What to Know Before Buying Wicker Furniture: Care, Materials, and More

Wicker sofa and chairs on luxury patio

During the process of buying furniture, there are several different materials and styles to consider that have a variety of purposes in the home. Wicker is a popular choice when it comes to outdoor furniture. While you may be familiar with this material, you may be surprised to learn what wicker is made of.

What Is Wicker?

The term “wicker” refers to a method of weaving used in making furniture, which was discovered in ancient Egyptian tombs. Natural wicker is made from a variety of vines, grasses, and plants. Wicker furniture is sometimes referred to as rattan furniture, but wicker and rattan are not the same things technically. The rattan plant is a commonly used material for wicker furniture.

What Is Wicker Made Of?

Wicker is commonly confused for a material or a type of wood when it is really a weaving process. Wicker furniture can be made from any natural or man-made material that is pliable and durable enough to be woven into furniture. Materials can range from vinyl to rattan, bamboo, reed, and willow.

Wicker is used for outdoor and indoor furniture, such as seating, tables, storage shelves, plant stands, and more. Outdoor areas and coastal-style homes are popular settings for wicker furniture. Wicker can be used outdoors or indoors depending on what material the piece of furniture is made from.

Differences Between Indoor and Outdoor Wicker

Indoor Wicker

Wicker furniture for indoor use is made from natural, organic materials that require protection from weather elements. Natural materials should not be exposed to outdoor moisture or excessive sunlight that can cause the furniture to fray and dry out.

Outdoor Wicker

Wicker furniture for outdoor use is made from synthetic materials, such as vinyl and resins. This all-weather outdoor wicker furniture is slower to break down because it is designed to withstand weather, moisture, sunlight, and the dry conditions of various climates.

The Weaving Process

A similar weaving process is used for both natural and synthetic wicker furniture. The material used for weaving wicker is run horizontally in an over-under pattern between vertical strands to achieve a uniform, sturdy piece.

When browsing wicker furniture for your home, you’ll find modern and traditional styles and silhouettes to suit your decor, ranging from contemporary pieces with straight, even lines to more traditional designs with curves and unique details. Wicker also comes in different colors, as well as natural or white finishes.

Materials Used in Wicker

Synthetic Wicker

Synthetic vinyl and resins create a consistent aesthetic appearance on outdoor wicker furniture. Man-made materials, especially when paired with aluminum frames, create durable options for outdoor furniture routinely exposed to sunlight and moisture. Synthetic wicker materials include:

  • PVC (vinyl)
  • Polyethylene
  • High-density polyethylene (HDPE) 
  • Nylon

HDPE is typically preferable to other synthetic types for wicker furniture because this highly durable and recyclable material can resist harsh weather and moisture issues.

Natural Wicker

Furniture made from natural, organic materials should not be used outdoors because they will quickly deteriorate when exposed to the weather, moisture, and excessive sunlight. The wicker is natural if it is made from one of these four types of organic materials used for indoor wicker furniture:

  • Rattan
  • Bamboo
  • Reed
  • Willow

Rattan

Rattan is a popular material used for indoor wicker furniture. Rattan is made from the thin, pliable stem of a palm, which is easy to bend into various shapes—often after a steaming process—but sturdy enough for use in furniture. Rattan can also be used to construct the frame of indoor wicker furniture.

Bamboo

Bamboo is less flexible than rattan but it is also commonly used for indoor wicker furniture.

Reed

Reed is derived from the inner pith of rattan. It is sturdy but has a lighter color than rattan. Antique wicker furniture is typically made from reed.

Willow

Willow is commonly used to construct woven items that do not need to be very strong, such as woven wicker baskets, light-duty furniture, and other decor.

Caring for Wicker Furniture

You might want to pass on choosing wicker if you prefer maintenance-free indoor or outdoor furniture. Moisture can still become trapped inside the tight weave of outdoor wicker furniture and lead to mildew. Always wipe down outdoor wicker furniture after rainfall or dewy weather to keep it as dry as possible.

Place outdoor wicker furniture where it will not receive direct sunlight for most of the day. Overexposure to the sun may lead to splintering in certain types of wicker. A large umbrella will help protect your furniture to maintain its look and quality.

Take care to keep wicker clean. Touch-ups from time to time with a freshening coat of paint or replacing broken strands will keep your furniture looking beautiful for years.

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