Choosing the Best Fabric for Outdoor Cushions

outdoor cushions

When choosing fabric for outdoor cushions the first thing to consider is whether or not the cushions will be exposed to the elements. Even patio furniture and cushions that are under an awning are still subject to the winds, moisture, and extremes in the hot and cold of the outdoors.

As such, it's smart to choose a fabric that's water-resistant, or waterproof, regardless of its specific placement. Look for fade-resistant fabrics too so that the sun and rain don't damage your cushions.

Designer fabrics like Outdura, Sunbrela, and Robert Allen are of course one option, but if you want more choices, understanding the types of fabrics that are suited to the outdoors will open up your options considerably.

Remember, don't just focus on the outer material for cushions. Make sure your pillow inserts have a polypropylene cover, and that the filling is 100% waterproof as well.

Cotton Canvas

close up of cotton canvas texture

Canvas is a plain-woven fabric. Traditionally, outdoor weave material like this was made with hemp, but the modern go-to is cotton. Cotton canvas is a heavy-duty fabric, is relatively inexpensive, and is used in many outdoor applications. It's hard-wearing and dyes easily. Canvas is also available in pre-dyed solid colors and prints.

Another bonus to cotton is that blank canvas can be painted with fabric paint if you want to create your own fabric designs and give your outdoor space more of a personal touch. Don't forget to treat cotton blend fabrics with Scotchgard or a similar protective coating before using them.

Duck Cloth

Duck cloth is similar to canvas. The biggest difference between the two is that duck cloth has a tighter weave. Duck cloth is also known as duck canvas, cloth duck, and duck. Its texture is a bit smoother than cotton canvas.

As with cotton canvas, duck cloth can be purchased in different weights, depending on the usage. However, it's slightly more expensive than cotton canvas and is more difficult to paint and customize. So, if you like the feel of cotton but want something a little sturdier, duck might be for you. However, if you're more partial to adding your own designs and flair to your material, cotton is probably the better option.

Textilene Fabric

Textilene fabric is woven polyester with a PVC coating. Used for sling seating, sun shades, and outdoor furniture, it is waterproof and resistant to fading. In addition to those two ideal attributes, it's also mold-resistant and flame retardant. Textilene is found at hardware stores and can be purchased by the yard.

Textilene mesh, as it is sometimes called, is clearly suited to the outdoors in terms of functionality and durability, but it does have a distinct polyester, plastic-y feel. So, if comfort is a bigger priority for you, do some touch tests before purchasing your roll of fabric.

Olefin Fiber

close up of olefin texture

Also known as polypropylene, olefin fiber is a synthetic fiber. Olefin is ideal to use for cushion inserts, as well as for cushion covers. It can easily stand up to mold, heat, sun, and wet weather. Olefin is so hardy that it's often considered a plastic fabric.


Polyvinyl chloride, PVC, or vinyl, is hardy and easy to clean. Vinyl was first used in the 1920s and is said to be the second most popular plastic in production today. While its impact on the environment and on health has been a subject of debate for decades, vinyl is recyclable.

Once again though, there is a distinctly plastic feel to it, so perhaps limit vinyl to pillows or backings as opposed to parts of your cushions that will have heavy contact directly with the skin. Especially in warm weather, sweat and plastic can be a sticky and unpleasant combination.

Outdoor Curtain Fabric

Curtain fabric is available for outdoor use in both sheer and heavy fabric. Make some cushions with heavier fabric and some with lighter fabric for a softer, textured look for scattered cushions. Curtains can be an economical option for making outdoor cushions, and they are available in a variety of colors and styles.

Shower Curtains

Shower curtains are water-resistant and in some cases even waterproof. They come in many varieties and are usually on sale somewhere. Depending on how large you want your cushions to be, one curtain should be plenty for two medium-sized cushions. Outdoor cushions can be made for less than $20 a pair using shower curtains.

Making the Decision

Any of these materials will get the job done. The decision is more a matter of your preference for comfort and style. Regardless of what option you go with, remember that regular maintenance will also extend the life of your cushions more than anything else.

This means that you should wipe down all cushions after rain to avoid mold and mildew, and wash them with a soft detergent to remove surface dirt once or twice a month even when there isn't rain or intense weather.