How to Clean Outdoor Umbrellas

Three beach umbrellas on the sand

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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 for months at a time, they get dirty from dust 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 that can even mildew when exposed to moisture.

Routine Cleaning

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

  1. Move the umbrella to a shady area away from direct sunlight.
  2. Brush or vacuum off any loose dirt. Use a soft bristle brush to prevent driving the soil deeper into the fabric.
  3. Mix 1/4 cup liquid laundry 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 quality detergent with enzymes like Tide or Persil will work best to break apart stains.
  4. Use a soft bristle brush to work the solution into the fabric using circular motions. Use a bit of extra elbow grease and attention to the stained areas. Some stains, like sunscreen, may require extra treatment steps.
  5. Step away for about 15 to 20 minutes and allow the detergent solution to soak into the fabric and do its work to loosen the soil.
  6. Use a hose sprayer and rinse thoroughly to remove all soap residue. Leaving it soapy will actually attract more soil.
  7. Move the 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 heavy-duty 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 the fabric a good shake or vacuum to remove loose soil. Pretreat stains with a bit of laundry detergent before washing. Never place the umbrella cover in a dryer. Allow it 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.

Remove Mildew and Tree Sap Stains

Heavy staining from mildew or tree sap will require a stronger cleaning solution.

  1. Move the umbrella to a shady area that will not be harmed by chlorine bleach or cover the work area with plastic sheeting.
  2. Mix a solution of eight ounces (one cup) chlorine bleach and two ounces or 1/4 cup laundry detergent per gallon of lukewarm water.
  3. Place the cleaning solution in a spray bottle and use it to cover the entire umbrella surface. Or, wear protective gloves and work in the solution with a soft bristle brush.
  4. Allow the solution to sit on the fabric for 10 minutes, then scrub the heavily stained areas with a soft bristle brush.
  5. Rinse thoroughly to remove all the residue and allow the cover air dry.
  6. Repeat if needed with a fresh cleaning solution.

How to Clean a Frame

  • Wooden frames: Always refer to the manufacturer's instructions if available. For most wood umbrellas, use a mixture of mild dishwashing detergent and water along with a cloth or soft bristle brush to wipe down the frame. Do not overwet 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 dishwashing 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 spots on the aluminum frame, mix a solution of one part white distilled vinegar and nine parts water. Dip a towel in the solution and wipe down the frame. Follow up with a clear water rinse and dry with a clean towel.

Cleaning Other Outdoor Fabrics

When your umbrella is nice and clean, be sure to check your outdoor furniture's upholstery and any garden flags or banners. They probably need a good cleaning as well!