Winter Care For Your Outdoor Fabrics
November 03, 2020
Posted by D. A. Burns
While we offer cleaning and winter storage services for outdoor cushions and patio umbrellas, we know that many customers like to store their outdoor cushions at home. If you plan to store your outdoor living fabrics for the winter, we have some suggestions that will make returning those cushions to outdoor use a better experience.
- Be certain your cushions are appropriate for outdoor use.
- Clean, or at least spot-clean cushions prior to storage.
- Dry thoroughly before covering furniture or stacking cushions.
- Allow for ventilation when storing.
Are Your Cushions Outdoor Appropriate?
Outdoor cushions should be tough enough to withstand the outdoor environment – sunlight, bugs, birds and weather. Compared to indoor cushions most of them are, although some cushions that look rugged are imposters.
What makes for a good outdoor cushion?
The right fabric for outdoor use will be the rugged synthetics that originated in the boat top and awning industries. No wool or plant fibers should be used outdoor unless you can protect them from the outdoor elements. There are six key criteria you need to consider when choosing outdoor fabrics: breathability, water resistance, abrasion resistance, UV resistance, colorfastness and cleanability. Awesome fabric selection chart from Sailrite
Pictured below are examples of UV sensitive thread failing.
The fabric pictured here was used to cover an “outdoor” cushion. It began life in the spring as a red/coral hue. The color was not stable in sunlight though, so after a few months some color would be lost every time the cushion got wet.
What looks like water stains are the base fabric and the remaining pink of the original cushion color.
Identifying Sunbrella™, and other outdoor fabric brands, can instill confidence that the right fabric was used. A manufacturer may choose a fabric that looks right, only to discover that it is vulnerable to fading or the color loss. Cushions, patio umbrellas and even boat tops can experience seam separation when the wrong thread is used.
Cushions that may get wet need the right “stuff” inside. Although we’d recommend keeping cushions out of the rain if possible, the foam or fill should be one of the types that is designed to shed water. These are the ones we see most often:
- Closed Cell
The best stuffing foam for outdoor use is a softer version of the foam used for pool noodles and other floaties. Closed cell foam will not absorb water at all, so only the cover fabric gets wet and the fabric will dry very quickly. It can be difficult to tell the difference between open and closed cell foams, but closed cell is usually a bit more firm and a bit more expensive. Ask questions when making your purchase.
- “Dry Fast” Open Cell
The idea behind Dry Fast brand foam is that the cells are open, but large, and the polymer used is less absorbent than the polyurethane foam used for indoor furniture. A wet cushion of this type may still take a few days to dry completely, and there are knock-offs that don’t drain as well.
- Compressed polyester batting
To soften the edges of cut foam, makers often wrap the cushions in polyester fill. Those thin layers usually don’t change drying time very much. If the entire cushion is firmly stuffed with batting, or if stacked sheets of compressed batting are used, the cushion will have drying characteristics similar to firm Dry Fast.
- Soft Open Cell
Although perfectly fine for cushions that won’t get wet, open cell foam is a poor choice for furniture that may be left out in the rain. Open cell foam will absorb water like a sponge, it will dry very slowly, and it may not be possible to get this foam completely dry at all. Moisture can sit at the center and only come to the surface when someone sits on it.
The real outdoor fabrics can be less prone to harm from home cleaning than other upholstery, but following a misguided on-line video can end up being an expensive mistake. Most manufacturers will have a care guide on their websites, so if you know the fabric brand we’d recommend starting with a look at their instructions.
Note: Many sites will mention using “mild soap” when they really mean “mild detergent.” Soaps are hard to rinse out, detergents rinse out more easily. “Dish soap” is actually a detergent.
Some brands also recommend machine washing. Use a gentle cycle and cool water – do not use the dryer.
The following steps will allow you to safely remove spots and light soil from outdoor fabrics:
- Test for Color Fastness
Apply spot cleaner or detergent to a hidden area.
Let it sit for a few seconds and then gently rub the area with a white, cotton cloth.
If color transfers to the cloth, be aware that cleaning will result in some color loss, and any spot that gets more attention than surrounding areas will lose even more color.
Outdoor fabrics should show no color loss if a detergent is used, and some won’t be harmed even if a mild bleach solution is used.
If you’d like to take care of some spots or light soil on outdoor fabrics, we’d recommend using a fairly neutral pH detergent and lukewarm water.
Low-residue detergents sold for cleaning fabric car seats are a good option for most soil.
Rubbing alcohol is a good tree sap remover, and a solution containing ammonia will soften bird droppings.
See our Spotting Guide for carpet … the solutions are OK to use on outdoor fabric.
Use warm water, not hot. Synthetic fabrics made for outdoor use may turn yellow or shrink if hot water (over 80 F) is used.
If the cushions have outdoor fabric and outdoor foam, you can rinse with a garden hose.
Tilt the cushion and let water run off of the fabric until the water runs clear.
After cleaning or before placing in storage, set the wet cushions on edge so that air can move around the fabric. Air movement aids drying, and faster air movement generated by a fan will make the cushions dry faster.
Drying is where the fill makes a difference. Closed cell foam-filled cushions will dry within a few hours. Polyfill and Dry Fast fills can take several days to drain and the cushion fabric to dry completely. It may help to open zippers and set the cushions zipper-side down, as fabric can trap moisture and slow drying even more.
If you have open cell polyfoam that gets wet, you may have to bring the cushions inside, open zippers, tilt them up and allow air movement for weeks. It’s best to not let them get wet.
Storage and Air Circulation
Anywhere moisture is present mold, mildew – and even moss – can grow. If you’re going to cover your furniture outdoors with the cushions in place, check the underside of the cushions to make sure the frame can’t trap moisture against the fabric. If the cover you use is vinyl or other plastic, make sure air can circulate between the cover and the fabric.
If you’re putting the cushions away for the winter, the storage area should be reasonably dry and warm, without wide swings in temperature. When humidity is high, it can penetrate into stored cushions in unheated garages or sheds. Avoid storing any fabric or rolled rug directly on concrete, as moisture continuously penetrates from the concrete below. If that moisture is trapped against a textile, mildew can form.
Make sure your cushions are completely dry before stacking them together, as any excess moisture trapped between stacked cushions can also lead to mildew. If you store cushions in plastic bags, punch holes in the plastic so residual moisture can escape.
Taking care of your outdoor living space is part of our seasonal transition … like cleaning gutters and clearing leaves away from ground drains. We hope this of help to you.
Should you choose, we’re at the ready to clean and store your outdoor cushions and patio umbrellas.
As always, feel free to call us if you have questions (206.782.2268).