What You Should Know Before Buying Wicker Furniture

Wicker sofa and chairs on luxury patio
Robert Daly / Getty Images

During the process of buying furniture, there are several different materials and styles to consider that have a variety of purposes in the home. When it comes to outdoor furniture, a popular choice is wicker. Wicker can comprise seating areas, tables, storage shelves, plant stands, and more. While it's not uncommon for wicker to be confused for a material, this term actually refers to a specific weaving process. Wicker furniture is not confined to natural materials, as it can be made from any natural or man-made material that is pliable and durable enough to be woven into furniture.

What Is Wicker?

The term "wicker" refers to a style of weaving used in making furniture—in fact, a method of furniture-making found 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, as the rattan plant is a commonly used material. Outdoor areas and coastal-style homes are popular settings for wicker furniture.

Wicker can be used indoors or outdoors. However, there are some differences in the manufacturing material that is used depending on where a specific piece of furniture is designed to be placed.

The Difference Between Indoor and Outdoor Use

Many furniture manufacturers commonly use synthetic vinyl and resins for outdoor wicker furniture rather than organic materials. Because pieces placed outside need to withstand moisture, sunlight, and dry conditions for use in various climates, these options help prevent wicker furniture from breaking down over time. Organic and natural materials are better suited for indoor use in more protected environments.

The Weaving Process

While the materials used for construction may vary, a similar weaving process is utilized to create wicker furniture of both organic and synthetic types. The material of choice is run horizontally in an over-under pattern between vertical strands to achieve a uniform, sturdy piece. This creates the same wicker look for indoor and outdoor furniture.

There are also a number of styles and weaves to choose from. When browsing wicker furniture for your home, you'll find modern and traditional options to suit your decor that range from pieces with straight, even lines to designs with more curves and unique details. Wicker can also be found in many different colors along with natural or white finishes.

Material Used in Wicker

There are four major types of organic materials used for indoor wicker furniture: rattan, reed, willow, and bamboo. Rattan is the most popular for indoor use. This material 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. Along with making the exterior surfaces of wicker furniture, rattan is also commonly used to build the frames around which the weave is created.

Bamboo is less flexible than rattan, but depending on the style of furniture that's being manufactured, this material can be a great option for unique looks and hardy frames. Reed is derived from the inner pith of rattan, and it maintains the stem's sturdy construction but with a lighter color. Willow is commonly used to construct woven baskets and other pieces of furniture and decor that aren't required to hold as much weight as rattan.

Furniture made from these organic materials should not be used outdoors, as moisture and excessive sunlight can cause deterioration over time. Natural options are more likely to dry out and fray when exposed to the elements.

Unlike indoor wicker furniture, outdoor wicker furniture usually has aluminum frames. Synthetic or man-made fibers are used for weaving this furniture. The aluminum paired with synthetic vinyl and resins keep a consistent wicker look, but these materials are much more hardy for outdoor use despite sunlight and moisture.

Caring for Wicker Furniture

Even if your wicker furniture is designed to stay outside, it requires care to stay in good condition. Moisture can lead to mildew when trapped inside tight weaves. Wipe down your furniture after rainfall or dewy weather to keep it as dry as possible.

The sun may also play a part in deterioration, so it's best to place your outdoor wicker furniture in an area that doesn't receive direct sunlight for most of the day. Overexposure to the sun may lead to splintering in certain types of wicker. A large umbrella can help along with choosing protected locations to help your furniture maintain its look and quality.

Care should also be taken to keep wicker furniture clean. Touch-ups from time to time with the replacement of broken strands can keep it looking fresh for years.