Are you as ready for spring weather as I am?

As a native-born southerner, I spend the tail end of summer dreaming of snow and a break from the summer’s unrelenting heat and humidity. But as soon as I see the forsythia start to bloom, I’m ready for spring and warm weather again.

We got a tease of spring temperatures a couple of weeks ago, and that was all it took for me to start making plans to get our house and patio ready for spring and summer. My chickens finally have a dedicated run, so they’re no longer leaving...let’s call them surprises…all over the patio. As far as I’m concerned, that’s my cue to drag the outdoor furniture up from the garage and start building my outdoor oasis!

Patio furniture—especially high-quality pieces—can be a significant investment, so taking good care of it is well worth your time. That being said, no one is perfect. Pop-up rainstorms happen. Furniture covers blow away. Kids and pets do what kids and pets tend to do to furniture.

Luckily, outdoor furniture is pretty resilient, and in most cases, an afternoon of elbow grease and a couple coats of paint are all it takes to get your patio set ready for dinners al fresco.

Ready to get started? Keep reading!

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How to Paint Metal Patio Furniture

black wrought-iron table and chairsMetal patio furniture can last decades, but it will rust and deteriorate if it isn’t properly cared for.

The steps you’ll take to prep and paint your metal furniture aren’t too different from those you’d take to refurbish an old wrought iron fence, but this project will probably take less time.

Here are the supplies you’ll need:

  • A large tarp or drop cloth
  • Wire brush
  • Shop towels
  • Protective gear – gloves, safety glasses/goggles, and mask
  • Rust converter
  • Rust-inhibiting primer
  • Metal spray paint

Step 1: Clean the furniture

Your hard work won’t last long if you try to paint over existing rust. Use the wire brush to scrape and brush away as much rust as you can reach. Don’t forget the underside of the table and the back sides of the chair legs.

Once you’ve removed the rust, rinse each piece of furniture using the high-pressure setting on your hose nozzle. This will help remove any last little bits of rust. Use shop towels or old bath towels to thoroughly dry each piece of furniture—this is important because any moisture left on the bare metal will quickly convert back to rust.

Step 2: Seal the metal

If you’re really pressed for time, you can skip this step, but be prepared to repeat this painting project next spring if you do.

Sealing your metal outdoor furniture with a rust converter will help prevent any tiny spots of rust that you may have missed from growing and ruining your new paint job. Rust converters are available in sprayable or paintable formulas, so choose the one that’s easiest for you to work with.

Rust converter latches on to any spots of rust you may have missed and turns it into a chemical compound called iron tannate. Instead of eating away at the metal the way rust does, iron tannate forms a protective barrier from the elements.

Step 3: Prime and paint

Similar to the rust converter, you can technically skip the primer, but your paint job will not weather as well as it would otherwise.

My advice? Take the time to apply primer. No, it’s not as fun as applying that gorgeous color you chose, but unless you really, truly enjoy prepping and painting metal furniture, it’s time well spent.

Select a primer specifically designed for use on metal, and make your life easier by choosing the spray version. Most metal furniture has enough intricate detail that using a paint brush quickly turns into an exercise in not losing your temper.

Once the primer coat is dry, you can move on to the fun part: paint!

When I choose patio furniture paint, I always choose spray formulations. Most spray paint nozzles work at all angles—and even upside down—so applying paint in corners and other tight or awkward spots is a lot easier.

Paint doesn’t soak into metal the way it does into wood, so you’ll probably be able to get away with two or three light coats of paint. Carefully move your furniture to a covered area—ideally, a garage or similar spot—and let the paint dry and cure fully before moving it out to your patio.

Quick tips

  • When you paint, move the spray can across the furniture in even passes, beginning and ending on your tarp or drop cloth, to avoid heavier application in one area.
  • If you get a little heavy-handed and the paint starts to run, don’t panic. Take a break, let the area dry, and use a piece of sandpaper to gently sand out the drips.
  • If you are working outside, be sure that it’s a quiet, breeze-free day. You’d be amazed at how many bugs are flying around and how little wind is needed for them to land right on your freshly painted furniture.

How to Paint Wood Patio Furniture

wooden Andirondack chair and side table in a yardYou won’t have to worry about rust when you’re painting wood outdoor furniture, but that doesn’t mean you’re off the hook in terms of prepping and priming. In any painting project, surface preparation is always key to an end result that looks good and lasts a long time.

Pick a weekend with nice weather in the forecast, and gather these supplies:

  • A large tarp or drop cloth
  • Pressure washer
  • Putty knife or scraper
  • Medium-grit sandpaper
  • Exterior primer
  • Exterior paint
  • Painting supplies – paint brushes, foam brushes, etc.

Step 1: Clean the furniture

The goal of this first step is to strip each piece of furniture down to bare wood. If your wood patio furniture has already spent a few seasons out in the elements, the existing finish probably isn’t in great shape and will come off easily.

For furniture that has been previously painted, use a putty knife or scraper to remove as much paint as possible.

If the pieces are stained (but not painted), use sandpaper to rough up the surface and expose a layer of bare wood.

Once you’ve removed as much of the existing finish as possible (or if the furniture had never been painted or stained and has simply weathered), use a pressure washer to remove any last bits of paint or stain.

For weathered wood, the pressure washer will remove the top layer of wood, giving you a fresh, even surface to paint.

Allow the pieces to dry completely, and then move on to the next step.

Step 2: Prime and paint

Don’t skip the primer coat on wood outdoor furniture. Applying this protective barrier from sunlight and moisture is one of the most important steps you can take to keep your furniture from deteriorating through the year.

Whether you use a paint brush, a foam brush, a roller, or a spray can to apply primer and paint is up to you (and the complexity of your furniture’s design).

Bare wood soaks up paint and primer, so buy a little more of each than you think you’ll need. Be sure to allow each coat to dry before applying the next.

Keep your furniture in a garage or other covered area until the paint has fully dried and cured.

Quick tips:

  • When you’re purchasing supplies, pick up a foam paint brush or two. They come in super handy for getting primer and paint into tight corners and small nooks and crannies.
  • Choose an exterior paint in a semigloss finish to make wiping up spills and removing stains easier.
  • Wondering why I didn’t mention staining wood outdoor furniture? You can certainly stain and seal your wood patio furniture if that’s your preference, but be prepared to repeat that process annually. Paint provides better protection from damaging UV rays, so your hard work will last longer.

How to Paint Plastic Patio Furniture

colorful plastic patio chairs and tableConventional wisdom says don’t, but if you aren’t especially attached to your plastic patio furniture and won’t be heartbroken if the finish doesn’t last for years, painting it might be worth a try.

You’ll need to pick up just a few supplies:

  • A large tarp or drop cloth
  • White vinegar
  • Spray paint designed for use on plastic

Step 1: Clean the plastic

If the furniture is just dusty, use the spray nozzle on your garden hose to rinse it off. Not sure how to clean plastic covered in tough mildew stains? Use a cloth dunked in white vinegar for stains that just won’t budge.

Dry each piece thoroughly before applying any paint.

Step 2: Paint

Using a spray paint specifically formulated to adhere to plastic is vital for this step. Use a light hand as you paint, and be sure to allow the furniture to dry completely between coats. Most sources agree to plan on one can of spray paint per standard chair—more for a large table or loveseat-style chair.

Quick tips:

  • If your patio furniture is made of completely smooth, untextured plastic, the paint may not adhere well, which will cause the finish to chip. Try roughing up the material with an abrasive sponge or cleaning pad before painting.
  • Don’t use a bleach-based cleaner to remove grime and stains—it will weaken the plastic.

The Bottom Line

Painting your outdoor furniture is a great way to brighten up your outdoor space and extend the life of your patio set.

Just like any DIY project, plan ahead and make sure you have all your supplies on hand before diving in. Pick a weekend with pretty weather in the forecast, and channel your inner Picasso! You’ll save money and start spring with a colorful patio.