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 100% weatherproof patio furniture, 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 metal frame furniture, 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.
Outdoor materials – Rain & Moisture
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 accelerate 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.
Outdoor Materials – Sun & Temperature
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.
Outdoor Materials – Wind
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.
Outdoor Materials – Durability
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.
Outdoor Materials – Cleaning & Care
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.
Outdoor Materials – Eco-Friendliness
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.
Outdoor Materials – Cost
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.
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