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Why Are Outdoor Cushions So Expensive? A Buyer’s Guide

We’ve got a lovely swing seat that needs some new cushions, as the old ones are all covered in mildew (someone – cough – left them out in the rain). I’ve been looking at some replacement outdoor cushions online – but boy, are they expensive!

Outdoor cushions are more expensive than indoor ones as they have to be water-resistant, colorfast, UV-resistant, and easier to clean. As a result, they’re made of high-tech coated fabrics such as Teflon™ and Sunbrella®. However, you can still buy outdoor cushions starting from $25.

In this article we’re going to unzip the subject of outdoor cushions and discover in detail how they’re made, why that makes them more expensive, and how you can make your own if you don’t want the extra expense…

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Why Are Outdoor Cushions So Expensive?

Why Are Patio Cushions So Expensive?

Cushions for your patio furniture can seem really expensive, especially when you think about how cheaply you can buy cushions for your indoor sofa. Outdoor cushions are more expensive because they have to be much tougher than the “domestic” kind.

The perfect outdoor cushion can get wet and won’t be prone to getting mold or mildew. It’s also color-fast when it gets wet. It won’t fade in the sun or start to yellow. It has to be easy to clean, as it’s going to encounter more dirt and debris than your indoor cushions will (well, that may depend on what your dog’s paws are like, but you get the idea!).

On top of this, it has to be comfortable to sit on or lean against, and of course, it needs to look good. We expect a lot from our outdoor cushions, and this is why they are made from more high-tech materials than their indoor equivalents. 

What Fabric & Fillers Are Used To Make Outdoor Cushions? (Are They More Costly Than Indoor Ones?)

Outdoor cushions are made from a range of materials, and as a rule, the tighter the fabric weave, the less likely it is to let water pass through. Sometimes the textile is given a plastic backing, or is coated with a Teflon™ spray to repel water. Some cushion covers are made from plastic-based fibers, which are a lot softer than you’d imagine.

There are also the good old-fashioned methods, such as using an oilskin fabric, which is linen coated in linseed oil. When it comes to modern materials, something like Sunbrella® is a reliable choice, as it’s also UV resistant

Are these materials more costly than those used for indoor cushions? Yes, they are, because they have had to be treated. To find out more about outdoor cushion fabric, read our blog on the subject.

What about the fillers? Outdoor cushions are usually filled with Polyurethane foam. This can be “open” or “closed” cell foam. The former is medium to firm in feel, and is a good all-year option if you live somewhere dry.

Its open cell structure is designed to let water pass through it without being absorbed, and it also dries quickly. Because it has more give to it, open cell foam is the most comfortable option for cushions.

Closed cell foam isn’t as comfortable (it’s firmer) but it does do better in wet climates. Its closed cell structure is water-resistant, forming a barrier. The more dense the structure is, the more water-resistant it becomes (but if it’s too high density, you’ll sacrifice comfort). It’s also cheaper than open cell foam. If you want to find out more about outdoor cushion fillers, take a look at our blog.

How Often Should You Replace Outdoor Cushions?

A good-quality cushion should last you at least five years. However, this depends on how carefully you look after it.

If you bring your cushions inside every night, they will last longer. They’re not exposed to the cooler, damper night air. In fact, if you want to be really careful with your cushions, only take them outdoors when you’re about to use them. This protects them from stains and potentially damaging debris such as bird poop, and reduces their exposure to UV glare.

Each time you store your cushions away, make sure they’re completely dry to prevent mold and mildew from developing. Brush away crumbs and wipe off any food, drink, or sunscreen residue: again this halts the growth of mold, and also makes your cushions less attractive to bugs and rodents.

Your cushions weren’t cheap, so they’re worth looking after. To make daily cushion care easier, invest in an outdoor storage box to pop them in every evening. By making a task quicker, it’s more likely to get done! Some rattan furniture sets actually come with built-in storage for cushions.

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Outdoor cushions

Can I Make My Own Outdoor Cushions To Save Money? (Simple Steps)

If you have the skills (or have a friend or relative who has the skills…) you can make your own outdoor cushions. As well as saving you a few dollars, this will also make sure your cushions are the perfect fit, so it’s a good idea if you have a non-standard sized patio chair.

Step one is to work out what size cushion you need. If they’re to be the fitted seat or back cushions for a chair or sofa, measure the furniture or the old cushions. If you’re making scatter cushions, choose whatever size you think best.

You’ll need:

  1. Fabric that’s suitable for outdoor use (check at the store if you’re not sure)
  2. Outdoor cushion filler (you can get this online, on websites like Cushion Source)
  3. A zipper (make sure it’s the length of your cushion)
  4. A sewing machine
  5. Scissors, pins, and a tape measure

Here’s what you do:

  1. Use your measurements to cut the foam filler to shape (use whatever is easiest: a sharp knife, a small saw, or tough scissors)
  2. Use your measurements to work out the size of the top and bottom panel, and add an inch so you have a seam
  3. Work out the side panels by taking the depth of the filler and again adding an inch for a seam. You can make a continuous loop for the side panels by cutting out a long piece
  4. Start to attach these pieces together by pinning the long side panel loop to the top panel
  5. Sew around this edge, leaving half an inch as a seam
  6. Pin the long side panel to the base panel
  7. Before you sew this, work out where the zipper will go. Hopefully, you have access to a modern sewing machine with a zipper foot for this part! If you haven’t, here’s a short film about how to fit a zipper by hand (you can watch it at the end of this section too).
  8. Zipper installed, you can now sew the side panel to the base panel. You now have the cushion cover.
  9. Put the filler inside the cushion (and this is why we said to choose a full-length zipper. Much easier)
  10. There you go. Proudly place your cushions on your patio furniture and enjoy a well-earned cold drink outdoors.

Where Can I Buy Reasonably Priced Outdoor Cushions?

You don’t have to spend a fortune on outdoor cushions. Choice and quality will both take a hit if you go for the cheaper options. However, if you’re willing to take good care of them and accept that they won’t last for years and years, there’s no reason at all why you shouldn’t buy your cushions from Walmart.

We did a bit of shopping around, and Amazon has a great selection for under $25. You won’t get all those fancy prints that you find in the upper end of Wayfair, but you will get a perfectly serviceable cushion, and there’s a good choice of colors, too.

Target, Home Depot, and KMart also stock patio cushions. It’s definitely worth searching through their ranges to find a real bargain. Just make sure you take extra good care of cheaper options, as they’re less likely to be made from durable materials. You can always invest in a can of Teflon™ type spray to improve their water resistance.

Final Analysis

In researching this article I’ve discovered a lot about outdoor cushions – and it’s good to know there are some reasonably priced ones available online.

Now all I need to do is remember not to leave them in the rain overnight for two nights in a row, or my wife will make sure that I have to sleep outside on the swing seat all night myself! 🙂

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Mark H.

Homeowner and property investor Mark H. aspires to bring you the very best outdoor living content, based on his years of experience managing outside spaces. Read more >