How to clean outdoor cushions: treat mildew and stains fast

Treat mildew, stains (and even bird poop) with vinegar by hand or in the washing machine to freshen up and clean outdoor cushions thoroughly. You can even skip using Borax powder

A neutral Scandinavian-inspired outoor living space with 4-piece lounge set, open weave garden chair and footstool, Jute round rug, carafe with cork, floor cushion, natural seagrass basket and wicker log basket
(Image credit: John Lewis & Partners)

Learning how to clean outdoor cushions is a lot easier than you think and we've got the lowdown on how your external pillows mold and mildew free.

If you’re anything like us, then as soon as the sun shines, you’ll head straight for your backyard or whatever outside space you have. Grab yourself a cup of coffee, a good book, SPF and some clean outdoor cushions (note the word clean) and your next few hours are sorted.

Whether you have a covered balcony turned plant paradise, or a fancy-pants patio in your backyard that's filled with the very best outdoor furniture, you’ll know just how great it looks when it’s set up perfectly and filled with soft furnishings galore to make it feel like an outdoor living space.

However, if you’ve had your throws, outdoor cushions and poufs for at least a year and through all the seasons, you’ll know all too well just how grimy and dirty soft furnishings can get with all the elements hammering them…

Think mold, mildew and mud (so much mud!) and not to mention pet hair and other stuff if you have furry friends or kids around – yours or not. Cleaning outdoor furniture (ie: the metal or rattan framework) is fairly simple. But cushions, on the other hand, go through hell: We sit on them, we nap on them, we hug them, we drop them, and we could go on, so knowing how to clean your outdoor cushions is a must for their survival.

An external / outdoor scheme with garden furniture and assortment of colorful outdoor cushion decor

(Image credit: Marks & Spencer)

How to clean outdoor cushions 

Ash Read, interior expert at Living Cozy (opens in new tab) says: 'You wouldn’t neglect the cushions on your sofa in the living room, so you shouldn’t forget about your outdoor cushions either.'

Thankfully, it doesn’t take long to restore them to their original glory, and as usual, there are lots of ways that you can prevent them from getting so gross in the first place.

From cleaning yours in the washer to treating patio and non-removable outdoor cushion covers by hand – cleaning with vinegar, baking soda cleaning and more – you’ll have your outdoor space sparkling in no time.

bohemian summer outdoor garden furniture with lots of colorful cushions with a plush ottoman

(Image credit: Getty images)

How to wash outdoor cushions in the washing machine 

If your outdoor cushions have removable covers then washing them in your washing machine is a great way to get them clean quickly. Do this once a year (or when they visibly need it). 

Simply remove the cushion cover, keeping the inner filling separate somewhere warm, dry and protected to avoid any mildew getting in there. Check the label as above for any notes on temperature and more. Next, shake any dust, sand or other debris stuck in the corner grooves of the covers and run them on a gentle cycle with a good washing powder or the best washing pods you can afford. When done, allow them to air dry completely before putting the filling back in.

Extra grubby? Make a baking soda and water paste to pre-treat cushions before running them through the washer. It's a great way to lift stains and refresh them in a more natural way than using bleach.

An outdoor sofa with blue velvet outdoor cushion decor, and grey concrete walls

(Image credit: Dobbies)

How to clean outdoor cushions with vinegar

You can use white vinegar to remove both stains and mildew from outdoor cushions. This method is especially useful to use on outdoor cushion covers that you can't remove.

Equipment list

Method:

  1. Simply mix lukewarm water, 1/2 cup dish soap (omit if you want) and a few tablespoons of white vinegar then apply this to the cushions using a soft brush.
  2. Scrub well on all sides then let the mixture sit for a little while. 
  3. Then rinse well using a sponge and more warm water, trying not to let too much water penetrate to the filling – less of an issue if your covers are weatherproof. 
  4. Finally, let the cushions dry completely in the sun.

A green and white striped deck chair with sunshine motif outdoor cushion and picnic blanket

(Image credit: B&M)

How to clean outdoor cushions with mildew

Borax powder (available from Amazon) (opens in new tab), is a pretty tough cleaning product and many swear by it to remove mold and mildew, however, there are lots of effective ways to get rid of mildew and other types of stain without sodium borate.

A mixture of white vinegar, water and your choice of essential oils (we like tea tree oil from Handcraft Blends (opens in new tab) as it's naturally anti-bac too) is a great way to treat mold and stains on outdoor cushions. Simply mix up your solution, spray it on, let it work, wash it out as above and let it dry completely.

And, depending on how many cushions you treat, you may have some oil left over to use in your best essential oil diffuser.

An outdoor porch area with red outdoor furniture and translucent voile curtain decor

(Image credit: Ikea)

How to clean bird poop off outdoor cushions

It might be good luck on you, but shame on your cushions. Not to fret, just scrape off what you can (get some disposible gloves to tackle this gross job (opens in new tab)) and spray the area with warm water and detergent. 

Use a soft brush or an old toothbrush if it's really embedded, to lift the grime then wash the whole thing using one of the methods above.

If however, this job (and their digestive habits) are getting a bit too, er... regular, find out learn how to get rid of pigeons on your balcony or patio to stop their faecal matter finding its way onto your decorative cushions.

A nautical inspired external scheme with outdoor sofa furniture, cushions and pouffe decor

(Image credit: Marks & Spencer)

How to remove stains from outdoor cushions

As mentioned in the washing machine method, you can pre-treat cushion covers with a water and baking soda paste. This is an especially good alternative to bleach. You can of course try an enzymatic like OxiClean from Amazon (opens in new tab).

A modern boho outdoor living space with outdoor cushions and textured ottoman pouffe

(Image credit: Marks and Spencer)

How to protect outdoor cushions 

Read recommends, 'to prevent dirt build-up and stains on your outdoor furniture, consider using plastic cover cushions, or make sure you’re treating your fabric with upholstery protectors (opens in new tab).' 

Plus there are a few more tricks to keep outdoor cushions looking fresh and clean:

  • Remove dust: Dry brushing patio cushions and outdoor seat cushions regularly will help remove dust and debris brought by the wind. You can even clean your patio cushions using your best vacuum cleaner or a good handheld vac to make this quicker.
  • Clean before you store: As tempting as it is to chuck outdoor cushions in the garage as they are when it starts raining, clean them as above first as they will store much better. 
  • Speed up drying time: We're only human and outdoor cushions will get caught in the rain a few times a year (we're talking to you guys in the UK!) so flip yours on its most narrow edge to speed up drying time between downpours. Or take them inside and use your hair dryer to dry them off.
  • Catch spills quickly: French fry or ketchup landed on the cushion attached to your outdoor dining chair? Blot blot blot, soak the mess up with cornflour or salt until completely removed, wash the area clean with your garden hose and let it dry so that no stain sets.

Using a pressure washer to clean outdoor cushions

So we've gathered that water can remove most of the grime on your outdoor cushions, but does the power of the device you're using determine how well it cleans your soft furnishings? Surely the more powerful, the better it cleans right? Wrong.

While the best pressure washers might be amazing for blasting gunk off your patio paving, you'll need to be careful with using a jet wash to clean cushions. Here, Jenna Kate, author and photographer at Jennakateathome.com (opens in new tab) provides some practical advice, and a warning on using a power washer on your cushions. She says:

'If your patio furniture does not have zippered covers, then pressure washing is certainly less time consuming than hand washing and a sure-fire way to get your patio cushions clean,'

'However, frequently using this method may degrade the cushion fabric. If you do choose to go this route, use a low PSI pressure washer and don't do it more often than once per year. Hand washing cushions that don't have removable covers is a much better solution if you want to extend the life of your furniture.'

An outdoor sofa with red/orange outdoor cushions and wooden rectangular coffee table

(Image credit: Habitat)

What is the best way to clean outdoor fabric cushions?

Outdoor cushions, individual or on patio furniture, aren't always like regular cushions you'll find in your home, since many will have been treated with UV-protective and other weather-resistant coatings – especially if yours came as part of a patio dining set.

Before you start any cleaning or washing, check the labels for any information on how the manufacturer recommends you best clean your items.

Read says, 'For a basic clean, remove the cushion covers and place them into the washing machine on a low cycle with a mild detergent. Do not wash the inside of the cushion (the foam insert) as this can lead to mildew and mold. Once the washing cycle has finished, make sure the cushion covers are fully dry before putting them back on. In summer, put the cushion covers to dry outside in the fresh air, or dry inside on the radiators.'

'If your cushions are made of a delicate fabric, or you have a particularly stubborn stain, consider hand washing them (we've loads of advice on how to wash clothes by hand and the same rules apply).

Use a wet microfiber cleaning cloth (opens in new tab) or clean rag with a mild detergent to lift fresh stains and prevent discolorations. If you have a dried in stain, consider using a fabric brush (like this one from The Laundress (opens in new tab)) and potentially a strong stain remover - depending on your fabric.'

How do you clean outdoor cushions without removable covers?

'If your cushion covers are not removable, you may have seen the bathtub trick-taking over on social platforms. Simply place your cushions into a bath filled with warm water and a mild detergent. Let the cushions soak and you’ll see the water change color. Repeat until the water is clear. To thoroughly dry the cushions, hang them outside until entirely dry,' explains Read. 

Camille Dubuis-Welch
Camille Dubuis-Welch

Camille is Deputy Editor of Realhomes.com and joined in January 2020. Her love of interior design stemmed from a childhood spent dreaming up weird and wonderful ways to renovate her grandma’s house in France – a greenhouse roof was involved – and it was spending time around very good-looking house plants and in a hardworking kitchen garden that gave her a green thumb. When Camille isn’t sipping coffee and/or writing, she is seeking out cool new Facebook Marketplace finds or tapping into her other creative outlets: painting and clay throwing. She currently rents in North London with her French cat and two others, and hopes to one day renovate the most sustainable house of dreams, somewhere marvellously sunny with a wild, lavish garden and chickens, of course.

With contributions from

SPONSORS