How to Clean Outdoor Cushions and Fabric Furniture

Outdoor seating with metal frame and light colored cushions in middle of garden

The Spruce / Almar Creative

Overview
  • Total Time: 3 hrs
  • Skill Level: Beginner

Outdoor cushions, pillows, canopies, and umbrellas make patios and poolsides beautiful and comfortable. Unfortunately, they take lots of abuse from dirty feet and outdoor weather, and they need to be cleaned often to remove dirt and stains. 

While most outdoor fabrics are treated to prevent sun damage and to repel stains, the protective finish can deteriorate over the years. If you choose to boost the finish with a spray-on fabric protectant that acts as a water and stain repellent, you must be sure that the fabric is completely free of stains and dirt before treating or you will simply seal in the dirt.

When purchasing outdoor pillows and furniture, look for styles that have zippers or snaps that make the fabric removable for easier cleaning.

How Often to Clean

Don't allow stains to wait for summer to end before you treat them. The type of stain remover you need depends upon the specific stain. A good overall cleaner is Carbona Pro Care Oxy Powered Outdoor Cleaner. The foaming action and built-in scrub brush is perfect for outdoor fabrics. The key to success is giving the treatment time to work. No product is magic; allow it at least 30 minutes to penetrate to loosen the stains. While you are cleaning the cushions, don't forget to give metal, plastic, and rattan furniture a proper cleaning.

Materials and tools to remove grass from outdoor fabric furniture

The Spruce / Almar Creative

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

For Removing Grass Stains

  • Soft-bristled brush

For Removing Tree Sap

  • Soft-bristled brush

For Removing Mildew

  • Soft-bristled brush

For Removing Sunscreen

  • Soft-bristled brush

For Removing Bird Droppings

  • Stiff-bristled brush
  • Old dull knife or edge of a credit card

Materials

For Removing Grass Stains

  • Detergent
  • Warm Water
  • Oxygen-based bleach

For Removing Tree Sap

  • Enzyme-based stain remover or heavy-duty detergent
  • Powdered detergent
  • Warm water

For Removing Mildew

  • Heavy-duty liquid detergent
  • Chlorine or oxygen bleach

For Removing Sunscreen

  • Heavy-duty liquid detergent or powder detergent

For Removing Bird Droppings

  • Heavy-duty liquid detergent
  • Oxygen-based bleach (optional)

Instructions

How to Remove Grass Stains From Outdoor Fabric Furniture

  1. Pretreat the Stain

    First, pretreat the stain with a heavy-duty liquid detergent that contains stain-removing enzymes.

    Heavy duty laundry poured into laundry bottle cap over outdoor furniture

    The Spruce / Almar Creative

  2. Work in the Detergent

    Work the detergent into the stained area with a soft brush.

    Heavy duty laundry detergent scrubbed into outdoor fabric furniture with soft-bristled brush

    The Spruce / Almar Creative

  3. Rinse and Soak

    Rinse well and then soak the fabric in a solution of warm water and oxygen-based bleach for at least one hour before washing the entire piece if possible.

    Outdoor furniture fabric soaked in plastic container with hot water and oxygen-based bleach

    The Spruce / Almar Creative

How to Remove Tree Sap From Outdoor Fabric Furniture

This method of removal is special because tree sap stains require extra care.

  1. Treat With Stain Remover

    Start by treating the oily/waxy component of the stain with an enzyme-based stain remover or heavy-duty detergent that will break apart the oil. Let sit for 15 minutes.

  2. Add Detergent

    Add a bit of heavy-duty liquid detergent or a paste made of powdered detergent and water.

  3. Scrub with a Brush

    Scrub the stain lightly with a soft-bristled brush and rinse in hot water.

  4. Wash

    Wash the entire piece in the hottest water suitable for the fabric using detergent and oxygen bleach to remove any discoloration.

How to Remove Mildew From Outdoor Fabric Furniture

Mildew is a living, growing organism that can attach to cellulosic (cotton or linen) fibers. Mildew eats the fibers, damaging and weakening the fabric and should be removed as soon as possible after it is discovered. It is even more active if there are food stains like watermelon or other fruit stains on the fabrics.

  1. Shake or Brush out the Item

    First, shake or brush the item outdoors to prevent spreading the mildew inside your home.

  2. Pretreat Stains

    Pretreat the stains with a heavy-duty liquid detergent, working it in with a soft-bristled brush. Allow the detergent to work for at least 15 minutes.

  3. Wash

    Then launder the fabric in the hottest water suitable for the material. Place the fabric in the sun to dry.

  4. Add Bleach

    You can add chlorine bleach to the rinse water for white cotton fabrics to remove stains and to help restore whiteness. Oxygen bleach should be used on colored fabrics to remove the stains. Follow product directions for both types of bleaches.

How to Remove Sunscreen From Outdoor Fabric Furniture

  1. Pretreat the Stain

    Pretreat the stain with heavy-duty liquid detergent or make a paste with powder detergent/water and let this remain on fabric at least 30 minutes.

  2. Wash

    Launder as usual. Fabric stained with self-tanner will need additional treatment.

How to Remove Bird Droppings From Outdoor Fabric Furniture

When a bird soils fabric, it will be easier to address the problem if you allow the droppings to dry.

  1. Remove Dried Residue

    After the dropping is dry, use a stiff-bristled brush to remove the dried residue. If you must remove the wet droppings right away, use an old dull knife or the edge of a credit card to lift away the solids. Never rub a wet stain because that only drives the stain deeper into the fabric.

    Soft-bristled brush scrubbing away bird poop on outdoor fabric

    The Spruce / Almar Creative

  2. Treat the Stain

    After removing the solids, treat the stain with a bit of heavy-duty detergent and warm water and then rinse well. If the droppings left a dye stain from dark berries, treat the area with oxygen-based bleach.

    Heavy duty detergent and water in spray bottle sprayed on outdoor furniture fabric

    The Spruce / Almar Creative

How to Wash Outdoor Cushions

For items that can go in the washer, once the pretreating is complete, use a heavy-duty detergent and cold or warm water (unless mildew is present). Do not place the fabric in a hot dryer because that may cause shrinkage. Allow the pieces to air dry. Use a cool to medium iron to smooth wrinkles if needed.

For items like large pillows or umbrella covers that cannot be placed in a washer, choose a sunny, warm day to do the cleaning. Spread the piece out on a patio or plastic tarp and get ready to apply some elbow grease.

Mix a solution of heavy-duty detergent and warm water. Using a soft scrub brush, work from the top to the bottom of a piece scrubbing a small section at a time. Rinse away soil after each section is cleaned. Do not allow the detergent solution to dry on the fabric. When the entire piece is cleaned, rinse well.

Spread the fabric or pillows in the sun to dry. If possible, hang from a clothesline to allow the water to drip and drain away. It may take a couple of days for thick items to dry so plan for hot, sunny weather to avoid mildew problems.