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Periodically cleaning dust, debris and pollen off your patio furniture will make it more inviting to spend time outdoors. No matter what kind of furniture you have, proper care will also help to extend its life, thereby protecting your investment. Here are some tips to keep outdoor furniture in top shape.

- Wrought iron. To help repel water and prevent rust, treat wrought iron pieces with a silicone spray. Turn pieces upside down to thoroughly coat undersides that would normally be prone to rust. When entertaining and using wrought iron, try to avoid deep scratches and other blemishes that mar the surface. If you live in a wet climate, consider cast aluminum as an alternative to iron -- it has a similar appearance, is lighter weight and is virtually maintenance free -- no rust.

- Wood. Unless you've invested in expensive teak furniture, most wooden furniture benefits from an initial application of stain, paint or water seal. Check the label on the product you use to determine how often the treatment should be repeated. Even cedar, which is often left to weather naturally, will last considerably longer if treated.

- Outdoor wicker. Because the woven surface of wicker provides so many crevices for dirt and pollen to become embedded in, a periodic rinsing with the garden hose is especially important. A mild soap may be helpful, especially before the first use in spring. Pieces should then be placed where they will dry quickly in the sun.

- Plastic. One of the most durable and maintenance-free choices for outdoor furniture, plastic is easily cleaned with a mild dish detergent and a hose. When you purchase plastic or other synthetic furniture, ask if the color goes throughout the material -- this eliminates the run-down look that surface scratches can impart to furniture. Over time, the UV rays of sunlight will cause plastic to deteriorate. Using plastic in shaded sites will help prolong its life.

- Cushions and umbrellas. Most of these today are made of acrylic, a synthetic fiber that has the look and feel of canvas but is more resistant to sun-fading and mildew. Clean acrylic fabrics with soapy water and rinse with a hose. If mildew is present, use a solution of one part bleach to two parts soapy water, or use a commercial product that¡¦s meant to remove and prevent mildew (like the ones you use in your bathroom).