The leaves have been raked. The vegetables harvested from the garden. The patio furniture is safely stored in the garage. With a smile of satisfaction, you head inside, knowing that everything has been done to prep your home for winter.

But wait! Your retractable awning needs some love before the snow flurries start, too.

Depending on where you live and what kind of retractable awning you own, you may want to use it during parts of the winter to help keep your patio clear from snow or simply to sit outside and enjoy the occasional sunny day. Some people even keep them open all year and do not even need to store their furniture as the retractable awning efficiently protects it.

Here are four steps you need to take to get your retractable awning ready for winter, regardless of whether you will be using it throughout the winter or will be keeping it tucked safely away until spring.

  • Unroll the awning and inspect it for tears or any damage that may have occurred throughout the summer. Rips and tears can become worse as the temperatures plummet and ice and snow accumulate on it. If the fabric is fraying in any area, it is more likely to unravel easier once it becomes colder. You will also want to check the valance on your retractable awning (if you have one), as they are more prone to wind-damage and wear down more quickly than other parts of the awning.
  • Dust your awning. While it may seem unnecessary, throughout the spring, summer and fall, pollen, dust, dirt and leaf fragments have most likely accumulated on your retractable awning without you knowing it—not to mention that animals have probably scampered across it. These elements combined can sometimes leave a greasy film on it. Once the temperatures drop, this extra dust then freezes onto your retractable awning, causing further damage and wear and tear to the fabric.
  • Wash and thoroughly dry your awning. Most awnings only need to be washed with soap and water as anything stronger has the potential to damage the fabric. You can then use a soft cloth to dry it off. Air-drying is not recommended as it can cause streaks. Drying it manually also will help to prevent mold and mildew from accumulating. As some parts may be more difficult to reach, do the best you can. If the sun is out, letting it finish drying after drying with a cloth is fine as long as you have wiped it down as much as possible beforehand.
  • Retract your awning to check that it closes properly and no fabric hangs out of it. Any time that you clean your awning, it is important to make sure that nothing becomes damaged in the process. Not to mention that if you do not plan to use it over the winter, you want to store it in its cleanest state possible.

The best retractable awning brands recommend buying a cassette or semi-cassette retractable awning to keep the awning from becoming damaged over the winter as when a cassette-style retractable awning is closed, the roller tube, fabric, and arms are completely covered inside a case. With a semi-cassette, just the mounting bar and roller tube are covered.

By properly inspecting, dusting, washing and drying your retractable awning before the heavy snows set in, you can better protect your financial investment and ensure that you will be able to use it without worry next spring.