How to Clean Outdoor Cushions: 7 Foolproof Methods

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Whether your outdoor space is palatial or just a tiny little balcony, adding plush outdoor furniture to your patio makes it more comfortable for lounging or hosting gatherings with friends. The only downside? Because it's exposed to the elements, your once light-and-bright outdoor furniture might now be covered in dirt, dust, grime, bird droppings, tree sap, or grass stains.

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Have outdoor cushions that have seen better days? Follow these basic cleaning methods to keep your patio cushions sparkling clean all season long.

What You Need

Depending on how deeply you plan to clean your cushions, you'll need a number of different things. These may include:

  • Vacuum with an upholstery attachment to suck loose dirt off the cushions
  • Garden hose to spray lightly stuck-on dirt and debris or to rinse soap off cushions
  • Towel to remove excess moisture from cushions before letting them air dry
  • Blow dryer to speed up the drying process if necessary
  • Dish soap, borax, and clean water — or, alternatively, white vinegar and water — to make a DIY cleaning solution
  • Spray bottle to apply your cleaning solution to cushions
  • Soft scrub brush to dislodge dirt and scrub stains
  • Pressure washer and detergent to quickly spray grime off sturdier cushions
  • Stain remover, laundry detergent, washing machine, and dryer for removable cushion covers
  • Fabric protector to keep your cushions looking clean

How to Clean Outdoor Cushions

Before cleaning, check the tags on your cushions to see what the manufacturer recommends. If your cushion's tags were removed or are too damaged to read, you may be able to find this information on the manufacturer's website. If in doubt, limit yourself to vacuuming, rinsing, or hand-washing the cushions.

1. Machine Washing Cushions

Typically, the actual cushions are not machine washable, but they have removable covers, chances are that you can just throw the covers in the laundry.

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  1. Before washing, check the cushion tags to see if you should hand-wash the cushion covers or put them in the washing machine. If you have any questions about the durability of your cushion covers, then default to hand-washing them.
  2. Try to remove any loose debris, like dirt or pet hair, by shaking them vigorously to aid the cleaning process.
  3. Pretreat any stains and then wash according to manufacturer instructions with your preferred laundry detergent. Avoid using chlorine bleach, as it can cause discoloration, though oxygenated bleaches, like OxiClean, should be color-safe since they do not contain chlorine. Most outdoor fabrics can handle hot water but always default to the warmest setting recommended by the manufacturer.
  4. Use a dryer if approved by the manufacturer, but pull the covers out of the dryer before they are fully dry. Otherwise, allow them to air dry. When the covers are mostly dry but still a little damp, put them back on the cushions. This will help the material stretch back into shape and prevent shrinking or misshaping.

2. Vacuuming Cushions

When you have a light layer of dust or dirt on the outside of your cushions, a little vacuuming may be all you need to make your outdoor space look clean again. Simply use an upholstery attachment to suck off loose dirt and debris. Use caution around the seams and buttons to avoid causing damage.

3. Hand-Washing Cushions

In most cases, hand-washing is the best way to clean patio cushions. If the tag suggests another cleaning method, follow the manufacturer's advice instead.

  1. Before wetting the cushions, remove dry dirt and debris with a vacuum and an upholstery attachment.
  2. Combine 1 teaspoon of mild dish soap, 1 teaspoon of borax, and 4 cups of warm water in a spray bottle.
  3. Saturate both sides of your patio cushions using a soft-bristle brush to scrub dirt and stains deep in the crevices.
  4. Let the cleaning solution sit for about 15 minutes before rinsing the cushions clean with a garden hose.
  5. If you still need to remove stains, spot-treat the grime with your soft-bristled brush and more cleaning solution.
  6. Use a towel to absorb as much moisture as possible and then set the cushions upright. Allow them to air dry completely. You can use a blow dryer on low to speed up the drying process if necessary.

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4. Cleaning With Vinegar

If you don't have any borax on hand, you can also try washing your cushions with vinegar instead. Combine 1/4 cup of white vinegar with 4 cups of warm water and then follow the same directions as hand-washing with borax.

5. Pressure Washing Cushions

Most manufacturers advise against pressure washing outdoor furniture cushions because the high-pressure spray can break the seams or weaken the fabric. That being said, pressure washing can efficiently and quickly clean cushions, so if you have particularly sturdy outdoor patio cushions with no specific warnings against this method, it's worth a try.

Set the pressure washer on the lowest PSI setting, and add an all-purpose pressure washer detergent to the tank. Attach a 65-degree spray tip to the wand, and if it has an adjustable tip, set this to the lowest pressure mode as well.

  1. Spray the cushions in a sweeping motion and keep the wand moving the whole time, being sure to also clean the sides. Stay at least 2 feet away from the cushions, particularly the seams, as this could damage your cushions.
  2. Rinse well. Empty the tank and fill it with clean water. Then, rinse the cushions until they are free of detergent.
  3. Use a towel to remove excess moisture and then set the cushion upright until it is completely dry.

6. Rinsing Cushions

To remove stuck-on dirt but not set-in stains, you can always try just rinsing off the fabric a little.

  1. Start by quickly vacuuming the surface with an upholstery brush to remove loose dirt and debris.
  2. Use a garden hose to gently spray away stuck-on dust and dirt.
  3. Use a towel to soak up the excess water inside the cushion and then set the cushion upright so the sides can dry thoroughly. Allow cushions to dry fully to prevent mildew growth. On chilly or wet days, use a blow dryer on its low setting to speed up the drying process.

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7. Applying a Fabric Protector to Outdoor Cushions

The best way to keep your cushions looking clean the entire patio season is to apply a fabric protector, such as Thompson's WaterSeal or Scotchgard Water & Sun Shield. These products reduce color fading and help protect against water damage while also repelling spills, stains, and grime. For best results, apply when the cushion is brand new so you can ensure it is fully clean and undamaged. For older cushions, clean and dry the material before applying a fabric protector.

  1. Before applying fabric protector on your cushions, lay out a clean tarp or dropcloth to protect your application area from overspray.
  2. Test that your cushion is colorfast by spraying an inconspicuous corner of the fabric with the product until it is wet. Wipe the spot with a white cloth to see if color comes off.
  3. If your test spray looks OK, then use the product on the entire cushion by holding it 6 to 8 inches away from the fabric. Spray liberally in even strokes to ensure you get full coverage of the cushion without fully saturating the fabric.
  4. Allow the fabric to dry completely and apply a second coat if suggested by the manufacturer.

Reapply fabric protector at the start of each season and each time after you wash the cushions. To see if your cushions need to be treated, put a few drops of water on the surface of the cushion and see if it rolls off the material or sinks in. If it rolls off, your cushion is already sufficiently treated.

Keep Your Cushions Clean Long-Term

Once your cushions are treated with a fabric protector, a quick rinse should be enough to remove most dirt and minor spills, though you might want to do a more thorough hand-washing once or twice per season. However, remember that while the fabrics used in patio cushions are typically treated with special coatings that make them more resistant to sun and water damage, and fabric protectors increase this protection, excessive direct sunlight and heavy moisture can still damage your cushions. This is why it's best to put them in a storage bag and stash them away during the winter season or during other periods when you won't use them.

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references

Jill Harness is a blogger with experience covering architecture, design and decor trends from around the globe. As she lives in what would politely be called a "fixer upper," she is particularly interested in writing about DIY projects and repairs. Most of her home design writing can be found at www.homesandhues.com. You can find out more about Jill's experience and learn how to contact her through her website, www.jillharness.com.