If you’re looking to makeover your outdoor space, one of the easiest and cheapest ways to do that is with new cushions and pillows. You can either reupholster existing ones or start from scratch, but the key is to use the right fabric. But what is the best fabric for outdoor cushions?
The best fabric for outdoor cushions should be durable, UV resistant, moisture-resistant, and easy to clean. Examples of these fabrics include:
- Olefin / Polypropylene
- Duck cloth
All of these fabrics meet one or more of the characteristics that you want outdoor fabric to have. But, the best fabric depends on where you live, as certain areas receive different levels of sunlight and moisture. In this article, I’ll explain the pros and cons of each of these fabrics and why they are good to use for outdoor cushions.
Best Fabric for Outdoor Cushions
Remember that for outdoor cushions, you want a fabric that is durable, easy to clean, and resistant to damage from the weather. Several fabrics are specifically made for outdoor use and other fabrics that aren’t necessarily for outdoor use but have the qualities needed for outdoor fabric.
Each of these fabrics displays the above characteristics to some extent, but some may be better in certain areas than others. That’s why it is important to look at the pros and cons of each one to determine which will suit your needs best.
OlefinOlefin fabric is also known as polypropylene, and it is one of the best and most common fabrics used for outdoor cushions. If you know anything about olefin/polypropylene, you know that it is a type of plastic, and the fabric is made by weaving the plastic fibers together.
Because this fabric is made from plastic, it is incredibly durable and easy to clean. It is also stain-resistant, especially to food-based stains. A lot of olefin fabric is also coated with a wax finish, which makes it resistant to moisture and mildew.
The cons of olefin are that it may fade some in the sun unless it is blended with another highly fade-resistant fabric, such as acrylic. Olefin can also be a heavy fabric, durable but may not be the most comfortable in terms of softness and how it feels against your skin.
Vinyl is also a plastic-based fabric. But unlike the other fabrics on this list, vinyl has a plastic-like texture. This texture makes vinyl one of the easiest fabrics to clean, as you can just wipe up spills with a rag and clean the cushions with soap and water.
Of course, that also means that vinyl is very moisture-resistant, as water will just pool onto the surface of the cushion instead of soaking into the fabric. You can sit on vinyl cushions immediately after a rainstorm by just drying them with a towel. You don’t have to wait days for it to dry. This characteristic of vinyl makes it very resistant to mildew as well.
Vinyl is also colorfast, which means it will resist fading due to the sun’s UV rays. But speaking of the sun, that leads us to the downside of vinyl. Due to the plastic texture, vinyl tends to get sticky and hot when exposed to sunlight, so sitting on it may not be comfortable on really hot days. Plus, sweat can pool on the fabric just like water can.
AcrylicAnother one of the best fabrics for outdoor use is solution-dyed acrylic fabric. This is the type of fabric used by Sunbrella, a popular outdoor cushion and umbrella fabric company. Like olefin and vinyl, acrylic is made of plastic fibers, which gives it more durability.
One of the benefits of using acrylic is that it is resistant to mildew and resistant to moisture. It is also very colorfast and won’t fade due to prolonged periods of sunlight. Plus, it is a versatile fabric, so you can use it for other outdoor upholstery projects in addition to cushions.
There are a few downsides to acrylic, though. The first is that it can stain easily. It is often treated to resist stains better but is very prone to staining as the treatment starts to wear off. It can also be hard to remove stains, especially ones that are food-based. This may not be ideal if you like to dine outside a lot. Finally, acrylic is one of the most expensive outdoor fabrics that you can buy.
PolyesterPolyester fabric isn’t what typically comes to mind when thinking about outdoor fabrics. But, you can use polyester for outdoor cushions if you want an option that is affordable and that you have a lot of options as far as colors and prints are concerned,
There are many reasons why polyester can be used for outdoor cushions. It is a synthetic fabric, so it is durable and resistant to stains, shrinking, and stretching. Out of all the fabrics I’ve mentioned so far, polyester will also be one of the most comfortable. It is not heavy and won’t feel hot or sticky against your skin.
The downside to polyester is that while it is colorfast, it may only be UV resistant to a certain extent. This is especially true if you live in an area that receives intense sunlight. Since it is not specifically designed for outdoor use, you may start to see the fabric fade after a couple of seasons. But it’s possible that you can combat this by treating the fabric with a fabric protectant.
Duck ClothDuck cloth is the type of fabric that is typically referred to as canvas. It is used to make workwear, strollers, and tents, which are meant to be used outdoors. It makes sense that it can be used for outdoor cushions as well.
One of the biggest benefits of using duck cloth for your outdoor cushions is that it is one of the most durable fabrics I’ve mentioned so far. It is very heavy and thick and resists tearing and snagging. And even though duck cloth can start off feeling stiff and uncomfortable, it loosens up and becomes more comfortable over time. However, those are the only benefits where outdoor cushions are concerned.
In terms of weather resistance, there are better fabrics to use for outdoor cushions than duck cloth. Many duck cloth is made from cotton, so it isn’t as UV-resistant and can fade in the sunlight. Duck cloth also tends to absorb water, which can cause mildew. But, you can treat duck cloth with a fabric protector if you decide to use it. This will make it better able to withstand the elements.
Textilene is essentially a synthetic fabric made up of individual polyester fibers coated in vinyl. When woven together, the completed fabric resembles mesh instead of a solid fabric. It is commonly used to make outdoor chairs and screens, but it can be used as an upholstery fabric for umbrellas, chairs, and even cushions.
Textilene fabric is very strong, which helps to make it more durable in addition to being long-lasting. The fabric is also breathable, flame-resistant, moisture and mildew resistant, UV resistant, and easy to clean.
The downside to Textilene is that since the fibers are coated in vinyl, it can be less comfortable than other fabrics to use for cushions. It is more comfortable than vinyl since the fibers are coated before weaving instead of after, but it won’t be as comfortable as polyester or duck cloth.
CottonCotton is one of the most versatile fabrics there is, and it can be used for outdoor cushions as well. Before synthetic fabrics came about, natural fabrics such as cotton were used for outdoor cushions.
Like polyester, it is affordable, widely available, and comes in many different colors and prints. It’s worth noting, though, that you should go with thicker cotton fabrics for outdoor cushions for durability. One of the only other reasons for choosing cotton for outdoor cushions is comfort.
Even with thicker cotton fabrics, cotton is not the most durable. It tends to absorb water instead of resisting it, taking a long time to dry and cause mildew. Cotton also tends to be less UV resistant than other fabrics. If you use it, you will want to use a fabric protectant to make the fabric last longer.
Factors to Consider When Choosing Outdoor Cushion Material
Now that we’ve looked at some of the best fabrics to use for outdoor cushions, how can you decide which one is best for you? Overall, you’ll want to choose a fabric that is both comfortable and durable. But there are other factors to consider as well.
One of the most important factors to consider is where you live. The climate in your area will affect your outdoor cushions, so you want to choose a fabric that can withstand the climate. Below are some specific factors to consider.
Water resistance is something you want to take into account when choosing fabric for outdoor cushions. This is especially true if you live in a climate that receives a lot of rainfall and snow. Moisture, followed by exposure to sunlight, can cause mildew growth, so you want a fabric that can dry quickly or resist moisture altogether.
Good fabrics to consider that have high water resistance are olefin, vinyl, acrylic, and Textilene. But if you decide to go with a fabric that isn’t as resistant to water, you may want to cover your outdoor cushions when it rains or snows to protect them and extend their life.
Ultimately, durability should be one of the major factors to consider when choosing fabric for outdoor cushions. After all, you want the fabric to last for many years. Durability mostly refers to a fabric’s ability to resist tearing in addition to maintaining its texture and qualities, so it can encompass all of the other factors that you’ll want to take into consideration.
For the most durable outdoor fabric, choose one of the synthetic, plastic-based fabrics on this list. Natural fabrics such as cotton and duck cloth are going to be generally less durable than synthetic fabrics. But remember, with some durable fabrics, you may have to sacrifice other qualities of the fabric.
Stain resistance is key with outdoor fabrics, especially if you like to dine and entertain outside. You’ll want an outdoor fabric to be able to keep stains away or be easy to remove stains from the fabric, especially oily, food-based stains.
For liquid stains, it’s important to remember that while a water-resistant fabric can help make liquids easier to clean up, other ingredients besides water used in drinks can still leave behind a stain. Just because the fabric can be easily wiped clean doesn’t mean that it won’t stain at all. For the most stain-resistant fabrics, choose polyester, vinyl, or Textilene.
If you live in a climate that experiences long, hot summers, you want your outdoor cushions to be UV resistant. A UV-resistant fabric is one that naturally resists fading or has been treated to prevent damage and fading from sunlight.
In general, tightly woven fabrics tend to be more UV resistant because they hold onto dye better. Of the fabrics mentioned above, acrylic, vinyl, Textilene, and polyester are the most UV resistant, although polyester may fade after a few years. Warm climates may also want to steer clear of vinyl due to how hot it can get and its tendency to stick to your skin.
It’s worth mentioning that there are ways to make fabric more UV resistant. There are fabric treatments that you can spray onto the fabric. The treatment has chemicals in it with UV-resistant properties and can help prevent fabrics from fading in the sunlight. But, you may have to apply these every year or every other year as the treatment can wear off.
From a purely decorative standpoint, you’ll want to choose a fabric in a color that you like. Unfortunately, you’re limited in the colors and patterns available in some of these fabrics. You’ll have the greatest selection with cotton, polyester, and vinyl, but you may be limited if you choose something like duck cloth or olefin.
From a practical standpoint, some colors are more prone to fading than others. Colors such as red, orange, pink, and black are more likely to fade over time than green, blue, and purple. If you opt not to go with a UV resistant fabric, choose a color that is less likely to fade or treat it with a UV protectant.
To get the most use out of your outdoor cushions, you’ll want them to be easy to clean and maintain. Choosing a stain-resistant, mildew-resistant, and easy to clean fabric is essential for extending the life of your cushions.
Most outdoor fabrics are washable, but you would need to be able to remove the fabric to wash it. Because of this, the best outdoor fabrics will be those that can be wiped clean with a rag or spot cleaned. In general, olefin, vinyl, and polyester are the easiest to clean and require the least amount of maintenance.
Finally, you’ll want to consider the price of the fabric. You want a fabric that can fit your budget and have as many of the ideal characteristics of outdoor fabric as possible. They say that you get what you pay for, but this is not always the case with fabric because sometimes expensive fabrics don’t have all the qualities you want them to have for their intended purpose.
Of the fabrics that we’ve looked at so far, cotton and polyester are the most affordable and have the widest selection of colors available. Of those two, polyester is probably the better choice for outdoor cushions. But you can treat cotton fabric to make it last longer.
Synthetic fabrics such as olefin, vinyl, duck cloth, and Textilene are middle-of-the-pack as far as cost, and many of them have all the qualities you could want, although color selection may be limited. Acrylic is the most expensive, and although it has many of the qualities you want for outdoor fabric, it is lacking in some areas as well.
Most Waterproof Outdoor Cushion Fabric
The most waterproof outdoor cushion fabric is going to be either vinyl, acrylic, or Textilene. Due to the plastic nature of vinyl, it is very hard for water to penetrate through the fabric. It often just sits on top and can be easily wiped off.
With acrylic and Textilene, since they are made from plastic fibers, water tends to pool on top of the fabric instead of seeping through. If any water does get through the fabric, it dries very quickly because the fabric does not absorb it. These fabrics will also be the most mildew-resistant, so you may want to choose one of them if you live in a wet climate.
How to Protect Outdoor Furniture FabricProtecting outdoor furniture fabric is usually as simple as spraying it with a chemical treatment designed to use on fabric. However, there are various fabric protector sprays depending on what you want to protect the fabric from. Some protect against moisture, some against stains, some against UV light, and some against all three.
The best outdoor fabric protector is one that protects against UV light, moisture, and stains, such as Bayes High Performance Fabric Protectant Spray. To use it or another fabric protectant, you simply spray it onto the fabric, making sure to coat the entire surface of the fabric. The protectant should work for about a year before it starts to wear off, so you may have to repeat the process annually.
Even if you don’t opt for a fabric protectant spray, you can protect your outdoor cushions and pillows by covering them up when they aren’t in use. Outdoor furniture covers can protect the fabric from moisture and UV rays. During the winter, when the furniture is not being used as often, you can either cover them up all winter or bring the cushions inside.
Outdoor Cushion Fabric by the Yard
When buying outdoor cushion fabric, most of it is sold in widths of 54 to 55 inches. But the actual price of the fabric per yard will vary depending on the type of material it is made of. Remember that cotton and polyester are the cheapest fabrics, but these aren’t necessarily outdoor fabrics. If you opt to go with one of those two fabrics, it’s best to choose a thicker fabric that will cost more.
Even still, you can find outdoor fabrics for as little as $4 per yard or as much as $25 per yard or more, just depending on what the fabric is made of and whether or not it is solid-colored or patterns. But, most outdoor fabrics will range between $7 and $10 per yard, including patterned fabrics.
How to Clean Outdoor Cushions?
The best fabrics to use for outdoor cushions shouldn’t require much cleaning at all because they will be fairly stain-resistant. But even if they aren’t completely stain-resistant, you want them to be easy to clean.
For fabrics that are easy to clean and stain-resistant, usually wiping them down with a rag, dish soap, and water will be enough to clean them and remove stains. But, some cushions have removable fabric so that you can take the fabric off and wash them in the washing machine.
If you’re making your own cushions, you might want to consider adding buttons, snaps, or a zipper that can make the fabric removable. This is especially important for fabrics that aren’t as easy to spot clean. That way, you can wash the cushion fabric in the washing machine as needed or at the end of the season.
The best fabric for outdoor cushions should be durable and comfortable. Stain resistance, moisture resistance, and UV resistance should also be key factors to consider. Olefin, acrylic, polyester, and Textilene tend to be the best overall when you weigh the pros and cons of the fabrics that we’ve looked at. If you found this article helpful, share it with others and leave a comment. Thanks for reading!