How to keep white patio furniture white in a city - 7 steps to pristine pieces all year round

These expert tips on how to keep white patio furniture white in a city mean you can sit out in style as long as this weather holds

An affordable modern outdoor sofa on a paved patio
(Image credit: Target)

The trouble with urban balconies, rooftops and terraces is how to keep white patio furniture white in a city. It seems that sometimes, as soon as look at it, it's taking on a grey tinge. But it doesn't have to be a difficult task to keep whatever outdoor space you have looking pristine

'Most city dwellers with outdoor space want to make it comfortable and stylish.  So many like to use outdoor and patio furniture that is white!' says Sabrina Fierman, vice president of high-end NY-based cleaning service Little Elves. 'So how do we keep it looking clean and at its best in an outdoor urban environment, which has all of the usual outdoor maintenance issues plus the pollution and dirtiness of a city? 

Thankfully, Sabrina knows just what to do - and the solutions are easier than you might think. 

Sabrina Fierman

For the last ten years, lifestyle and cleaning guru Sabrina Fierman has been the hands-on director of New York’s Little Elves, the premier luxury cleaning service in greater New York. Sabrina came to the Elves from a background in event planning and the arts, producing art and architecture tours for prominent NYC art institutions. Her background combined with a passion for clean living made joining the Elves almost two decades ago a natural fit. In addition to helping NYC’s homes sparkle, as a native New Yorker Sabrina’s vast network of New York based resources gives her the inside track to the best services residences may ever need – from catering to marble restoration to professional organizers.

How to keep white patio furniture white in a city 

How to keep white patio furniture white in a city, KING Living

(Image credit: KING Living)

1. Invest in outdoor covers

First, when you buy outdoor furniture, be sure to include furniture covers in your purchase. The best outdoor furniture brands will often have their own options available.

'This should just be part and parcel of your outdoor gear,' suggests Sabrina.  'Be disciplined and keep your furniture covered whenever it is not in use.  

'If you have space, get a weather-resistant box or trunk to store the covers in when not in use. If you have a large enough box, you can even store cushions and throw pillows themselves.

2. Use a protective spray

modern garden ideas that blur indoors and outdoors

(Image credit: Barbara Corsico)

If your furniture does not come already treated with a special protective coating, use a protective fabric spray such as 303 Marine Fabric Guard , an inexpensive alternative to Scotchguard. It's a lifesaver.

'For those of you who like to try do-it-yourself formulas, there is some indication that diluting Frizz Ease with rubbing alcohol will provide similar protection. As always, do a spot test in a hidden area before putting anything on upholstery,' Sabrina says.

Another outdoor cleaning brand to try is Fabsil. Firstly, use Fabsil cleaners and multi-surface wipes to restore the just-new look, then protect against future damage with Fabsil Universal Protector UV: this not only offers powerful protection against rain and spillages, but will also help stop your furniture fading in the sun.

3. Avoid dark food and drink

modern garden ideas with chic outdoor fireplace

(Image credit: Design by The Novogratz)

Advice anyone with a white sofa has probably learned the hard way, but a piece of wisdom always worth repeating, is to shun foods that mark easily. 'To avoid general staining, avoid dark foods and drinks: coffee, cola, red wine, chocolate.  Always treat any stain immediately for best results,' says Sabrina. 

Seems like the perfect excuse to stay on the White Claw, frankly.

4. Ensure you buy UV-resistant fabrics

'Invest in pieces that are covered in easily maintained outdoor fabrics,' advises Sabrina. 

'We love Perennials' line of high-performance fabrics. They are beautiful, fade resistant, mildew and mold resistant, and bleach cleanable. I particularly love their designer collections, including fabrics designed by industry talents like Clodagh and Martyn Lawrence Bullard.'

Sunbrella is another line that offers weather-resistant, outdoor-friendly fabrics.

5. Purchase a compact outdoor blower

'Just to keep everything looking chic and clean (which is why you bought white furniture in the first place,)  I also recommend a compact outdoor blower,' says Sabrina.  

This outdoor blower is really affordable and does exactly what you need it to.

'The dust of a city, with car exhaust and ongoing construction, doesn’t take time off, so I strongly recommend you blow the furniture right before you cover or store them.  If your outdoor time went late and you're too tired, do it first thing in the morning, either before sitting again or covering.  Be mindful of your neighbors with early morning noise.'

Outdoor furniture that is white  will show dust more. Use your handy outdoor blower on a daily basis and then wipe them down once a week or as needed, depending on your proximity to the street, points of traffic congestion, and exposure to wind. 

Sabrina adds: 'When wiping them down, a slightly damped cotton rag is fine, or use a gentle cleaner such as liquid Ivory diluted in water to dampen your rags.

6. Clean your cushions

a patio garden spread over different heights to add interest and draw the eye out

(Image credit: James Merrell)

If your cushion or pillow covers are removable, they may be machine washable or dry cleanable. Be sure to read and follow the manufacturer's label before tossing in the washing machine or taking to your favorite dry cleaners. If washing, do not place them in a dryer, air dry instead. 

 If they are not removable, you can clean them yourself or have them steam cleaned. Again, check and follow the label and always spot test any cleaning solution you use in a hidden area. 

How to go about it? Sabrina suggests: 'First, vacuum, brush or shake out the cushions to remove any dirt and loose grime. If they are showing signs of mildew or mold, do this outside and wear a mask to protect your airways.  

'Second, make a cleaning solution of a ¼ cup gentle cleaner, like Liquid Ivory or dish soap to a gallon of water. For an eco-friendly option, you can use 1/2 cup distilled white vinegar, ¼ cup baking soda and a gallon of water. 

'Using a brush that won’t damage the fabric, scrub the cushions down. Repeat on stained areas until satisfied. Let sit with either cleaning solution for at least 15 minutes. Then rinse thoroughly. Blot well and stand up to dry, preferably in the sun.'

Sabrina adds: 'For mold or mildew stains, spray with undiluted white vinegar. Scrub the stains and let sit for 5-10 minutes. Wet a cotton rag with a little dish soap or Liquid Ivory diluted in water and blot the areas. Repeat if necessary. Rinse well and place in the sun to dry.'

7. Store your furniture inside in winter

If you have the room inside (and many of us do not in the city,) store your furniture inside during winter months. 

'If you don’t have an indoor storage room, ask your local dry cleaner if they have winter storage options,' suggests Sabrina. 'They can store your cushion covers and dry clean them before you retrieve them, which will also help keep them looking their best.'

How do you keep outdoor furniture from staining?

how to keep white patio furniture white in a city, Satara Australia

(Image credit: Satara Australia)

'To maintain your outdoor furniture, help it to last and keep it looking its best we always recommend investing in a specialist cleaning kit,' says Andy Baxter, managing director, Maze.

'These kits help prevent mold and mildew (particularly if you’re leaving your furniture outside during the winter) and create a protective shield over your outdoor fabrics.'

It's also a good idea to avoid dark foods and drinks, like chocolate and red wine - although this is easier said than done.

How do I keep my white cushions white?

'To keep your white cushions looking pristine and protect against everyday dirt and grime, we recommend storing them in a clean, cool, dry place when not in use,' says Andy Baxter.

'With unpredictable weather, it’s also worth investing in a fitted weatherproof cover so your furniture is protected from the elements. 

'In addition, a cover will also help maintain the exterior as well as prevent water, condensation or mildew from seeping into the materials.'

How do you clean white outdoor furniture?

To make cleaning your furniture easier, apply a protective solution or spray to keep away the worst of everyday dirt and grime. 

'When it comes to cleaning your outdoor furniture, use hot, clean soapy water on the affected areas and then top up with a protective spray to maintain that extra layer of protection to prevent further stains,' says Andy.

Ruth Doherty is a lifestyle journalist based in London. An experienced freelance digital writer and editor, she is known for covering everything from travel and interiors to fashion and beauty. She regularly contributes to Livingetc, Ideal Home and Homes & Gardens, as well as titles like Prima and Red. Outside of work, her biggest loves are endless cups of tea, almond croissants, shopping for clothes she doesn’t need, and booking holidays she does.