Q: My wicker porch furniture is looking shabby. What’s the best way to repaint it? — A.V., Mt. Vernon.
A: As with all paint jobs, the boring part — prep — is important. You need to clean the furniture and remove any flaking paint. Rattan and wicker (which can be any of several woven plants) are resilient materials, so if your porch furniture is in good condition, you can clean it with a power washer, using cool water. If it’s antique, it may be made of paper wicker, a fiber that was commonly used from about 1900 until 1940, during the Chinese embargo on rattan. In that case, or if your pieces are delicate, clean them by hand.
Start by vacuuming with the brush attachment, and then use a stubby brush to get dirt from between the strands. Use a stiffer brush — or go gently with wire one — to remove any loose paint. Then wash the furniture with cool water and a mild detergent. Rinse it off with a mister, or a garden hose. Take care not to saturate the wicker, to avoid weakening the glue at the joints. Wait three or four days for the furniture to thoroughly dry before you paint.
Glue any loose strands back into place with wood glue; clamp the strand until the glue dries. Or use a glue gun for a faster fix.
Now for the fun part. The best method is to prime, and then top with an exterior-grade paint. There’s the usual debate about whether oil-based paints are better than latex, but in my experience, a good quality exterior latex holds up well, there are fewer fumes, and it’s easier to clean up. You decide.
Start with the piece upside down and paint all the visible bits. When it’s dry to the touch, turn it right side up and do the top. Apply the paint lightly, to avoid goops and drips. If you need two coats, allow plenty of drying time in between.
You can paint by hand, using a soft bristle brush, but if you’re doing several pieces of furniture, a spray gun will make the job go much faster. They’re fun to use, too. Practice on a big piece of cardboard or scrap wood first, to get the hang of it and to set the nozzle’s spray width and make sure the paint is at the right viscosity. Holding the gun 10 to 12 inches from the surface, spray first in one direction and then the other, overlapping slightly. Keep the spray gun pointed straight, rather than at an angle. Let the paint dry and cure for three or four days before using the furniture.
Aerosol spray paints are another option, but you’ll need a lot, and professional wicker restorers don’t recommend them anyway.
If you spray, make sure there’s good ventilation, and it’s advisable to wear a respirator mask. Last time I repainted my wicker, I waited for a still, warm, dry day, spread plastic tarps on the grass, and sprayed outdoors. A few bugs committed accidental suicide on the tacky paint, but it was easy to get them off.