The 3-Ingredient Homemade Cleaner I Use On My Outdoor Furniture and Planters

published May 17, 2021
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Credit: Lauren Kolyn

I know why they call it “spring.” It’s because the weather is finally warm enough to inspire me to spring off the sofa and spend my lounging time outdoors. So far this season, I’ve had the pleasure of spending a few sunny afternoons on my fenced-in patio reading books on my lounge chair — and a few is enough to notice how filthy everything has gotten since last year.

Outdoor surfaces (like your furniture, fences, and planters) collect a nasty mixture of filth: Dirt, mold, mildew, pollen, bird shit. It seems to all mix together like some sort of supervillain creation and become an impenetrable film that covers every inch of your outdoor space. Even my powerwasher won’t cut through it sometimes.

But I’ve been using a three-ingredient cleaner that does the trick perfectly. It includes two common but powerful cleaners you already have at home: foaming hand soap and white vinegar.

Credit: Taryn Williford

Homemade Outdoor All-Purpose Cleaner:

  • 1 cup white vinegar
  • 2 cups water
  • 2-3 pumps of foaming hand soap

One catch: You want to make sure your hand soap is detergent-based (typically you’ll see a “sulfate” in the ingredients), and not based with castile soap (like Dr. Bronners) or other natural soaps. Castile soap doesn’t mix well with vinegar.

Your mixture doesn’t have to be exactly this ratio — mine sure isn’t. I mix it in a bucket outside, splashing white vinegar into the bucket first, then trying to double that amount with water from the hose so I get roughly two parts water for every one part vinegar. Then pump a few pumps of the soap in after and slosh it all around with my sponge.

Credit: Taryn Williford

Here’s what makes this cleaner so good outdoors:

  • White vinegar is a mild acid that does a great job of cutting through mineral deposits, like limescale, that may have collected on your outdoor surfaces. And it also can be used to kill and remove mold and mildew — like that lovely green patina on your terracotta planters. Vinegar can also help battle rust or oxidation that builds up on metal surfaces.
  • Foaming hand soap acts as a surfactant in this mixture — it helps bind to any dirt that comes off the surface and washes it away with the wash water. The ingredients in foaming hand soap aren’t much different than what you’d find in any other surface detergent, including dish soap. (And dish soap can be swapped in for the foaming hand soap here, too.) But because it’s made for skin contact and has that airy formula, it’s gentler for your painted and plant-adjacent surfaces.

When it comes to applying it, you just dip your sponge, brush, cloth, or other tool into the mixture and wipe or scrub away. Then rinse with fresh water and enjoy your clean space.