How To Clean Outdoor Umbrellas

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Outdoor umbrellas provide the shade we crave at the beach, poolside, on our patios and over our outdoor dining tables. Because they are exposed to the elements day in and day out for months at a time, they get dirty from soil and air pollution. And don't even mention tree sap and bird droppings.

The key to keeping your umbrella looking its best is to clean it regularly throughout the sunny season and especially before you slip on the cover or store it away for the off-season.

Outdoor umbrellas can be made from canvas, solid vinyl, vinyl mesh or specialty materials that look like straw or thatch. Most umbrellas offered for home use are made from treated acrylic fabrics - like Sunbrella - that help repel moisture, stains and mildew. Unfortunately, even the best fabrics get covered with airborne soil, touched with sunscreen coated hands and bombed by birds. These particles embed themselves in the fibers causing unsightly stains and that can mildew when exposed to moisture.

Routine Outdoor Umbrella Cleaning

All outdoor umbrellas should be cleaned regularly when in use - at least monthly, more often if your umbrella is near trees or tall shrubs. Follow these steps to clean an umbrella with a non-removable fabric top:

  • Move the umbrella to a shady area away from direct sunlight.
  • Brush or vacuum off any loose dirt. Use a soft bristle brush to prevent driving the soil deeper in the fabric.
  • Mix 1/4 cup detergent per gallon of lukewarm water. It is best to use laundry detergent rather than dish soap. You'll have fewer bubbles to rinse away and a good qaulity detergent with enzymes like Wisk or Tide will work best when tackling the fabric stains.
  • Use a soft bristle brush to work the solution into the fabric using circular motions. Use a bit of extra elbow grease and give attention to the stained areas. Some stains - like sunscreen - may require extra treatment steps.
  • Step away for about 15 to 20 minutes and allow the detergent solution to soak into the fabric and work to remove the soil.
  • Use a hose sprayer and rinse thoroughly to remove all soap residue.  If you choose to rinse by hand with clean water, keep changing the water so that all of the detergent solution is completely removed.
  • Move umbrella back to a sunny area and allow the fabric to air dry. Do not close the umbrella until it is completely dry.

If your umbrella fabric is removable and has a care tag that indicates it is machine washable, use cold water and a good detergent. If possible, wash in a front-load washer or top load high efficiency washer without a center agitator to prevent excessive wrinkling. First, give it a good shake or vacuum to remove excessive soil. Pretreat stains with a bit of laundry detergent before washing. Never place the umbrella fabric in a dryer. Allow to air dry on a clothesline or place the cover back on the umbrella frame to dry. If excessive wrinkling occurs from top-load washer wringer action, the cover can be ironed using a low-heat iron setting.

How To Remove Mildew and Tree Sap Stains From Outdoor Umbrellas

  • Heavy staining from mildew or tree sap will require a stronger cleaning solution.
  • Move your umbrella to a shady area that will not be harmed by chlorine bleach or cover the work area with plastic sheeting.
  • Mix a solution of 8 ounces (1 cup) chlorine bleach and 2 ounces or 1/4 cup laundry detergent per gallon of lukewarm water.
  • Use a spray bottle or garden spray to cover entire umbrella surface. Allow the mixture to soak into the fabric. If you don't have a sprayer, wear protective gloves and work in the solution with a soft bristle brush.
  • After 5 to 10 minutes, scrub the heavy stains with a soft bristle brush.
  • Rinse thoroughly to remove all the residue and allow to air dry.

How To Clean An Outdoor Umbrella Frame

  • Wooden Frames: Always refer to the manufacturer's instructions if available. For most wood umbrellas, use a mixture of mild detergent and water along with a cloth or soft bristle brush to wipe down the frame. Do not over-saturate the surface. Wipe down with a clean cloth dipped in clear water and allow to air dry.
  • Aluminum Frames:  To remove surface soil, mix a solution of mild soap and water and wipe with a soft towel. Rinse with clear water and thoroughly dry with a clean towel. Never use abrasive materials, cleansers or bleach products that will damage the finish. If there is calcium build-up or water-spotting on the aluminum frame, mix a solution of 1 part white distilled vinegar and 9 parts water. Dip a towel in the solution and wipe down the frame. Follow up with a clear water rinse and a dry towel.

How To Clean An Outdoor Grass Umbrella

If you have a real or faux grass umbrella, use a garden leaf blower set on low to remove dust and dirt. Wipe down the frame following instructions above.