How to Use Your Indoor Furniture for Outdoor Living

updated Oct 20, 2022
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After a summer of outdoor hangs, you might feel like your outdoor space needs a little refresher. While we may be headed into fall, there are still plenty of warm days ahead—and plenty of opportunities to give your space a budget refresher before chilly weather sets in. One great way? Use indoor pieces that you already own to refresh your outdoor space.

Whether it’s bringing the perfect dining set outside to use on a patio or using a couch that has been collecting dust as a new addition to a deck, taking indoor furniture outdoors can be tricky. 

But for those pieces that just fit your vibe outside, it’s important to remember that the material of the furniture plus adding additional protection and cleaning are important steps. Here are four key points to take note of if you’re planning on moving things around.

1. Choose pieces made from outdoor-friendly material 

One of the most important factors in deciding if your indoor furniture can find a new home outside is figuring out what type of material it is made of and if that material will be destroyed by the rain, wind, and other weather that your area gets. 

“Aluminum is your best bet,” said Brandon Holmes, who works with his sister Brittany at With the Grain, a custom cabinetry and furniture business based in Califon, N.J. “I use aluminum for outdoor bases, and they seem to hold up great,” he says.

If you’re going the wood route, “pressure-treated lumber is the way to go,” Holmes says. But if you don’t like the look of pressure-treated lumber, then he recommends looking for pieces made with cedar or redwood. “They’re more expensive, but they have beautiful grain,” he says.

While you can use other types of wood, they’re likely to have a much shorter lifespan. However, you can help prolong it with proper sealing and coating.

2. Coat the top to seal and protect—or paint it!

If your piece is wood or another soft material, adding a protective coating could help it last longer. If you’re using clear spray paint, Holmes suggests three to four coats; with a polyurethane, one to two will do the trick. From there, if the surface is rough, you can smooth it out by using high-grit sandpaper from 400-1000 grit. Make sure to sand with the grain. 

As for the products to choose from, Holmes recommends using General Finishes Clear Outdoor Oil. “It seems to protect outdoor furniture nicely,” he says. Another less expensive product is Minwax Helmsman Urethane Spray, which you can pick up at your local hardware store.

It’s important to remember that a sealant won’t turn, say, pine into cedar—but it can help prevent mildewing and rotting.

Paints can also help prevent rust and corrosion in metal pieces. Make sure to look for paints made for metal for the best results.

3. Choose an outdoor-friendly fabric or re-do your piece 

One of the toughest parts about putting indoor furniture outside is using fabric that won’t get gross or show signs of wear. Inside, you don’t have wetness and other factors to contend with, so if you’re taking a favorite couch or chair out to the deck or patio, you should figure out if the fabric you have will hold up to the elements. Otherwise, you’re in for a DIY project!

There are a handful of options that you can use to recover a more delicate fabric that won’t hold up to outside weather. Solution-dyed acrylic, like fabrics made by Sunbrella, is the gold standard for outdoor use since it’s weather resistant and won’t fade over time. Cheaper options include vinyl (relatively tough and inexpensive but can get hot to the touch) or canvas (also inexpensive but can quickly get mildewy in warm, moist environments).

If you want your furniture to really go the extra mile, Karen Newhouse, an interior designer based in Chester, N.J., recommends Sunbrella. You’ll pay more upfront, but the redos won’t be as frequent.

4. Take care of your furniture with regular cleaning and maintenance 

Make sure not to neglect cleaning and care for your new “outdoor” furniture. Whether that’s wiping it down regularly to keep it in good shape or taking care of the fabric or cushions, the attention will help your piece last longer and withstand the elements.

To give outdoor furniture a good clean, Newhouse says that some mild soap and light water will do the trick. Use a soft cloth or an old t-shirt you can part with and give everything a good wipe down.  

Remember that water is hard on furniture, so when inclement weather is on the way, it’s a good practice to bring cushions and upholstered pieces inside. “Cushions still should not be left out in rainstorms,” Newhouse says. “While the fabric may hold up, the foam can break down.”

And while metal furniture can likely make it through the winter outdoors, once the weather starts to turn, the rest of your outdoor lounging pieces should come inside until spring. Then, you can dust them off and bring them back out to enjoy next summer, too.