Choosing & Caring for Outdoor Cushions

Learn more about the different types of outdoor cushion materials and how to care for them to keep your patio looking fresh year after year!

Outdoor furniture transforms the exterior of your home into its own unique and separate living space that you and your family can enjoy, weather permitting. Patio furniture is often accented with outdoor cushions to provide an added layer of comfort to pieces like lounge chairs, chaise lounges, sofas, loveseats, benches, and ottomans. Outdoor cushions come in a variety of colors and materials to fit your own personal style and customize your space.

Just like your indoor furniture, your outdoor cushions need to be cleaned and cared for to maintain their look and feel. Although outdoor materials are manufactured specifically to withstand outdoor conditions, your patio cushions will look better and last longer with a little bit of care.

Things to Consider Before Buying

There are several different outdoor cushion materials available, and there are a few things to consider before you decide which material would work best for your space.

  1. Price. How much are you willing to  spend on your outdoor cushions? More expensive materials tend to last longer and do a better job at withstanding the elements, but not everyone has a big budget for cushions they will typically only use for a few months out of the year. Consider how much you are willing to spend on cushions, and you will narrow down your choices.

  2. Effort. Are you the kind of person who vacuums your couch cushions once a week, or can you barely be bothered to make your bed in the morning? Think about how much time you’re willing, and able, to spend maintaining your outdoor cushions throughout the year before choosing the right material for you.

  3. Weather. The weather where you live will have a huge effect on your outdoor cushions. Is your climate typically humid? Do you get a lot of rain? Will the cushions be sitting in the sun for most of the day? Different materials, although meant for outdoor use, will be affected differently by weather conditions.

  4. Storage. Will your outdoor cushions be outside year round, or are you able to store them indoors during the off season? The type and amount of wear and tear your cushions will withstand in a given year will impact the type of outdoor cushion you should purchase.

  5. Longevity. How long do you plan on keeping your patio cushions? Some people prefer to change out their designs regularly to give their space a refresh, but if you’re investing in long term cushions you may want to opt for a stronger material that will last. The longevity of your cushions is your personal preference, but your plans may affect the type of material that would be best.

Types of Outdoor Fabric

Each type of outdoor material has similar but different properties to protect the cushion from conditions like mold and mildew. Some important characteristics to look for in an outdoor cushion are waterproofing, UV resistance, strength, and comfort. However, not all outdoor fabrics are created equal. Review the different types of fabrics available before purchasing to ensure you are buying cushions that will fit your needs.

Vinyl: Vinyl is an inexpensive option made of plastic, or PVC. It is a strong material that is water resistant and very easy to clean. However, vinyl has a plastic-y feeling that isn’t always the most comfortable, and gets very hot when exposed to the sun for long periods of time. If you choose vinyl cushions, make sure they are covered when not in use.

Cotton canvas: Cotton canvas is softer than vinyl but still durable enough to withstand outdoor use. It is an inexpensive option that is available in a variety of colors and patterns. However, cotton canvas is not waterproof. You will need to treat your pillows with a waterproofing agent like Scotchgard before use, or be careful about covering and protecting your cushions in wet conditions. Cotton canvas is not ideal for cushions that will be stored away for much of the year, because they can accumulate water in storage, resulting in mold and mildew.

Texteline: Texteline is made of polyester fibers coated with PVC, enhancing the strength of the weave. Texteline is considered a mid-grade outdoor fabric, resistant to water and rips from normal wear and tear. Because they have an element of plastic, texteline cushions do tend to get hot in the sun and the colors and patterns are known to fade.

Sunbrella: Sunbrella fabric is a more expensive option, however it is also the best option in terms of longevity and durability. Sunbrella is made of solution-dyed acrylic, which means that the material itself is dyed, not just the outside. This makes Sunbrella fade resistant. It is also completely waterproof, mold and mildew resistant, and chlorine safe.

Olefin: Olefin is another strong, but pricey, fabric. Like Sunbrella, is it completely resistant to fading, water, mold and mildew, and is chlorine safe. Olefin is often used as an umbrella fabric but can also be used for outdoor cushions. Olefin, and Sunbrella, are a great investment if you use your cushions often and plan on keeping them for years to come.

Clean and Care

When it comes to cleaning and caring for your outdoor cushions, you will ultimately want to consult the manufacturer’s directions for proper cleaning methods so as not to negate any existing warranties. Most manufacturers will list cleaning instructions on their website, or you can contact customer service for advice on cleaning the cushion without causing damage.

For regular maintenance cleaning or quick spot cleaning, a mixture of mild soap, water, and gentle scrubbing should take care of any outdoor material without any damage. Be sure to allow the cushions to air dry COMPLETELY before use or storage, because any water build up could result in mold and mildew. Some outdoor cushions have removable covers that can be gently machine washed as needed. Bleach can sometimes be used as indicated by the cleaning instructions of each individual cushion and brand. Always consult the manufacturer’s cleaning guidelines to reduce the risk of damage to your cushions. If you are unsure of a certain cleaning chemical, do a spot test on a hidden piece of the material to see how it will react.

IMPORTANT: Always use proper safety precautions when cleaning your outdoor cushions using chemicals. Wear gloves and goggles as needed, and only clean your cushions in a well-ventilated area.