Some are machine-washable, while others require a little elbow grease
By Perry Santanachote
Your patio umbrella shields you from the sun’s rays, but it can also take a beating from other elements of alfresco living—from cobwebs and bird droppings to dirt and tree sap. Luckily, it’s never been easier to clean and care for your patio umbrella, thanks to water-repelling and mildew-resistant fabrics.
While patio umbrellas can be made from various materials, including cotton and polyester, Mark Taylor, owner of the umbrella retailer ShadeUSA, says that these days more and more are made of Sunbrella, a durable acrylic performance fabric that is solution-dyed for colorfastness. The material requires little maintenance and lasts longer than polyester, but it still needs a little TLC. Your best bet is to check the manufacturer’s instructions for your specific umbrella, but here are general cleaning guidelines that apply to several types of patio umbrellas.
How to Clean a Patio Umbrella Canopy
Brush it. With the canopy on the frame, use a soft bristle brush to remove any loose dirt, leaves, and other debris from the fabric. Try to do this at least every month to prevent dirt from seeping into the fabric. Once the dirt settles in or gets caked on after a rain shower, it’ll need a deeper clean.
Wash it. If your canopy is removable, take it off the frame, and check the tags to see if it’s machine washable. Rich Handel, CR’s resident laundry expert, recommends the waterproof-fabric setting if your washing machine has it. “Waterproof fabrics can cause an unbalanced situation to occur during the spin cycle because the water can get trapped,” he says.
Otherwise, use the normal setting, cold water, and a normal amount of laundry detergent. Just keep an eye on the machine in case it starts walking across the floor.
A spot remover can help with stains. Room&Board, which makes and sells patio umbrellas, recommends Folex Instant Carpet Spot Remover, a water-based stain remover, for spot cleaning. Turpentine can help with tree sap, and a degreaser can help with stubborn oil-based stains. Both should be fine on a solution-dyed fabric, but if you’re unsure what fabric your canopy is made of, test an inconspicuous spot for colorfastness first.
If the canopy can’t be removed from the frame, mix ¼ cup of mild laundry detergent, such as Woolite, with 1 gallon of warm water in a bucket, and use a soft-bristle brush to clean the fabric by gently rubbing it in circular motions. Let the detergent sit for 15 minutes, then hose it off or rinse it with a bucket of clean water.
Dry it. Whichever way you wash it, dry the canopy in an airy, sunny area. Do not machine-dry removable canopies. “The high temperatures in a dryer could damage the synthetic fabric,” Handel says.
How to Remove Mildew From a Patio Umbrella
Acrylic fabric, such as Sunbrella and other synthetic materials, does not promote mildew growth—however, mildew could grow on embedded dirt and other foreign substances, such as tree sap, that are not removed from the fabric. Sunbrella recommends the following steps to clean mildew or other stubborn stains from Sunbrella fabric*.
- Mix 1 cup bleach and ¼ cup mild detergent in 1 gallon of water.
- Fill a spray bottle with the solution and spritz the soiled area until it’s saturated.
- Let the fabric soak for 15 minutes, then use a sponge, clean towel, or soft-bristle brush to gently scrub the stain.
- Rinse thoroughly with clean water or wash the canopy in the washing machine and allow it to completely dry in the sun.
* If your umbrella is made by another manufacturer, check the manual or tags first to see if the material is bleach-safe.
How to Clean a Patio Umbrella Pole
Aluminum pole: Most modern patio umbrella poles are made of aluminum and won’t rust, Taylor says. However, the hardware, screws, and rivets can be susceptible to rusting. Similar to the canopy, you want to keep the pole as dry and dirt-free as possible. It’s as easy as wiping it down with a damp cloth. Sticky spots might need a little soapy water, followed by a rinse and thorough drying. Never use an abrasive or corrosive cleaning product, such as bleach or ammonia, which can damage the finish.
If you notice calcium buildup from hard water on your patio umbrella frame, use a solution of 1 part white distilled vinegar and 9 parts water to help remove it. Before you apply your solution, test it in an inconspicuous area of the frame to make sure it doesn’t discolor the finish.
Wood pole: For most wood umbrella poles, a mixture of mild dish detergent and water along with a cloth or soft-bristle brush will suffice to clean it. If there are spots with mildew, use a bleach-based household cleaner and a plastic pot scourer to remove them, then rinse thoroughly.
Wood can show wear over time. To help boost its luster and durability, oil unsealed wood annually with a wood protector or synthetic penetrating decking oil.
General Patio Umbrella Maintenance Tips
Now that your patio umbrella is looking fresh and clean, take a few extra steps to help keep it that way longer.
- “If you’re a patio umbrella fanatic like me, keep it stored anytime you’re not using it,” Taylor says. Keep it protected from the elements indoors, as in a shed.
- If you prefer to leave your umbrella out for the season, make sure to close it when not in use (wind damage is the most common source of a broken frame) and get a slipcover to protect it.
- To avoid staining, don’t allow mildew or oily tree leaves to stay on the umbrella for long periods of time.
- After rain showers, check to make sure water isn’t pooling inside the stand, especially if you have a wood pole umbrella. Over time, the moisture can rot the wood, Taylor says.
- If the canopy is looking worse for wear, don’t toss out the frame with it. You might be able to find a replacement canopy for much less than it’d cost to buy a new set.
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