How to Refinish Outdoor Wood Furniture

Outdoor wood furniture is prone to damage from moisture and UV rays, as well as insects and animals in the garden. Refinishing it will protect it against the elements and keep it in good condition.

Start by cleaning and sanding the furniture to prepare the surface. Next, apply wood oil or stain. If using a stain, you need to add a clear coat like spar urethane or varathane afterward for added protection.

Knowing how to look after your furniture properly will save you a lot of time and money in the future. This guide will tell you everything you need to know.

What Causes Damage to Outdoor Wood Furniture?

There are many things that can damage your outdoor wood furniture.

Water and Moisture

Water is the number one thing that will damage outdoor wood furniture. Wood expands when it absorbs water and contracts when it dries. Repeated wetting and drying can cause boards to buckle, crack, or split. Excess moisture also leads to mold and wood rot, which completely destroys the structural integrity of the wood.

Sunlight (UV Rays)

UV rays in sunlight might cause your outdoor furniture to fade over time. This can damage both the color and overall look of your wood. Instead of a nice deep brown color, you get a dull grey.

Salt Water and Pool Water

If your outdoor furniture has been exposed to salt water or pool chemicals, it will be weakened. The damage caused by salt is similar to the damage caused by repeated wetting and drying. Also, chlorine can cause greening on redwood and cedar wood. Any wooden furniture around a pool area will likely need to be replaced more often.

Sitting Directly on Soil

Soil is bad news for your wooden furniture. The soil is saturated with moisture that seeps up into the wood. The soil also contains salt and minerals that can cause your wooden furniture to rot. The higher the mineral content of your soil, the faster your wood will deteriorate.


Termites see your furniture as a delicious meal and they will make short work of it. Termites will eat your furniture from the inside out. They can completely destroy wood, leaving nothing but a pile of sawdust behind. You can tell you have termites if you see mud tubes on the surface of your furniture or inside it. You might also have to deal with fungus that grows from termites depositing feces and other soil material.

Wild Animals

All sorts of wild animals live in and around your yard, and they can do a lot of damage to your furniture. Raccoons will scratch at it, rats and mice can chew on it, and birds can leave acidic droppings all over it.

All of these different things can damage your outdoor wooden furniture, which is why it is so important that you protect it properly. Refinishing it on a regular basis will give it the added protection it needs outside.

How to Refinish Outdoor Wood Furniture (Step by step)

1. Clean the Furniture

The first step is to clean the furniture. Whatever stain, oil, and sealer you are using will not bond properly to a dirty surface that has not been prepared properly. So, you need to remove all dirt, grease, and grime from the wood before doing anything else. If it isn’t that dirty, you can wipe it down with some warm water and that will be fine. But if there is a lot of tough stains, consider a pressure washer instead.

KRUD KUTTER KK32/2 Original Concentrated Cleaner/Degreaser, 32-Ounce, 2-Pack

Degreasers like Krud Kutter are excellent if you are not spraying the furniture down and you need to ensure that there is no grease left before sanding. Simple apply the Krud Cutter, let it do its work, and then wipe it down to remove residue and grease.

Once you have finished cleaning, it is crucial that you let the wood dry fully before you move on.

2. Sand the Surface

Next, you need to sand the surface of the wood. This removes the old finish so you have a clean surface to apply the new finish to. If the wood has weathered and turned grey, you can strip this layer off and reveal the healthy wood underneath.

Start with 120 grit sandpaper to remove the top layer and then use 240 grit to give a nice finish. Sand the entire piece of furniture until it is nice and smooth.

3. Clean away the Sanding Dust

If you apply stain or oil on top of sanding dust, you will get a horrible grainy finish, so don’t skip this step!

There are a few ways to clean sanding dust; you could use a brush to brush it all off and then get into the small crevices with a vacuum. Alternatively, you can use a damp cloth or a tack cloth to wipe it away. Just make sure that you are thorough because you can’t go back once you start applying the stain or oil.

4. Apply Wood Stain or Oil

Next, you need to apply either a wood stain or oil. Make sure that the surface of the furniture is clean and dry before doing this.

Wood stain is best if you want to quickly finish the wood and give it a nice protective layer. But you will need to apply a sealer after. Stain can be used on all types of wood.

Brush the stain on the entire surface, making sure that you get even coverage and avoid leaving brush marks. Let it sit for a few minutes to soak in, and then wipe off the excess. Allow it to dry until it is not sticky anymore and then repeat this process again.

Oil takes longer than stain because you need to apply 3 coats of oil before you move on. But you will have a better finish that delivers more protection without the need for any sealer after. Many wood oils are designed for specific wood types, like teak oil on teak furniture, etc.

RELATED: 5 Best Teak Sealers for Outdoor Furniture

However, you can get all-purpose oils that are suitable for most wood. The oil soaks into the wood itself and protects it, while stain simply creates a top layer, which then needs to be sealed. People often prefer wood oil because it gives you a great natural finish.

Apply oil with a brush or cloth, making sure to get into all of the cracks and crevices. Wipe away excess oil until no greasy residue remains, this can take some time so be patient! Let it dry overnight and repeat this process until you have a nice finish.

Wood Stains and Oils for Outdoor Use: 

5. Apply Clear Coat ProtectionVarathane 200241H Water-Based Ultimate Polyurethane, Quart, Satin Finish

If you want extra protection for your furniture, then consider applying a clear coat. This will keep dirt and stains away making it look like new again!

Clear coats are designed to be applied over wood stain once it is completely dry. There are a number of clear coats suitable for wood like spar urethane and varathane. The clear coats are normally oil-based because these create a protective barrier that is not too shiny.

You can find a full list of the best clear coats for outdoor wood here.

You can apply the clear coat with a brush, using the same method as you would when staining the wood. Alternatively, you can use a rag to apply it and then remove the excess. If you want to make life easier for yourself, consider using an HVLP paint sprayer. This is a great way to get the job done in half the time, and you get good even coverage too.

Follow these steps and your wooden furniture should be able to withstand the elements and you won’t notice any weathering. If you are just using oil, the protection does not last that long and you should consider reapplying every 3-4 months, or when the furniture starts looking dull. If you have stained and applied a clear coat, the finish will last much longer.

How Can You Prevent Outdoor Wood Furniture from Rotting?

If you want to prevent wooden furniture from rotting, then it needs to be treated with a water-repellent finish. Wood sealers will form a protective layer that stops rainwater from seeping into the wood and causing it to rot.

When the wood has already started to rot a little, you can still bring it back if you use a wood hardener before repairing any minor damage and sealing it again. However, this only works if you catch it early.

You should also try to keep furniture out of direct rain as much as possible, even if you have protected it with a sealer.

How Can You Prevent Outdoor Furniture from UV Sun Damage?

UV protection is very important if you want your outdoor furniture to look good over the years. Ultraviolet rays in sunlight cause the paint and color to fade, making it look dull.

When you are looking for products to finish your wooden furniture with, always check for UV protection. Clear coats like spar urethane offer this protection and prevent fading.

Again, think about where your furniture is placed and if it is in constant sunlight during the summer. Simply moving it into a shaded area when you are not using it can make a big difference.

How Can You Clean Mold and Mildew of Wood Furniture?

Mold and mildew are big problems when it comes to staining outdoor wood furniture because the spores can actually get into the grain of the wood, making them difficult to remove.

Sealing the wood and blocking out moisture will help prevent mold and mildew. You can also buy wood stain products with mildewcide in them. However, if you already have mold and mildew, you need to remove it before you finish the wood to protect it.

A simple bleach solution can remove mildew, or you can use a 1:1 ratio of vinegar and water. Make sure to rinse the wood well afterward using fresh water to stop the bleach or vinegar sitting on the wood for too long. Bear in mind that regular exposure to bleach can damage wood, so it needs to be very diluted and you shouldn’t do this too often. 

You can also buy a specially formulated mold and mildew cleaner if the problem is particularly bad. The fungicide ingredients will kill off any spores so the mold and mildew do not come back once you have sealed the wood.

When is it too late to Refinish Outdoor Furniture?

Often, you can repair damage and clean off mold before staining and sealing your furniture and it will look good as new. But you also have to recognize when it is too late.

A small amount of rot can be repaired but extreme rot that has eaten right through the wood is a lost cause. Check the furniture and consider whether it is safe to sit on and if there is more rot than wood, you should just replace it.

Termite infestations are another time when you should just throw the furniture out. Wood can be treated to kill termites, but this is not advisable if it has already eaten through the wood and infested the core. The furniture is damaged beyond repair already, even if you kill the termites.

Can You Fill in Holes and Chips on Outdoor Furniture?

Yes, small holes and chips on outdoor furniture can be repaired. There is no need to throw something out because it has minor superficial damage. If you clean and sand the area, you can use a good quality wood filler to fill the hole or crack. Once dried, you can stain or paint over it. Look for fillers that contain high levels of real wood fibers as these take the stain better and the repair will be less noticeable.

Can Refinished Outdoor Furniture Be Left Outside in the Winter?

Even though it is protected, it’s best to store your furniture in the winter, if possible. If you have a garage or shed to put it in, this will keep it in excellent condition ready for next year.

However, if storage is not an option and you have to leave outdoor furniture outside for the winter, you need to protect it from all the elements including sun damage, snow, rain, and wind. You can use a winter furniture cover to keep it in good condition.

Final Thoughts

Refinishing outdoor wood furniture is crucial if you want to keep it in good condition. It prevents fading, mold and mildew, and wood rot. Wood oil is a good choice, but it needs to be applied more regularly. For a more long-term solution, a good quality stain, sealed with spar urethane or varathane is best.

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