Learn about Wicker
What Does Quality Look like?
How can wicker vary so much in price and is it worth it? Beyond just style, wicker furniture does have number of quality differences that affects not just the durability but also comfort. Wicker finished furniture comes in three basic materials; natural rattan, (PE) Polyethylene resin and also plastic.
Natural rattan is the result of bending and weaving material such as rattan, paper, bamboo or wood like willow branches. These natural materials are often easily identified by the natural rings or bark of the material used. With proper care these materials will look and feel amazing for many years. Protection from a wet environment and insects is needed to ensure product longevity. Natural wicker is of course more sustainable for the environment eliminating the usage of plastics and reducing carbon foot print. So if cost and care are not limiting your purchase decision then the environmental footprint and style is second to none.
Polyethylene is a synthetic resin that is eco-friendly and safe for the environment. Strands can be infused with UV inhibitors to prevent fading due to exposure to the sun. Beyond being highly durable, low-maintenance, and made to withstand the elements, it is also resistant to cracking and scratching. This style of resin is often formed into a flat resin wicker or a stronger half-round wicker. Half round wicker looks more natural, maintains shape and rigidity over its life time and is often worth the few extra dollars.
Lowest quality wicker is made out of plastic materials that can, tear, scratch and unravel over time, on top of that plastic is not biodegradable. Plastic wicker looks and feels fake. It will appear to look like a shiny piece of vinyl. Plastic wicker furniture is flimsy and also sticks to your skin when you sit on it and you will usually notice inconsistent texture in the material.
P.S. Just to clarify the difference between rattan and wicker. Many people use the terms rattan or wicker interchangeably. Rattan is the actual material and wicker is the style of weave.
Isn’t wicker woven all the same way? Why should you care?
Many consumers don’t know the tedious nature of weaving wicker. Making wicker even and straight is a skill of patience and practice. Quality woven wicker is hand done using only a few strands at a time. That’s right! Wicker is still hand woven by manufactures all across the globe the same way that the ancient Egyptians did thousands of years ago. By weaving only a few strands at a time the manufacture can keep tight even spacing that is properly balanced and will truly last a life time. Wicker that is mass produced often using 10 strands or more tends to show a sway and uneven spacing causing tension and premature unravelling.
Frame construction is the backbone of any good piece of furniture. When looking for a quality piece of wicker furniture the frame is often over looked, after all we don’t see it. Manufactures are aware of this so thin aluminium or steal can be substituted to save on manufacturing cost. What to consider? Where do you live? Is the climate dry or wet? Is the product in full weather or is it covered? While steal is an excellent product for indoor furniture, the powder coating on outdoor furniture will eventually wear off with use, leaving the raw steal exposed to the elements. In a wet climate, it is only a matter of time before that steal begins to rust, most often in the welds and seams causing your product to have a shortened life. The other popular option is aluminum. A good quality frame should have at least a 1.2mm thick aluminium backbone. Aluminium being naturally non-corrosive, so with proper welds and a rust inhibiting powder coating your patio set will last longer through the seasons.
Cushions should be broken down into three basic parts; fabric, stuffing and zippers.
It’s obvious that outdoor furniture fabric takes a huge amount of abuse, sun, wind, rain, dirt, & insects to name just a few. So the question is whether quality is worth the price when exposed to the elements?
Polyester is a common material used for cushions. It’s affordable and can be printed in a variety of colours and patterns. However polyester can fade if left in the sun. Fabrics that use this material should be taken inside or covered when not in use or during extreme weather.
100% acrylic fabrics are weather resistant and will hold their colours for a “longer period of time” compared to polyester. But they too will fade over time when exposed to direct sunlight for long periods. It is recommended that acrylic cushions be covered or kept under some shade to prolong the vibrant colours.
100% solution dyed acrylic is widely regarded as the best in outdoor fabrics. It is water, fade, mould, mildew and stain resistant, making it an excellent outdoor fabric. 100% solution dyed acrylic, meaning that the fibres are dyed in a colour solution before they are woven (not printed). It is also a great deal more expensive than other fabrics.
Ultimately in all cases sun will cause fabrics to fade so it is up to the consumer to decide if the added cost is worth it. Look for a manufacture or supplier that has good policies may be the best solution.
The foam for cushions used in wicker furniture comes in two main types: regular foam and foam made with dacron fibre wrapped around it. Using regular slab foam helps keep costs down and is suitable for most seating arrangements. The key to quality foam is density. A cushion with a high-density 3” foam will have a good overall feel without the feeling of “bottoming out”. Thin, low-density foam feels good when new but ends up changing extremely quick.
Sandwich foam is an alternative which uses both foam and a material called dacron fibre. These products are layered similar to a sandwich; dacron, foam, dacron. Dacron is a synthetic fibre which is hardened polyester with elastic properties. Cushions made this way are typically a softer over all feel used in higher end products.
Good quality zippers are another often over looked feature of a good quality patio set. With constant wear your seat covers are going to get dusty and dirty. Being able to easily and painlessly unzip your covers to keep your set clean and maintained just makes sense.