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The new outdoor furniture has arrived. The patio looks like it was lifted from the pages of an upscale magazine. Now you can look forward to relaxing without a care about maintenance.

"That's right, but not quite," says a leading expert on outdoor furniture."Treat your outdoor furniture as you would a car," says Charles Emmons, merchandise manager for Treasure Island, a New Jersey chain.

"Simple periodic maintenance can go a long way in preventing damage from its natural enemies - the airborne dirt and grime and pollutants that are unfortunately a fact of our modern life.

"Weatherproof, waterproof and long-lasting are all totally accurate in describing today's outdoor furniture," said Emmons. "Technology has produced materials that are incredibly durable . . . but given the realities of contemporary life . . . no material, regardless of its strength, can endure without proper care."

A few minutes of routine maintenance is all it takes, he said, for outdoor furniture "to remain as attractive as the day it was brought home."

Furniture frames should be polished occasionally with ordinary car wax. Cushions can be cleaned with a mild non-abrasive household detergent and rinsed with a garden hose.

"For those lucky enough to have a swimming pool, simply remove the cushions from the frames and toss them in for about an hour," said Emmons. "The chlorine does a wonderful job of loosening and removing imbedded dirt."

It is also recommended that outdoor furniture be covered when not in use.

This season's trend in outdoor furniture is toward "colors, bold and bright," and striped patterns, said Emmons.

"New product lines from most of our manufacturers are featuring a dazzling array of striking new hues. Primary colors, either as solids or as stunning accent stripes, are what's ahead for 1990," he said.

"In terms of furniture design, we are particularly impressed by the wide new lines of sling furniture that have many advantages - among them, comfort and ease of maintenance."

The questions consumers most frequently ask when buying outdoor furniture, said Emmons, are "what colors work best with their individual settings, what styles are available, what suits their lifestyle and how much it will cost."

Emmons recommended consumers familiarize themselves with the types of products and materials available so they can make the best choices.

"Given the host of products that technology has given us in recent times, consumers now have the advantage of being able to choose the products that most specifically suit their individual needs and lifestyles in terms of durability, ease of maintenance and design," he said.

Some terms that consumers may find useful in choosing outdoor furniture:

- Wrought iron: Very decorative and offers a wide range of fashionable styles. Recommended for use on covered porches and in "Florida rooms," it can be cleaned easily and lasts a long time.

- Wolmanized pine: Wood that has been pressure treated with a preservative to protect against decay, weather and insects. It combines the beauty of traditional design with durability.

- Outdoor wicker: Man-made synthetic fiber that resembles the look of traditional wicker but has a high level of strength and weather resistance.

- Virgin vinyl straps: Seating created from vinyl straps to which no reprocessed products have been added. It is exceptionally comfortable and easily maintained.

- Textilene: A vinyl-coated polyester fabric and a popular choice for outdoor cushions, sling furniture and umbrellas. It is tough, fast-drying and durable, and is cool enough to sit on even in direct sunlight. Can be cleaned with detergent and a soft brush.

- Aluminum: Stands up to harsh weather and hard use by youngsters. Most often it is "powder coated" with a skin of polyester that gives a shiny, scratch-resistant surface. Extremely easy to maintain.

- Resin: One of the fastest-growing types of outdoor furniture that has been popular in Europe. A tough, pliable plastic that can be molded for chairs, tables and chaises. Extremely weather resistant, it will not fade or yellow even in direct sunlight.

- PVC pipe, or polyvinyl chloride: A synthetic resin product which is lightweight, strong, durable and resistant to fading and yellowing. Very fashionable today, especially in contemporary decors.

- Euro-style cushions: Sewn with vertical pockets and often have curved "cathedral" tops.

- Polyester fiberfill: A comfortable, quick-drying fill for cushions. It is weather-resistant and mildew-proof, making it popular for outdoor use.