Ranch O|H:  Patios & Decks by Feldman Architecture

How to clean outdoor cushions

Amy Buxton Amy Buxton
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Crafting a delightful outdoor space in the form of a stylish and sunny patio is an endeavour well worth committing to, but it does require a certain level of commitment to upkeep and maintenance. In particular, outdoor furniture will need to be maintained, not just structurally though, as the cushions will have to be attended to, to prevent sun fade and lots of cleaning will be necessary, to prolong the life of the cushions themselves. 

In terms of cleaning techniques, there are a number that seem to have become second nature, such as looking after indoor carpets, but when it comes to how to clean outdoor cushions, it seems as though it's only upholstery professionals that know all the secrets! 

We've put this guide together to offer a comprehensive rundown of all the ongoing care practices that need to be addressed in a bid to make outdoor cushions stay plump and colorful for many summers to come.

Why clean outdoor cushions?

Most patio furniture will come with cushions, but even if bought separately, they all seem to claim to be weather and waterproof, but is that really true? Perhaps resistant would be a better word, as the elements will have an effect, eventually, even though the most commonly used materials are treated acrylics, polyester or vinyl. On the inside, they will be reticulated foam, to allow any water that penetrates to pass through quickly. 

Despite particular materials being used, sun fading, water and spilled drinks can all have a damaging effect on outdoor cushions and as such, regular cleaning and maintenance is essential. It might sound like this will be a tiresome process, but in reality, it's very simple to stay on top of everything, if a methodical approach is taken.

Clean outdoor cushions little and often.

In a bid to stay ahead of the game, a little ongoing day-to-day cleaning is a good idea. There are a few simple and quick techniques that can help:

- Brush off any dry dirt and garden rubbish. When leaves fall, they should be wiped away from cushions, to prevent them starting to turn to mulch and leaving a stain. General dirt and dust should also be brushed off, just like you would with any surface inside the home.

- Vacuum the cushions. For a deeper clean, take the vacuum cleaner outdoors and give the cushions a quick going over after completing the interior of the home. It won't take long, but will really help to prevent a dirt build up.

- Pay attention to the seams. Mold and mildew is more likely to start in the creases and edge seams of any outdoor cushions, so be sure to give them a thorough wipe down regularly.

When it comes to answering the question of how to clean patio cushions, prevention is better than cure, so a quick wipe every week will save lots of time later on and make sure that everything is ready to use, come the warmer weather.

Spot cleaning outdoor cushions is essential.

Let's imagine that a garden party or barbecue is being enjoyed by a number of people. It's more than likely that a few spills and drips will occur, which will need instant attention to prevent permanent discoloration. The best way to deal with a spot stain is as follows:

- 1. Blot the wet spot, being careful not to rub it. Rubbing will simply push the stain into the fibers and make it harder to properly and totally remove. Water-based spills will be simpler to blot but those with an oil base will be better dealt with by applying some cornstarch prior to blotting.

- 2. Once a stain has been properly blotted, it can be rinsed through with a little detergent. The key here is to ensure that a very gentle soap is used. Something such as standard dish soap will be best, or a delicate washing powder moisture, so as to prevent damage to the material fibers.

- 3. Once the soap has done its job, it needs to be rinsed out thoroughly. As it is advisable to let outdoor cushions air-dry, it is sensible to wash the entire cushion, otherwise a water mark could be left behind, which will be just as unsightly as the original stain.

Tackle bad stains on outdoor cushions.

Leicester House:  Patios & Decks by SPG Architects
SPG Architects

Leicester House

SPG Architects

Some stains, if left for longer than is advisable, will take far more work to remove. Of course, it's not always possible to be on hand when a stain is first created, so once it has been spotted, it could have been in place for a few days already, meaning that it will have been trying to damage the cushion cover for a while. Bird muck is a pertinent example of an unexpected but troublesome stain that is unlikely to be caught at the time of creation. 

How to wash outdoor cushions with these more annoying stains is a serious question, but the process can be simple:

- 1. Combine warm water with some gentle dish soap. Blot the mixture onto the stain and leave for a few minutes, to allow the soap to start breaking down the stain.

- 2. Take a soft-bristled brush, such as an old toothbrush (which has been rinsed out properly!) and give the stain a little scrub. A gentle touch is best here, so rather than taking less time and pressing harder, go easy for a longer amount of time and add more detergent, if needed.

- 3. Rinse the cushion properly and make sure that the whole seat pad has been cleaned, to prevent pesky water stains from forming.

Cleaning mold and mildew stains from outdoor cushions.

Riverside Retreat - Sun Porch:  Patios & Decks by Lorna Gross Interior Design
Lorna Gross Interior Design

Riverside Retreat—Sun Porch

Lorna Gross Interior Design

In terms of the best way to clean patio furniture cushions, especially those that are showing signs of mildew, bleach will be a valuable tool in the household arsenal. Mold and mildew really are damaging build-ups that can get out of hand when not monitored closely and the best way to see it of is:

- 1. Combine 1 cup of bleach with a quarter-cup of mild detergent and a gallon of water. This will produce a powerful yet non-abrasive mixture to use on outdoor cushions.

- 2. Spritz the bleach mixture over the entirety of any cushion that is showing signs of mold or mildew. Leave it on for around 15 minutes, out of direct sunlight, so as to prevent a lightening of the material.

- 3. Take a clean sponge or cloth and gently work the mixture into all of the material, being sure to remove any and all traces of mildew and mold. Bleach will actively kill off the spores that create mildew, so once all removed, the problem shouldn't return too soon.

4. Rinse the outdoor cushions thoroughly and evenly, then allow to air-dry in the garden. Drying in the open air will mean that the bleach smell will dissipate quickly. 

For more developed mold and mildew problems, extra bleach can be added to the cleaning solution, but it is very advisable to test it on a small and unnoticeable patch of cushion cover material, to make sure that it won't leave any damage. Most treated fabrics that are suitable for outdoor cushions will be able to handle a diluted bleach solution, but it's best to be sure before spritzing it everywhere.

Some people prefer to use a pressure washer to get rid of mildew, but this is not always a good idea, as it can result in damage. A good rule of thumb for any outdoor cushion stain-cleaning is to go gently and work up to more aggressive techniques, as nobody wants to be replacing perfectly good cushions because of damage caused unnecessarily.

Are you happy to commit to a little extra cleaning, to prolong the life of outdoor cushions?
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