Many of today’s outdoor fabrics are made to withstand as many weather conditions as nature can throw at them. That doesn’t mean, however, that they’re totally carefree. If only, right? At least there are a few general tips and tricks for keeping outdoor cushions and accents in tip-top shape, season after season.
Determining Fabric Type
When deciding on upholstered outdoor accents that will work best for you, consider the following:
- How much you want to spend – Solution-dyed synthetics are going to be costlier while untreated/minimally treated cottons and synthetic blends featuring olefin and polyester will round out a slightly less-expensive assortment.
- How much time/effort you will devote to care.
- Where you live and the weather (Will they be outside a majority of the time or will you be storing them for a handful of months out of the year? Does your area experience frequent showers? High humidity? Scorching sun?)
- Where the items will be situated (Under the protection of a covered porch or lounging open-air on a sun-soaked patio?)
- What factors are important to you (Natural fiber vs. synthetic or fashion more than function)
- How long do you see yourself keeping the accents (Do you like something new every couple of years or when you buy something, is it for the long haul?)
Those who are ready and willing to put a little effort into caring for their outdoor accents can go for just about any outdoor fabric they like. Keep in mind, if you’re more of a low-to-no maintenance type (no judgments!) but you like cotton, try a cotton that’s been treated to bolster its outdoor endurance.
If a natural fiber isn’t on your list of must-haves, skip the cotton and go for a high-performance synthetic fabric like Sunbrella® or Outdura™. Feel like falling somewhere in between? Synthetics and synthetic blends, like those featuring olefin or polyester, will do just fine for a fair price.
Anything that lives the majority of its life outside will collect some form of dust, dirt, or other bits of debris that can dull colors, affect texture, and hinder the proper performance of the fabric. So, here’s what you do:
- Always check the care guide and/or care tags for the items being cleaned – if you don’t have these things, try looking online (or call) to see if the vendor/product has specific care instructions for best results.
- Regularly brush off your cushions and accents – using a sponge or soft-bristled brush should do the trick. While you’re at it, remember to flip and fluff to even out wear and sun exposure.
- If your outdoor fabrics are high-performance and water-resistant/proof, you can give them a quick rinse off with a hose – don’t drench, just a quick shower will do.
- If a spill occurs, wipe it up immediately with a damp clothand/or a mild soap and water solution (Woolite®, Dawn, or Ivory all work well – 1/4 cup per gallon of lukewarm water).
- Spot clean stains by spraying a mild soap-and-water solution on the stain and using a sponge or soft-bristled brush to gently scrub the stained area. Rinse and blot excess water. Repeat until all of the soap residue is gone and then let air dry.
- If the performance of your outdoor fabric seems to have lost a bit of its luster (water isn’t beading as well, etc.), after cleaning, you can apply a fabric protector as needed to restore repellency (choose one that’s recommended for the type of fabric with which you’re working – DuPont, 3M, 303®, and others all offer comparable products).
Piece-dyed fabrics and synthetic fabrics are different animals, and depending on how they’ve been crafted, they may or may not be able to handle the same types of cleaning agents. As a general rule – if you’re not sure what you’re dealing with – check both sides of the fabric (if possible). Does it appear the same on the reverse as it does on the front? If yes, then it’s more than likely a hardier, solution-dyed synthetic fabric or blend. If the color or pattern isn’t as saturated on the reverse, or the pattern isn’t present at all, it may be piece-dyed, and you’ll need to proceed with a bit more caution when it comes to stain treatments and the use of bleach. If you’re unsure and don’t have care instructions for the items in question, consider doing a spot-test on a small, hidden area of the fabric to see how it responds.
When cleaning calls for more than a simple wipe down, always consult the care instructions first, and keep these rules of thumb in mind:
- If the cover of the item is removable and washable, wash it in cold water using a mild, bleach-free detergent, and then allow it to air dry.
- To hand-wash fabrics, use the same 1/4-cup-per-gallon rule as for spot cleaning (mild soap – Woolite®, Dawn, or Ivory – to water ratio), soak, swish, thoroughly rinse, and then air dry.
- For machine-washable fabrics that can tolerate bleach, wash in cold water, or as directed, and add up to a cup of bleach, depending on the load size, wash, and then air dry.
- For hand-wash fabrics that can be bleached, let the fabric soak in a mild soap solution for 10 to 15 minutes, and then lightly scrub with a solution of 2 tablespoons of oxygen bleach per gallon of warm water, rinse thoroughly, and then air dry.