The Best Fabric, Foam & Thread for Outdoor Cushions
Imagine this: It's a beautiful summer morning. The birds are chirping, the sun is shining, and you have a couple of free hours all to yourself. You walk out to your patio with a good book and a tall glass of iced tea. You plop down on your cozy patio chair — and immediately jump up with a yelp! The cushion is still wet from the previous night's rain! So much for enjoying a relaxing morning on your patio. Now you have to go change.
Don't let the worry of soggy or dirty cushions prevent you from enjoying your patio. Featured fabrics from the Sunbrella Sailrite Collection.
Why did this happen? Your cushion is made from a foam and fabric combination that retains water. If you plan on leaving your patio cushions outside all year long, you need to choose your foam and fabric wisely. Luckily, we're here to help. We have a foolproof construction method for building an outdoor cushion that you can leave outside year-round — rain, shine and snow! We'll discuss which fabric brands, weaves and colors you want to look for, which foam is best for permanent outdoor cushions, and which notions will give your cushion the longest lifespan possible. Let's get started.
A cushion that's quick-drying is not the only factor to consider for this DIY project. You also want a cushion that is easy to clean and that hides dirt and water stains. High-quality zippers and thread will prolong the lifespan of your cushions. We'll discuss which brands and types of notions we recommend for long-lasting permanent outdoor cushions.
Let's build our cushion from the inside out. So, the first step is to pick the right type of foam that can remain outside in all seasons and in all weather conditions.
Step 1: Foam
We recommend Dry Fast foam for cushions you're going to leave outside all year long. Why? Dry Fast is an open cell foam, which means the cell walls have been blown out. The open pores in the foam allow water and air to pass through very easily. This means that when there's a downpour, the Dry Fast foam won't retain water. Your cushions will dry out very quickly. Dry Fast is also antimicrobial and comes in a range of sizes and thicknesses so you can build your cushion to your exact specifications.
Water flows right through Dry Fast foam thanks to its blown-out cell walls. This makes it extremely quick-drying for outdoor cushions.
Dry Fast is inherently nonabsorbent and won't retain water, so you don't want to wrap anything around it that would inhibit its water draining abilities. However, if you desire some added plumpness and softness to your outdoor cushion, there is something you can do. Wrap a layer of polyester batting (#100158) around your Dry Fast foam. You'll need to adhere it with an adhesive spray such as Foam Lock Spray (#120464). Batting is similarly quick-drying, so it won't interfere with the water-draining properties of Dry Fast.
Whether using batting or not, it is still wise to wrap the Dry Fast foam in silk film. The slippery, noiseless wrapping makes stuffing the foam inside the cushion cover much easier. Once the foam is fully inserted, just rip and pull the silk film out of the cushion cover. You don't want to leave the silk film inside the cushion because its function as a water barrier is not desirable when making a fast-drying cushion.
Step 2: Fabric
We're proud to carry hundreds of high-quality furniture fabrics for all of your outdoor patio and porch DIYs. Our large selection of fabric brands has two things in common: durability and style. We carry only the best brands in the textile industry to meet your most demanding needs. Not only are our fabrics well-made, they're also incredibly stylish. So whether you're looking for florals, geometrics, nautical patterns, stripes, solids and more, we have a long-lasting fabric in a color and pattern you'll love.
For cushions you can leave on your patio all year round in the elements, you'll want to look at our most durable outdoor upholstery fabrics. We recommend the following brands for their longevity, colorfastness, UV resistance and mold/mildew resistance: Outdura® Upholstery, Sunbrella® Upholstery, Bella-Dura® and P/Kaufmann Outdoor Performance. The reason we recommend these brands is because these fabrics are colorfast, durable, water resistant, and they are all very easy to clean.
These Bella-Dura performance fabrics make great all-season outdoor cushions.
If you don't find any fabrics you like among the outdoor performance fabrics listed above, we do offer other fabric brands suitable for outdoor cushions. Consider fabrics from Covington Outdoor, P/K Lifestyles®, Tommy Bahama®, Waverly® and Solarium®. These brands are predominantly neither acrylic nor olefin and most are printed fabrics as opposed to solution-dyed. They are not as durable as performance fabrics and will not last as long outside.
However, what these fabrics lack in longevity they make up for in style and pattern choice. Because the pattern and color is often printed on the surface instead of woven into the fabric, as with solution-dyed fabrics, printed fabrics are highly stylized and detailed. These fabrics feature dozens of colorful patterns including animals, florals and foliage, intricate nautical designs, paisleys, ikat and so much more. So if you value eye-catching and stylish patterns over longevity and durability, check out our huge selection of beautiful printed fabrics.
Printed fabrics add lots of color and pattern to outdoor cushions, though they don't last as long as solution-dyed performance fabrics.
With woven fabrics, water drainage through the cushion is key. When your cushions get wet, it's important that they dry out quickly so you can sit on them and enjoy your patio area. To promote fast water drainage and drying time, you can use Phifertex® mesh fabric or cushion underlining for the bottom panel of your seat cushion. Adding a mesh bottom maximizes breathability and drainage in your cushion. However, this means that your cushion can't be flipped. If you want to be able to flip your cushions and get more wear and a longer life from them, you can instead install the mesh fabric in the zipper plaque or install vent grommets. These options will help speed up drying time, though not as quickly and effectively as a mesh bottom panel.
Step 3: Notions
Finish out your project with high-quality notions that will stand up to the weather and last for years. For thread, choose a polyester outdoor thread in size V-69. All of our outdoor polyester threads are treated with a special UV protection specifically designed for outdoor applications where seam strength and fade prevention are required. They also have a non-wicking finish that helps to reduce moisture coming through the seams.
For your cushion's zipper, we recommend size #5 molded tooth zipper components. With a cushion, you don't need a separating (also known as jacket style) zipper because the teeth don't need to fully come apart on both ends. Instead, you'll need a length of continuous zipper chain and a zipper slider of the same size and tooth style. (For example, a #5 molded tooth zipper chain and a #5 slider for molded tooth chain.)
Sailrite's largest offering of sizes and colors of finished zippers and zipper components is the brand Lenzip®. Lenzip zippers won't experience broken teeth, lockups or broken pull tabs. A Lenzip zipper is built to last, and that's exactly what you need for permanent outdoor cushions. We recommend these zippers for a wide variety of applications and uses. If you need help choosing the right zipper style for your project, reference our detailed blog "Choosing the Right Zipper" (#300049XHT).
We've cut this cushion in half so you can see all the layers that we recommend for an outdoor woven fabric cushion.
Step 4: Maintenance
To keep your cushions looking like new year after year, some general maintenance and cleaning is required. Vacuum your cushions frequently to remove dirt and debris. Once a year, we recommend spot cleaning the cushions. If there are really bad stains (bird droppings, food spills, etc.) that were not dealt with right away, you can apply a bleach and water solution to synthetic performance fabrics including Outdura, Sunbrella and Bella-Dura. Make sure you visit the fabric page on our website for detailed information on how to clean with bleach and the correct water-to-bleach ratio. When you scrub the cushion with the bleach solution, make sure to stay away from seams as bleach will weaken polyester thread.
After you've cleaned your cushions and they are completely dry, use a lint roller to remove any excess dust, pollen or small debris. Lastly, treat your cushions with 303® Fabric Guard™ (#481100). Fabric Guard restores the water-repellency of your fabric and protects against oil-based liquids and other stains. 303 Fabric Guard is detrimental to plastic, so be sure to keep it away from the zipper when treating your cushions.
If you have the storage space, it's never a bad idea to bring your outdoor cushions inside for the winter. Even though the cold will not hurt the cushions, bringing them in will save you from winter dirt and debris and having to clean them thoroughly in the spring. And if you're worried about squirrels and other critters potentially getting into your cushions and making nests, bringing them inside will prevent this pesky problem. Or, you can sew covers for your patio furniture to keep your cushions protected. We sell high-quality outdoor cover fabrics perfect for patio furniture covers.
Now that you know the best materials for making an outdoor cushion you can leave outside all the time, you're ready to sew your cushion! We have lots of cushion DIY blogs that will teach you how to sew a well-made outdoor cushion. Just type "cushion" into the search field on our website and click on the "Projects & Tips" tab to explore our inventory of cushion DIY projects.
We hope this blog has helped you learn which foam, fabric and notions are best for creating outdoor cushions. Good luck with your cushion project! Let us know if you have any additional questions in the comments below.