How to clean outdoor cushions: 4 easy steps to freshening up garden upholstery

Find out how to clean outdoor cushions the expert way and your garden sofa and chairs will look smart again in no time

modern outdoor sofa and pink wall
(Image credit: Go Modern)

Discover how to clean outdoor cushions and you will soon transform them back to their former glory. The fabric may be looking a little grubby and marked, even if it has been pre-treated with a stain-resistant protector, but even so you can still get things back to looking their best.

Outdoor cushions are a key accessory when it comes to relaxing in comfort in your backyard but they can take a drubbing over time, especially once you factor in the odd downpour, red wine spillages and barbecue mishaps, plus kids and pets. If your patio furniture cushions are not looking their best they will also detract from the look of your outdoor furniture set-up.

So now's the time to take action and give your outdoor cushions a little TLC. With some careful care and maintenance, you can make sure your patio furniture stays looking its best all year round. 

grey dining set and pink wall with accessories

Miami Corner Dining Set Grey by Luxury Rattan

(Image credit: Luxury Rattan)

Step by step: how to clean outdoor cushions

When it comes to how to clean outdoor furniture one of the key items you will probably need to give a lot of attention to is outdoor upholstery. It's a cinch with our easy guide.

You will need:

  • Vacuum cleaner with upholstery attachment
  • Soft-bristled brush
  • Mild soap such as Woolite or dish detergent
  • Bleach to remove mold or mildew stains (but not if the care label says otherwise)
  • Bucket of water
  • Garden hose
  • Absorbent towels

1. Vacuum or brush away any dust

Shake the cushion well then use the upholstery attachment on your vacuum cleaner or a soft bristled brush to remove any loose dirt or dust that may have accumulated on the surface of the cushion covers or in the seams and around decorative details.

It's a good idea to do this regularly anyway to keep your best garden furniture looking good.

Always clean your outdoor cushions outside. Choose a spot in the garden where you can lay out the cushions easily. Be sure to do this on a protective sheet of plastic to avoid creating any new stains on the cushions. Position the sheet away from plants too so they don't get splashed with detergent.

patio with corner sofa and large floor lamp

Savona lounge collection by Suns Lifestyle

(Image credit: SUNS Lifestyle)

2. Mix up your cleaning solution

Next read the care label on your outdoor seating cushions and follow the instructions carefully. If the care label is missing check the manufacturer's website as there may be information you can access there.

'Be sure to follow the instructions as outlined on cleaning and care products to ensure that your outdoor upholstery pieces will be looking their best for many seasons to come,' says Reilly Gray of Suns Lifestyle.

Mix your mild soap or other cleaning solution with clean water in a bucket. Dip the soft bristled brush into the bucket then gently scrub the surface of the cushion. Pay particular attention to any stains and repeat as necessary. Wait for a few minutes to let the cleaning solution thoroughly soak into the cushion.

It's always a good idea to be up to speed on the best materials for outdoor furniture, especially if you think you might need to replace the cushions.

person wearing yellow rubber gloves and holding a sponge over a bucket of soapy water

(Image credit: Valerii Honcharuk/Alamy Stock Photo)

3. Rinse the cushions well

Use your garden hose to rinse away all the cleaning solution thoroughly. Set the hose to medium to avoid unnecessarily drenching the cushions. Continue to do this until the water runs clear. 

person holding a garden hose with sprinkler attachment

(Image credit: Pavel Rodimov/Alamy Stock Photo)

4. Let the cushions air dry

Ideally you will have chosen a hot sunny day to clean your outdoor cushions so they will air dry easily. 

'Excess moisture can be absorbed with thick towels to ensure that as much moisture is absorbed as possible before leaving them to dry,' suggests Laura Schwarze of Luxury Rattan.

Then stand the cushions up vertically. Be sure to keep them on the protective plastic so that any fresh dirt or garden debris doesn't become attached to them and spoil their new look.

How do you remove mildew or mold from outdoor cushions?

Stains like mildew and mold need something a little stronger to get to work on them. Wearing rubber gloves, first use a brush to scrape away as much of the mildew or mold as you can.

Put some undiluted distilled white vinegar in a plastic bottle with a spray nozzle then apply liberally to the stains. Let the vinegar soak into the fabric for around 20-30 minutes to let it do its work. 

If the stain doesn't seem to be shifting try applying a vinegar soaked cloth to the spot and leaving it for a while so the fabric absorbs it. Then gently scrub the cushions with a soft bristled brush.

Finally, clean the cushion with a sponge dipped in a solution of detergent mixed with water. Then rinse and air-dry the cushions completely in a sunny spot as before.

This method can also be useful when considering how to clean a patio umbrella to remove a build-up of mold or mildew too. 

Can you put outdoor cushion covers in the washing machine?

Remember that when it comes to how to clean outdoor cushions many of them feature removable machine washable covers. Follow the manufacturer's instructions carefully then pop them in your machine. 

'For removable cushion covers you can definitely make use of your washing machine,' says Laura Schwarz. 'For garden cushion covers that are in need of a simple refresh, pop them in your washing machine with your regular detergent. To dry, hang them outside or on your radiator and make sure that they are completely dry before placing them back on the sofa inserts.'

Alternatively you can also soak the cushion covers in warm soapy water. Then sponge or brush gently if needed, rinse with clean water and let them air dry thoroughly before replacing them.

person putting grey fabric into a washing machine

Some outdoor furniture covers can be cleaned in the washing machine

(Image credit: Aire Images/Getty Images)

Do outdoor fabrics require different cleaning methods?

'The first thing to note is that outdoor fabrics come in a variety of materials and include acrylics, polyesters, polyolefins and often combinations of all,' says Tina Mahony of Go Modern. 'Some are removable and washable at 30 degrees, others are easily cleaned with water and a mild soap solution.  

What they all have in common is that they have been developed specifically for outdoor use. Which means they have a very high resistance to UV rays, chlorine, rain water, and abrasion. 

'There have been huge advances over the past few years in the type of fabric available for outdoor furniture,' says Tina. 'Gone are the days of scratchy, rough material in place of much softer tactile fabrics.  

'Always check labels when buying so that you know what the fabric is. Good quality furniture will also come with advice booklets on care and maintenance which will help you keep your outdoor cushions looking good for years.'

chair with cushions and dog

Manutti Flex Garden Armchair by Go Modern

(Image credit: Go Modern)

When is the best time to clean outdoor cushions?

When cleaning outdoor furniture cushions you might want to do this at the start of the season when they first come out of storage, but if they have been kept in a clean and dry place it's probably not necessary. 

You will definitely want to clean your outdoor cushions though before putting them into storage at the end of the summer season.

It's also important to check them regularly for common stains like food and drink spillages or mildew as it's good to act on this sort of problem straightaway before stains are allowed to settle.

Why not find out how to clean an outdoor rug at the same time?

Can you restore outdoor cushions from sun damage?

'We always suggest removing cushions from furnishings when they're not in use but will be out in the sun all day, for example, if you're away on holiday,' says Laura Schwarz. 'The sun can bleach colors very easily on a hot day and to keep that new, vibrant look it’s best to store them inside when they aren’t in use.'

This especially applies to linen and cotton cushions, as the finer the fabric, the more prone it will be to discoloration.

If your cushions have already faded all is not lost. 'There's a simple solution to brighten them back up,' says Laura. 'Sprinkle baking soda or spray white vinegar on the faded area, then wash as usual to help give them a refresh.'

modern chair with cushions

Tribu Natal Alu Garden Meridienne by Go Modern

(Image credit: Go Modern)

How do you keep outdoor cushions looking good?

'Most outdoor cushions have water-repellent upholstery and fillings that are designed to dry quickly, but with prolonged exposure to rainwater, the inner cushions can still become wet,' says Reilly Gray. 'Be sure to keep the cushions as dry as possible and remove any excess water after heavy rainfall.'

The cushion inners can become softer over time and use, so it's important to keep rotating them round as you would the sofa in your living room, giving them a good shake and plumping them up. This will ensure even usage across the upholstery and avoid the cushion going flat or clumping in one place.'

'Many outdoor cushions are treated with a special coating that resists water and stains,' say Reilly. 'Replenish this coating or protect untreated fabrics with a protective fabric spray like Scotchgard Water Shield, available from Amazon. Make sure the cushions are completely clean beforehand to avoid sealing in dirt or stains.'

Follow our advice and make sure your outdoor sofa and garden bench cushions look spot on right through the summer season!

Sarah Wilson
Content Editor

Lifestyle journalist Sarah Wilson has been writing about gardens since 2015. She's written for, Livingetc, Homes & Gardens, Easy Gardens and Modern Gardens magazines. Having studied introductory garden and landscape design, she is currently putting the skills learned to good use in her own space where the dream is establishing a cutting garden.