How to Clean Outdoor Cushions and Pillows So They Last Longer

Rinse away dirt and stains with these easy tips for cleaning outdoor furniture cushions.

Cushions and pillows bring softness and style to outdoor furniture, but these plush accents endure a lot of wear and tear when exposed to the elements. The fabric can gather dirt, debris, mildew, tree sap, bird droppings, and other stains from outdoor use, so it's important to know how to clean outdoor cushions and pillows to keep your seating area fresh and comfortable.

Plan to wash your patio furniture and cushions before storing them away for the season, or more frequently as stains happen. Depending on where they're stored, you might also want to clean outdoor cushions and pillows before using them for the first time each year. Follow the steps below for the best way to clean outdoor cushions, including how to remove common stains like mildew from outdoor fabrics.

outdoor furniture sitting area of deck tree privacy
Keller and Keller Photography Inc

How to Clean Patio Cushions and Pillows

Some patio cushions and outdoor pillows feature removable covers that you can simply toss in the washing machine. Follow the manufacturer's instructions for washing and let air-dry completely before putting the covers back on.

If you can't remove the cover from your patio furniture cushions, refresh them using a simple cleaning solution and your garden hose. Be sure to do this on a solid outdoor surface, such as a patio or deck, to avoid creating new mud or grass stains on the cushions.

outdoor patio cleaning supplies
Photo: Jacob Fox; Stylist: Joseph Wanek

What You Need

  • Vacuum with upholstery attachment
  • Soft-bristled brush
  • Dish detergent
  • Borax
  • Bucket of water
  • Garden hose
  • Clean towel

Step 1: Vacuum Up Loose Debris

Using the upholstery attachment, vacuum over the surface of the cushion to remove loose dirt, dust, and debris. Pay special attention to seams and crevices that could hide dirt, and be careful around buttons or other decorative elements. You can also use a soft-bristled brush ($6, Amazon) to gently brush away grime.

scrubbing outdoor pillow with brush
Jacob Fox

Step 2: Scrub with Cleaning Solution

Mix 1 tablespoon dish detergent with 1/4 cup Borax ($6, Target) in a bucket of water. Use a brush dipped in the cleaning solution to scrub the entire surface, going back over stained areas as needed. Wait at least five minutes to allow the solution to soak.

Step 3: Rinse Cushions Using Garden Hose

Use a garden hose on medium-high pressure to rinse off the cushions. Be sure to thoroughly rinse away all of the cleaning solution. Don't use a pressure washer as this might damage the fabric.

Step 4: Let Dry Completely

Squeeze out any excess water with your hands, then blot the fabric with a clean towel to soak up as much moisture as possible. Prop the cushions up vertically and allow them to air-dry completely. Set them in a sunny spot to speed up the drying time.

How to Clean Outdoor Cushions with Vinegar

For a natural cleaning method, try using vinegar to clean outdoor cushions. Add 1/4 cup distilled white vinegar to 4 cups warm water and pour into a spray bottle. After vacuuming the surface, spray the cushions with the solution and let sit for 15 minutes. Use a soft brush to scrub any stained areas. Rinse with water and let air dry.

How to Remove Stains on Outdoor Cushions and Pillows

As with most stains, it's best to treat stains on outdoor cushions as soon as possible. Use these instructions for specific types of spots:

  • Grass stains: If the above Borax solution doesn't work on grass stains, use a liquid detergent that has stain-removing enzymes, such as Tide Heavy Duty Hygienic Clean Liquid Laundry Detergent ($13, Target). Use a soft brush to work the detergent into the stain and rinse with clean water.
  • Mold or mildew: Use a brush to scrape away as much of the mold or mildew as possible. Be sure to do this outside to avoid spreading the spores to other areas of your home. Spray undiluted distilled white vinegar over the affected area and wait at least 10 minutes. For stubborn stains, place a cloth soaked in vinegar over the spot. Scrub the cushions with a brush, then clean with a sponge dipped in water and a small amount of detergent. Rinse and let air-dry completely in a sunny spot.
  • Oil stains: Remove greasy stains from sunscreen, bug spray, and food by sprinkling cornstarch or baking soda on the fabric. Wait 15 minutes for the oil to be absorbed, then scrape off the powder with a straightedge like a ruler or credit card. Repeat as needed until the stain is gone.
  • Tree sap: Apply an enzyme-based stain remover to the stain, then sprinkle some powdered detergent on top to create a paste. Scrub gently with a brush and rinse with hot water. If the discoloration remains, wash with oxygen bleach ($8, Amazon) to restore the color.

Many outdoor cushions and pillows are treated with a special coating that resists water and stains. Replenish this coating or protect untreated fabrics with a protective fabric spray like Scotchgard Water and Sun Shield ($10, Amazon), ensuring the cushions are completely clean beforehand to avoid sealing in dirt or stains.

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