Care and Feeding of an Outdoor Pillow

I love a great outdoor pillow!  When I find the right pillow, I know it instantly; my eyes light up, the print or pattern makes me smile, and I can already envision it on my patio furniture.  A great pillow actually makes me feel happy inside.  “How dramatic,”  you say?  Never!  

Having been a home owner for many years, I have to say that I have made too many “smart choices”  in my interior decorating.   Always good neutral choices, fabrics that will wear well and that are “livable.”  Well, when it comes to my outside patio, the brighter the better is the rule.  There is something magical about entertaining a few good friends on a warm summer evening, enjoying adorable hors d’oeuvres concocted from a new recipe you found on Pintrest, while sipping a mouth-watering  watermelon cocktail creation.  The outdoor bright and bold colors add to the magic!  There is no better way to add color than a great outdoor pillow!


A great outdoor pillow is not easy to come by, but when you find the right one, you will want to take care of it! I will share my care instruction with you:


  1. Prevention is the Best Maintenance  We all have seen what happens to an outdoor pillow if left to the elements year after year, yuck!  Yes, outdoor pillows are made to withstand harsh sun, morning fog, occasional rain, and the rigors of heaving lounging….but how much can you really expect?  I am a big believer that pillows are meant to be enjoyed even if you are not sitting on them. Just a glance outside from your kitchen window counts as enjoyment to me, so I am not suggesting that you should take them inside after every use.  However, if a major rain is in the forecast, bring them in, cover them up or store them in an outdoor container.  If you live in a very sunny place, maybe consider storing them if you are not using them.  UV rays are relentless.  If the sun can bleach bones, what can it do to the bright colors of your new favorite pillows?  If you are going on a vacation, put them away.  Definitely store them through the winter months,  depending on your geography.

  2. Always Follow the Manufacture’s Instructions on Care.  Not all outdoor pillows are created equal.  Some are Indoor/Outdoor, some can only be spot cleaned, and some you can unzip and throw in the wash, (my personal favorite).  Be safe and look for the manufacture’s instructions.

  3. Start with a Surface Treatment. %^&@# Birds!  Am I right?  I don’t know how they do it, but somehow I always seem to have these little yellow bird spots on my patio furniture and pillows.  No major bird injustices, thank you cats, just the irritating little dots.  Fortunately, light brushing gets these right out.  You would be surprised how well a brush and a wet wash cloth can work for many little stains or dirt bits.  I use either an old tooth brush, or a plastic bristle brush with a medium stiffness.  Never use a wire brush.
  4. Use a Gentile Cleaner.  Just warm water and Woolite.  Of course, my little brush can resolve quite a few marks or stains.  Sometimes I get this almost black mark on my pillows edges or backs.  This soapy solution works like magic!  
  5. The Wash Machine.  Depending on whether you have a zippered pillow case or not, once  a year, I like to take out my pillow inserts and throw the fabric covers in the wash on cold with just regular detergent.  Works like a charm!  One word of warning though, most pillow inserts (the fill inside), will only last so long.  The cover that keeps the fill in the pillow shape will tend to disintegrate over time.  They will still be fine inside your pillow, but if you notice the insets sheath starting to go, just leave it in the insert in the pillow and spot clean.  
  6. Heavy Duty…Sometimes it happens, and you have a train wreck of a pillow.  Mildew or Algae can be so insidious.  Despair not gentile reader, there are still options!  These are listed in order of “light mildew” to “maybe I should throw it out”:
  • Take 1/4 cup Borax and 1 TBS of dish liquid in a bucket of warm water.  Scrub with a brush, and then rinse.
  • Take 1 cup of Borax, 1/2 cup of Hydrogen Peroxide, 1/4 cup of dish liquid in a gallon of warm water.  Scrub with a brush, and then rinse.
  • Take 1 cup of Oxyclean and a bucket of warm water and scrub the stained area.  Now, take your power washer, on the lightest setting and spray it down.  I had great success with this recently, but you have to be careful that you don't damage the fabric.  Test it out on the back of the pillow first.
  • Take 1 cup of bleach, 2 scoops of powered laundry detergent and 1 gallon of water and mix.  Put solution into a spray bottle and spray onto mildew stains and let set for 1/2 hour.  Rinse thoroughly.  

As I write this article, we are having a random 80 degree weather week.  What?  The beach in January?  Well, in San Diego, you never know.  This, of course, gets me thinking about Spring and spending more time outside, BBQs and ping pong.  This morning I took all the covers off my Sea By Day pillows and threw them in the wash on warm.  They came out beautifully!   A little care goes a long way.