Your Guide to Outdoor Cushion Fabrics

Outdoor Fabric Options

As the outdoor furniture industry has expanded in recent years, manufacturers have begun to offer a wealth of custom order opportunities for fabrics. For instance, when buying an outdoor sofa, customers are now presented with a range of cost, comfort and style options very similar to those commonly available for indoor sofas. Almost all brands offer products from Sunbrella® and Bella-Dura™, the leading names in outdoor fabric production. Specifically engineered for outdoor use, these exceptionally comfortable and durable fabrics are bleach-cleanable and resistant to water, fading, mildew and stains.

Outdoor Fabric Grades, Performance and Durability

Outdoor manufactures assign A-E grades and price levels to their catalog of fabrics. Relative to less expensive A and B Grade fabrics, the C-E Grade fabrics are more plush, softer to the touch, and have different textures throughout. However, there is no difference in the quality/durability of the fabric grades. All outdoor fabrics have the same standards for light resistance, water repellency and cleanability. Plus, fabrics are all judged by what’s known as a double rub abrasion test (back-and-forth pressure applied via a machine a minimum of 15,000 times) in order to ensure that the product can endure plenty of contact before damage occurs.

Materials Used in Outdoor Fabrics

As outdoor fabric production evolves, the top manufacturers continue to make technical advances, offering a wider range of high-performing materials. Below, you’ll find a list of the most common fabric types currently available on the market.

  • Solution-Dyed Acrylic: Soft, easy to clean and designed to last, this material features deeply dyed yarns that can withstand bleach cleaning without losing their vibrancy and smoothness
  • Olefin: Commonly known as polyethylene/polypropylene, olefin performs similarly to solution-dyed acrylic, but can also be produced from recycled materials, making it preferable for green living.
  • Acrylic-Coated Polyester: Constructed from polyester and poly-cotton blends, this fabric is coated with acrylics that provide color and increased resilience.
  • Sling Fabric: Alternately referred to as PVC mesh and vinyl-coated synthetic fiber mesh, this common, long-lasting fabric is synthetics such as olefin, polyester, acrylic yarn and PVC

How to Clean Sunbrella® Fabrics

The experts at Sunbrella® recommend consumers regularly clean their fabrics in order to prevent the build-up of food, dirt and other particles which can eventually stain. Additionally, while the Sunbrella’s fabrics don’t promote mildew growth, dirt that sits for an extended time period can grow its own mildew. Below, you’ll find the manufacturer’s guidelines for general maintenance, as well as tips for heavy cleaning, mildew removal and more.

General/Light Cleaning:
  • Brush off loose dirt.
  • Prepare a cleaning solution of 2 ounces (1/4 cup) mild soap per gallon of lukewarm water (less than 100°F/38°C).
  • Use a sponge or a soft bristle brush to clean.
  • Allow cleaning solution to soak into fabric.
  • Rinse thoroughly to remove all soap residue.
  • Allow fabric to air dry.
Spot Cleaning:
  • Apply a light mist of our recommended cleaning solution using a spray bottle.
  • Work the solution into the stain by lightly scrubbing the area with a sponge or very soft bristle brush.
  • Rinse thoroughly to remove all soap residue.
  • Blot excess moisture with a clean, soft towel or sponge.
  • Wet-vacuum or blot excess water.
  • Repeat these steps until stain is removed.
Heavy Cleaning for Stubborn Stains/Mildew:
  • Prepare a solution of 8 ounces (1 cup) of bleach and 2 ounces (1/4 cup) of mild soap per gallon of clean water. Increase bleach quantities for severe stains/mildew.
  • Spray on entire area and allow to soak into the fabric.
  • Scrub vigorously with a soft bristle brush, sponge, or clean towel.
  • Rinse thoroughly to remove all soap residue.
  • Allow fabric to air dry.
  • Machine wash removable umbrella/cushion covers in cold water. Add 1 cup of bleach to mild laundry soap. Allow to air dry.
Re-Treating Fabric for Easy Cleaning:

Sunbrella fabrics have enhanced water repellency thanks to a special finish. It’s designed to last years, and can also be refreshed after heavy cleaning/use. The manufacturer recommends using 303 High Tech Fabric Guard™ to treat their fabrics. Find the steps for applying 303 below.

  • Clean Sunbrella fabric, using one of the cleaning methods.
  • Allow Sunbrella to completely air dry.
  • Apply 303 Fabric Guard in a well-ventilated area following instructions on the container.
  • Apply 303 in a thin, even coat and allow fabric to dry completely.
  • Apply a second thin, even coating of 303. (Two light coatings are more effective in restoring fabric water resistance than a single heavy coating).
  • A 15-ounce bottle provides coverage of up to 50 square feet of fabric.
  • Visit www.303products.com to learn more.
More Helpful Hints:
  • Protect the area around your Sunbrella fabric when using a bleach solution. Bleach may discolor non-Sunbrella fabrics. Rinse Sunbrella fabrics thoroughly to remove bleach.
  • Sunbrella air dries very quickly. Machine drying is not necessary.
  • If fabric has some wrinkling, use an iron, but only on the synthetic setting. As some irons exceed the recommended 100°F/38°C temperature on the synthetic setting, test a small inconspicuous area before ironing entire piece.
  • DO NOT use a steamer or iron on steam setting.
  • For professional cleaning, inquire about the firm’s experience with cleaning/re-treating Sunbrella. DO NOT dry clean Sunbrella.

Refer to the chart following for specific information regarding the cleaning of different stains:

Sunbrella® Stain Chart

Cushion Fabrics by Manufacturers: