7 Tips for Flipping Outdoor Furniture and Making Your New Look Last

published Aug 4, 2023
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Flipping furniture to use it outdoors can be extremely rewarding: It’s a great way to make something old look new again, and it gives you the opportunity to create the outdoor space of your dreams on a budget. But there’s no point in putting your time and energy into a project when you’re not prepping it properly for longevity. There’s nothing worse than DIYing your absolute favorite outdoor chair, only for it to get ruined in the rain or sun, right?

Whether it’s a plain metal bistro table you scored on the cheap from IKEA or a wood bench you got secondhand, repainting outdoor furniture involves a bit more prep work to make sure that the pieces don’t immediately fade or crackle in the elements. Keep reading for seven tips from DIY experts on the best practices to flip outdoor furniture so your new look actually lasts. 

First, clean it with a high-pressure hose and soap.

“This method is effective for removing dirt, dust, and mildew from outdoor furniture,” interior designer and DIYer Casey DeBois explains. “However, it is important to use a mild soap and to avoid using too much pressure, as this could damage the furniture.” (Dawn dish soap is a safe and easy-to-find selection.)

Choose the right cleaning method for the type of furniture you’re working with. Some furniture made with more delicate materials, such as wicker, should not be cleaned with a high-pressure hose. Instead, use warm, soapy water to wipe down the more delicate furniture. Then, let it air dry or wipe it down with a dry cloth to ensure it’s ready for your next step. 

If there’s paint on the furniture, inspect its condition.

Don’t pick up the paint brush right away. It’s important to first inspect the condition of the old paint. “Look for any peeling, cracking, or rust,” says DeBois. If the paint is in good condition, you may be able to simply clean it and apply a new coat of paint. “However, if the old paint is peeling or rusted, you will need to remove it before applying new paint,” she explains. 

Prepare your furniture for a fresh coat of paint by sanding and priming.

If you’re looking to repaint your piece of furniture, DIYer and real estate agent Arlena Armstrong-Petock suggests sanding it to give it texture for new paint to grip to. She says using an electric sander will get the job done quicker, but using pieces of sandpaper will also work — it just takes a little longer. 

Alex Bass, designer and founder of Salon 21, purchased a piece online because it fit her space perfectly and it was affordable — but it was completely unfinished and the wood was untreated. “It needed to be fully sanded down with an electric sander before you can apply any sort of stain,” she explains.

After sanding, the standard is to wipe the wood down with water to get rid of debris and see the grain. “This process needs to be repeated several times until you get the desired texture (smooth all over) before staining,” says Bass. 

Once your piece of furniture is sanded down, it’s ready for primer. “A primer needs to be applied to coat the wood and lock in the color,” Bass shares. You can decide if you prefer a more matte finish or a glossier one and apply. 

Use paint that is specifically designed for outdoor furniture.

Exterior paint is more durable and won’t fade in the sun, which is exactly what your outdoor furniture needs to last once your finished product is complete. The kind of paint you’re using also depends on the type of furniture you’re flipping. A piece of furniture that’s made from plastic may be easier to paint with a formula that will adhere to plastic and hard-to-bond surfaces. If you’re working on a piece made of wicker or rattan, a spray paint would be easier to ensure you’re covering each inch of it, while ensuring the color will last. 

“Outdoor-grade stain or paint is specifically designed for use in outdoor environments,” DeBois explains. These products are typically more resistant to fading, peeling, and cracking than regular stain or paint. 

Consider the shape and size of your furniture before painting. 

Is your piece of furniture a wicker chair with a lot of grooves? Or a small, round wood table? It’s important to always consider the shape and size of the piece of furniture before buying your paint and supplies. When picking the brush type that best works for your project, it’s always a good idea to have one or two extra paint brushes in different sizes just in case any touch-ups are needed. 

DeBois says you should use a spray paint to achieve the most durable finish. “This will result in a more even application of the finish, which will make it less likely to fade, peel, or crack over time,” she explains.

To get a smooth finish, Armstrong-Petock recommends using a roller brush, but says a paint brush is always handy to have on hand to cover corners and hard-to-reach spots. 

Apply a clear sealant to protect the finish. 

Applying a sealant will help prevent the paint from fading, peeling, or cracking. This is extremely important, as your furniture won’t hold up due to the ever-changing weather conditions it’ll encounter without it. Look for something that specifies it’s for outdoor use.

Cover your furniture while you’re not using it.

While this seems like a tedious task, especially during the nicer months of the year, covering the furniture you flipped is the ultimate key to keeping it in good condition. Gentle upkeep will help, too: “Remove leaves from surfaces to avoid staining and sunspots,” says DeBois. If possible, she adds, it’s great to store those refinished pieces inside in the off-season.

While the sealant you applied will help slow down wear-and-tear and prevent damage to the furniture, taking extra care to protect these pieces will make them look better for even longer.