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June 2008

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Caring for Patio Umbrellas

Keep your patio umbrella in tip-top shape with advice from outdoor fabric- and umbrella-designer Alison Childress


Once summer heat sets in, a patio umbrella is practically mandatory for enjoying lunch pool-side or iced tea in the garden. Tending to yours year-round means you won’t spend the first sultry day of the season washing off winter’s muck, or worse yet, shopping for a new umbrella altogether. For advice on care and cleaning, we turned to Charleston local Alison Childress, who owns WW & Co., creator of some of the sunniest outdoor umbrellas on the market. 1. Choose fabrics carefully: Avoid materials that fade easily in the sunlight, such as cotton or linen. “We recommend an acrylic fabric with some topper ventilation,” says Childress. “Sunbrella by Glen Raven is the best for preventing fading, mold, mildew, and general wear and tear.” A well-cared-for umbrella in a quality material will last five to 10 years. 2. Keep it clean: With acrylic umbrellas, mold and mildew will grow on the dirt, rather than on the fabric. To thwart grunge, “wash your umbrella at the beginning and end of the summer season,” says Childress. “First, open the umbrella and lay it on its side. After hosing down the fabric, lightly scrub with detergent and water, paying particular attention to heavily soiled areas.” Rinse, stand it up, and let it dry in the sun. For monthly maintenance, it pays to sweep or vacuum away dirt, pollen, and dust. 3. Mind the weather: During heavy winds and storms, store your umbrella inside to prevent the fabric from ripping. Lower the umbrella when it is not in use to protect both the structure and fabric from damage. 4. Seek strong frames: Childress tells us that glued and pieced frames may break under strain from the weather. She recommends well-built aluminum or hardwood such as teak, which has natural oils to help keep it durable in exposed locations. As for bases, “A cast-iron or granite base is best for supporting the top-heavy umbrella,” says Childress. Without muscle from below, your umbrella won’t match up to blustery weather.




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