How to clean an outdoor rug in 5 easy steps: a simple guide to getting it right

Find out how to clean an outdoor rug to keep it looking spick and span all summer long

patterned outdoor rug, boho bench with cushions and accessories
(Image credit: The Rug Seller)

Find out how to clean an outdoor rug and you'll be well on the way to keep it looking good all summer long. They are now a key element in your patio set-up but it's easy to forget they need a little care and attention every now and then too.

A little regular maintenance is a good idea for your outdoor rug. This means checking for any build-up of dirt and dust, and shaking off any dead leaves, grass or other wind-blown debris. If your rug is still looking a little grubby it's definitely time to give it a wash.

Happily, keeping your best outdoor rug looking great is fairly simple if you follow our expert advice.

small patio with outdoor rug, mirror and lemon tree growing in a pot

Outdoor rug from Wayfair (opens in new tab)

(Image credit: Wayfair)

5 simple steps for how to clean an outdoor rug

'When it comes to outdoor living, most of us remember to clean our patio furniture and accessories, but often forget to find out how to clean an outdoor rug,' says Reilly Gray of SUNS Lifestyle (opens in new tab). 'Whether you have an outdoor rug made from natural, synthetic or recycled materials there are a few things you need to do to protect and keep your outdoor rug in top shape.'

1. Remove any loose dirt

'When you're finding out how to clean an outdoor rug don’t forget to read the label before you start,' says Daniel Prendergast from The Rug Seller (opens in new tab). 'Before attempting to clean your rug always read the label and care instructions.'

'Start by giving your rug a good shake to remove any loose dirt, debris and excess dust,' says Reilly Gray. 'Don’t be afraid to give it a vacuum,' adds Daniel. 'Many outdoor rugs can also be vacuumed but make sure they’re dry and shake off the worst of the dirt first before you do so.'

blue and white outdoor rug with brush

Sweep your rug regularly to keep it looking smart

(Image credit: Christian Bridgwater/Alamy Stock Photo)

2. Hose your outdoor rug thoroughly

'Wash your rug on a hot and sunny day that is ideally wind-free,' says Joyce French, cleaning expert at Homehow (opens in new tab). Be careful where you do it too. 'Washing your rug on the grass could damage both the lawn and surrounding plants.' A patio is the ideal spot.

It's important to give your outdoor rug a good pre-rinse to hose away any dirt that hasn't already shifted. 'Give the rug a good rinse with a garden hose, ideally on a sloping surface, or hang it on a chair or fence to allow the excess water to drain away as you rinse,' says Reilly Gray. 'You can also use a pressure washer on a lower power setting with the patio/floor cleaning attachment, or the pressure adjustable lance to reduce the power.'

Power washers can certainly help if your outdoor rug has a build-up of ingrained dirt and also help to save time. 'Power washers can be used to speed up the process as well as for thorough rinsing afterwards,' agrees Joyce French. 'Sweep the rug gently from one side to the other after setting the nozzle to the fan setting.'

If you've got your pressure washer out for a spot of rug cleaning, it could also be the perfect time to clean the patio too. 

person spraying water from a garden hose

(Image credit: Catherine Falls Commercial/Getty Images)

3. Use the right detergent

What sort of soap you use is generally determined by how dirty your outdoor rug is. Some people swear by washing-up liquid while others prefer a specialist product to tackle the job. 

In a bucket, mix a small amount of the detergent or rug cleaner of your choice with cold or warm water. Apply the mixture to the rug with a soft brush or sponge.

'To ensure the soap doesn't change the rug's color, test the soap combination in a small corner of the rug,' suggests Joyce French. 'After letting the soap settle for a while, thoroughly rinse it off. You can safely clean the whole rug if the color hasn't faded or bled.'

Just as you would when using a specialist patio cleaner, making sure you follow the manufacturer's instructions is key. 'If you're using an outdoor textile cleaner, follow the instructions on how to mix the cleaning solution,' suggests Reilly Gray. 'Add to a small section at a time using a sponge until you have cleaned the entire surface of the rug.'

'Be aware that while scrubbing removes dirt, you should never use it to remove stains,' says Joyce. 'It merely forces debris into your rug. Instead, from the outside in, gently blot rug stains.' 

person squeezing water out of a cloth over a bucket

(Image credit: Jan Schneckenhaus/Alamy Stock Photos)

4. Rinse your outdoor rug properly

After letting the soap sink in to the rug for a short while, thoroughly rinse it with water. Make sure all the soap has been removed and that the water run-off is crystal clear. A similar approach is advised if you're working out the best methods for how to clean outdoor furniture

It never harms to repeat the process and rinse the rug one last time to be absolutely sure it's thoroughly cleaned and that the detergent is fully washed out.

To remove any excess water, tightly roll the rug and let it stand upright for a while so that it can drain away, then unfurl to continue air drying.

5. Make sure your outdoor rug is completely dry

The final stage of how to clean an outdoor rug is making sure it is either laid out flat to dry completely or alternatively hung over a washing line or fence. Once dry, you can treat it with a suitable outdoor textile protector to shield it from both staining and the elements.

Water-resistant styles can be left outside all summer long, however, if yours does get wet, then hang it over a line to dry out properly. 

Unless an outdoor rug is resistant to mildew, it needs to be properly cared for, so after you've given it the final clean of the season pack it away in a dry place for storage during the winter months. It's a good idea to take the same approach with your garden parasol too. 

rugs on a line outside

Let your clean outdoor rug have a good air dry on the washing line

(Image credit: Nerksi/Alamy Stock Photo)

What's the best way of removing stains from an outdoor rug?

Always acting on stains as quickly as possible is a good idea. 'Dishwashing detergent can remove grease from soiled outdoor rugs,' says Joyce French. 'Simple foam shaving cream works well too. Let a blob of it sit on a rug stain for 30 minutes, and it will do the job flawlessly. Because salt is so absorbent, it also works well on stains. Use ice cubes to freeze any sticky substances, such as hard candy or gum, then scrape them off.'

Don't let mud and dirt build up either. 'Always wait for mud to dry before trying to remove it,' says Daniel Prendergast. 'You may be tempted to tackle any mud or dirt as soon as the stain occurs, but mud is easier to remove when it’s dry, so wait and then simply shake or brush it off.'

person removing a stain from a rug

(Image credit: Vitalii Petrushenko/Getty Images)

Is it safe to use bleach on outdoor rugs?

It is safe to use bleach on outdoor rugs for deep-set stains or mildew as long as you follow the correct procedure and don't use it neat.

'Although synthetic rugs are typically safe to use with bleach, you should spot-test a diluted bleach and water solution on a small area that you wouldn't notice to ensure that the bleach won't remove any color,' recommends Joyce French. 'If possible, carefully use a spray bottle with a diluted bleach solution to do the job.'

patterned outdoor rug with sofa, planters and lanterns

Trattino sea glass outdoor rug (opens in new tab) by Harlequin from therugseller.co.uk

(Image credit: The Rug Seller)

Why should you clean an outdoor rug?

It's important to care for your outdoor rug properly to extend its life and avoid a build-up of mildew, so you need to look after properly. 

'The majority of outdoor rugs are versatile and hard-wearing,' says Chris Bond from The Rug Retailer (opens in new tab). As most are made from polypropylene they're protected from rot but also UV rays which stops colors fading.'

'Advances in the materials used for outdoor rugs means they’re very long-lasting and can easily withstand whatever the weather throws at them,' says Daniel Prendergast. 'Often outdoor rugs are manufactured from weatherproof material such as the man-made fibre polypropylene that’s affordable, durable and easy to clean. Natural materials such as jute and hemp can also be used outdoors.'

In the same way that a regular cleaning routine will keep your garden furniture looking its best, regular cleaning will extend your outdoor rug's lifespan, whatever material it's made from.

outdoor rug, hanging chair on deck

Halsey outdoor rug in blue (opens in new tab) from therugretailer.co.uk

(Image credit: The Rug Retailer)

Do I need to buy an outdoor rug protector?

It's a good idea to buy an outdoor rug protector if you think your rug will get heavy use from kids with sticky drinks and ice lollies, pets, barbecues, guests drinking red wine at your garden party – the list is endless. 

Another factor is if your outdoor rug is on a patio or deck that's near trees that shed pollen or sticky sap (in which case you'll need to find out how to clean a patio umbrella too). 

The latest protective sprays for outdoor rugs, cushions and parasols add a protective layer against weather, oils, grease and whatever else is thrown at them, as well as helping retain color fastness. 

Sarah Wilson
Sarah Wilson

Lifestyle journalist Sarah Wilson has been writing about gardens since 2015. She's written for Gardeningetc.com, Livingetc, Homes & Gardens, Easy Gardens and Modern Gardens magazines. Having studied introductory garden and landscape design, she is currently putting the skills learned to good use in her own space where the dream is establishing a cutting garden.