Aluminum Patio Furniture. Freshly unwrapped, they are eye-catching, but soon they start being an eye-sore.
We know, a fresh aluminum surface is very lustrous. This aspect, when paired with the lightness of the material makes aluminum a viable option for building furniture. Aluminum patio furniture gives off a premium look and feel. But with time, you lose the premium look due to oxidation.
This post shall emphasize on the following points:
- Oxidization of aluminum
- The oxide removal process
- Methods of oxide removal
- Protecting aluminum against external factors
What happens to aluminum when oxidized?
Aluminum is a very reactive metal and forms a layer of oxide over its surface when exposed to the atmosphere. This thin oxide layer protects the aluminum from subsequent corrosion. It makes the aluminum pretty much non-reactive to outer conditions. Without the oxide layer, the aluminum would actively react to surrounding elements and be prone to corrosion.
Though aluminum oxide is excellent concerning the material’s health, it does not help its aesthetic aspect.
That said, the extent of alkalinity or acidity of surroundings significantly affect the corroding behavior of aluminum alloys. Meaning, alkaline and acidic conditions are more likely to cause aluminum corrosion but not always do so.
Aluminum corrosion may occur in these lower and higher pH conditions. However, if the oxide layer is somehow removed, the reaction rate bumps up massively in case of alkaline surroundings. It eventually leads to pitting. On the contrary, oxidized aluminum reacts aggressively in an acidic environment.
In short, a new aluminum surface is more prone to corrosion in alkaline conditions while oxidized aluminum is vulnerable to corrosion in an acidic environment.
Now that you know what happens to your aluminum patio furniture out in the backyard, it is time to focus on a solution to bring back its shine.
The process of cleaning oxidized aluminum
Your patio furniture‘s dull appearance is down to the oxide formation. Once you get rid of this oxide layer, you can restore the shine.
Concerning removing the oxide layer from the aluminum surface, there are quite a few ways.
Let’s have a closer look at them.
The cleaning process
The entire process of cleaning the oxide layer from the aluminum surface boils down to three crucial steps:
Concerning tools and cleaning products, you shall need the following things:
- An old rag
- Soft-bristled brush
- A vessel
- Cleaning product (natural/commercially available)
Pre-treatment involves preparing the aluminum surface for cleaning while post-treatment finishes off the entire process.
First, you need to get rid of the loose dust and dirt settled over the surface.
- Wet down the furniture surface.
- Then, apply the soap solution over the furniture. For this procedure, you could use a spray bottle. Alternatively, you could soak an old rag in a vessel containing soap solution and wipe it over the surface of furniture. Let it sit for a minute.
- Lightly agitate the surface with a brush or use a cloth to remove the loose dirt and debris.
- After agitation, wash the furniture with water.
Let the furniture dry to prepare it for treatment.
The pre-treatment will remove most of the loose dirt. After this procedure, you need to use something that works on the oxide layer. Here you have got options; either you could go for home-made (natural) or commercially available cleaning products.
Natural cleaning products include vinegar, lemon juice, and cream of tartar (potassium bitartrate).
The process with
- Soaking a piece of cloth in vinegar (vinegar concentrate, not a solution)
- Wiping it over the oxide layer
- Agitating the oxidation with a brush
- Wiping off the surface with a damp cloth soaked in water
Lemon juice involves:
- Preparing a solution (1-part water to 1-part lemon juice)
- Applying it over the oxidation
- Wiping the surface with a cloth
Cream of tartar requires:
- Putting some cream over a wet piece of cloth
- Applying it over the oxidized furniture surface with the cloth
- Wiping away the surface with another clean cloth
Note: For wiping after cleaning, always use a fresh piece of fabric, preferably microfiber as it is soft and removes the most amount of dirt. (click here to get a set for cheap)
Commercial cleaning products are specially made for removing the oxide layer over the aluminum surface.
Here’s a video showing the use of silicon spray on aluminum furniture
The following video is a walkthrough for using Star Brite Ultimate Aluminum Cleaner and Restorer
Application and usage aspects are product-specific. You will have to refer the manufacturer’s directions for proper use of the product.
After cleaning the aluminum surface of the furniture, you should give it proper rinsing with water, especially when using chemical products. Rinsing the furniture with water removes any chemical residue from the use of commercial products.
Wipe the aluminum surface dry after rinsing to soak up any accumulating water which could initiate corrosion.
Regular cleaning of your aluminum patio furniture is necessary for it to have that out-of-showroom shine. That said, you can never underestimate the impact of protecting the aluminum surface. Not only does it allow for corrosion prevention, but also ensures the aluminum retains its look for a longer time.
The most common and easiest way of protecting an aluminum surface is providing an additional layer of protection over its surface.
Thus, painting and anodic coating are options. But, if you are looking for cheaper alternatives, metal polish and wax will also let you achieve the same, albeit the results might not be that long-term as compared to the earlier methods.
Painting aluminum isn’t an easy task as it does not provide an appropriate surface for paint adhesion. However, there’s a way.
You can use an etching primer to get around this issue. Unlike a regular primer, an etching primer cuts into the aluminum surface while providing an appropriate adhesion surface for the paint to stick.
After cleaning and applying etching primer over the aluminum layer, your patio furniture shall need layers of base paint, followed by a clear coat to provide a lasting finish.
A polish contains abrasives that, on rubbing, remove a small layer from the top surface of the metal. Removing the top layer reveals a new layer which gives that new metal look.
Though a viable option, frequent polishing could compromise the structural integrity of the aluminum (or any material).
The little material removal, when cumulated over a long time, results in a significant amount of material removed, which negatively affects the structure.
Waxing, unlike polishing, adds a layer of wax to the surface to protect the underlying layer from the external factors. While polishing enhances the look of your aluminum patio furniture, waxing shall help to retain the look.
We advise pairing polishing and waxing as it can help your aluminum patio furniture to sustain their aesthetic appeal.
Anodizing is another way of protecting aluminum from environmental conditions. This process makes the aluminum surface inert to react to external acidic or alkaline factors.
Anodizing aluminum (or any metal) increases the thickness of the existing oxidation layer (responsible for protecting the aluminum surface below). Thickening the oxide layer results in increased protection of aluminum from environmental factors.
Not only cleaning but protecting your aluminum furniture from corrosion is essential, which the above methods can help you achieve.
Some things to note
- Regular cleaning is an underrated act. If you clean your furniture periodically, there’s an increased chance of it lasting for a long time. Regular cleaning shall reduce dirt and grime accumulation, which have the potential for starting corrosion. So, with periodic cleaning, not only do you help in sustaining the look but also prevent corrosion.
- Some industrial cleaners have chemicals like ammonia and bleach, which react with aluminum and result in its degradation. Hence, always look for the composition of the product before you use it and ensure that it is safe to use with aluminum. (click here for aluminum chemical compatibility chart)
A fresh aluminum surface has a shiny appeal, which isn’t a sustained one. The dull appearance comes from the aluminum oxide layer, which is formed on the surface. This oxidation protects the aluminum from degradation due to exposure to external factors.
However, this layer is very thin, and your aluminum furniture getting subjected to harsh weather conditions, slowly but surely damages this oxide layer making it vulnerable to corrosion.
You should not wait until the furniture shows signs of corrosion and instead work on preventing it.