Sunbrella Savvy: Caring for Your Outdoor Cushions

Can you hear the familiar Porgy and Bess refrain? Summertime, and the livin’ is easy—at long last we’ve arrived there: delicious, lengthening days, high sun at high noon, and sun-kissed life outdoors. And with that come life’s big messes: oily sunscreen residue, splatters from granddad’s secret smoked chicken marinade, maybe electric blue Popsicle drippings or a little splash of deep crimson Malbec on the outdoor seat cushions. Ella did not include those words in her lyrics, but they’re proof positive you’re enjoying life.

You already know the Sunbrella® outdoor cushions you use on your garden or patio furniture are resilient: they’re adventure-ready, fade-resistant, willingly take a beating in the weather, and they’re no match for the triple threat: mold, mildew, and moisture. It’s why you bought them in the first place. But even the world’s most nearly-perfect outdoor seat cushion needs a little help now and then. Pull up your wicker chair and pay attention. But before we travel too far down the cushion care and maintenance road, keep three things in mind.

• First, always follow the instructions on the manufacturer’s label. If you push the envelope too far (read: you use an unsuitable cleaner that damages the product), you may void the warranty. Proceed with due caution.
• Second, if your outdoor cushion cover zips off, by all means throw it in the machine; follow the manufacturer’s instructions (is there an echo in here?) for washing, and always line dry.
• And finally, outdoor cushion cleaning is a sunny day activity—you’ll need plenty of warming rays for the drying-out part of this simple undertaking in the life of your outdoor furniture.

Keeping Crud off the Outdoor Cushions: An Ounce of Prevention…
…is worth a pound of cure, as the saying goes. It’s true of so many things, including maintaining the beauty of your hardy Sunbrella cushions. First things first: wipe up spills quickly and brush off the dirt before it embeds. Easy does it; start light—sweep surfaces with a soft bristle brush, and rinse with water if you think your cushions need it.

But when the schmutz won’t wipe or brush away, your cushions may need more care. For a general or light cleaning, continue with a mild, soapy solution: Sunbrella recommends ¼ cup of Woolite® or Dawn dissolved in a gallon of lukewarm water. Use a soft bristle brush to clean—let it soak in thoroughly. Likewise, be thorough about rinsing. And finally, let it air dry completely. Note: other outdoor cushion experts suggest a soapy solution with varying ratios of soap to water: a teaspoon of dishwashing detergent and a teaspoon of Borax dissolved in a quart of water says one expert, another simply suggests a “mild soap solution.” The common theme here is, mild. Repeat after me: when in doubt, refer to instructions on the manufacturer’s label.

And what of oily stains? (See sunscreen and granddad’s marinade above.) Sunbrella recommends spot cleaning. Start with a light application of soap and water via spray bottle. Then lightly scrub the area with a sponge or soft bristle brush. Immediately apply an “absorbent” to the oily spot—cornstarch is an example—and leave it be for 10 minutes. Then use a straight-edge to scrape off the excess. Rinse the whole business thoroughly, blot it with a clean, soft towel or sponge, wet-vac or blot the excess, and allow the outdoor cushion to air dry. Repeat the cornstarch and straight-edge steps as needed.

A cautionary seat cushion tale: sometimes you successfully remove a stain only to find an unfortunate “ring” has radiated outward from the spot after the fabric dries. The makers of Sunbrella suggest a seam-to-seam cleaning with an extractor (a machine that uses heat, pressure, and suction to remove dirt and grime from a rug or upholstery) to avoid rings or residual stains on the cushion.

Musings on Mildew: Wait, Sunbrella Gets Moldy?
Strictly speaking, no; it’s one of Sunbrella’s many attractive features. Here is what Sunbrella has to say about this: “Sunbrella fabrics do not promote mildew growth, however, mildew may grow on dirt and other foreign substances that are not removed from the fabric.” (See sunscreen and granddad’s marinade above.) It pays to keep it clean from the get-go. Mold happens, sometimes maintenance does not; if life gets in the way, as it so often does, here’s what you do:

• Make a solution of 1 cup of bleach and ¼ cup of mild soap, dissolved in a gallon of water; wear gloves and protect your eyes, always.
• Transfer the solution to a spray bottle and spray it onto the moldy mildew and go check your email for 15 minutes.
• For stubborn or set-in stains, blot the solution directly onto the problem area with a sponge, clean towel, or soft bristle brush.
• Rinse thoroughly.
• Allow your outdoor cushion to air dry—you chose a sunny day for the project, so go prop up that pillow in the bright sunshine and grab a glass of iced tea.
• If the mildew stain did not respond, nudge up the bleach a notch and try it again.

Other Outdoor Cushions: The Fabric’s the Thing
Sunbrella is woven of acrylic fibers, which is what makes it so durable and resilient. If you are cleaning another manufacturer’s outdoor cushion, consult the label first and foremost. But if you are unsure, you’ll want to know what kind of fabric cover it’s wearing. A “solution-dyed” fabric is woven of pigment-infused fibers; it is less prone to fading and can handle more aggressive cleaners than printed or piece-dyed fabric. To determine whether you have a solution-dyed seat cushion cover, check both sides of the material: if they are identical, then it is most likely solution-dyed.

But if it is not, a kinder, gentler cleaning may be in order. Try a solution of ¼ cup Ivory and a gallon of lukewarm water. Immerse the outdoor cushion cover in the water and swish it gently. Rinse it thoroughly and air dry. If the manufacturer indicates it is machine washable, follow the label instructions.

Likewise, use a gentler approach to mold and mildew removal: dissolve 2 tablespoons of oxygen bleach in a gallon of warm water, wet the area, scrub with a soft bristle brush, rinse it, and air dry. It is always advisable to test your cleaning or bleaching solution on a hidden spot first to make sure the fabric can take it without damage.

Retreat that Seat (Cushion): Sunbrella and Water Repellency
Sunbrella is treated with a fluorocarbon finish to make it water repellent. If you’ve given it a thorough cleaning or bleaching, you will need to restore its water repellency with a similar treatment. Sunbrella and other experts recommend 303® Fabric Guard™ spray to restore this important property.

Finally, there is wide agreement that it pays to put them away: store your outdoor seat cushions when they’re not in use, particularly over the long winter. This simple step will extend the life of your cushions for years to come (your keister will thank you).

Sing it, Ella: Your daddy’s rich and your ma is good-lookin’—and your Sunbrella cushions are clean as a whistle. Blue Popsicles for the kids and a generous glass of Malbec for you: summertime living is oh-so-easy, and so is caring for your outdoor furniture cushions.

3 thoughts on “Sunbrella Savvy: Caring for Your Outdoor Cushions”

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