After years of thinking about it, I finally painted the outdoor cushions from our patio sofa. And while I am so happy that I did and it looks 100% better, there are some real downsides you should know about before you undertake a similar project.
We were given this outdoor couch for free a few years ago.
It had good bones but the colors weren’t my favorite. It started out hunter green wicker with pink floral cushions. I gave the wicker a quick update with white spray paint and started thinking about how to update those cushions. For awhile, I tucked some old curtains over them as a super lazy slipcover. It looked ok, but was constantly needing to be retucked which made sitting out there a real hassle. And nobody wants that.
I looked into replacing the cushions, but large outdoor cushions are big money! I was shocked that it can cost $50 for one outdoor couch cushion even at the more affordable stores! I also considered recovering the cushions with new outdoor fabric. But the truth is I am not a great seamstress. I can sew curtain panels and simple pillow covers but making six good looking cushions with piping and zippers would take me months and possibly lead to a mental breakdown in the process. My sewing machine and I just don’t see eye to eye.
So I decided to try paint. I’ve seen lots of other bloggers paint upholstered furniture over the last few years, so I thought why not. I’ve never painted upholstered furniture before, but I have painted other fabrics in various ways with great results. There are a few different ways to paint upholstery. You can use fabric dye, chalk paint, or latex paint mixed with fabric medium. I decided against fabric dye since this is outdoor furniture. I also decided against chalk paint. Since I’m painting an entire couch, there is a lot of area to cover and chalk paint isn’t always the most cost effective. So I chose to use latex paint mixed with fabric medium.
The positives and negatives of this project were pretty apparent immediately and may really influence whether or not you decide to take this project on so I am going to share them first, followed by the tutorial at the bottom of this post.
Okay, so let’s get down to the nitty gritty. These cushions look pretty darn good in photos, but how are they in real life?
Painted cushions: The good
After painting the couch looks sooo much better. The old fabric was not my taste, but beyond that it was also very faded and stained. Washing the cushion covers just wasn’t cutting it; they looked dirty and uninviting all the time. The new look is 100% better.
And because the sofa looks so much more inviting, I’ve been sitting out here a lot more often. Which is kind of the point of the entire thing after all!
It was also pretty cheap. I used a 1.5 quarts of paint and probably 5 small bottles of fabric medium. Which brings the total for the whole thing to less than $40. Not bad considering one new outdoor cushion costs more than that.
And a side benefit that I didn’t foresee is that the painted surface creates a waterproof barrier that is much easier to keep clean than regular fabric. Most things can just be wiped right off with a damp rag, which is excellent for any furniture but especially furniture that stays outdoors.
Painted cushions: The bad
I was a bit skeptical of this whole process, but I’ve painted fabric before in various ways with good results so I decided to go for it. My main concern was that the fabric would feel stiff and sort of crunchy. And it totally does. To be fair, the outdoor fabric on these cushions was fairly stiff to begin with, similar to canvas. Adding the paint made it slightly more stiff. Sanding at the end keeps the fabric from being scratchy and catching on your fingers, but it doesn’t actually make it soft. I can deal with the stiffness for outdoor furniture but it would be a huge no go for indoor use.
Another problem is that even though the cushions look so much better, the paint didn’t completely cover the old floral pattern. I knew I was taking a risk by choosing such a light color, but I was hoping that with enough coats of paint it would be fine. After five coats of paint, I decided enough was enough. I really don’t mind the faint floral pattern, but I was originally hoping to cover it entirely.
There was also one other issue that I didn’t foresee. When you sit down on a cushion, normally some of the air releases through the fabric and the cushion flattens a bit. Painting my cushions with latex paint created an air-tight barrier around them so that when you sat down, no air could escape. It’s a minor thing, but even my husband noticed. It was a bit like sitting on an overinflated pool float; not so comfy. Luckily this was easily fixed by unzipping the covers of each cushion a couple of inches so air could escape. Problem solved.
Was it worth it?
Yes, painting these outdoor cushions was definitely worth it. Even though they are pretty stiff, it’s still a huge improvement over the old cushions. But if I were to do it again, I would choose a darker color to better cover the pattern. And I would use a different type of paint. As I’m thinking back to the other times I have painted fabric, I have had the most success using acrylic craft paint mixed with fabric medium. I’ve painted pillow covers and a whole duvet cover this way and they stayed incredibly soft and comfortable to the touch. I just don’t think latex paint works well with fabric even when fabric medium is added.
Knowing all of that, if you have hideous patio cushions and you want to give it a go, here is the tutorial.
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Materials for Painting Outdoor Cushions
latex paint in the color of your choice (I used Valspar Mint to Be)
How to Paint Outdoor Cushions
If your cushion covers are removable, it will probably be easiest to start by removing them. (Although if they are anything like mine, they may be a beast to get back on.) If the covers aren’t removable, this method of painting will still work; just skip straight to cleaning.
Clean your cushions well. You may be able to wash removable covers in the washing machine, but if not, just wipe them down the best you can. Remember to protect the area around where you will be painting. This can get pretty messy.
Mix your paint with paint medium and water. You don’t have to be 100% precise with this, but in general follow the directions on your fabric medium. I used two parts paint to one part fabric medium with a small amount of water mixed in as well. You can just mix the paint directly in your paint tray.
Once you are ready to paint, dampen one section of fabric with a spray bottle of water. It does not need to be soaking wet, just damp to the touch. Use a small foam roller to roll on the mixed paint.
Allow the paint to fully dry before adding a second coat. The paint will likely take a few hours to dry between coats.
As I mentioned above, I did five coats of paint attempting to cover up the flowers on my outdoor cushions. If you are painting over a solid color, two coats may be plenty.
After your final coat of paint, lightly sand the entire painted surface with 220 grit sandpaper. This will help smooth and slightly soften the paint.
And that’s it. One advantage of using latex paint to paint your cushions is you don’t have to add wax or any other type of top coat to seal the paint.
Visually I think they look so much better. And as I said, even though they are stiff, I still find myself sitting out here much more often than before.
Would I do it again? Absolutely. In fact, I am planning to try to paint a pair of upholstered armchairs next. I have a pair of chairs that I love but the fabric is horrible and absolutely has to go. I’m actually pretty confident I could reupholster these (similar to how I upholstered this big armchair rocker), but painting would be so much faster. And also, I still really don’t want to sew new cushion covers. Apparently I will do just about anything to avoid sewing! I’m going for a navy chalk paint this time to try to prevent the problems I ran into this time around. And I’m thinking I’ll do a test run on the underside of one of the cushions first before I go all in. Fingers crossed!
Also, you may have noticed there were blue shutters in the before pics and not the afters. I’m starting a refresh/makeover of our porch including repainting everything (including the floor) and building new shutters. It may seem like a strange time to start a porch makeover now that summer is almost over. But I figure if I start now I can hopefully finish by the time spring really gets started next year. :)
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