As fall begins to take hold, you might feel the impulse to close up shop on your outdoor spaces and hobbies. And you’re right on time: When the temperatures start to drop below freezing at night, you should protect your outdoor furniture, tools and equipment by covering them up or bringing them inside.
Outdoor furniture and tools are, of course, designed to be used outdoors. But many pieces of gear that Forbes Vetted recommends—including patio furniture and larger items like grills and smokers—are not designed to be left outside in the snow or cold temperatures for months on end without protection. Storing this gear properly is essential to keeping it safe from mildew, mold and pests like mice. Wicker, plastic and glass can also crack under extreme temperatures.
In this guide, you’ll learn how to store all kinds of items, including:
- Gardening tools
- Outdoor furniture
- Outdoor equipment, like lawn mowers
- Grills and smokers
As you prepare for winter, you might also consider donating or selling some of your used equipment to clear clutter. If you want to ensure that your outdoor furniture, garden tools and grills stay in good shape until spring, here are the steps you should take to store outdoor items properly.
How To Store Your Gear
Grills And Smokers
Make sure all of your outdoor cooking equipment is completely clean and dry before storing it, or you risk finding unpleasant surprises later on. Grills should be deep cleaned before winter to eliminate mold and bacteria (and to make it an inhospitable nesting place for animals). Remove all ash and any other debris, then spray the grill surface with canola or peanut oil to keep the metal from rusting.
Grills and smokers can be left outside as the temperature drops, as long as they have fitted covers. (Most grills and smokers come with protective covers; read the instructions on the manual for specific cleaning and storage instructions.) If your grill doesn’t come with a cover, you can use a closely fitted tarp with straps, or buy one separately. Check out Forbes Vetted’s recommendations for the best grills and the best pellet smokers, too.
Outdoor And Garden Equipment
Nancy Zafrani, general manager of Oz Moving & Storage, notes that it’s best to brush dirt and dust off all large outdoor equipment–including lawn mowers, edgers and wheelbarrows–before storing them for winter. You may also want to repair gear before putting it away, and you should remove gas tanks and batteries to avoid corrosion or a drain on expensive batteries, if applicable. Most high-powered garden tools should be stored inside a shed or garage once the temperature drops. Leaving them outside, exposed to dampness, can lead to rust and engine malfunctions.
Smaller garden tools with wooden handles should also be stored inside a shed or garage, in a bucket of sand. This helps remove moisture from the air so that the wood is less likely to develop mildew.
Most other small pieces of outdoor or yard equipment, like pool nets, camping supplies or garden lights, should ideally be in a garage, shed or attic, placed in storage bags or bins to keep them organized and protected from small animals. Store any electronics without batteries. Make sure to clean and dry any pool inflatables fully to prevent mold and mildew, and store them loosely. Rolling them up tight can weaken the seams and cause tears. For Forbes Vetted’s outdoor and garden recommendations, check out lists of the best robotic pool cleaners and the best pressure washers.
Outdoor furniture cushions can be vacuumed, and umbrellas should be washed with soap and water, then dried completely before being refolded. Large outdoor furniture, like benches, chairs and tables, will also benefit from a protective waterproof coating, especially if you plan to leave it outdoors all winter, where it may be exposed to excess moisture. Consider using teak oil or varnish for wood, and wax (without polishing agents) for plastic and light metals (like aluminum).
Synthetic wicker, treated teak and treated cedar furniture can withstand winter temperatures. Still, you’ll want to take protective measures: “If you can, put your outdoor furniture on pallets so it is off the ground and wrap it well with tarps,” Zafrani says. This prevents mildew and cracking due to moisture. “The most important thing is to try to keep it as dry as possible and protect it from dust and debris.”
Rocks or cement blocks will work if you don’t have wooden pallets. You’ll also want to check on your outdoor furniture throughout the winter; brush off ice and snow, and re-apply a water-repellant spray to wood furniture, as needed.
If you opt to bring smaller pieces of outdoor furniture, like cushions, inside, the one rule of the road is ‘temperature controlled.’
“Cooler is better than warm — you want to inhibit mold and mildew growth,” says Zafrani. She recommends using spaces that are, on average, between 55 and 60 degrees. To combat smells in a space you don’t enter much, she also suggests setting out a few open boxes of baking soda around the room.
“Any moisture will become mold and mildew in storage,” Zafrani warns. “If moisture is an issue in your personal storage area, a dehumidifier is a worthy investment that can help keep things from being musty.”
In my research, I found recommendations to put gear– especially softer items–somewhere that it can breathe, with consistent air movement, and keeping items out of direct sunlight whenever possible. An attic or basement can be ideal, as long as the space is safe to walk around.
Cushions may develop mildew if you put them in a plastic bag; instead, stack them in a closet or on a shelf during the winter months. Umbrellas should also be closed but loosely wrapped for storage. Check these items occasionally throughout the winter to shake off dust.
Finally, set up systems to deter pests from soft goods. Both Zafrani and Gabai recommend staying away from moth balls. Zafrani likes to scatter cedar chips, dried lavender, cloves, mint and Irish Spring soap shavings to keep away mice and other rodents. If you’d like to avoid the mess of loose herbs, she says you can tie them up in a cheesecloth. To shop Forbes Vetted’s outdoor furniture favorites, check out recommendations for the best patio furniture and the best patio umbrellas.
Adding shelving to your storage area is key for making space to put up gear during the wintertime, too. Gabai recommends keeping shelves along the perimeter; her favorite systems are metal racks with hooks for hanging bikes, beach chairs, garden tools, and anything else. You should generally avoid storing gear in cardboard boxes, which can attract rodents; aim for plastic bins with tight-sealing lids instead.
“You can buy stackable clear plastic drawers to store similar items in a visible but contained area,” says Gabai. “These are great for storing anything that does not require climate control, such as sports equipment and holiday decorations.”
Gabai also recommends keeping track of what you’ve stored: “Clearly number and label the boxes on all four sides. On your inventory list, create a master numerical index list with a brief description next to each number.”
Meticulous, proper storage can save you money and frustration, while lengthening the life of your possessions. And what should you do when winter ends?
“Unwrap it, shake it out, and wipe it down,” says Zafrani.