Garden furniture is exposed to the elements and in the UK that means it gets wet on a regular basis. Many kinds of wood can really suffer from water damage, which is why much garden furniture is made of plastic. Higher-end garden furniture, however, is almost always made from teak, since it offers both the luxurious look and feel of real wood, together with a high degree of robustness when it comes to standing up to the great British weather. In fact, if you care for your teak garden furniture properly, you can reasonably expect it to last for decades and still look and feel good. The main reason for this is that teak is full of natural oils, which not only provide it with protection against water, but also repel common, garden pests. Here are four tips for giving your teak furniture the tender, loving care it deserves.
Stay away from teak oil
Teak oil is arguably one of the world’s biggest triumphs of marketing over material fact. To begin with “teak oil” has nothing whatsoever in common with the natural oil in teak, it is generally made of a combination of linseed oil and solvents. Linseed oil actually does have many uses, but taking proper care of teak has never been one of them and regular application of solvents is hardly going to enhance and extend the life of any wood product. Teak oil is the classic example of a product, which looks like it’s doing good (by improving the colour of the wood) but actually the benefits are both cosmetic and temporary, whereas the damage is material and real. So-called “teak oil” can actually strip teak of its natural oils, making it even more dependant on regular treatments. To make matters worse, although teak oil does sink into the wood, it generally leaves a sticky residue on top and this can attract fungus and mildew. In short, you’d usually be better just leaving your good, teak furniture well alone than treating it with teak oil.
To preserve the colour of teak furniture, treat with teak sealer
New teak furniture has a lovely honey colour and as it ages this gradually turns to grey. Some people see this change as adding to its charm and are quite happy to let the process run its course. Other people want to preserve that original, glowing colour. If you’re one of the latter then you need to apply teak sealer about once a year. If you’re buying new teak furniture, it’s generally advisable to wait a few weeks before you apply the sealer. Wash your furniture before you start and allow it enough time to dry completely. You’ll find exact directions on the tin, but usually the idea is that you apply two coats on the same day. Generally the coats will take about an hour each to dry, but you probably want to wait until the next day before you use your furniture again. Sealer typically needs to be applied once a year if you want to be sure of keeping the original colour (or at least halting any further greying).
Start with gentle cleaning before using any strong products
All furniture needs cleaning from time to time and that includes teak garden furniture. The basic rule here is to treat the teak as gently as possible since harsh cleaning can actually be damaging. If you’re just getting off the sort of surface dirt which accumulates on anything left outdoors then soap and water will probably be perfectly adequate and if you really feel like you need a bit of extra cleaning power, then add some vinegar.
If you still feel your furniture needs a deeper clean then mix vinegar and warm water in a 1/10 ratio and try that. If you’re dealing with really stubborn stains like the infamous red wine, then you may need to use a commercial teak cleaner, if you do, make sure to do your homework and get a high-quality one. The way to apply any sort of cleaner is with a soft-bristle brush, going with the direction of the grain. When you’ve finished, make sure to rinse off any remaining cleaner, so that it is totally gone. You can use a bucket or watering can for this, but the simplest and most effective method is usually a hose on a low power setting. Never, ever, use a power-washer as this is way too much and could actually damage the furniture.
If you have tried all of these and are still left with a stain then you basically have two options. One is to live with it, perhaps disguising it in some way and the other is to sand the furniture. If you go down this latter route then stick with the principle of starting gently and working up if need be. In other words, start with the finest-grained sandpaper you can find and move up to a coarser grain if you absolutely need to. In that situation, use a finer-grained paper to finish for a smoother result. If you do find yourself going down this route, then you may have to look at reapplying sealant, but only after your teak furniture is thoroughly dry.
Protect your teak furniture in winter
In principle, teak garden furniture can stay outdoors all year round. In practice, your major problem will be the prospect of high winds. Teak will happily withstand rain, snow and ice, but if winds get strong enough actually to pick up your furniture, then you may find yourself saying goodbye to it and that would be a real shame. Hence, depending on where you live, you may well find it prudent to bring your teak furniture indoors over the colder months. If you decide to do so, think about removing any cushions or upholstery, which could get damp and consider using a breathable cover to give your furniture a bit of extra protection. If you decide to leave your furniture outside, then covering it in a breathable material is still recommended as it will give some protection against your good teak garden furniture being scratched and damaged by the debris, which can easily be tossed about in winter winds.