Your deck or patio is an amazing asset for family fun in warm weather. If you live in a climate with cold winters, however, you’ll need to plan for how to protect it from the nasty conditions that winter brings. Fortunately, a few relatively simple steps are all most people need to safeguard their deck or patio in cold weather. Then, when everything’s starting to thaw out again in the spring, you’ll be ready to jump right back into outdoor fun! Here are five simple steps that are key for winterizing your deck or patio.

1. Put away as much outdoor furniture as you can and cover the rest. 

Winter weather can inflict a lot of damage on patio furniture. To keep it safe, move as much of it as possible into a sheltered storage area like a shed or garage. If you don’t have room for all of it, protect it with durable waterproof coverings. A tarp can be a cost-effective way to go, although some types of gear should have a purpose-built cover, such as a grill cover for your grill.

Before you store or cover it, give the furniture a good cleaning so that dirt doesn’t sit on it all winter. Remove any cushions from the furniture and bring them inside for the season. Grill owners should make sure to disconnect the propane cylinder in their gas grill or remove the wood pellets from the hopper of their pellet grill.

Of course, some people use their patio furniture regularly during the winter, especially folks with fire pits. If that’s you, it’s important to have furniture that can stand up to the elements. Four-season patio furniture is made from rugged materials like teak wood and designed to withstand snow and ice, although it’s still best to cover it when not in use.

2. Clean your deck thoroughly.

If you’re not keen on dirt, grime and mildew becoming permanent features of your deck or patio, get them off before winter starts! Wet winter weather will freeze it all in place and stain your finish as the grime gets absorbed into all of the nooks and crannies. This is most urgent for wooden decks, but all deck and patio materials can benefit from a good cleaning.

For most homeowners, the best way is to start with a thorough sweeping and shop-vac job to remove loose debris and dead leaves. Depending on your materials, finish and level of dirt, the next step can vary. In many cases, a garden hose, a scrub brush and a mixture of water with vinegar or dish soap will do the trick.

If you have serious dirt going on, however, it might be time to look into pressure washing your outdoor area, whether you’re doing it yourself or hiring a professional. You can also look into specialized deck cleaning products, although it’s important to choose one designed for your deck material and stain type.

3. Stain and seal your wooden deck before winter weather arrives. 

If you have a wooden deck, fall is the perfect time to put on a new coat of two-in-one stain and sealer. The milder temperatures and (usually) lower humidity are perfect for applying sealer, and you’ll maximize the protective benefit of the sealer by applying it fresh before winter hits. If you’ve got a brand new deck that you’ve been waiting to seal, it’s especially important to get it done before winter.

Check weather reports and look for a run of three to four days with a clear, dry forecast above 50 degrees. (A full week is even better.) If your deck is in direct sunlight, try to choose an overcast day. UV rays can make the stain/sealer dry too quickly, leading to poor penetration and an uneven appearance. Remember also that many stain products recommend a second coat, so check the instructions of the product you’re using.

4. Turn off outdoor running water. 

If your deck or patio includes features with outdoor running water, such as fountains or an outdoor kitchen kit with a sink, drain and disconnect them before winter. Water can easily freeze in the pipes and cause them to burst, giving you an expensive problem that you’ll have to deal with in the spring.

Don’t forget about your garden hose spigot. Start by turning off the spigot’s shut-off valve inside your home, and then drain and remove the hose. Once everything is disconnected, turn on the spigot for a few seconds to clear out any water that’s currently sitting in the pipes. For maximum protection, consider installing insulated faucet covers.

One thing you may not need to winterize is a hot tub. Most hot tubs are designed to be operated in winter. If you’ll be using it regularly during the colder months, there’s usually no need to winterize. That said, if you won’t be using your hot tub for several months (if it’s in your vacation home, for example), you should shut down and winterize it according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

5. Stock up on supplies for safely clearing out snow and ice.

Using rock-salt-based deicer compounds is one of the biggest mistakes that deck owners make during the winter. Rock salt can damage sealants and create tiny fissures, both on wooden decks and concrete patios. Instead, consider one of the variety of ice melt alternatives, such as magnesium chloride and calcium chloride, that are on the market now.

For similar reasons, you don’t want to use a metal shovel when removing snow from a deck or even from a concrete patio. The shovel blade can easily damage the finish, and you might not even realize it until you’ve got a scuffed and scarred deck come spring. Instead, get a durable plastic snow shovel and be sure that it doesn’t have a metal tip. A push broom can also be an effective tool for clearing out freshly fallen snow.