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How to Clean Outdoor Cushions, According to a Cleaning Expert

Pink outdoor cushions on outdoor couch.

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These days, some outdoor furniture can be easily mistaken for indoor—as performance fabrics continue to improve, you can make your backyard patio look as cute as your living room with rugs, couches, and cushions designed to stand up to the outdoors.

But, even the best water-resistant fabrics need to be cleaned from time to time. For tips on keeping your outdoor cushions sparkling for many summers to come, we spoke with Mark Feldman, Chief Home Officer and General Manager at Riverbend Home.

Meet the Expert

Mark Feldman is the Chief Home Officer and General Manager at Riverbend Home.

How Often Should You Clean Outdoor Cushions?

Most outdoor furniture fabrics are made from stain- and water-resistant materials that are designed to stand up to the elements better than materials like cotton. But, that doesn't mean you can just throw the pillows out and forget about them forever. Some regular maintenance goes a long way for keeping them looking good (and free of mildew and mold) for summers to come.

"Rain and humidity can leave fabrics damp and lead to mold and mildew developing, so it’s important to make sure normal cleaning is part of your routine," Feldman explains. He recommends cleaning your cushions twice a year: once in the spring when you take them out of storage, and once in the fall before putting them away.

You should always follow the manufacturer's instructions, but in lieu of instructions, Feldman recommends the following for basic cleaning.

Things You'll Need:

  • Dish detergent
  • Borax
  • White vinegar
  • Bucket of water
  • Hose
  • Soft brush

Step 1: Try Mild Solution for First Cleaning

You can use a mild solution of dish soap and water, or mix a solution with 2 teaspoons of dish detergent and 1/2 cup of Borax to get your cleaning started. Scrub the pillows clean with a soft brush.

Step 2: Try White Vinegar for Mold or Mildew

Feldman cautions against using bleach on mold or mildew since it can damage the fabric. If stains or mildew persist, try using a solution of white vinegar and water. Then, allow the cushions to fully air-dry. Removable cushions can also be washed in the washer on a delicate cycle.

Step 3: Enlist Your Hose

If you have a hose, don't be afraid to use it. You can rinse off your cushions prior to washing, as well as rinse off the soap. No matter what, allow your cushions or cushion covers to fully air-dry before using them again.

Unless care instructions indicate otherwise, avoid using the dryer: it is too likely to cause shrinking and damage.

Step 4: Go for a Deep Clean

If it's been a while since you deep-cleaned your cushions, you may find the detergent solution isn't enough.

"Although patio furniture is designed to be outdoors, fall and winter weather can damage your furniture if you don't take proper precautions," Feldman says. Sometimes, the best option is to use a power washer to give them "a good blast." This should be a last-ditch effort to rescue moldy pillows, he cautions, because many manufacturers won't recommend it. If you keep it on a low setting, it can get extra life out of extra-worn pillows.

Another trick? Use a Mr. Clean eraser, especially on vinyl. Pillows can also be soaked in a solution of warm water, ½ cup dish soap, and few tablespoons of white vinegar.

Tips for Keeping Outdoor Cushions Clean

For outdoor cushions, the best offense is a good defense. For starters, look for performance fabrics meant to stand up to the outdoors, like Sunbrella, which is stain- and fade-resistant. Feldman also likes Olefin, also known as polypropylene, which is similar to Sunbrella.

Before pillows get so moldy that they need a vigorous scrub or soak, take care to keep them out of the elements. Store them in the off-season and in extreme weather conditions. Feldman also recommends protective sealants, like Scotchgard, to further prevent staining and mildew. Finally, look for a cover to protect pillows and furniture when not in use. If outdoor furniture is in a sunroom, a humidifier can also help keep things from staying moldy and damp.

Patio furniture covers can also be good to use throughout the warm season for extreme weather and throughout the cold months. But even if your patio furniture is covered during the winter, you'll want to store cushions inside to really protect them. This is an excellent time to clean and treat them, too.