How to Clean Outdoor Cushions and Fabric Furniture

Patio cushions

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Overview
  • Total Time: 3 hrs

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. 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.

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Soft-bristled brush

Materials

  • Detergent
  • Warm Water
  • Oxygen-based bleach

Steps to Make It

How to Remove Grass from Outdoor Fabric Furniture

  1. Pretreat the Stain

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

  2. Work in the Detergent

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

  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.

Removing Tree Sap

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

What You'll Need

Supplies

  • Enzyme-based Stain Remover or Heavy-Duty Detergent
  • Powdered Detergent
  • Warm Water

Tools

  • Soft-bristled brush

How to Remove Tree Sap from Outdoor Fabric Furniture

  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.

Removing Mildew

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.

Supplies

  • Heavy-duty liquid detergent
  • Chlorine or oxygen bleach

Tools

  • Soft-bristled brush

How to Remove Mildew from Outdoor Fabric Furniture

  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.

Removing Sunscreen

Supplies

  • Heavy-duty liquid detergent or powder detergent

Tools

  • Soft-bristled brush

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.

Removing Bird Droppings

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

Supplies

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

Tools

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

How to Remove Bird Droppings from Outdoor Fabric Furniture

  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.

  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.

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.