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Clean Your Wheelchair Cushion to Extend its Life

by David Savage, BA, ATP
Extend the life of your cushion. Take time to clean and inspect it during routine maintenance.

Cleaning and inspecting your wheelchair cushion is a simple routine, which if done weekly, will keep your seat cushion clean and fresh, and help increase its useful life.

Before removing your cushion, you should note its exact location and position in the chair so that it can be returned to its proper place. If you have any questions regarding proper cushion positioning, ask your therapist.

Most cushions have a cover with either a zipper or a Velcro closure. Once the cover is removed, you should be able to clean it in a washing machine. You will want to use a warm/cold and gentle cycle with mild detergent and never any bleach. The covers should be air tumble dried to avoid any damage from the heat. Most commercial dryers get much too hot for cushion cover fabric and can cause damage.

While the cover is in the wash, you can clean the cushion. The method of cleaning cushions varies widely as the types of cushion materials vary widely. Your best bet is to consult the owner's manual, which you should have received when you purchased your cushion. If you do not have the owner's manual, contact the cushion manufacturer.

Here is information on how to clean certain cushion materials:

  • Air cushions: Make sure the valves are closed. Then, rinse the cushion off with water and deodorize it with a solution of either baking soda or vinegar. The cushion should then be rinsed with fresh water and air-dried. Never try to clean your air cushion in the washing machine.
  • Coated or closed cell foam cushions: Clean with soap and water. If there are any removable components, first mark their locations and then remove them to clean underneath and in between. Rinse. Towel and air dry.
  • Fluid-filled and gel cushions: Clean with soap and water. Rinse. Towel dry.
  • Flexible matrix or honeycomb cushions: These are designed to be easily cleaned. They come with a laundry bag in which they can be machine laundered and then tumble dried.
  • Open cell foam cushions: Any liquid can easily damage these. Many covers protect the foam from moisture, but if your foam cushion gets wet, try the following:
  1. Immediately stop sitting on the cushion because wet skin is easily damaged.
  2. Sprinkle cornstarch on the wet area and let it dry. The starch will hopefully absorb the liquid.
  3. Once dry, brush off the starch and inspect the foam. If it appears damaged, you’ll need to get a new cushion.

While your cushion is removed from the chair, you should take a good look under where the cushion was placed to see what you have collected there (cookies, toy cars, breakfast cereal, cigarette butts, Ensure, etc.). Brush away any dry debris with a soft brush and then clean the surface and crevices using the soft brush, soap and water.

Another place to check while cleaning (one of my pet peeves) are the caster axle bolts. All sorts of hair and string seem to gather here. The easiest way to remove this mess is to remove the bolt, remove the gunk, and re-install the bolt. The mess can also be picked out with a sharp object. Removing this nest of fiber will make your chair easier to propel.

Once your cushion (and its cover) are clean and dry, reassemble any components removed from the cushion in the places you marked earlier. Put the cover on, paying special attention to getting the top on top and the front in the front. Put the cushion back into the chair, making sure of proper positioning.

Enjoy your clean cushion!