M&M is not always so sweet… I am not talking about little brightly colored chocolate candies here. No. This M&M refers to something a bit more unsightly, does not come in a bag, and most definitely is not a treat. Mold and mildew is the bane of outdoor living in many parts of the United States. Learning how to control it is the key to keeping our outdoor furniture looking clean and inviting.
Basically, mold and mildew are living organisms which feed on dirt and live in dark, damp places. If you provide the conditions, these twins will come a-visiting. Although mold is most often associated with food, you may find it growing on outdoor cushions that have been food soiled and left in moist conditions.
|Mildew is a specific kind of mold, usually with a flat growth habit.||Mold is a fungi that contains multiple identical nuclei. It grows in the form of hyphae of filaments.|
|Appearance||Mildew could be downy or powdery: Downy mildew starts as yellow spots that first become brighter in appearance and then the color changes to brown. Powdery mildew is whitish in color and that slowly turn yellowish brown and then black.||Mold has a fuzzy appearance and can be an orange, green, black, brown, pink or purple in color. Can be found in several shapes.|
|Uses||None.||Some molds are used in food production, for example, Penicillium is used in the production of cheese, Neurospora in the production of oncom, which is made from the by-product of tofu.|
|Prevention and Control||To prevent mildew at home, keep all the areas moisture-free. There are mildew removers available at stores to eliminate mildew. To protect crops from mildew use mildew-resistant seeds, remove infested plants, avoid overhead heating.||To prevent mold in your home, you need to keep all the areas dry and moisture-free. Check the humidity levels inside the house and take measures to control it. Finish perishable food within 3-4 days.|
Using appropriate products and materials in your outdoor furnishings is the first step in controlling mildew. Natural fibers, such as cotton, wool, linen, and silk, offer no protection against mildew and often require very specialized treatments for cleaning. Using man-made fabrics, such as acrylic, polyester, and olefin, provides resistance to the growth of mildew. If these fabrics do become mildewed, they can be washed easily. Some, depending upon the dying process, can be treated with a bleach, soap, and water solution to remove stubborn mildew growth.
Mildew can grow on the furniture frame, too, especially if the frame is not coated or finished and is constructed of a relatively porous material (plastic or wood). Regular cleaning will prevent build up of dirt and mildew.
Outdoor furniture is an investment and the better quality brands typically offer better protection against mildew, as well as prolonged life. The climate in which you live and the type of environment that will be home to your outdoor furniture are good starting points to determining what product to buy. Buying from experts who are trained to ask questions and provide information about their products saves a lot of money, time, and disillusionment down the road, as well. However, the biggest factor in controlling mildew growth on your patio furniture is keeping moisture at bay which is not always possible, especially in those places that experience high humidity or in settings adjacent to a water source. Allowing your furniture to dry in the sun or having a fan circulate air will help control the potential growth of mildew.
Keeping your furniture clean is another important element in controlling mildew growth. If something is spilled, clean it as the manufacturer recommends and dry it as quickly as possible. Often, it is simply dirt and dust that settles on the cushions or furniture frame and washing isn’t always necessary. Using a vacuum on cushions will remove much of the dust and topical dirt which attracts mildew.
If you do notice mildew growing on your outdoor furniture, act promptly. The longer you allow it to remain, the more difficult your cleaning task will be. Check with the manufacturer or the retail store from which you purchased your furniture for cleaning instructions. (Better yet, be prepared with instructions ready and waiting for this day.) At Casual Living, we believe that this information is so important that we include it with each furniture purchase and have included it on our website.
I’ve seen many outdoor furniture pieces ruined by a homeowner who does not understand how to clean their furniture or cushions and takes the extreme position of using bleach and a power washer on everything. Use a cleaner or method of cleaning that the manufacturer of your furniture recommends. When appropriate to use bleach, use sparingly and rinse well.
Another no-no is throwing your cushions into a chlorine pool. Few manufacturers recommend these Rambo-style methods of cleaning. Although your fabric may be chlorine-safe, the cushion fill and threads may be compromised with repeated exposure to the exaggerated effects of both chlorine and UV rays. On their blog, Gensun Casual has a great article, “Outdoor Furniture Upholstery – Keeping Mildew at Bay,” with some helpful specifics on cleaning outdoor upholstery.
Consider investing in protective covers for your outdoor furniture. While you may not want to use them all of the time, they do minimize cleaning time and prolong the life and appearance of your furniture.
Using protective covers when you are away from home, during the off-season, or during a particularly dirty or messy time (such as during a storm or, here in the south, pollen season) will protect your investment and reward you with less time cleaning and more time enjoying.
You’ve invested in your outdoor furniture once, with routine maintenance and proper care, it should serve you well for many years to come.