How to Clean Outdoor Umbrellas

Three beach umbrellas on the sand

Leila Mendez/Getty Images

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.

How Often to Clean Outdoor Umbrellas

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.

What You'll Need

Supplies

  • Heavy-duty laundry detergent
  • Chlorine bleach
  • Dishwashing liquid
  • Distilled white vinegar

Tools

  • Shop vacuum
  • Soft-bristled brush
  • Bucket(s)
  • Garden hose with sprayer
  • Spray bottle
  • Cleaning cloths

Instructions

  1. Move to a Shady Area

    To clean an umbrella with a nonremovable fabric top, move the umbrella to a shady area away from direct sunlight.

  2. Remove Loose Soil

    Brush or vacuum off any loose dirt. Use a soft-bristled brush to prevent driving the soil deeper into the fabric.

  3. Mix a Cleaning Solution

    In a large bucket, mix 1/4 cup liquid laundry detergent per gallon of lukewarm water. It is best to use laundry detergent rather than dishwashing liquid. 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. Scrub Away the Soil

    Use a soft-bristled 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. Allow the Solution to Work

    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. Rinse the Umbrella

    Use a hose sprayer to rinse the fabric thoroughly to remove all soap residue. Leaving it soapy will actually attract more soil.

  7. Allow the Umbrella to Dry

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.

Cleaning an Umbrella With Removable Fabric Covering

If your umbrella fabric is removable and has a care tag that indicates it is machine washable, cleaning is much more simple.

  1. Remove Loose Soil

    First, remove the fabric covering and give it a good shake or vacuum to remove loose soil.

  2. Pretreat Stains

    Use a bit of heavy-duty laundry detergent or an enzyme-based stain remove to treat heavy stains. Work in the stain remover with a soft-bristled brush and allow it to work for at least 15 minutes before tossing the cover in the washer.

  3. Choose the Washer Water Temperature

    Use cold water and heavy-duty detergent when washing. If possible, wash in a front-load washer or top-load high-efficiency washer without a center agitator to prevent excessive wrinkling.

  4. Allow to Air-dry

    Never place the umbrella cover in an automatic dryer. Allow it to air dry on a clothesline or place the cover back on the umbrella frame to dry.

  5. Remove Excessive Wrinkling

If excessive wrinkling occurs if you used a top-load center agitator washer, the cover can be ironed using a low-heat iron setting after drying.

Remove Mildew and Tree Sap Stains

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

  1. Select Cleaning Location

    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 Cleaning Solution

    In a large bucket, 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. Apply the Cleaning Solution

    Pour some of 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-bristled brush.

  4. Allow the Cleaner to Work

    Allow the solution to sit on the fabric for 10 minutes, then scrub the heavily stained areas with a soft-bristled brush.

  5. Rinse and Air-Dry

Rinse the umbrella fabric thoroughly to remove all the residue. Allow the cover air dry in a sunny location. Repeat the steps, if needed, with a fresh cleaning solution.

How to Clean an Umbrella Frame

  1. Wooden Frames

    Always refer to the manufacturer's instructions if available. For most wood umbrellas, use a mixture of two teaspoons of mild dishwashing liquid and two cups warm water along with a cloth or soft-bristled brush to wipe down the frame. Do not overwet the surface. Rinse by wiping down with a clean cloth dipped in clear water and allow to air dry.

  2. Aluminum frames

To remove surface soil, mix a solution of two teaspoons dishwashing liquid and two cups warm 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 are 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!