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Your Place: Getting patio furniture spruced up for summer

Question: We bought patio chairs several years ago. We leave them out of doors year-round, and the material has become discolored. Is there a way to clean them? No holes or any other problems.

Question: We bought patio chairs several years ago. We leave them out of doors year-round, and the material has become discolored. Is there a way to clean them? No holes or any other problems.

Answer: Let's talk about cleaning more than just your chairs, if we may, since summer starts this weekend, and it's time to play outdoors.

To clean woven furniture, you'll need to get into and around those intricate weaves. And that requires a variety of brushes - a new, rather than used, toothbrush (stiffer bristles); a small paintbrush with bristles cut down by half, to make them stiffer but not sharper; and a bristle brush with medium bristles.

Some experts recommend sharpening a dowel to pick out bits of dirt and debris, but the best tools are already sharpened - try the wooden skewers used to make shish kebab.

After you have gotten the gunk and grime out of the weaves, vacuum a wicker piece thoroughly. Then, wash it using minimal amounts of a solution that is two tablespoons of ammonia to two gallons of water. Clean in sections from top to bottom, then dry the wicker quickly to prevent it from warping. Lay the piece on a clean canvas drop cloth; tip it so the tighter weaves are on top and the looser on the bottom, so the moisture runs down and away quickly. Keep the weaves straight, so they don't shrink.

If mere cleaning isn't enough, sand and repaint (following the manufacturer's suggestions). Depending on the piece, spray paint may give better coverage in less time.

For regular aluminum chairs, grab a plastic scrub brush and dishwashing detergent at full strength and then scrub, scrub, scrub. Rinse thoroughly, then let dry.

For coated-aluminum pieces, experts also recommend full-strength dishwashing detergent, but using a sponge instead. Rinse completely, dry with a soft cloth, and then rub on car wax to polish, avoiding the fabric. If you get wax on the fabric, clean it quickly. Buff the metal after it dries.

Take a look at your old plastic furniture. Is it worth keeping another year?

If the chairs cost $2 each 10 years ago, you can find sturdier and nicer ones for about the same price today. But if you opt to keep them, wash the pieces with three tablespoons of powdered laundry detergent (or oxygenated bleach such as OxiClean) mixed in a gallon of warm water. A scrub brush will work, but avoid stiff bristle brushes, which can scratch or gouge the plastic surface. Let the solution soak in for a few minutes. Rinse thoroughly, then dry.

Check the label for the manufacturer's suggestions. If cushions or seat webbing are washable, use warm, soapy water or a foam cleaner. Apply with a sponge, rinse and dry quickly.

Wrought-iron furniture tends to rust, which is why it should always be covered if left outside in winter. If corrosion has already begun, use a wire brush on the metal lightly, to remove the rust but not the paint. Naval jelly, available at home centers and hardware stores, also can dissolve rust; some products become a primer that lets you apply protective paint in 24 hours. Rust stains can be removed with fine steel wool dipped in kerosene. Wear protective gloves and safety glasses and apply in the open, away from fire. To get into the joints, disassemble the furniture.

Got a mildewed patio umbrella? Open it and lay it on its side, then clean with oxygenated bleach in warm water - though you should check the manufacturer's care suggestions (chlorine bleach will fade acrylics). Use a soft-bristle brush on one section at a time; rinse with clean water and let dry.

Gail Short of Virginia offers a possible solution to a recent question about uneven heating and cooling in a tri-level:

When we moved in to our home eight years ago, we replaced the original 1970s heating and cooling system. We put in one heat pump and a three-zone system. Each floor has its own thermostat and panels in the ductwork that open and close according to which floor requires heat or air. Everything is controlled through a small box in a closet that oversees the whole operation. This has brought us great comfort and lower energy bills all these years. As I am always looking for ideas that help me out, I thought you might like to know and pass it along.