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Sunbrella Outdoor Fabric Requires Little Care & Maintenance

St. Augustine with Sunbrella CushionsSince 1961 Sunbrella Outdoor Fabrics have been used in outdoor applications where the look and feel of natural fabrics like cotton are desired, yet outdoor use and abuse causes quick deterioration, calling for a stronger, synthetic material. And while Sunbrella fabric is a modern material with contemporary origins, the roots of Sunbrella go a little further back in history than 1961.

The History of Sunbrella Fabric

Sunbrella is a division of Glen Raven Inc., a company which began as the John Q. Gant Manufacturing Co. in Glen Raven, North Carolina. Started in 1880 by John Quinton Gant (1847-1930), one of the first southern producers to dye his fabric, this company noticed lukewarm success producing cotton and other materials during the late 1800s.

But the watershed for Gant's company was the introduction of cotton duck awning fabrics in 1908, the most successful product introduced by him up to that point in history. And the dominance of this product in the awning industry allowed John Q. Gant Manufacturing, by then known as Glen Raven, Inc., the ability to expand into other fabric products.

They produced rayon parachute fabrics during World War II (which they still do today), developed pantyhose in the 1950s (which they introduced to domestic markets in 1959) and even wove the fabric for the first American flag planted on the moon by Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin.

Their experience in rayon and other fabrics kept them focused on innovation, and in 1961 Glen Raven introduced their version of acrylic-based fibers, a material they and other producers had been developing. This fabric is created by adding pigmentation prior to the extrusion of the acrylic fibers in the production process. It is quite durable and nearly any color is possible, and they called it Sunbrella.

By the middle 1970s Sunbrella fabric was being used for all sorts of marine applications, and by the 1980s they had moved into patio furniture fabric. Currently Sunbrella is used for drapery, upholstery, window treatments, awnings, rugs, throw pillows, marine canvas coverings for boats and sails, Bimini or cockpit enclosures, marine interiors and even convertible automobile tops.

There are other outdoor fabric manufacturers and brands, but currently none are as well known, or as widely used, as Sunbrella. And while solution-dyed acrylics such as Sunbrella are designed to be durable, repelling water and stains, they do require some care and maintenance. Sunbrella fabric does require regular cleaning, and any spatters or spills should be addressed before they dry. This will extend the life of the fabric while keeping it looking brand new.

Tuscany Dining with Red Sunbrella CushionsRegular Cleaning of Sunbrella Fabric

As mentioned above, Sunbrella fabric will resist UV rays, mildew, stains and mold. This is why it is the preferred fabric for outdoor furniture. But a regular cleaning two or three times each season will ensure your patio furniture cushions will continue looking great. Sunbrella recommends the following steps for regular cleanings:

  1. Remove debris and loose dirt.
  2. Prepare two ounces (1/4 cup) of mild detergent per gallon of lukewarm water (below 100 F / 38 C).
  3. Use only a soft bristle brush or sponge. Lightly brush the water / detergent solution onto the fabric in the same direction as the weave.
  4. Allow the solution to soak into the fabric for several minutes.
  5. Use your garden hose and rinse the fabric with water.
  6. Allow the fabric to air dry.

Machine Wash Cleaning of Sunbrella Fabric

Most Sunbrella fabric is machine washable, but be sure to read any directions found on the tags that come with the cushion fabric. Sunbrella typically recommends a machine wash setting of cold, with a reasonable amount of laundry detergent, and allowing the fabric to air dry, avoiding drying machines.

Spot Cleaning of Sunbrella Fabric

Sunbrella recommends the following steps for spot cleaning their outdoor fabric:

  1. Mix the water / detergent solution described above for regular cleaning.
  2. Apply a light mist of this solution using a spray bottle.
  3. Lightly blot and brush the stain using a soft bristle toothbrush or sponge.
  4. Rinse with cool water.
  5. Blot out the moisture with a dry sponge or soft towel (or maybe using a vacuum).
  6. Repeat if necessary.

Heavy Cleaning of Sunbrella Fabric

While Sunbrella fabric will resist mold and mildew, these organisms can grow on debris that is left on the fabric for long periods of time. Sunbrella recommends the following steps for heavy cleaning of Sunbrella fabric when stains, mold or mildew is involved:

  1. Prepare a solution of eight ounces (1 cup) of bleach with two ounces (1/4 cup) of mild soap as per each gallon (eight cups) of water.
  2. Spray onto the affected area and let it soak into the fabric.
  3. Scrub with a clean towel, soft bristle toothbrush or sponge.
  4. Rinse with clean water.
  5. Allow fabric to dry.
  6. Repeat if necessary. In some cases, if the areas are really bad, an increase in the bleach and soap ratio in the water could help, but should be increased in small quantities. Bleach can damage the color of fabric.

303 Fabric GuardRetreating Sunbrella Fabric

Sunbrella fabric offers a finish guard designed to resist water and UV rays. Unfortunately, this finish guard can deteriorate after several seasons, and will need to be reapplied in some cases. Glenn Raven, the makers of Sunbrella outdoor fabric, actually recommends 303 High Tech Fabric Guard by 303 Products (pictured right) to protect their fabric (view 303 Fabric Guard from 303 Products and Family Leisure here).

Sunbrella recommends 303 Fabric Guard should be applied after several years or even after a thorough cleaning. Here's how you should apply 303 Fabric Guard:

  1. Follow closely all instructions found on the 303 bottle.
  2. Clean the fabric using one of the methods described above, allowing it to dry.
  3. Apply 303 Fabric Guard to the fabric in thin layers in a well-ventilated area outside.
  4. Two thin layers will work more effectively than one thick layer, so allow it to dry and repeat the process.

Sunbrella outdoor fabric is an effective outdoor material when maintained properly, granting beautiful colors and durable surfaces that will resists even the most stubborn stains, UV rays, mildew and mold. It's the preferred choice for Family Leisure Patio Furniture. View all Family Leisure Patio Furniture here to browse our patio furniture or view the Patio Furniture Cushion Search Engine to find new or replacement patio furniture cushions!

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