When buying patio furniture it’s important to understand whether your outdoor cushions will be protected from the elements.
Patio cushion fabric and filler is in most cases not waterproof but water resistant. Depending upon price and quality, different outdoor furniture fabric will be more or less water repellent or “hydrophobic” – but you should not assume your patio cushions will not get wet in the rain.
In this article we’ll look at the differences between waterproof and water resistant fabrics, whether they can go moldy or not, and consider how to store and cover your patio furniture cushions to prolong their life.
Are Outdoor Cushions Waterproof or Water Resistant?
That’s a good question, as there is definitely a difference. Most cushions that specify outdoor use will be water resistant, whereas not all will be waterproof. A water resistant cushion is designed to make it harder for water to pass through, while a waterproof cushion will not let water through, period.
Like outdoor coats, how waterproof or otherwise a cushion is depends on two things, its fabric and its construction. We’ll take a closer look at common cushion textiles in a moment: there’s a great choice of hi-tech and traditional materials out there.
But, however good the fabric is, water can still penetrate through the opening and zipper, so if you want a high level of water resistance, check out how the product is made.
You’ll also hear the term “water repellent”. This means that the surface of the textile repels the water immediately. How water repellent (or “hydrophobic”) a fabric is depends on how much liquid it takes for the surface to be breached and water to pass through. A water resistant cushion cover is water repellent, but not as much so as a waterproof fabric.
Can Patio Furniture Cushions Get Wet? (And What Happens If They Do?)
Yes, most patio cushions can get wet: but there’s wet, and there’s wet… A typical water-resistant cushion can survive a short rain shower or a spillage, but might struggle to recover from an accidental dip in the swimming pool.
A waterproof cushion will fare better under extreme conditions, but you’ll prolong their life if they’re not constantly exposed to driving rain.
If a good quality, water-resistant cushion gets wet, it should be fine provided it’s dried out fairly quickly. Problems arise if the cushion never gets the chance to dry out, or if the inner foam pad becomes waterlogged.
Outdoor cushions are designed to tolerate a certain level of wet or damp conditions, which is why we don’t simply take our standard cushions outside. The key is to choose the best outdoor cushions that suit your local climate and your yard, and then to take good care of them.
What Types of Outdoor Cushion Fabrics Are Water Resistant?
Cotton, polyester and nylon are all used for outdoor cushions. The tighter the fabric’s fibers, the less likely it is to let water penetrate; so, you need to look out for fabric with a high denier rating.
Sometimes, the textile has a PVC (or similar) backing, which increases its water resistant properties. Some cushions are made entirely from plastic-based textiles, such as polyurethane, which is water resistant
The water resistance can also be increased by spraying the fabric with a Teflon™coating. This repels water: if you spray some water onto a Teflon™-coated cushion, you’ll see that the liquid will form beads then simply roll off.
This works really well in most cases; however, the downside is that coatings can wear off. When your cushion ceases to be water resistant, retire it indoors or re-coat it yourself with a Teflon™ spray.
For a more traditional approach, look at fabrics that we’ve used for generations to keep things dry. Oilcloth, as any sailor will tell you, offers a good degree of resistance.
This is linen coated in boiled linseed oil; and while this results in a stiffer fabric, your cushions will certainly stand up to the elements. For the highest level of water resistance, choose a cushion that has both a water resistant cover and a purpose-made foam pad.
What Patio Furniture Cushion Fillers Are Water Resistant?
What about inside the cushion? Many cushion pad designs use a foam that’s specially made to let water pass through it. If you put a standard or memory foam cushion out in the rain, it will soon become unpleasantly waterlogged which can lead to mildew (and a lot of wringing out work for you).
Compressed fibre is a good choice for your outside soft furnishings. This is made up from layers of blown fiber (the same stuff that’s used for your loft insulation) that’s been flattened and bonded with glue. It’s well-known for retaining warmth, and it’s also great at not retaining water.
So, if the cushions experience such a soaking that the water penetrates the cover, the inner should survive without getting waterlogged.
Standard foam, on the other hand, soaks up water like a sponge. Avoid using this if you can, even if you’re confident that the cushion covers are sound. You are far less likely to experience mildew problems if you use a purpose-designed, outdoor-friendly foam inner. As with any outdoor furnishing product, read the label and find out what it’s made from.
Can Outdoor Cushions Go Moldy?
Hopefully, you’ve gone for a waterproof or water-resistant cover, possibly one that’s had an extra coating, and you’ve made sure that the zippers are well sealed. The pad is made from a foam that allows water to pass through. You’re covered against mold, right?
Sorry, no. Even the toughest outdoor furnishings can start to go moldy with prolonged exposure to damp conditions such as rain and morning dew.
There’s also another culprit that can make your cushions go moldy, and that’s spillages. Mold and mildew love old food and sticky sunscreen spills.
If these aren’t immediately cleaned (and let’s be honest, we’re all a bit more chilled out when it comes to mopping up outside food and drinks accidents), mold will start to develop. The mold spores won’t care if a cushion is Teflon™ or linseed coated, but will happily grow on your gorgeous garden upholstery.
A simple way to guard against mold growth is to put a towel over the cushions if you’re using sunscreen or bug spray. It’s also a plan to place a towel down if young kids are eating… Spot clean any spills immediately (most water-resistant textiles are hand wash only), and check regularly for any food or oily stains.
And, because even the hardiest fabrics will eventually suffer from constant outdoor living, bring them in from the yard when not in use.
How Do You Store Patio Furniture Cushions? (And When Should You Bring Them Inside?)
How you store your outdoor cushions depends on what space you have and indeed, on the size of the cushions. The same basic guidance applies, however; keep them in a dry, warm, mildew-free place, free from rodents and bugs who’d love to snuggle down (literally) inside your cushions. You can get purpose-made storage bags for garden cushions, which is a neat way to keep them.
When should you bring your cushions in from the yard? This depends on your climate. In some states, simply take them out when you need them and bring them in when you’ve finished. In warmer, drier locations, they can stay out all night.
We’ve found that one of the key things is to make them easy to put away, as this makes us more likely to do so. One approach is to have two levels of storage for the cushions: a waterproof outdoor trunk is an easy way to store them overnight, then in the colder months, stash them away properly inside a bag in your attic, garage or outhouse.
Whether it’s just overnight or for several months, always make sure your cushions are clean and dry before you put them away, otherwise those pesky little mold spores will move right on in…
Should You Cover Outdoor Cushions?
If you want to provide an extra level of protection for your cushions in situ, you can get waterproof slip covers (a bit like tough plastic bags). Look out for heavy-duty, UV-resistant designs with sealed seams, which should provide excellent everyday protection. Also make sure that the covers can be secured to the furniture, so the cushions can’t blow away.
You’ll still need to put your cushions away properly for prolonged periods of use, but this can be a great solution for short-term storage and if space is tight. Again, make sure they’re clean and dry before popping them in their slip covers.
Another short-term solution is to encase the entire patio set or bench with a tarp-like cover. This isn’t as pretty, but will help protect against rain and possibly UV.
In the end (and yes, we know, it’s a bit of hassle), nothing beats keeping your cushions in a storage box or outhouse, and just placing them on the furniture when you need them. These extra few minutes will guard against mildew and UV fading, and prolong the life of your cushions.
In Conclusion: Waterproof Patio Cushions
Depending on price and quality, the fabric and interior fillers of patio furniture fabric will exhibit varying degrees of water repellency or hydrophobia.
In this context, outdoor cushion fabrics are predominantly water resistant not waterproof, and will get wet and go moldy if you leave them out in the rain.
You can cover your cushion fabrics if you intend to leave them out in the yard for long periods, but it’s easier to just store them inside in the dry if you want them to last.
Homeowner and property investor Larry Jones founded Take a Yard in 2020 to bring you the very best outdoor living content, based on his years of experience managing outside spaces. Read more >