How To Clean And Protect Your Outdoor Cushions

Because we know you left them out all winter long.

It’s spring again. Yet another winter has come and gone, and you forgot to store away your outdoor cushions … again. Ah, they’re made to live outside. Surely your outdoor cushions can withstand a little freezing rain and snow a few months out of the year, eh?

They’ll probably be fine, but they could sure use a seasonal pick-me-up. (Well, unless the cushion’s colors are faded from the sun or damaged from water. Then we can’t really help you, sorry.) But if it’s stain removal you’re after, you’re in the right place. We’ve got three different techniques for revitalizing your outdoor cushions just in time for patio season.

There are three methods for cleaning your outdoor cushions.

They each require a slightly different level of effort on your part, and which you choose depends on just how filthy your outdoor cushions are, what material they’re made of and whether or not the pillow cases are removable. It’s best to always check your outdoor pillows for specific cleaning instructions, or look up the manufacturer’s site if they lack any sort of tag with washing directions.

  • Hand wash
  • Machine wash
  • Power sprayer

But first: treat the stains!

Before you go rushing into the garage for your power washer, let’s take a minute and spot treat those weird stains (or no one’s going to ever want to sit in that seat).

Bird poop

  • Yes, this part is gross. Remove as much of the bird poop as you can with a microfiber cloth. If it’s crusty (lucky you!), scrape the poop off with your preferred scraping tool (not your fingernail, though).
  • Mix a cleaning solution using 1 teaspoon of laundry detergent with 2 cups of warm water.
  • Using a spray bottle, apply your soapy mixture to the stain.
  • Use a soft bristle brush or a toothbrush to scrub the soapy mixture into the fabric.
  • Rinse well with clean, warm water to remove all soap residue.
  • Let pillows air dry.
  • If the bird poop is still there, mix a baking soda paste (3:1 baking soda to water ratio), schmear it onto the offending spot and let it sit for about 30 minutes. Wipe off the paste with a clean, damp rag. Repeat your soapy water scrub and clean water rinse and let air dry. That should do the trick.

Mold

  • Begin by brushing or scraping off as much mildew as possible with a nylon brush.
  • Mix a cleaning solution with 1 part baking soda and 4 parts warm water.
  • Apply your cleaning solution to the moldy cushion with a microfiber cloth in a blotting motion.
  • If the mold is really bad, let the baking soda solution sit for a few minutes before blotting. Don’t let it totally dry before blotting, though.
  • Rinse the cushion with clean, warm water.
  • Let the cushion air dry completely.
  • If the baking soda solution doesn’t dissolve the mold,
  • Try a 1:1 mixture of hydrogen peroxide and water, spray onto the moldy cushion and repeat the blotting, rinsing and air drying steps. A diluted bleach solution (1 tablespoon of bleach to 2 cups of warm water) will have the same effect on mold, but bleach could ruin your outdoor cushion’s color. Be sure to check the cushion’s cleaning instructions or label before using bleach.

Oil or grease

  • Sunscreen, bug spray and greasy drips from your tasty BBQ (mmm, buttery corn and juicy cheeseburgers) often end up staining your outdoor cushions. It’s their destiny, after all.
  • Soak up any excess oil with a microfiber cloth.
  • Sprinkle an absorbent powder, like cornstarch or baking soda, onto the stain.
  • Let the powder sit for 10–15 minutes.
  • Scrape away the dried powder with a straightedge.
  • Repeat as needed.
  • Rinse well with a clean, damp rag.
  • Let cushion air dry.

Not sure WTF that stain is?

  • Pretreat any mysterious stains with oxygen bleach or detergent.
    • Simply spray your cleaning agent of choice directly onto the stain, or rub it in with a scrub brush. If using soap, rinse well with clean water to remove soapy residue.

How to clean outdoor cushions

- Hand wash

Most outdoor cushions should be hand washed, and it’s actually not that hard at all. But you might get a bit wet doing it.

You’ll need:

  • A vacuum with an upholstery attachment (or a wet vac works)

  • Soft bristle brush

  • Laundry detergent

  • Water bucket

  • Hose

  • Clean towel

  • Vinegar (for neutralizing smells)

  • Hand wash your outdoor cushions on the cement, as to avoid creating future grass or mud stains.

  • Shake out cushions, smack ’em together and then hit them with the vacuum attachment to get rid of all that loose dust and dirt, so you’re not just smearing it around. Be sure to vacuum the seams, zippers and decorative bits and buttons where dirt can collect and hide out.

  • Mix a cleaning solution: 1 tablespoon of detergent into a bucket of water (about 1 gallon).

  • Dip your scrub brush into the cleaning solution, and scrub the pillows. Make sure to get the back, front, sides and creases.

  • Let the solution sit on the pillows for about 5 minutes.

  • Rinse off the cushions thoroughly with your hose, making sure you got all of the soapy residue off.

  • Gently wring or squeeze the water out of the cushions. We recommend towel drying them off as best you can. You can even hit them with a hair dryer to kickstart the drying process.

  • Let cushions air dry completely (ideally you’ve picked a sunny day for this chore).

  • If your cushions are still dirty (or if they smell funny), you can try out a vinegar-and-water-based solution (¼ cup of white vinegar to 4 cups of water). Vinegar neutralizes smells, and it’s acidic nature is perfect for cleaning practically everything.

    • Spray the vinegar solution onto the vacuumed cushions.
    • Let it sit for 15 minutes.
    • Use your scrub brush to tackle any lingering stains.
    • Hose off your cushions with clean water, and let air dry.

- Machine wash

If your outdoor cushions have removable covers on them, that’s great! Unzip the covers, and toss them in the washer—but we would double check (and maybe just triple check to be sure) the washing instructions on the tag before you commit to the washing machine method.

You’ll need:

  • A vacuum with an upholstery attachment (or a wet vac works)

  • Soft bristle brush for spot treatments

  • Mild laundry detergent

  • Washing machine

  • Dryer (Optional, since we recommend letting cushion covers air dry)

  • Shake out cushions, smack ’em together and then hit them with the vacuum attachment to get rid of all that loose dust and dirt. Be sure to vacuum the seams, zippers and decorative bits and buttons where dirt can collect and hide out.

  • Spot treat any major stains, following our instructions above.

  • Follow the washing instructions on the cushions, which will likely advise you to wash on a gentle, cold setting.

  • Throw cushion covers in the dryer on low, cool heat—but don’t allow them to dry all the way! Replace slightly damp cushion covers onto cushions, and allow to air dry so that they stretch back into shape and don’t shrink.

  • Alternatively, allow cushion covers to air dry in the sun before putting them back onto the cushions.

  • To remove grease stains from cotton and poly cotton fabric cushions, apply a button-sized amount of Dawn Dish Soap. Use your finger to rub it into the stain, and allow soap to set for a few minutes. Toss it into the washing machine, and wash normally!

- Power sprayer

Most instructions for cleaning your outdoor cushions will steer you away from using a power sprayer to clean them, for fear that you could damage the seams, zippers or fabric. Our advice is that it’s probably okay to use a power sprayer for a semiannual seasonal deep clean (not, like, your routine weekly cushion cleaning) if you feel confident your cushions are up to it—and be sure not to put the sprayer too close to the cushion. Your sprayer tip should remain at least 1–2 feet away from the surface of your cushions at all times to avoid damaging them.

You’ll need:

  • A vacuum with an upholstery attachment (or a wet vac works)

  • Pressure washer

  • Soap spray tip

  • Soft bristle brush for spot treatments

  • Pressure washer cleaning solution

  • Shake out cushions, smack ’em together and then hit them with the vacuum attachment to get rid of all that loose dust and dirt, so you’re not just smearing it around. Be sure to vacuum the seams, zippers and decorative bits and buttons where dirt can collect and hide out.

  • Spot treat any major stains, following our instructions above.

  • Add the cleaning solution to your power sprayer’s reservoir, and make sure the spray hose is attached firmly.

  • Attach your hose to the pressure washer, and give it a test spray. If you’ve got a special soap spray tip for your power sprayer, attach that now.

  • Spray the cushions all over on both sides with the cleaning solution. Wee! Power sprayers are fun.

  • Let the cleaning solution sit for about 5 minutes. Use your scrub brush to tackle any persistent nasty stains.

  • Rinse off the cleaning solution from the pillows with a clean water spray, making sure you get both sides and all the seams so that there’s no soapy residue left on your cushions.

  • Gently wring or squeeze the water out of the cushions. We recommend towel drying them off as best you can. You can even hit them with a hair dryer to kickstart the drying process.

  • Let cushions air dry completely. Lean them vertically against a fence or something, preferably in the sun.

Finish + protect your outdoor cushions

  • Febreze Fabric can give your outdoor cushions that extra fresh and clean feeling, especially if they still smell like last year’s condiments.
  • Water sealer or fabric protector will help color fading and water damage and actually repel spills and stains. Apply water sealer and/or fabric protector after you’ve washed your outdoor cushions at the beginning of each season, and they ought to be good to go.
  • Keep them dry. We know, that’s ridiculous. After all, it rains outside. And outside is where the cushions live. But exposure to prolonged moisture still isn’t that cool for cushions. After the rain stops, give them a quick wipe with a clean towel ,and tilt them on their sides to dry off completely. If the covers are zipped on, occasionally unzip them to let out any secretly trapped moisture.
  • Rotate the cushions. This way, the same cushions aren’t always in the sun or shade all the time.
  • Hit cushions with a dry brush, or vacuum them often. The more you dry brush your cushions, the less caked on the dead bugs, bird poop and plant debris will be. More brushing equals less gunk.
  • Blot, don’t rub. Best to clean up spills ASAP, and remember to blot them with a microfiber rag—do not rub them! Rubbing spills will only make it worse.

Okay, you’re good to go for the spring season. Now you’d better get to cleaning your grill and tackling the rest of the to-do chores on your spring cleaning checklist before your friends show up, ready for day drinking and yard games.

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