A well-made playset is a backyard staple. It offers kids a safe place to expend excess energy and indulge in imaginative play. But you will feel better about them running amok on that playset if it looks as safe and secure as the kids climbing on it sound.
What’s more, a restored playset not only enhances creative play but can be integrated into your backyard as a feature to be aesthetically appreciated, making it more than a source of innovative fun.
And while restoring a playset can be a lot of work, it’s not complicated work. Provided you’re prepared to invest the time and energy in restoring that playset, the result more than justifies the means. The playset will look better, be safer, and your kids and their friends will spend more time on it than ever. With a little elbow grease, you can easily extend the useful life of your playset and protect your investment.
Tools You Need to Restore a Playset
Before you set out to restore your backyard playset, you’ll want to make sure you have the right tools on hand. Playsets in need of restoration suffer everything from splinter damage to rust and peeling paint, so the right tools are essential.
To restore your playset, you will need:
- Pressure washer
- Paint sprayer
- Spray can
- Bench grinder
- Replacement nuts and bolts as needed
- Safety goggles
Materials and Supplies You Need to Restore a Playset
You will also need a variety of supplementary materials to fully restore your playset. These include:
- Spray paint
- Paint primer
- Stainer and sealant
- Replacement swing chains and seats
- Plastic or paper bags to keep hardware well organized
Step-By-Step Process for Restoring Your Wooden Playset
Restoring a playset can be a long, involved process. But follow these steps and you’ll have a fully restored, working playset in no time.
Remove All the Accessories and Major Hardware
The first step to restoring your playset is to disassemble everything. Start with the plastic parts of the playset. They should come off easily, but depending on how old the playset you’re restoring is, you may find resistance from the threaded inserts holding the plastic in place.
In that case, it may be necessary to use a bench grinder to coax the rusted threads loose. You’ll want to plan to replace those screws and bolts when you’re putting things back together, so hang onto rusty hardware to find the proper replacements. In fact, keep all hardware well organized in plastic bags and clearly marked.
Once you’ve removed the extraneous parts of the playset, take a look at what’s left. You’re looking for warped, rotted, and damaged wooden boards. Remove those as you see them. Ultimately, you’ll replace them later, and there’s no sense treating and pressure washing them when you don’t need to.
That leaves any screens and windows your playset features. These are typically held in place by screws, and a few good turns in the right direction with a screwdriver should sort them out.
Finally, you’ll want to dismantle the swings. It’s not strictly necessary, but the metal chains are prone to rust, and plastic chains to growing sticky and gungy. Either way, it’s worth removing them for closer inspection and a thorough overhaul.
Pressure wash everything
Playset broadly dismantled, you can start the restoration work. The first step is to pressure-wash everything. You’ll also want to give yourself a few days of clear weather to do this part. That way you can pressure wash, let dry, and seal within a few days.
The severity of the accumulated grime on the playset you’re restoring affects how much and what kind of cleaner you supply the pressure washer with. Wooden playsets, in particular, can mildew, and in that case, an undiluted multipurpose cleaner administered via pressure washer should get the job done.
However, for less battered playsets, you can dilute the multipurpose cleaner with water. We use a one-to-one ratio, but you can vary that as you feel circumstances dictate.
Once that’s done, it’s a case of feeding the pressure washer’s siphon into the cleaner and connecting your garden hose to the pressure washer.
If you don’t own a pressure washer, there’s no reason to rush out and buy one. It’s good odds you may not have cause to use it again once the playset is restored. If that is the case, it’s possible to rent a pressure washer for this project.
Whether you own or are renting a pressure washer, remember to wear goggles while operating the machine. They’ll protect you from overspray and extraneous droplets.
It’s also worth testing the solution on those rotted boards you removed first. It will give you an idea of the potency of your solution and its effect on the playset. Additionally, it may also save you unwittingly doing more harm than good.
Once you’re sprayed the playset with a multipurpose cleaner, let it sit for approximately five minutes. It’s probably easiest to work from top to bottom of the set, but that’s a matter of taste.
After the solution has had time to sit, you can get to the business of spraying the playset. How much pressure you apply will vary depending on the degree and persistence of the grime and mildew present.
Wood treated, you can move on to spraying the screens and windows. After that, sit back and let the playset dry out over the next couple of days.
Repaint and Update Your Playset’s Accessories and Major Hardware
However, leaving the playset to dry doesn’t mean you have to sit idly by. This is the perfect opportunity to get to work on restoring the playset’s accessories.
Start with Loose Hardware
How much work you need to put in depends on the state of the accessories. That said, sanding them down is a good place to start. Even with a protective coating, the paint on most playset accessories fades with time. Sanding is an effective way of restoring them to basics before you further embellish them.
Once you’ve sanded the accessories to your satisfaction, you can start painting. For best results, we recommend three coats of spray paint in the color of your choosing. It can match the original, or you can take this opportunity to try out something new.
When the paint has dried, it’s time to add the gloss. It’s a minor detail, but it helps protect your playset accessories from the wear and tear of the elements.
Work on the Swings
When you are confident that the loose and plastic hardware is thoroughly treated, move onto the swings. Even with plastic chains, the bolts and screws holding the playset swings in place are prone to rust. If it’s just a matter of nuts and bolts, they’re easily replaced.
However, if you’re dealing with a whole metal chain, it’s worth doing a bit more sanding to get the loose rust off if there is just a little. If the whole metal chain is rusted out, I wouldn’t even bother removing the rust and would just replace the entire chain. Swing set chains are pretty cheap, so this replacement part shouldn’t cost you much.
If you opt for the cleaning route, when you feel you have removed the rust, it’s time to start applying the primer. Follow it up with a coat of aluminum-colored spray paint, and the chains for your swing will look good as new.
But not all chains are metal, and plastic swing chains come with their own problems. The biggest of these is the sheer amount of gunk they accrue over time. There are a variety of ways to fix this, but if your playset has been languishing for years, then almost nothing will work long-term.
We found an effective workaround was to recover the plastic chain. To do this, you’ll need:
- Heat shrinkable tubing
- Propane torch or heat gun
Gear assembled, cut enough tubing to recover the plastic. That done, use the propane torch or heat gun to shrink the tubing around the chain. The result is a restored, pliable chain for your swing set.
Another option is to recover the chains using an old garden hose. The rubber is bendable, and if you have an old hose going spare, it’s a great way to repurpose it.
If you don’t feel comfortable working with heat guns, replacing the chains is always an option. It all comes down to how much you want to invest in restoring your playset.
Finally, you have to paint and gloss the swing seats. However, with old, cracked seats, it’s often easier to replace them since the cracks show through the varnish.
Repair Or Replace Any Wooden Boards That Need it
With the accessories taken care of, it’s time to get to work on restoring the playset itself. By now, you’ve removed any rotted or warped boards alongside the accessories. But that leaves behind gaping and unsightly holes in the playset that you’ll need to cover up.
As you replace the rotted boards, take a good look at the rest of the playset. Pressure washers can be hard on wood, and you may notice additional splintering and dented edges to what was there previously. If you’re new to using a pressure washer, then this is particularly applicable.
Luckily, it’s easily solved. Get out the sandpaper again and thoroughly sand down any rough or splintered boards as you encounter them. When you’ve done that, you can start sanding and finishing the replacement boards.
The wood you use to replace the pre-existing playset boards is up to you and will be determined by wood type and your budget. Some people value matching the original playset wood, while others are content to pick up inexpensive wood from the hardware store. The choice is yours; Provided you treat the wood well, it minimally impacts the end result.
Wood selected and sanded, the final touch is to round off the edges with a router. The rounded corners allow for safer play and fewer injuries.
Stain the Playset
Boards sanded and secured, you can start staining the playset. We recommend using a stain and sealant combination, like this natural cedar color water-based stain from DEFY. The stain will restore your playset’s appearance, and the sealant will prevent mold and water damage from affecting the playset.
As with the pressure washer, start at the top of the playset and work from top to bottom for a consistent appearance. It may take several coats to achieve the aesthetic you want, so be aware that each coat will take time to dry.
Remember to go over each coat with a brush after application. This helps smooth over any puddles or blotches that develop while you’re spraying the stainer on the playset.
And, as also with the pressure washer, it’s worth wearing safety goggles. A good sprayer is unlikely to fleck excess stainer towards you, but prevention is better than cure for a reason.
The final consideration when staining the playset is the nuts and bolts. You want to avoid spraying them or if you do, wipe them down right away. Left on the metal, the stainer hardens and the result can look inferior to the varnished product you’re hoping for.
Once you’ve finished staining the playset, it’s time to start reassembling the dismantled pieces. A tip for first-time playset restorers is to label and package all the disassembled pieces carefully. It makes this part significantly less complicated.
As you reassemble your restored playset, you can experiment with moving the pieces around. The most mobile part is the swings, and older playsets often position these closer together than is now considered safe. If you want to put a bit more distance between the swing seats, this is the time to do it.
Restoring a playset is a long and time-consuming process. But if you block out the time to do a thorough job, it can be highly satisfying and save you shelling out for a new playset.
Even better, a restored playset can become an integral feature of a backyard, adding atmosphere as well as hours of fun to your garden.
It’s worth remembering that the amount of time your playset restoration requires depends on the amount of restoration involved. You may find the whole set has rotted through and needs replacement wood, or you may find yourself only replacing a handful of boards.
Either way, expect your playset restoration to involve a thorough pressure wash and extensive sanding, not only of the wood but of the accessories and hardware that attach to the playset.
If you’re finding the total restoration costs and effort climbing pretty high as you’re planning everything out, it may just be time to get a new playset. If that’s the case, head over to our playset buying guide and Short List of the best backyard playsets for some recommendations to get started.
Finally, don’t forget to take a moment to enjoy the end result. The restored playset might be for the kids, but they aren’t the ones who devoted long hours to make it a safe, vibrant place to play again.