How to Pick Out a Patio Umbrella

outdoor patio umbrella

The Spruce / Letícia Almeida 

In areas of your yard where there aren't overhead outdoor roofs or awnings—which may be everywhere or an out-of-the-way spot—an umbrella offers the perfect solution. It will provide shade precisely where and when you want some while adding a touch of color and a certain flair to your landscape. Most outdoor umbrellas measure anywhere from 5 to 11 feet in diameter atop a pole that is placed into a hole in your outdoor dining table or is anchored by a weighted umbrella base. Using a crank at the top of the pole, you can raise or lower the canopy of the umbrella. Sounds pretty simple. But in reality, there are several factors that you need to take into consideration when you're looking for a patio umbrella, such as material, size, features, types, and cost, among others. Our comprehensive guide offers you some tips and information to consider before purchasing one.

Before You Buy a Patio Umbrella

A patio umbrella provides shade and comfort for family and friends that gather to enjoy the outdoors together. Depending on the type of material it is made with, an umbrella can protect from UV rays, too. Before the warmth hits from those summer days, if you need one for your yard or table, you might want to start shopping around for a patio umbrella, in anticipation of those upcoming outside gatherings. Make sure you have an idea of what you want or need in a patio umbrella including the shape, the material it is made with, and how it functions.

Buying Considerations for a Patio Umbrella

Assess Your Landscape

Before you go shopping for an outdoor umbrella, assess the lay of the landscape, both hardscape, and softscape (the garden, or stuff that grows in the ground and in containers). If the umbrella is to provide shade for a patio table, measure the table. Most outdoor tables come in standard sizes, but you want to make sure that the canopy will cover your table, especially if it is a larger table that seats eight or more. Likewise, you don't want to purchase an umbrella that will overpower your table if it is a smaller table that seats two or four.

Here's where assessing your landscape comes into play. Consider:

  • The location of your outdoor table in relation to your house's roof or overhang. Will a large patio umbrella—10 feet or more—touch the roof? Ideally, some space should exist between the roof or overhang and the umbrella.
  • Where will the umbrella be located in relation to your grill, outdoor kitchen, or indoor kitchen? Let's put it this way, you don't want the umbrella near the open flames of a grill. It's just not safe. It would also interrupt the flow of traffic.


As mentioned, when it comes to umbrellas, table size matters.

Table Size (Diameter)  Umbrella Size (Diameter)
 30 to 36 inches  6 to 8 feet
 38 to 48 inches  9 to 11 feet
 54 to 60 inches  11 feet or larger


Umbrella frames are traditionally constructed from wood, aluminum, or fiberglass. The most common material is aluminum, which is also the material you will see most often on umbrella poles. If made correctly with the right finish, it resists all kinds of weather conditions. A wood frame, especially an outdoor-tolerant wood like teak, ipe, or eucalyptus, is also a popular material for umbrellas but is more costly. As an alternative to aluminum, fiberglass is lightweight, flexible, non-corrosive, and holds up in various weather conditions.

Sunbrella, probably the most well-known name in outdoor fabrics, began making awnings in the early 1960s. It took another 20 years before they became a big name in fabric for outdoor umbrellas, along with other upholstered furniture. Modern umbrellas use UV-resistant fabrics that are made of synthetic materials and are available in a variety of textures, finishes, prints, solids, and colors.


Most, but not all, umbrellas are round. Some are octagonal (known as market umbrellas); while newer models are rectangular, to shade longer, rectangular outdoor tables. The shape of the patio table or area you want to cover will help determine the shape of the patio umbrella that would work best.


Traditional models use a low-tech pulley to open and close the umbrella. Many owners of pulley styles end up leaving the umbrellas open during the season, because it takes some muscle to open it, and then a large, attached pin locks it in place. With a crank, you wind it open or closed, and it should lock in place when it's arrived at its ultimate-crank destination. The pulley system can be difficult to operate, and a certain amount of strength is needed.

More expensive or elaborate models have more options, usually via a crank. Other tilt possibilities include a push-button and an automatic, or auto-tilt, in which you can turn the crank to tilt the umbrella in a few (or several) different positions.

Types of Outdoor Umbrellas

When you go shopping for an umbrella, don't get confused and buy a beach umbrella—it just won't do the job. The types of umbrella that you'll most likely find online or at stores include:

  • Sunshades: This style is kind of like a round disc on a pole, and is intended to shade one person. You may have seen a group of sunshades at a high-end hotel, poolside, near individual chaise lounges
  • Market: These have been popular for several years, and usually indicate that they are higher quality or larger residential umbrellas, like the kind you would see shading diners on the patio of a cafe. Market umbrellas are octagonal and have vented tops.
  • Pagoda: These are Asian-inspired parasol-style umbrellas that have more of an architectural, or Japanese pagoda-like shape. Pier 1 carries a few pagoda-style outdoor umbrellas.
  • Cantilever: This type does not get inserted into that hole in your patio table; rather, its base and pole are offset away from the area to be shaded. This works for many situations that need shade: tables without holes, small tables, lounge chairs near a pool, or a deep-seating set. A plus—it doesn't get in the way and can be adjusted as the sun moves.
  • Logo Umbrellas: You've seen them—they advertise your favorite sports team or brand of beer. This type of umbrella is often seen at cafes and pubs, but are a popular way to personalize your backyard and let everyone know who you're rootin' for, team- or brew-wise.
  • Commercial-Grade Umbrellas: These are the heavy-duty types you see at restaurants or other outdoor venues and are built to withstand the elements.

Umbrella frames are traditionally constructed from wood, aluminum or fiberglass. The most common material is aluminum, which is also the material you will see most often on umbrella poles. If made correctly with the right finish, it resists all kinds of weather conditions. Wood frames, especially an outdoor-tolerant wood like teak, ipe or eucalyptus, is also a popular material for umbrellas but is more costly. As an alternative to aluminum, fiberglass is lightweight, flexible, non-corrosive and holds up in various weather conditions.


Expect to pay anywhere from $80 to $400 or even higher for a patio umbrella. If you're on a budget or looking to get it cheaper, watch for it to go on sale. The best time for sales though is after the summer is almost over. Usually, umbrellas and other patio furniture go up for sale and are clearanced out in late August through October. Watch for sale ads during late spring and early summer, and you might get lucky enough to get one during a special before the summer sale.

The price of a patio umbrella varies in part because of higher quality materials used, the mechanics, and the features offered on them. The lifespan of a quality patio umbrella averages between two to four years and depends on the care and use of them during that time.

How to Choose a Patio Umbrella

A patio umbrella is not only practical to use, but can also reflect your own personal style. They come in many different colors, shapes, patterns and sizes, making it a fun adventure to choose one that will work best for you and your family. But the shape and size, features, plus the price, needs to fit within your specific needs and can sometimes not be quite so easy to find. Ask yourself a few questions as you go searching.

How Often Are You Going to Use the Patio Umbrella?

Are you an outdoor enthusiast who loves sitting on the patio enjoying a breeze or eating outside? Is the patio a gathering spot for family and friends? Or is this an area that is only going to be sat in occasionally? If the umbrella is going to be used constantly, then you might want to consider getting a more expensive one that is easy and quick to put up and down, provides bells and whistles such as tilting, or has lighting for those quiet, and potentially romantic, evenings on the patio.

What Style of Patio Umbrella Will Work Best?

There are many styles of patio umbrellas available and what is going to work best for you and your outdoor area is a decision that only you can make. Do you want one that goes through a hole in the patio table and secures to an umbrella base? Or do you want one that can be moved around into different areas of the yard as needed? Or what about one that covers a large amount of space? Or is more modern and contemporary looking? The choice is yours.


Your patio umbrella should be kept cleaned and maintained properly for it to last.

Clean the umbrella by opening it up completely, then spraying it with water from the garden hose. If there are any stains, check the manufacturer's care instructions for proper care and cleaning of those areas. If the umbrella's frame is dirty, take a clean, damp cloth and wipe it down fully, being careful around the mechanisms and joints. Mild soapy water can be used but should be rinsed with water afterward.

During the season, whenever it is not in use, your patio umbrella should be kept closed. Unexpected winds or heavy weather can damage the umbrella. Some umbrellas have a cover that can be placed over them to help prolong their life and keep them out of the rays of the sun. Ensure that the patio umbrella is completely dry before putting a cover on.

When it's time to put the patio furniture and umbrella away for the upcoming colder months, make sure everything is clean and dry, and store the patio umbrella in an upright position in a garage or storage shed.

Where to Shop

If you're in the market and looking for a patio umbrella, it isn't hard to find one during the spring and summer months. They can be found in supercenters, home improvement stores, outdoor and patio furniture stores, and at online retailers. Take the time to review the location you're going to place it, what you want it to look like, any special features you desire, and how much you can afford to spend before purchasing one.

Make sure you know what the return policy or warranty is and if there is going to be a delivery fee if it needs to be sent to your home. Then get ready to enjoy being outdoors relaxing underneath the patio umbrella of your choice.

  • Does the material on patio umbrellas fade?

    After being exposed to the sun's UV rays, eventually your patio umbrella's material is going to fade. You can help prolong the life, and color, of it by closing it when not in use and keeping it clean and dry.

  • Do all patio umbrellas have UV protection?

    Not all offer protection from UV rays. Check the manufacturer's information on the umbrella as it should tell you if the fabric offers UV protection. Certain manufacturers, such as Sunbrella, does provide UV protectant and water-resistant fabric.

  • Is it better to get a bigger patio umbrella?

    Bigger is not always better! Only get the size of patio umbrella you need to cover the area or table. An umbrella that is too large becomes a nuisance and is in the way when you try to sit underneath it, especially at a table. It will also throw off the symmetry of any furniture that it is placed with.