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How To Maintain A Pergola

Whether made of wood, metal, or something else entirely, all pergolas benefit from proper maintenance.

Pergolas and other outdoor shading elements are a beautiful way to add style, visual interest, and function to an outdoor living space. From shading decks, to shielding outdoor kitchens and dining spaces, they’re as functional as they are nice to look at.

Pergolas can be made from a variety of materials and come at a range of price-points, but they all have one thing in common: All pergolas require some type of maintenance to ensure their longevity and keep them looking great for years to come.

That being said, the amount of work needed to keep your pergola in great condition does differ based on what material is used to construct it.

General Care

No matter what type of pergola you have, there are some general guidelines that should be adhered to in order to keep your structure looking its best.

Routine Cleaning

All pergolas, regardless of make or model, should be regularly cleaned. Not only does regular cleaning prevent build up, but it also improves the general appearance of the structure. Your pergola may shelter you and your family from elements like sun, wind, and rain, but it does so at its own expense. Thus, dirt and weathering is inevitable.


How To Clean a Pergola

A general blend of mild soap and water is enough to take care of most standard dirt and debris build up that may have accumulated on your structure. Simply wipe down and rinse clean. Avoid using harsh abrasives, as they can scratch and mar the finish of the structure, especially those made of metal or plastic finish materials. Soft bristle brushes should be enough to remove build up without disrupting finish.

It should be noted that some materials are more sensitive to others. While power washers are an excellent and convenient way to quickly clear dirt and debris from metal and vinyl style pergolas, they can do notable damage to natural wood constructions. The last thing you want is to destroy your installation during its first cleaning.

Keep Plants In Check

Many homeowners love using their pergola as a vining apparatus for natural plants. This can be a beautiful use of space and add greenery and additional shade to a hardscape area such as a stone patio. However, those with vining plants should take care to keep them trimmed and in check. Left to grow freely, they can damage your pergola and add additional weight that can compromise its structural integrity.

Inspect Regularly

As a rule of thumb, homeowners should keep an eye out for signs that their pergola may be in need of help. When caught early, issues such as mildew, water damage, or early signs of faded can be corrected. If left unchecked, these issues can result in serious damage that may force a replacement to the structure.

Wooden Pergolas

Wooden pergolas are the most popular material used in patio-cover constructions. While the type of wood used can vary, they are favored for their affordability and overall aesthetic appeal. There is something truly classic about enjoying the shade beneath a latticed roof of cedar.

Some of the most popular choices for wooden pergolas include redwood cedar, treated woods like pine, tropical hardwoods, and fir. Wood offers customizable design, beautiful finishes, and budget-friendly value. However, wood is a natural material, and just as is seen in hardwood decking, is susceptible to damage and aging without proper maintenance. 

Staining & Sealing

One of the most frequently required protective measures taken to lengthen the lifespan of a wooden pergola is scheduled staining and sealing. Over time, wood will crack, and protective finishes will wear thin. This leaves the wood vulnerable to accelerated fading, rot, and splintering. When you begin to notice your wood has begun to wear, it’s likely time to seal it. 

To stain and reseal your pergola, ensure the wood is clean. From there, the recommended stain and sealant for your structure should be applied. Take care not to over or under-apply the product. Too little can result in ineffective protection, and too much can ruin the overall look of your pergola. Done correctly, sealing and staining can restore fading and help waterproof and protect your pergola against the elements.

If you are not confident in your ability to perform this routine maintenance, it may be worth hiring a professional. Staining and sealing may need to be performed every 1-3 years in order to ensure the longevity of your structure.

Increased Cleaning

Unlike metal or vinyl material, wood’s susceptibility to damage means that more frequent cleaning may be required. Left unchecked, neglect can lead to irreversible damage. While other materials may only need cleaning annually, if at all to ensure structural integrity, wooden pergolas should be deep cleaned at least once a year, with casual cleanings occurring more frequently.

Owners should take care not to use harsh stripping cleaners that could disrupt the finish of the wood. Mild soap and water is all that is necessary to yield a great result.

Location Matters

The amount of work and amount of wear your wooden pergola will experience is highly reliant on its location and surroundings. Pergolas experiencing daily, full sun will fade a higher rate than those in more shaded environments.

Similarly, those experiencing frequent precipitation or strong season climate patterns can expect this type of weather to take a greater toll on their structure.If you do not have the time or energy into servicing a wooden pergola, it may be best to opt for a different, lower maintenance material.

Metal Pergolas

Metal pergolas can be a great way to add modern design interest to an outdoor space. Commonly used metals include steel and aluminum. These materials are attractive to many homeowners for their durability and visual interest. They’re resistant to fading and weather and can be a great choice for those unwilling to take on the care of wooden alternatives. However, this doesn’t mean they are maintenance free.

Keep Dry When Possible

Metal is a durable material, but even aluminum and metal are not completely impervious to wear. As many already know, metal and water don’t always play nicely together. Keeping your pergola dry can help prevent degradation and the build up of rust. Wipe your pergola dry after cleaning, or in the event of major precipitation to avoid damage. For this reason, those in areas of high precipitation or yearly snowfall may find other pergola finishes a more realistic approach as lingering moisture can take a toll with time.

Touch Up Discoloration and Scratching

Though metal is unlikely to fade, it is vulnerable to minor discoloration and scratching. Keep an eye on your structure and look out for scratches and areas of discoloration. Fixing these issues as they appear can help prevent major repairs later on down the road.

Protect and Seal

Just as you would with wood, metal can benefit from specialized sealants and protectant as well. Auto wax and silicone sprays can be applied annual to guard against the effects of pitting, corrosion, and other unfavorable wear. Application is simpler than sealing wood, and can likely be done yourself in a few hours. However, this short time investment will keep your metal pergola looking great for years to come.

Vinyl or Plastic Pergolas

While less popular than wooden or metal pergola designs, vinyl and plastic material pergolas do exist. Often purchased cheaply from sites such as Wayfair and Costco, these are easy to assemble yourself and require very little maintenance. However, they also offer less room for customization and can break easily. In other words, when it comes to material, you get what you pay for.

There’s not much to say in the way of special maintenance of this style of the pergola. However, to make even the cheapest models last longer, it’s wise not to leave them alone altogether. Left to its own devices, vinyl can accumulate dirt, grime, and even grow mildew and mold. 

Regular cleanings are still necessary. A simple scrubbing with soap and water can stop the nasty build-up before it becomes a problem. In some cases, covering your structure during the winter months can help you get more from your purchase.

It’s Worth The Effort

With a small amount of annual effort, you can guarantee that your pergola remains a place to relax and enjoy your outdoor space for years to come. While each material comes with its own variety and extent of upkeep, it’s worth the work to ensure your investment stays looking its best and doesn’t require expensive repairs later on down the road.

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