Standard Care for Outdoor Cushions

With the right care, your outdoor cushions will keep looking great after several seasons - but you need to know how to clean and protect them all year. The best way to care for outdoor cushions is to cover them when they're not in use. If temperatures or weather conditions are going to be extreme, stash them indoors until the weather improves outside. Covering or storing your cushions protects them from potentially harmful UV rays, moisture and mildew throughout the year, keeping them looking fresh, new and ready to use. It's a good idea to invest in furniture covers made specifically to protect outdoor cushions. A good rule of thumb is that if you have to close and secure outdoor umbrellas due to weather, it's time to bring in your cushions, as well.

When an outdoor cushion becomes wet, remove its cover and allow it to air-dry as soon as possible. Letting moisture remain in a cushion, particularly in its inner core, can ruin the padding. Allow cushions to dry completely before putting them back on lounge furniture or dining furniture

How to Clean Outdoor Cushions

Spot-cleaning is generally fine for outdoor pillows and cushions. Brush away loose dirt and debris before you get the cushion wet - if you leave loose dirt on the cushion, you'll push it into the fabric's fibers. Using a wet sponge and mild soap, gently scrub spots of dirt with a circular motion. Rinse with clean water to remove soap and dirt.

If the cushion's entire cover looks dingy or dirty, follow the manufacturer's instructions for an all-over clean. In most cases, it's fine to soak the cover in warm water, hand-wash it without detergent, and allow it to air-dry.

When the cover is heavily soiled with dirt, grease or other grime, you should check the manufacturer's instructions on using detergent. If detergent is safe:

  • Remove the slipcover from the cushion.
  • Brush away loose dirt and debris, or shake the cover vigorously.
  • Machine-wash the cover on a gentle cycle using a mild detergent.
  • Air-dry the slipcover outdoors (unless it's too humid outside; then dry it indoors).
  • Put the cover on the cushion once it's completely dry.

Sometimes the cushion itself becomes dirty. If that happens, check the manufacturer's instructions for cleaning. Typically, though, cushions need to be hand-washed and air-dried to preserve the foam's integrity. When the cushion is damaged or too dirty to clean, you'll most likely need a replacement cushion.

Dealing With Mildew Spots

If you have an issue with mildew on your outdoor cushions, you'll need to treat it immediately. Untreated mildew becomes worse very quickly.

Check the manufacturer's cleaning instructions before you treat mildew to ensure it's safe to use bleach; if it is, create a solution comprising 1 gallon of water, 1 cup of bleach, and 2 cups of detergent. Mix the solution thoroughly and spritz it on the cushion. It's important to cover the entire cushion evenly because mildew could be growing in spots you can't quite see yet. (Bonus tip: This recipe also works well to clean rugs and doormats affected by mildew.)

Let the solution soak into the cushion for 30 minutes, then scrub the whole thing with a nylon brush or tough sponge. Rinse the cushion with clean water and allow it to dry completely before you put it back on its chair or bench.

You can also use lemon juice and salt instead of bleach. Mix 2 tablespoons of lemon juice and 1 tablespoon of salt into a paste that you can rub into mildew spots. Allow the paste to sit for an hour before you rinse it away.

White vinegar can clear away small amounts of mildew growth, as well. Rub the vinegar into the spots and allow it to soak for an hour, wipe away residue with a sponge, and repeat the process as necessary. Rinse the cushion when the mildew is gone, and allow it to air-dry before using the cushion again.

Pro Tips for Caring for Outdoor Cushions

  • When you store outdoor cushions, never keep them in plastic. Plastic can trap moisture and encourage mold and mildew growth.
  • Bring outdoor cushions inside when it's raining, even if they're not getting wet. The moisture in the air can find its way into the fabric's fibers and cause mildew.
  • Never machine-dry outdoor cushions or cushion covers. The heat from the dryer could shrink or warp the fabric, ruining the cushion's appearance.

Caring for your outdoor cushions properly will help ensure they provide you with years of enjoyment. Keeping them clean and bringing them inside (or covering them) during inclement weather will help protect your investment and ensure your cushions are always ready for an impromptu party, a family dinner outside or an afternoon lounging in the sun.