Wicker Furniture: A Buyer’s Guide

Polyethylene rattan is an all weather material, making this a great product to choose when shopping for outdoor furniture. Not only does rattan look great, it’s also low maintenance, leaving you with nothing to do in spring and summer except enjoy your furniture with friends and family.

Here at Outdoor Living Direct we’ve spent years and years up to our armpits in rattan furniture.  We deal with it every day.  We’ve been to the big trade shows and visited the factories.  We have an unbreakable rule to never stock an item we haven’t sat on for a decent amount of time – so we’ve sat on a lot of wicker furniture.  We’ve supplied it to homes and businesses around the country.  We’ve definitely learnt a thing or two about a thing or two about the stuff!  Our highly discerning corporate buttocks have countless hours of direct experience of what works in wicker and what won’t.  Today we share with you the key things to know when shopping for this material.

Wicker and Rattan: What’s the Difference?

Sometimes customers get confused by the difference between wicker and rattan outdoor furniture.  In broad terms they describe much the same thing.  More specifically, wicker refers to the woven construction method by which these items are made, while rattan refers to the material used for weaving.  Rattan originally referred to a natural fibre harvested from a family of palms in Southeast Asia.  These days we use a more modern, lightweight, synthetic material called polyethylene rattan.  This material is more resistant to both ultraviolet light and water, and avoids contributing to the over-exploitation of the world’s natural rattan resources.  To add to the confusion between the two phrases, synthetic rattan is also sometimes referred to as resin wicker.

Benefits and Characteristics of Polyethylene Rattan

Rattan is not as heavy as teak or other wooden furniture and it doesn’t stain and corrode like aluminium and other metal furniture. You can choose from a wide range of price options, colours and weaves. There are a variety of shapes and sizes when it comes to rattan furniture and most pieces come complete with plush cushions for comfort and style.

Caring for this Material

If your rattan does become a little dirty over the cooler months, cleaning this product is simple and hassle free.  Use a soft brush to remove any dirt or dust.  Wipe down the rattan with a damp cloth using mild soapy water.  Rinse using a bucket of cold water or a hose.  We recommend removing the cushions before cleaning and avoid using any chemical cleaners.

We also have to mention the harsh Australian sun!  We live in a hot country, and products left exposed to the sun will deteriorate over time. In extreme conditions, polyethylene rattan can start to deteriorate and will become brittle in as little as 2 years if it is constantly exposed to the sun.  We strongly recommend that your rattan furniture is either covered, or stored out of direcr sunlight when not in use.  We supply custom made covers for all outdoor products – please contact customer service with your measurements for a quotation.

What to Look for in Wicker Furniture

There are a few things to look for to get good value for money when shopping for wicker outdoor furniture.  Get these things right: it’s well worth your while.  Choose items made from quality materials with good workmanship, so you can be sure you’re fitting out your outdoor area with furniture providing relaxation in style and comfort for years to come.

The Frame

Aluminium, the second most widely used metal in the world, will not rust.  It will oxidise over time, but this won’t compromise the material’s strength.  Because it doesn’t rust, aluminium is a popular choice when it comes to manufacturing outdoor furniture frames.  It’s a lightweight material, however some manufacturers use aluminium that is too thin or of a poor quality.  Look for outdoor furniture built with an aluminium frame with a gauge of at least 1.2 millimetres.

Wicker furniture can also be built with a stainless steel frame to save money.  This is still a durable material, however it will rust over time.  An aluminium frame is better.  At Outdoor Living Direct, we stock wicker furniture with aluminium frames.

Powder coating is a process which helps to maintain and protect outdoor furniture from the elements.  Powder coating is an environmentally safe process, is extremely durable and will help resist chipping, rust or colour fading from the sun.  Powder coating is a mostly cosmetic process on wicker furniture built on quality aluminium frames: the uncoated material is already very resistant to corrosion.

The Weaving

When shopping for rattan furniture consider the type of weave you would prefer – flat, narrow round or even half round. Flat rattan is the lightest of the bunch and considered standard amongst the industry. Narrow round rattan uses more rattan in the assembly of the product. The result is a much heavier product that will last a lot longer than the standard flat weave. There’s also a wide range of colours and textures available, so take time to choose a look that will reflect your personal style and enhance your outdoor area.

Some manufacturers use polypropylene rather than polyethylene rattan.  This is a cheaper but less sturdy material.

Weaving wicker furniture from rattan inevitably produces offcuts.  These offcuts can be recycled by placing them back in the rattan extruder.  Putting this material through the extruder a second time weakens it.  While there is nothing wrong with using a small amount of recycled material, too much will create a less sturdy material that is liable to fall apart when all you’re trying to do is enjoy a cup of tea and a moment to yourself.  At Outdoor Living Direct we use polyethylene rattan made with no more than 5% recycled material.

Look for polyethylene rattan that is UV stable.  Rattan made with too little or no UV stabiliser quickly becomes brittle in the Australian sun.  Unfortunately there is no way to tell how much UV stabiliser has been used in polyethylene rattan just by looking.  Your best guide to the UV stability of polyethylene rattan is the warranty.  All of the products at Outdoor Living Direct come with at least a 1 year warranty.

UV damage to polyethylene rattan

Sunlight kills rattan from factories too cheap to use enough UV stabiliser.

 

Wicker furniture is hand-woven.  Weaving rattan is difficult.  It takes a skilled worker to do the job properly.  A good weaver consistently weaves tight and straight.  Some manufacturers save a few bucks by cutting corners on skilled labour.  This results in a loose or crooked weave, and an item that looks shoddy and makes your life worse when you sit on it.  A tight weave supports weight better and lasts a lot longer.

A sagging sofa caused by loose weaving.  This is not a comfy place to park your backside.

 

shoddy weaving

More shoddy weaving.

 

The under-seat lattice matters on any wicker armchair or sofa.  This is a place where some builders feel they can cut corners because they figure customers don’t know to look.  You want a taut under-seat lattice woven from rattan.  A loose lattice won’t provide much support or comfort.  Very cheaply built items might use rubber for this lattice.  We’ve even seen an under-seat lattice built from used car tyres.

An example of a taut under-seat lattice woven from rattan.

 

The Cushioning

The foam for cushioning material used in wicker furniture comes in two main types: regular foam sponge, and “sandwich” foam made with dacron.  Using regular foam sponge helps keep costs down and this material is suitable for items that will receive only occasional use.  Sandwich foam is a sturdier alternative which uses both foam layers as well as a material called dacron. These layers are “sandwiched” together, hence the name: one layer of foam to one layer of dacron.  Dacron is a synthetic, toughened polyester with elastic qualities making it an ideal material to use in between the foam layers.

IMG_9676

Sandwich foam covered with dacron.

 

Avoid cushioning made from low density foams as they provide little support or comfort.  Low density foam is not meant for sitting on.  It props your posterior poorly.  At Outdoor Living Direct, all cushioning on our wicker furniture has a minimum density of 28 kilograms per cubic metre.

Regular foam sponge.

 

Sandwich foam sponge.

 

The Fabric

Polyester is a common material used for cushions.  It’s affordable and can be screen printed in a variety of bright colours, shades and patterns.  However polyester can fade if left in the sun.  So while it is a weather resistant fabric it is important to use polyester only in areas that don’t see a lot of direct sunlight.  Fabrics that use this material should be taken inside when not in use.

100% acrylic fabrics are weather resistant and will hold their colours for a longer period of time compared to polyester. They will however fade over time if exposed to direct sunlight for long periods. It is recommended that acrylic cushions be covered or kept under some sort of shade to prolong the life of the fabric and keep it looking fresh and vibrant for many years.  Acrylic is the fabric you’ll find on most wicker furniture at Outdoor Living Direct.

Sunbrella is widely regarded as the best in outdoor fabrics.  It is water, fade, mould, mildew and stain resistant, making it a brilliant outdoor fabric.  Sunbrella outdoor fabric is 100% solution dyed acrylic. Solution dyed means that the fibres are dyed in a colour solution before they are woven – not printed on after the fabric cloth is manufactured.  It is also a great deal more expensive than other fabrics.  We use Sunbrella on our premium items.

The Palmas premium outdoor lounge setting, complete with Sunbrella fabric.
Exclusive to Outdoor Living Direct.

All fabric will fade if left long enough in direct sunlight but some fabrics last better than others.  A lot of cheaper stuff coming in from China at the moment is rated to last only 80 hours.  The fabric on our wicker furniture is rated to withstand a minimum of 300 hours of sunlight before fading.

What to do Next

Our range of wicker furniture includes wicker outdoor settings, wicker lounge settings, pod chairs, and more.  Please feel welcome to browse them on our website, or if you’re in the area then drop in to our Cheltenham showroom.

If you have any question about any item of wicker furniture in our range, we’d be delighted to answer them.  Please get in touch with us via email, via telephone on 1300 067 138, or drop in to our showroom!

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