Housekeeping Cleaning

How to Clean Outdoor Cushions, Whether They Have Removable Covers or Not

Vinegar and warm water go a long way.

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Photography by Katie Jameson

Don’t let an unsightly stain on your patio sectional ruin plans to relax with a post-workday glass of whatever you love. In most cases, knowing how to clean outdoor cushions can save you from buying a replacement. However, the right cleaning method depends on the size and age of the stain and the cushion itself. For instance, does it have a removable cover or is the whole thing machine washable? Is the cushion drenched with spilled milk or is it a little damp from a small drop of sauce? After you’ve sorted through these details, tackle the mess with tips from stylist Naomi deMañana—she offers up ideas on how to remove spots or dirt from outdoor cushions, whether the stains are newish or set in. 

How to Clean Outdoor Cushions

teak chairs near tub
Photography by Working Holiday Studio

The Supplies

Step 1: Check the Care Instructions

Confirm if the fabric is machine washable or removable, and look for manufacturer-recommended cleaning and drying methods or any that should be avoided.

Step 2: Take Off Any Removable Covers

Gather all the cushions, separating the ones with removable covers and those without into two piles. Unzip the cases and set them aside on a clean, dry surface outside on your patio or deck (this will keep flying particles from going all over the inside of your home). Do the same with the cushions. 

Step 3: Suck Up Dirt and Debris

Use your vacuum’s suction attachment to gently remove surface dirt, debris, or dust bunnies from the cushions without removable covers. Avoid applying too much pressure to prevent ripping or stretching the fabric, and don’t forget to clean hidden grime or crumbs around seams and buttons.

firepit on gravel patio
Photography by Eric Piasecki, Design by Dumais

Step 4: Toss Removable Covers in the Wash

Wash removable covers according to the individual care instructions, preferably using a detergent that won’t result in bleeding or fading colors or any other wear and tear on the fabric.

Step 5: Mix a Cleaning Solution

While deMañana recommends using a 1 part distilled vinegar to 3 parts warm-water solution (she prefers natural products wherever possible), diluted laundry detergent is also an effective stain remover. Pour both liquids into a bucket, water first.

Step 6: Now It’s Time to Spot-Clean 

Using gloves, dip a soft-bristled brush or sponge into the cleaning solution, then gently scrub away spots. You may have to go over stubborn stains more than once. After cleaning, allow the solution to sit on the cushions for five to 10 minutes.

Step 7: Rinse Off the Solution, Then Dry the Covers and Cushions

Clear the detergent off the cushions with a hose, making sure to rinse away excess vinegar or detergent solution. Allow the cushions to air-dry completely—deMañana suggests leaving them out in the sun for a few hours, but take note: While the best outdoor cushions are often made from fabric like polyester that shouldn’t fade in direct sunlight, some are not. Depending on the care instructions, you may be able to machine-dry your covers and cushions.

Step 8: Protect the Fabric

After the cushions are dry and re-covered, apply an anti–water repellent to keep water from seeping into the covers and cushions. This will prevent mildew and mold formation and go a long way toward keeping your cushions looking, feeling, and smelling fresh.

How often should you clean outdoor cushions?

Generally, outdoor cushions only need to be cleaned once or twice a year, with occasional spot treatments in between. Allowing excessive dirt buildup or long-standing stains or moisture to set in can reduce the life span and quality of outdoor furniture, making the cushions prone to mildew, mold, and permanent stains and odors over time.

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