What is the best material for outdoor furniture?
When evaluating outdoor furniture, you’re probably going to look for many of the same characteristics that you value in indoor tables, chairs and sofas – durability, comfort and style (and of course price). The primary difference, however, is that patio furniture has to endure exposure to the weather outside. While there is virtually no patio furniture that’s 100% weatherproof, there are big differences based on the materials used.
Before you decide, it’s important to understand the strengths and weaknesses of various material options. Determine how well each aligns with the requirements of your residential or commercial environment, as well as your personal preferences and priorities. Choosing the “best” material for outdoor patio furniture is dependent on matching your specific needs with the inherent qualities of each substance since each situation is unique.
Factors to Consider for Outdoor Materials
Outdoor furniture frames, tabletops and upholstery need to retain structural integrity and their appearance over many seasons, and through a variety of weather conditions. Additionally, the time and effort needed to maintain materials throughout the year, as well as their “green-ness” and costs are important aspects to examine.
Rain & Moisture
If you live in an area where there are frequent rainstorms, or that has high humidity, you want to be sure that your furniture is resistant to damage from various water-based issues. Standing water or retained moisture can not only physically degrade the material, but it can also lead to health risks.
Mold, Mildew & Rot
Humid or moist conditions create an environment where various fungi thrive. Organic materials that retain water are susceptible to mold and mildew, which can cause respiratory problems, irritation and other health issues. However, they typically don’t damage the material and can be cleaned off. Rot, on the other hand, leads to biodegradation and decomposition (decay) of the material.
Rust & Corrosion
Metals that contain iron or steel are vulnerable to corrosion when they are continually exposed to water and oxygen. The corrosive oxidation process slowly weakens these metals, resulting in visible rust and other discoloration. Salt in the air and water accelerates the chemical process, so rusting is often more prevalent in coastal regions.
Materials that allow water penetration can dry unevenly, resulting in warping (twisting or bowing) of the original shape. Initially, it may be imperceptible, but over time it can noticeably distort the material, misalign seams and loosen screws and other fasteners used to hold the furniture together.
Sun & Temperature
If you live in a sunny area or one with dramatic seasonal climate shifts, you’ll need to look for outdoor materials that can withstand damage from harsh UV rays and fluctuations from extreme heat to cold.
Constant exposure to the sun can cause many materials to fade and lose their luster over time. The aesthetic change can be appealing (e.g. patina) or simply a decreased vibrancy of color or uneven spotting.
Some materials noticeably expand and contract when they are heated or cooled. They can crack, split, warp or become brittle when exposed to extreme temperatures or drastic fluctuations. Dry air can also cause furniture to bend and crack.
The heat can also lead to other logistical problems. Patio furniture that is left out in the sun can heat up, making it uncomfortable (or unsafe) to touch. Nobody wants to burn their skin when they sit down in or attempt to reposition a poolside lounge chair.
If you live in an open and extremely windy area, it’s important that your outdoor furniture is heavy enough that it doesn’t tip over or blow away. It doesn’t take much to damage a beautiful lightweight deck chair or dining table when challenging Mother Nature, so it’s better to be safe than sorry. Otherwise, you’ll need to continually store or secure your items when they’re not in use.
Some outdoor materials may last for years under ideal conditions but might need to be replaced every couple of seasons when exposed to inclement weather. Others can withstand a myriad of elements for a lifetime and still look new. Another variable that relates to durability is usage. If you eat outside on your patio dining table only a few times each summer, then it will have less wear and tear than sun loungers and daybeds that line the poolsides of popular upscale resorts and hotels. The more frequent the use, the more durable the materials should be.
Cleaning & Care Difficulty
Aesthetic and functional durability is also affected by how well you take care of your patio furniture. Some materials require very little attention season after season and are quick and easy to clean with simple soap and water. Others require more time-intensive care and special products to keep them looking great and working properly. If your time is at a premium, or you just don’t want the hassle, you may want to opt for lower maintenance materials.
Today, everyone is aware of the environmental impact of production processes and the raw materials that go into products, even if they don’t know the specifics. All things being equal, most people (hopefully) prefer to be ecologically responsible. Fortunately, most luxury brands of outdoor furniture have adopted “green” manufacturing practices and utilize materials that are biodegradable, recyclable or certified by eco-friendly organizations like the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). That said, different outdoor materials do vary in their renewability.
At the end of the day, most everyone looks at the financial implications of choosing one material over another for furniture. You need to stay within your budget, but it’s also important to understand how expensive materials are in the long run and their price versus benefits value. Will it need to be replaced frequently? Does it take an inordinate amount of time and effort to maintain? These are key cost considerations that you might not immediately think of when evaluating alternatives.
Materials for Outdoor Furniture Frames & Tabletops
Wood has been a popular raw material for furniture for millennia. It has a natural beauty, is generally easy to work with and provides a sturdy framework for tables, chairs, benches and other furnishings. However, not all woods are created equal when it comes to outdoor usage. Many softwoods, such as pressure-treated pine, cedar and fir are inexpensive and widely used for indoor furnishings, but do not stand up well to the elements and need constant protection when not in use. Hardwoods, on the other hand, are much heartier, resist weather damage and can last decades if treated properly. On the downside, they are often more difficult to shape and are typically more expensive than softwoods. But, there are major differences between hardwoods too.
Teak is easily the most popular wood choice for outdoor furniture. Its high demand, coupled with limited availability, has pushed the price of this fine-grained hardwood extremely high. Fortunately, teak has many characteristics that make it ideally suited for outdoor use. It is incredibly strong and doesn’t warp, crack or become brittle like many kinds of wood. This is because teak repels most water and does not expand or contract in the drying process. It has a high natural oil content, which makes it highly resistant to damage from rot, decay and insects. This durability against the elements enables teak to last the longest – up to fifty years! Its gorgeous honey brown appearance can be maintained with minimal oiling, or it can patina into an attractive silver-gray over time, if left untreated. Most patio furniture brands have at least a few pieces made from this handsome wood. Scandinavian manufacturers like Skagerak and Skargaarden embrace teak’s natural beauty and utilize its inherent strength to design artistic graceful collections of outdoor lounge and dining furniture. It’s relatively easy to care for and can be cleaned with mild soap and water.
- PROS – Durable, strong, resistant to weather, decay and insects, no cracking or warping and it’s easy to care for
- CONS – High price
This reddish-gold Southeast Asian material is one of the few hardwoods that is stronger and heavier than teak. Exposure to heat actually improves its strength (modus of rupture) and flexibility (modus of elasticity) [Noh & Ahmad 2017]. Harvesting shorea (a.k.a. meranti) is highly regulated to ensure that it is sustainable, like many of the other hardwoods used for outdoor furniture. It also has a high oil content that protects it against insects, minimizes rotting and resists weather damage. Like teak, shorea becomes a silver-gray patina if it is not oiled regularly and lasts up to fifty years. However, it has a much lower price. The only major drawback for shorea is that, due in part to public unfamiliarity, few retailers sell it.
- PROS – Strength, weather and insect resistant, eco-friendly and cost-effective versus teak
- CONS – Limited commercial availability
This strong Australian hardwood is fast-growing, lasts a long time and offers significant cost savings versus teak. Its natural washed appearance has a rustic appeal, which will develop into a silver patina unless oiled regularly. It is weather and rot resistant and its oil acts as a natural insecticide. But, a sealant is recommended to improve the resistance of eucalyptus to pests and minimize the negative impact of uneven moisture retention.
- PROS – Durable, insect and rot-resistant, eco-friendly sustainable growth and cost-effective
- CONS – Susceptible to marine and pinhole borers and vulnerable to cracking if untreated with a sealant
Central and South American ipe (a.k.a. ironwood), unlike many of its hardwood counterparts, has a deep rich colored grain which fades slower when exposed to weathering [Jankowska, Reder, Gołofit 2017]. It has a high natural oil content, which helps it resist insects, decomposition and various forms of fungi. Its hard, dense structure fortifies it against physical damage such a denting, warping and cracking. Though it can last up to forty years, ipe requires much preparation when cut and glued together.
- PROS – Durable, strong and resistant to pests and fungi
- CONS – Difficult to work with
This abundant wood is stronger and harder than most and lasts for decades. It has long been used to build boats, due to its structural ability to repel water, which also helps it resist rot. However, it doesn’t possess much natural oil and needs paint or a sealant to retain its durability. Over time, untreated white oak develops an attractive gray patina.
- PROS – Water-proof, rot-resistant and strong
- CONS – Low oil content
There are a number of other hardwoods that share some of the positive qualities of teak at a much lower price point. However, they also have drawbacks relative to the hardwoods mentioned above. Reddish-brown acacia (a.k.a. locust) is readily available but is more likely to warp or crack than shorea or eucalyptus. Roble is scarce, lightweight and lasts half as long as teak, while African iroko is very hard to work with, easily splinters and blunts woodworking tools. Mahogany has a beautiful reddish tint, but is coarse, requires a lot of maintenance and doesn’t handle rot as well as teak.
Outdoor furniture protective finishes & treatments
The durability of outdoor furniture is primarily determined by the materials used and the construction design. Its useful and aesthetic life can also be extended through proper care, cleaning and maintenance. One aspect of maintenance is the periodic application of finishes that help to protect the material against UV damage and corrosion. Alternatively, many finishes and coatings are applied during the manufacturing process and act as preventative measures that require no additional maintenance. Knowing the benefits or drawbacks of each finish can help you to decide between options.
Most wooden patio furniture, even if pre-treated, can benefit from annual applications. Depending on the type of wood, your environment and the amount of effort you want to put in, some options may be more effective or preferable than others.
- Paint – Wet-applied latex paint provides superficial protection for wooden outdoor tables and chairs. While it can block much of the ill effects of sun and water exposure, it can easily scratch and peel over time and leave the underlying surface vulnerable to the elements. Proper brushing or spraying on a new coat requires a lot of prep work and can result in uneven coloring and texture. However, it is low cost and can be a quick fix.
- Lacquer & Polyurethane – These durable sealants block water from damaging wood and protect it against scratches. However, the finicky application process can be time-consuming, leave bubbles that harden into a bumpy surface and yellowing may occur over time.
- Epoxy – Wooden outdoor surfaces with epoxy finishes are extremely durable and easy to clean. They can withstand harsh elements and scratches for years without deteriorating, making it a great choice for flooring and countertops where there is high use and exposure. It has a high gloss appearance which may not be as aesthetically pleasing for patio furniture. Additionally, like polyurethane, it has a difficult application process, althougb one coat will last much longer.
- Varnish – Sealing wooden furniture with varnish will prevent moisture from seeping in and protects the natural color of the woodgrain by absorbing UV rays. Sealants, in general, help to minimize rot, warping and cracking. Varnish is easy to apply but it’s less effective than polyurethane sealants and requires more frequent applications as it may peel and chip. Stripping old varnish and sanding the wood before applying a new coat may deter some from choosing this finish option.
- Stain – Traditional stains soak into the wood and slowly dry over time. They are available in a wide variety of colors and allow you to change the appearance of the natural woodgrain. They’re UV-resistant and can contain fungicides to prevent mildew. While they do not provide the same surface protection of sealants, they don’t peel or flake. Stains are a low-cost option but may need to be applied annually. Oil-based stains require ventilation since they contain harmful volatile organic compounds (VOCs).
- Oil – Like stains, oils penetrate the wood and prevent it from absorbing water. They also act as barriers to the negative effects of UV light. They’re clear and enhance the color of natural woodgrains, allowing them to show through without leaving a film on the surface that can crack or chip.
Many metal outdoor furnishings come with protective layers pre-applied but their longevity and luster can be improved with the application of various finishing substances.
- Powder-Coating – Electrostatic powder-coating metal with dry paint and curing it in an oven provides uniform color and texture and protects against surface corrosion.
- Anodizing – This electrochemical surface treatment improves resistance to corrosion and scratches. Frequently used to protect aluminum.
- Polyurethane – To protect surface paint or minimize the degradation of a metal’s texture and color, a thin layer of clear polyurethane can be applied via light brushing or spraying.
- Oil – A thin layer of acid-free oil can help prevent rust film from accumulating on the surface of raw metals such as stainless steel. It can be applied early on and frequently, especially if corrosion-resistant elements (e.g. chromium) are absent.
- Wax – Even if metal patio furniture is powder-coated, it doesn’t hurt to apply a little boat or auto wax to help water bead and roll right off.
- Wet Paint – See description above.
Resin, HPL & fabric treatments
Synthetic and laminated materials used for garden furniture typically have protective agents that are inherent in the composition of the materials themselves. The most that any applied finish (e.g. wax) can usually do is perhaps increase the gloss or luster of the surface. Fabrics that are typically used indoors can improve their resistance to the elements through the use of a Scotchguard-like water and stain repellant, although using a more appropriate textile like acrylic or olefin is recommended.
IMPORTANT – This list of finishes and treatments is intended to provide a general understanding of their pros and cons. Do not apply them to your furniture without first consulting the manufacturer’s maintenance documentation for the specific materials and production processes used.
Metal is typically the strongest and most durable material for outdoor garden furniture. Because of its strength, metallic frames can be thinner and shaped into more complex designs than other options, giving manufacturers greater style flexibility. Metal is also a great choice when used in combination with other materials that have their own functional and aesthetic benefits. Various production techniques can create metal chairs and tables that don’t require bolts, screws or other fasteners that make other types of furniture more susceptible to break down. However, metal has its drawbacks as well. It heats up in the sun, making it uncomfortable to touch. Certain metals are very heavy and hard to move, while all metals are vulnerable to rust and corrosion to some degree. But each type metal has its own unique set of characteristics.
This sturdy metal alloy is extremely strong, which makes it a great material option for large weight-bearing outdoor dining tables, sofas and sectionals. Its high density helps prevent dents and other damage from frequent use. While it does get hot to the touch when exposed to the summer heat, stainless steel endures extreme temperatures better than most metals. Its composition makes it virtually immune to rust and corrosion, but a powder coating is recommended for added resistance, especially in coastal areas where salt air and water are present. If you are comparing types of stainless steel, the higher the Chromium content the more resistant the alloy is to atmospheric corrosion. Similarly, the presence of Molybdenum prevents red rust and reduces the depth of surface pitting [Mameng, Pettersson & Leygraf 2017].
Garden and patio furniture made from stainless steel is heavy and will not tip over or blow away under windy conditions. It’s a great material choice for high end modern outdoor furniture since its sleek silvery metallic finish has a chic contemporary look. Though it’s expensive, stainless steel is worth every penny. Not only is it relatively easy to clean, but it’s often made using recycled metals, making it an environmentally responsible choice.
- PROS – Durable, strong, resists rust, wind-resistant and easy to clean
- CONS – Expensive and retains heat
Aluminum is the most popular metal for outdoor furniture. Despite its lightweight, it is strong, durable and can easily be worked into a variety of intricate shapes. Aluminum is relatively inexpensive, low maintenance and never rusts. Although it is highly weather-resistant on its own, a polyester powder coating is recommended. This electrostatic process not only increases protection against the elements and scratching, but it also allows you to added color to the mix. While you can buy painted aluminum, powder coating adheres better to the metal and is much more resistant to fading. This is also helpful if your deck or poolside is exposed to salt air, which tends to eat away at paint and untreated metal. Like other metals, aluminum heats up, so it’s best to have seat cushions to keep you cool and comfy.
- PROS – Strong, lightweight, weather-resistant, inexpensive and low maintenance
- CONS – Hollow tube frames may blow over in high winds and it retains heat
Throughout history, iron has been used for tools, buildings and furnishings because of its strength and durability – it can last a hundred years if properly cared for. It’s among the heaviest of metals, which makes it difficult to move wrought or cast iron furniture. However, it certainly won’t blow over in the wind. It is extremely malleable when heated and hammered into shape. This allows wrought iron to form ornate hand-crafted designs with an upscale artisan feel. Cast iron, on the other hand, is melted and poured into molds, but it’s heavier and harder to manage than wrought iron.
While it is long-lasting, outdoor iron frames and tabletops can require a lot of care to clean, maintain and protect against rusting. Fortunately, the best contemporary wrought iron is treated with weather-resistant finishes to seal out damaging moisture. Additionally, the metal tends to match the prevailing temperature – it gets very hot in summer and freezing cold if left out in the winter. Wrought iron outdoor furniture is hard and can be uncomfortable without upholstery to cushion seat and backrests.
- PROS – Durable, solid, stylish classic look and great for windy areas
- CONS – Rusts easily, requires more maintenance, can be uncomfortable, difficult to move and retains heat or cold
Resin & Plastic
Man-made synthetic materials, such as resin and plastic, are becoming more and more prevalent in the world of outdoor furniture. New manufacturing processes and hybrid compositions enable these polymers to take on shapes and sizes previously unattainable. Synthetics are typically lightweight, inexpensive and can be molded into any decor style imaginable. Because color is inherent in the chemical make-up, they are fade-resistant and don’t require paint or sealants used by other materials. They’re also a breeze to clean and maintain. There is a growing number of plastics and resins, but here are a few of the more common ones currently in use.
Synthetic Resin – All-Weather Wicker
Virtually all outdoor wicker furniture is made from synthetic polyethylene resin. Natural wicker is made from a variety of organic sources such as rattan, seagrass, bamboo, banana leaf and even willow. While strong and aesthetically pleasing, plant-based wicker is susceptible to damage from rainy weather, moisture and humidity – a poor material choice for outdoor chairs, sofas and coffee tables.
High-quality resin is very dense, resistant to weather damage and eco-friendly. High-density polyethylene (HDPE) does not emit any chemicals, is highly puncture resistant and can be exposed to UV rays for decades without experiencing any degradation [Topliff 2018]. Synthetic all-weather wicker is also strong, lightweight, fade-resistant and easy to clean. There are lower-quality synthetic wickers made from polyvinyl chloride (PVC), which tends to become brittle and crack over time. Most outdoor wicker patio furniture is constructed over an aluminum frame, which increases the weight it can support. Synthetic wicker can be colored an organic shade, making it virtually indistinguishable from natural wicker. It can also be given a vibrant tone that adds a pop of color to your lanai or hardwood deck.
- PROS – Extremely weather-resistant, easy to clean, can look like natural wicker and HDPE wicker is 100% recyclable
- CONS – Not heavy enough for many windy environments
Eco-friendly recycled plastic (i.e. made from milk cartons, shampoo bottles, etc.) is a great option for stylish outdoor patio furniture. It’s extraordinarily strong, durable and resistant to moisture, mildew, insects and saltwater. It can be heavier than other plastic materials but is still susceptible to high winds. Recycled plastic doesn’t peel, crack or require much maintenance. It is stain-resistant and cleans easily with soap and water.
- PROS – Strong, weather and fade resistant, easy to clean and “green”
- CONS – May be too light for extremely windy conditions
Polyethylene (PE) is the most common form of plastic used to make deck furniture. It’s cost-effective, but the high-density version (HDPE) is required for outdoor applications since it is far more durable and weather resistant. Polypropylene (PP) is lighter weight and highly resistant to chemical degradation and heat. Polycarbonate (PC) is a very tough material that is impact-resistant, although it is susceptible to scratching. It’s the preferred choice of plastic when transparency is desired. Acrylic – Polymethyl Methacrylate (PMMA) is similar to polycarbonate in that it is clear. However, this less expensive alternative is not as strong and is vulnerable to cracking.
Miscellaneous Outside Furniture Materials
In addition to wood, metal and plastic, luxury outdoor furniture utilizes a number of other durable materials in a variety of applications. Patio dining tables, for example, may have metallic or wooden frames with a tabletop made from another material. These substances have different qualities that are appropriate for specific functional and aesthetic requirements.
High Pressure Laminate (HPL)
This composite is usually comprised of kraft paper that is impregnated with resin and aluminum and then heated under high pressure to create a layered contemporary material. HPL has a sleek look and is extremely hard, helping it resist stains and scratches. Melamine can be added to increase this laminate’s durability. It’s flame retardant and possesses antibacterial properties. HPL made with pine kraft lignin is especially good for outdoor applications, as it has a low affinity for water which can cause swelling, internal stress and cracking [Ghorbani, Mahendran, van Herwijnen, Liebner & Konnerth 2017]. High-pressure laminate works well as an elegant tabletop for modern-styled outdoor dining and bistro tables, although it can be pricey relative to other material options.
- PROS – Sleek modern look, and resists bacteria and superficial marks from spills or impact
- CONS – It can cost more than alternative materials
Tempered glass is often used for outdoor tabletops, because of its resistance to temperature changes. Lacquering glass increases its protection against the effects of the elements, while acid washing inures it to smudges and fingerprints. Its smooth surface provides an elegant touch, while the clarity creates an open and airy feel. Glass is a great choice for sunroom or screened-in porch dining and coffee tables, where there is some shade to prevent the sun from reflecting off it and blinding guests. Depending on the thickness, glass can be very heavy and hard to move.
- PROS – Resists temperature and looks elegant
- CONS – Can cause glare in sunny areas and may be too heavy to move easily
While some minimalist modern environments may incorporate solid concrete outdoor furniture into their permanent design, this composite is more frequently employed in conjunction with other materials. It can serve as a sturdy base for glass top dining and lounge tables, or as an imposing tabletop sitting upon a substantial metal frame. Concrete is strong, timeless and can withstand the harshest elements for years. It can be poured into a variety of shapes and, when reinforced with fiber, molded into thinner constructions. Fibers may be comprised of glass, steel, synthetic or organic material and they increase the structural integrity of the concrete. It also helps the material withstand water and frost better.
- PROS – Long-lasting, strong and can take on many shapes
- CONS – It can be too heavy to move quickly or easily and stains
Concrete Composite (a.k.a. polymer concrete)
In recent years, compounds have been improved in response to the growing demand for atypically shaped furniture. Designers want the customization ability of concrete, but lighter, stronger and more resilient to the elements. Concrete composites are a blend of Portland cement and resin or fiberglass. The resulting material has a number of advantages over traditional concrete:
- Strength – Some blends, such as Blinde Design’s Fluid™ Concrete, have up to 8 times the tensile strength of regular concrete
- Weight – Polymer concretes are lighter than normal concrete and, because they are also stronger, less is required to perform the same function
- Porosity – Concrete composite, unlike standard concrete, is non-porous so it resists stains, impact damage, scratches and cracking due to temperature changes
[Ali & Ansari 2013]
Designers can cast the material into virtually any shape with the look and feel of stone or concrete in a variety of colors. Owners benefit from furnishings made of fiber concrete, because they are more portable and easier to clean than ordinary concrete versions. Additionally, concrete composite is a great option for fire tables and fire bowls that demand a sturdy non-flammable material that resists heating. The material may also be utilized for 3D printing.
Materials for Outdoor Furniture Upholstery, Slings and Pillows
Outdoor furniture cushions, slings and accent pillows require fabrics that can withstand the stringent demands of constant exposure to the elements. Natural fibers tend to lose vibrancy and break down over time. Consequently, fabrics made from synthetic thread, infused with plastic, are much better options for outdoor upholstery covers. They are more resistant to climate issues and hold their color longer. Each synthetic fabric has its own set of benefits, drawbacks and ideal usage.
Outdoor fabrics made from acrylic fibers are strong and resistant to both weather and use damage. It’s mold and mildew resistant and can hold up against rubbing and tearing. This is especially important for outdoor upholstery in active residential and commercial applications. Acrylic fabrics are solution-dyed, which means that the threads are dyed before they are woven. This allows the textile to retain its color longer, even when exposed to direct sunlight. While it is water-resistant, acrylic fabric is more breathable than other options, allowing it to stay cooler in hot weather. It’s also easy to clean with mild soap and water. All things considered, acrylic fabric is best all-purpose textile for outdoor furniture cushions, throw pillows and patio umbrellas.
Sunbrella® is generally recognized as the “gold standard” of acrylic outdoor textiles. The company has products that range from soft and suitable for urban home use up to marine grade materials that can survive the rigors of saltwater, wind and sun on yachts and catamarans. You get what you pay for, and premium acrylic fabrics have a much higher price tag than other materials.
- PROS – Strong, durable, weather and moisture resistant, doesn’t fade and is easy to clean
- CONS – High cost
Olefin is another solution-dyed synthetic fabric that is durable, quick-drying and fade-resistant. It stands up to mold, moisture and heat and is less expensive than acrylics. Olefin is lightweight and smooth, but it can lack the softness of some other textiles. It resists stains and abrasions and is easy to clean. It’s a great choice when acrylics are outside of your budget.
Etisilk – Texsilk®
Etisilk’s Texsilk® is one of the better-known brands of olefin outdoor garden and pool furniture fabric. It’s stain-resistant and strong enough to be cleaned by bleach or chlorine. Texsilk® is environmentally responsible and certified as a safe textile by OEKO-TEX.
- PROS – Durable, quick-drying, fade-resistant, easy maintenance and affordable
- CONS – Not as soft as alternative materials
This synthetic material is typically coated with either an acrylic or vinyl (PVC mesh) to protect it from the elements. Polyester is strong, flexible and resists water damage and staining. It’s tear-resistant and dries quickly, but most outdoor polyester fabrics (at least the non-treated average grade options) fade faster than other synthetic textiles. Unlike, solution-dyed alternatives, polyester hybrids are dipped in color or have the color painted on after the threads are woven. You can achieve brighter colors and more intricate patterns, but it won’t last as long when exposed to UV rays. Consequently, they do much better in shaded environments, when there is less direct sunlight.
Acrylic coated polyester works well for accents and pillows, while vinyl-coated polyester has a plastic-like feel that is better suited for self-supporting seat and back slings, screens, umbrellas and backing, where there is less skin contact. Two of the most renowned manufacturers of high-end PVC-coated polyester textiles are Ferrari and Twitchell.
Ferrari – Batyline® Mesh
Batyline® mesh is a premium synthetic outdoor fabric that is extremely strong and tear-resistant. Its open design allows airflow that helps the material stay cool and dry quickly. It is an ideal choice for self-supporting sling seating like poolside sunloungers, patio dining chairs and bar stools.
Twitchell – Textilene® Mesh
Textilene® mesh is similar to Batyline® in its applications. It’s used by many luxury outdoor furniture brands like Sifas for the seat and back slings of high-end lounge chairs and sofas. Twitchell also manufactures a variety of mesh grades that are appropriate for sun screens, awnings, tarps and fencing.
- PROS – Strong, resists tearing and water damage, quick drying and comes in bold colors and patterns
- CONS – Tends to fade fast than other fabrics
Cushions and accent pillows for outdoor furniture are only as good as the materials that go into them. At some point, they’re going to be exposed to rain, sleet, wet bathing suits or damp beach towels. Even if they have the most weather-resistant premium acrylic cover, some water will find its way in through seams and zippered closures. Consequently, the foam core of your upholstery must not only hold its shape and comfort level, but it must also be able to dry quickly and prevent damage from moisture too. Foam varies in quality, based on the material, production technique and treatment.
Open Cell Foam
Open-cell foam has pores that allow water and air to easily flow through it. It’s comfortable and cool, but more expensive than most alternatives. It is constructed with an antimicrobial agent that protects the foam from mold and mildew growth that can occur in the drying process.
Urecel – QuickDry® Foam
Urecel’s QuickDry® is the premium brand of open-cell foam. It is an advanced, high-performance foam that is specifically engineered for outdoor upholstery. QuickDry® is produced using a sophisticated process known as Hydro-Blast Reticulation, which makes the foam durable, strong and extremely comfortable. It also incorporates Uregard anti-microbial technology to keep it free from biological problems. QuickDry® is used by luxury outdoor furniture brands like Mamagreen and Cane-line.
- PROS – Quick-drying, comfortable and resists mold and mildew
- CONS – Expensive
Closed Cell Foam
Closed-cell foam (a.k.a. floatation foam) repels water and is buoyant, making it a good choice for boat seating and life vests. It can be made from a variety of plastics including neoprene, polypropylene, polyethylene and polystyrene. Each version has its own unique characteristics and applications. Spongy neoprene, for example, is flexible and provides thermal and moisture insulation for wet suits.
- PROS – Repels water, floats and variations have benefits for specific applications
- CONS – Expensive
Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET) Foam
PET foam inserts are durable, recyclable and provide optimum support for outdoor upholstery. They are firm and do not flatten out or lose their shape like some materials. PET dries quickly, preventing moisture build up that can lead to mildew and mold.
Dacron® is a leading brand of hypo-allergenic PET foam and it is often wrapped around other foams to provide an additional layer of protection.
- PROS – Durable, supportive, eco-friendly, quick-drying and resistant to mold and mildew
- CONS – Premium brands can be costly
This common affordable seating foam has a medium firmness and will soak up water if it gets wet. Most polyurethane foam is treated with a biocide that prevents fungus, mold and mildew from growing as the wet foam dries out. It’s often wrapped in plastic for extra protection before being inserted into an outdoor cover.
- PROS – Low price and resistant to biological issues
- CONS – Soaks up water, dries slowly and is more flammable
Compressed polyester is an inexpensive alternative to traditional foam. It dries relatively quickly and is easy to wash. It works best in low to moderate use outdoor environments, since it compresses over time and frequent use will cause it to lose shape quicker. Polyester fiberfill is another low-cost option that is machine washable and resistant to mildew. It is usually stuffed into an inner pre-sewn cover that is then covered in outdoor fabric. One drawback is that the loose fibers tend to bunch up during laundering and may need reshaping after heavy use.
- PROS – Inexpensive, dries relatively quickly and is easy to wash
- CONS – Loses its shape and usually require additional protective wrapping
Outdoor Furniture Materials Cheatsheet
To view a printable cheatsheet summary of many of the materials above, click here.
How do you clean and care for patio furniture?
The usable life of your outdoor furniture can be extended by keeping it clean and well-cared for during and after the Summer months. Each material has specific instructions for cleaning various types of spills, repairing damage and protecting it from the ravages of the wind, rain and sun. Read our Patio Furniture Cleaning & Care Guide for a detailed look at a variety of materials and tips for maintaining them.
Frequently Asked Questions – Outdoor Furniture Materials
What type of outdoor furniture is the most durable?
The best material for patio furniture depends on the climate in which you live.
- Aluminum - Powder-coated versions will do well in all environments, but may be a bit lightweight for extremely windy conditions (cast or wrought aluminum better)
- Teak & Other Hardwoods - If properly sealed and periodically treated, these sturdy woods will last a long time and develop a nice patina but some hardwoods may warp or crack if not protected
- Resin Wicker - HDPE wicker is extremely strong and will resist damage from moisture, high temperature and UV rays, although it may blow away if not weighted down in high wind locations
- Stainless Steel - Its high-density, weight and strength make this metal great for outdoor tables in most climates and it resists corrosion the higher the chromium content or if powder-coated, although it does get hot in the sun
- Wrought Iron - This extremely heavy material can last a century if properly cared for, but it does require a lot of TLC to clean and protect from rusting
How long does wicker furniture last?
Traditional natural wicker made from rattan, bamboo or seagrass is strong but does not fare well outdoors. It's susceptible to warping, mold and mildew from rain and humidity. In drier climates, it may become brittle and crack.
Almost all wicker used for patio furniture is now woven from polyethylene resin. This synthetic wicker is extremely dense, strong and weather-resistant. Additionally, it does not fade quickly so your outdoor seating and tables will last a long time. High-density polyethylene (HDPE) is the most durable resin wicker, while lower quality PVC wicker will degrade over a shorter period of time. The one thing to be careful about with synthetic wicker is that it is lightweight and may be damaged in windy conditions depending on the woven design.
Why is Sunbrella fabric so good outdoors?
Sunbrella® acrylic outdoor textiles are considered the premium for patio umbrellas, upholstery, awnings and other shade structures. The solution-dyed fabric is strong and resists both weather damage and fading for years. It's also easy to wash and is resistant to mold and mildew. Sunbrella® is expensive, but because it's long-lasting you don't have to continually replace canopies and cushion covers - saving you money in the long run. Sunbrella® produces a wide range of textile grades for general residential to high-use commercial and even marine applications. If you have a large invest in patio furniture and value UV protection, it makes sense to go with the best.
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Afton Jackson says
When you stated that durability matters more to patio furniture that will be used more often, I thought of how most of my family always wanted to try outdoor barbecue parties. Staying inside can get a little boring at times, especially during the winter season, so I thought of making an area in our yard devoted to barbecue parties and hangouts. Since we’ll be using it very often, I’ll definitely consider durability while shopping for things like patio covers and furniture.
Leisure Lounges says
This article is very useful and essential since I’m in the furniture industry and looking for ideas. Great job!
I Live in Denver where it is hot, dry and windy in the summer and cooler in the winter. I have had Tropitone furniture with cream upholstery for 3 years. The squirrels have eaten one cushion and we have discoloration from pollen/dust and/or sun and heat. We are going to replace the cushions. Would a darker color hide the possible yellow dust from pollen? Any squirrel ideas? Thanks.