How to Clean Patio Cushions and Keep Your Outdoor Furniture Looking New

Follow these easy steps and your patio furniture will look clean and new for years to come.

By Donna Boyle Schwartz and Jennifer Noonan and Bob Vila | Updated Nov 18, 2021 9:33 PM

 how to clean patio cushions

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When it comes time to spiff up your porch or patio for spring, cleaning outdoor furniture ranks high on the to-do list—particularly if those patio chair cushions have been out in the elements all winter long. All that exposure to moisture means that there’s plenty of potential for mildew to grow on your outdoor furniture cushions.

RELATED: The Dos and Don’ts of Cleaning Patio Furniture

Fortunately, many patio furniture cushions are designed with removable covers that slip off for throwing into a washing machine on the gentle cycle. (Thank goodness for zippered slipcovers!) Even if your patio cushions don’t have removable covers, you can still get the cushions clean in preparation for outdoor fun—just follow these simple steps about how to clean outdoor cushions.

When it comes time to spiff up your porch or patio for spring, cleaning outdoor furniture ranks high on the to-do list—particularly if those patio chair cushions have been out in the elements all winter long. All that exposure to moisture doesn’t bode well for these comfy pieces when it comes to mildew potential.

How to Clean Outdoor Cushions and Keep Your Al Fresco Furniture Looking Great

Whether you are getting ready to put away your patio furniture for fall and winter, or getting it out of storage to spiff it up for spring and summer, you should take this opportunity to clean and repair any dirty or damaged patio cushions. Cleaning your outdoor cushions once or twice a year will keep them looking their best and prolong the lifespan of their fabric.

Once you complete your cushion-cleaning chores, consider covering your outdoor furniture when it’s not in use to keep everything neat and tidy (check out our guide to the best outdoor furniture covers for some terrific options). Cleaning your cushions is a fairly simple project that doesn’t require a lot of specialized tools or cleaning products. Here’s what to do:

STEP 1: Remove the cases from patio cushions and machine wash them if possible.

how to clean patio cushions

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Pile up your outdoor pillows! Unzip the cushion cases and run them through the washing machine, if the laundering instructions on the tags indicate that they are machine washable.

STEP 2: Vacuum the patio cushions.

For outdoor cushions that don’t unzip, first remove any loose dirt and dust using the upholstery attachment on your vacuum. If your patio cushion is tufted, be sure to run the attachment carefully over the crevices, seams, and any buttons.

STEP 3: Hand wash and soak the cushions in a solution of water and dish soap.

Next, mix 1 tablespoon of dishwashing liquid in a bucket of warm water. If your cushions have mildew on them, add ¼ cup of borax to the solution. Generously sponge the sudsy solution onto your cushions, and let them soak for 15 minutes.

Do you still see stubborn dirty spots after soaking? Apply more of the cleaning solution, then gently rub out the spots with a scrub brush.

STEP 4: Rinse the cushions with a garden hose.

how to clean patio cushions

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Thoroughly hose off the patio cushions. Don’t use a pressure washer for the task because it may damage the fabric. (A pressure washer is ideal for cleaning the furniture frames. Make sure that you use the sprayer on its lowest setting to avoid damaging the frames.)

STEP 5: Towel dry the patio cushions as best you can, then leave them out to air dry.

Wrap a towel around the cushion to blot up most of the water, and then stand the cushion up on its end to air-dry completely. Make sure no moisture remains; otherwise you’ll find yourself facing a regrowth of mildew. Pull out the blow dryer, if you need to.

STEP 6: Use a fabric protector on your patio cushions.

Once your cushions are dry, spray them with a fabric protector such as Scotchgard Water & Sun Shield to help them resist dirt and stains from such summer events as spilled fruit punch and dripping popsicles. Taking care this step now will make it much easier to keep those cushions clean the rest of the year.

How to Remove Stains from Outdoor Furniture Cushions

how to clean patio cushions

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Makers of most outdoor furniture cushions use fabrics and materials that are specially designed to resist moisture, fading, and stains. Some of the most common outdoor cushion fabrics include woven acrylics, which are extremely durable, quick-drying, and resistant to mold and mildew.

Olefin fabrics are constructed from a synthetic fiber that resists fading in sunlight and is extremely strong and durable, minimizing rips and tears. Polyester fabrics come in a vast array of colors and designs, and typically are treated with stain-resistant sprays; however these fabrics can fade over time.

Despite their typically robust construction, all types of outdoor fabrics are susceptible to stains. Some of the most common include: mold and mildew; tree sap, bird droppings, grease, oil, barbecue sauce and other food residue, grass, blood, and wine. Each of these stubborn stains requires a slightly different approach and sometimes different cleaning products.

You can start by trying an all-purpose stain remover specially formulated for outdoor furniture, such as Carbona Pro Care Outdoor Cleaner. Or, try some of these stain-specific suggestions to best remove stains from patio cushions or patio pillows:

  • Mold and mildew: Mold and mildew are likely anytime you have damp, humid conditions combined with dirt, which pretty much describes the environment for outdoor furniture in many areas. Mold and mildew cause unsightly stains and blemishes on fabrics, and can exacerbate allergies, asthma, and other health issues.To remove mold and mildew from patio cushions, mix 1 cup of Borax with 4 cups of water to make a cleaning solution. Apply liberally to the fabric with a brush or sponge and blot with a clean microfiber cloth before rinsing thoroughly and elevating the cushion to allow it to dry. For stubborn stains, you may want to allow the cleaning solution to soak for up to 30 minutes.Another homemade cleaning solution that is suitable for some fabrics is 1 tablespoon of bleach mixed with 1 pint of water; follow the same instructions, but be sure to first test the mix in an inconspicuous area to make sure the bleach doesn’t discolor the fabric.
  • Tree sap: Tree sap can prove a really tough stain to remove because it is both sticky and oily. Therefore, getting rid of tree sap stains is a multipart process. First, use an enzyme-based stain remover, applied directly to the stain; allow it to soak for 15 minutes.While it is soaking, make a paste using powdered laundry detergent and water, and apply the paste to the stain with a soft-bristle brush, rubbing gently side to side with the weave of the fabric. Rinse the area with hot water; repeat if necessary.
  • Bird droppings: Our feathered friends have the unpleasant habit of “going” wherever they perch, leaving behind quite a mess! To remove bird droppings from outdoor furniture, first let it dry and use a clean microfiber cloth or sponge to wipe away as much as you can.Then place 1 teaspoon dish soap, 1 teaspoon Borax, and 1 quart of warm water in a clean spray bottle; shake it up to mix well. Spray the solution on the stain and allow it to soak in for several minutes; rinse thoroughly until all residue is gone.
  • Food grease, oil, barbecue sauce and other condiments: Grilling and enjoying dining al fresco unfortunately can result in greasy food stains on your patio cushions. Treat the food stains immediately by sprinkling baking soda or cornstarch on the area and letting it soak up all of the grease and oil; gently scrape up the powder and repeat until most of the food residue is removed.Then, mix 1 cup Borax with 4 cups of water to make a cleaning solution. Apply liberally to the fabric with a brush or sponge and blot with a clean microfiber cloth before rinsing thoroughly and elevating the cushion to allow it to dry. For stubborn stains, you might want to allow the cleaning solution to soak for up to 30 minutes.
  • Grass: Getting rid of grass stains is easier if you take care of it right away; the longer the stain sits, the harder it will be to remove. Pretreat the stain with liquid laundry detergent, applying the detergent with a soft-bristle brush and rubbing in a side-to-side motion with the weave of the fabric (not in a circular motion.)Rinse the area with warm water until no soap residue remains, and then apply a solution of one part oxygen bleach mixed with three parts warm water, allowing it to soak for up to an hour. Rinse again with warm water and allow to dry thoroughly.
  • Blood: Popular outdoor activities sometimes can lead to cuts and scrapes, causing blood stains on your patio cushions. To remove blood stains from outdoor cushions, make a stain remover solution using ½ tablespoon of Dawn dish soap, ¼ cup hydrogen peroxide, and 1 cup of cool water. Test the solution in an inconspicuous spot, and then apply directly to the stain. Allow it to soak for about 10 minutes and then blot with a clean damp cloth.
  • Wine: Outdoor entertaining sometimes can result in spills and splatters of wine and other beverages. The sooner you treat a wine stain, the easier it will be to remove. If you spill red wine, immediately dilute the area with white wine—it sounds counterintuitive, but it is a lot easier to remove white wine than red!Blot (don’t rub!) the liquid with clean paper towels. Sprinkle the area with baking soda or cornstarch to soak up as much as possible, letting it stand for a few minutes. Vacuum up the dried material, being careful not to rub it into the fabric with the vacuum attachments. Mix a solution of ¼ cup Dawn dish soap and ¼ cup hydrogen peroxide. Test the mixture in an inconspicuous spot first to ensure the fabric doesn’t discolor, and then apply directly to the stain, letting it stand for 20 to 30 minutes. Rinse completely with warm water and repeat if necessary.

How to Maintain Outdoor Patio Cushions

how to clean patio cushions

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As with many furnishings in and around your home, proper cleaning and maintenance will maximize the appearance and longevity of your outdoor patio cushions. Although most outdoor furniture cushions are constructed using fabrics that resist moisture, UV rays, and stains, the cushions still need a little regular cleaning and maintenance. Here are some tips to keep your patio cushions looking their best for years to come.

  • Cover your outdoor furniture. There are many attractive and durable outdoor furniture covers that can help keep your patio furniture looking like new. Always use furniture covers during the winter months, or whenever you will not be using the furniture for a prolonged period of time.
  • Clean up spills and stains promptly. The longer a stain sits, the harder it will be to remove. Treat your outdoor living space the same way you treat the inside of your home and clean as you go.
  • Treat your cushions with a fabric protectant. Many outdoor fabrics are designed for period re-treating with water and stain repellants. Check the manufacturer’s instructions and use a spray-on treatment such as 303 Fabric Guard.
  • Let them come in out of the rain. If you are expecting a heavy rain, store your cushions in a protected location so that they don’t get soaked. If they do get wet, open the zipper and stand the cushions on end so the water can drain and the cushions can dry thoroughly.
  • Clean seam to seam. When cleaning or removing stains from outdoor cushions, clean the surface of the fabric in the direction of the weave, from seam to seam. Avoid rubbing the fabric in a circular motion.
  • Freshen up the look of your outdoor furniture. Add some colorful new accents with outdoor throw pillows, easy throw-style slipcovers or by reupholstering the cushions to breathe new life into your old outdoor style.

Final Thoughts

There’s such a wide variety of outdoor furniture these days that there’s almost as broad a selection of outdoor furniture as there is for indoor furnishings. The problem is that chic, stylish, durable outdoor furniture often comes with a hefty price tag! Save yourself big bucks by establishing a regular cleaning and maintenance routine to maximize the longevity of your patio cushions.

Getting your outdoor space ready for the season (or to tuck away for winter) can be a lot of work, but it’s well worth the effort. Use these tips and techniques on how to clean your patio cushions to keep your outdoor furnishings in tip-top shape. Once you’re finished, you can sit back and relax with friends and family, enjoy a summer smoothie or some barbecue, and wait for the twinkling stars to appear.

FAQs About Cleaning Patio Cushions

how to clean patio cushions

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Cleaning your patio cushions is an easy project that can help maintain the durability and longevity of your outdoor furniture. A small investment in time, basic cleaning supplies, and a little elbow grease will pay off in the long run.

Q: How can I make my patio cushions look like new?

Many types of outdoor fabrics are manufactured with integrated water, stain, UV, and mildew resistance. However, these treatments can wear off over time. Many fabrics need to be regularly re-treated with a special fabric protectant, such as 303 Fabric Guard spray-on treatment. Be sure to check the manufacturer’s instructions first.

Q: How do you clean outdoor cushions that are fixed to furniture?

Cleaning patio cushions that are permanently affixed to the frames can be a little bit more challenging than cleaning removable outdoor cushions. For these non-removable cushions, prepare a solution of ¼ cup mild soap in 1 gallon of lukewarm water. Apply using a soft bristle brush, working in a seam-to-seam fashion in the direction of the fabric weave. Rinse thoroughly with warm water to remove all soap residue and allow fabric to dry.

Q: Can you dye outdoor cushion covers?

Some outdoor cushion covers can be dyed, but it depends upon the fiber used in the initial construction. Check the manufacturer’s instructions before attempting to dye the fabric.

Most outdoor cushions are made with synthetic fabrics and will require high heat for a dyeing solution. You also will need a large pot to maintain a near-boiling temperature and a dye designed for use with synthetics, such as Rit DyeMore Advanced Liquid Dye for polyester, acrylic, acetate, nylon, and more.

Q: How do you reupholster outdoor chair cushions without sewing?

There are several no-sew ways to reupholster outdoor patio cushions—you can use a glue gun, staples, or safety pins to make new covers for your old cushions. Just make sure to purchase a fabric designed specifically for outdoor use and get enough to tuck under the cushion for safe use of pointy staples or pins.

Q: How do I keep my patio cushions from fading?

Most outdoor patio cushions are constructed of special synthetic fabrics that are pretreated during manufacturing to resist fading and the effects of constant UV exposure. To keep your outdoor cushions fade-free for longer, you might want to consider making slipcovers or using specially fitted outdoor furniture covers.

You also may try situating your outdoor furniture in a shady spot, or removing the patio cushions and storing them in the garage or shed. Some fabrics can be treated (or re-treated) with a UV-resistant spray to minimize fading.