that are pretty potent. There are ones that come concentrated, so you can dilute it to the strength you want, and you can use it anywhere around the house.

What about outdoor furniture? Can you use the same cleaner for those items as well? Yes you can. You've probably got the same problem with the plastic lawn chairs that were left out all winter they're pretty grimy. If you let some of the cleaner sit there for a while, the grime will come off easily by using a scrub brush and a hose. Speaking of lawn furniture, you can salvage a simple little wrought iron table and chairs that you might find at a flea market or yard sale for about $100.

How can you restore iron furniture with a lot of rust? With things like this, you shouldn't let bad cosmetics fool you. All you need to do is take a wire brush and maybe some sandpaper to the rust and the old flaky paint. After the old coating is removed, wash down the piece and let it dry. After it dries treat it with a good metal primer. Then you can pick your favorite color and repaint it. The whole process really goes pretty quickly.

Here is another trick for seats that look in bad shape, or ones that are actually missing. To fix the problem, use the old seat as a template and cut a new seat surface out of 3/4" plywood. Then treat the wood with a moisture-resistant acrylic polyurethane. You'll want to make the seat comfortable, so cut some 1" foam to the seat's shape. You can cover the foam with anything waterproof. You could use some vinyl for a cover and secure it to the seat by stapling it onto the bottom. After your spring chores are done, sit back and relax, enjoy your summer!

What can you do if you have wooden outdoor furniture? Here are some tips to get pieces like those ready for a new season. Take old wooden chair frames as an example. They lost their canvas covers long ago and need some help but are basically still intact. All you have to do is sand them down and add new canvas covers. You can find replacement canvas covers at outdoor stores or home centers. So you can see that with a little bit of know-how and creativity, getting ready for the nice weather really isn't a chore at all. Now you're all ready for the beach! More on Removing Varnish from Wood and Applying Veneer to Wood Surfaces.

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