How to Clean an Outdoor Rug to Remove Mildew, Dirt, and Stains

When was the last time you gave your outdoor rug a deep clean? Use these six easy steps to remove dirt, dust, and stains from outdoor rugs.

Outdoor rugs are a low-maintenance, cost-efficient way to beautify any outdoor living space. But if neglected, outdoor rugs can accumulate grimy buildup over time.

Most people remember to wipe down tables and chairs when hosting a backyard playdate, garden party, or barbecue. But chances are your colorful rug gets no love. Outdoor rugs, carpets, and mats accumulate dirt, bugs, and allergens that are easy to track into the house. Luckily, because most outdoor rugs are built to withstand the elements, your guests might be none the wiser. Still, you'll know when it's time to give your outdoor mats and carpets a deep clean based on any stains, footprints, or tree debris that won't budge.

deck with woven patio furniture and gray and yellow cushions
Dustin Peck

How to Clean Outdoor Rugs

If you can't remember the last time you cleaned your outdoor rug, here are six basic steps to get started.

What You'll Need

  • Broom
  • Vacuum
  • Hose
  • Liquid dish soap
  • Vinegar, baking soda, or club soda (optional)
  • Soft-bristle brush

Step 1: Ditch the Dirt

Grab a dust mask and gloves before giving your mat or rug a hearty shake. Pick up the rug and hold it over grass or an open space where it's ok for the dust to settle. If size permits, shake it a few times to release the dirt. If the rug fibers are tightly bound or it is simply too large to hold, you can drape it over a fence or railing outside. Knock loose any surface debris with your hand or sweep it with a brush or broom.

Step 2: Vacuum Outdoor Rug

A fine layer of dust will remain even after shaking the rug. Use a vacuum to clean both sides. While handheld or battery-powered vacuums are convenient, you'll want the best suction to release deep stains or locked-in dirt. Depending on the material of your rug, consider using a wet/dry vacuum for a deep clean. For pet hair or stains, bring your indoor vacuum outside to use the turbo brushes and handheld rods.

Step 3: Rinse Rug

If your rug is made of washable materials (check the care label for instructions), you'll want to rinse it. Rugs made from plastic materials are easy to hose down. Do this on an inclined surface, such as the driveway or yard, so the water can drain quickly.

Step 4: Lather and Gently Scrub

Much like your indoor rug, outdoor rugs can benefit greatly from a gentle scrub. First, check the care instructions to make sure that soaps won't damage the materials. Always refer to the manufacturer's recommendations, which can usually be found online if the tag is missing.

Next, choose a preferred cleaning solution. DIY cleaning solutions, like diluted dish soap, white vinegar, or baking soda, work well for most outdoor rugs. For most messes, a simple mix of a few drops of liquid dish soap in warm water should do the trick. Both white vinegar and baking soda are great ways to remove mildew or mold from an outdoor rug; just be careful not to don't overdo it as you might diminish the rug's original color.

Club soda is another popular choice, especially for absorbing acidic stains like red wine. For sticky stains, tough spots, or greasy messes, hydrogen peroxide and baking soda mixed into a paste can be used as a spot treatment. Alternatively, there are many specialty or store-bought rug cleaners to consider, including pet-safe, green, and eco-friendly varieties.

After lathering, use a soft-bristle brush to gently scrub spots or the entire surface, as needed.

Step 5: Rinse and Dry

Rinse with water to remove all cleaning agents and lay the outdoor rug flat to dry or pin it to a clothesline. Avoid draping rugs over railings, as they might lose shape as they dry, or transfer color from the railing. Once the top of the rug is dry, turn it over to dry the backside. If the rug material is colorfast, consider sun drying. Make sure that both sides are completely dry before moving the rug into storage or placing back on your patio.

Step 6: Store or Place Rug

Many people opt to change their outdoor rug with the seasons. If you're expecting snow or heavy rain, take your rug inside to prolong its life. Use stretch cords or ropes to secure it in a roll. If it will be stored outside in a deck or shed, consider storing the rug in plastic or under a tarp. If your outdoor rug is small enough to be stored in your home, put it in a place you'll remember so you'll easily be able to place it again next season.

Of course, if you decide to put your newly cleaned outdoor rug back in place, remember to wash the surface where it once was. This means pressure-washing the deck or hosing down the lawn before laying down your fresh rug. Last but not least, set a reminder on your calendar to do this again in about three months, after the summer entertaining season comes to a close.

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