Few things complete an outdoor living space like a great set of outdoor furniture. Whether you’re looking into a new dining set, finding seating to go around your fire pit, or are just on the hunt for a few great pieces to round out your space, picking the right furniture can be harder than it sounds.
Not only do you need to pay attention to the aesthetic of your purchase, but you also need to keep other important factors in mind. Namely, where you live. While many materials may look great in your space, not all outdoor furniture is functional in every region of the country.
For example, wood and wrought iron may look great when new, but unchecked exposure to moisture and the elements can damage your expensive chair or table quickly. Being realistic about your region’s climate, and the level of care and maintenance you are willing to provide to your furniture will help you pick a set that fits your space and your lifestyle.
With that in mind, here’s how the most common outdoor furniture materials hold up against the elements.
One of the most popular materials in the world of outdoor furniture is wood, and for good reason. Well constructed wood furniture is beautiful, durable, and at some level, customizable. With dozens of tones, stains, grains, and types to choose from, homeowners are likely to find a wood to match their outdoor space no matter their aesthetic.
However, wood isn’t the best solution for every climate. While you can adjust your habits to maintain your furniture even in wet, cold, or harsh weather, it takes more effort. For those looking for a completely hands off approach, it may not be the solution they’re looking for.
Teak is one of the most common choices for outdoor furniture made of wood. When looked after properly and given correct maintenance, the durability of teak can leave you with a table and chair set that will last a lifetime. Teak has a naturally high oil and resin content making it less vulnerable to water damage, and allowing it to stand up against insect damage found in softer woods such as pine.
Many also favor teak for its beautiful warm tone. Treated wood will maintain this color for as long as you continue to care for the set. Untreated teak, however, is susceptible to fading from the elements and will gradually take on a grayer hue over time.
If this isn’t the aesthetic you prefer for your space, be sure to continue sealing your furniture every year or so to ensure the warm color of the wood persists. Climates with harsh sun exposure year long may be more susceptible to fast fading.
Many choose cedar as the material for their furniture purely for the value it offers. While more durable than softer woods, it also comes with a less expensive price tag attached. Untreated cedar does not have the same high oil and resin content as teak, so for a piece of furniture that will hold its own against the elements, treating your furniture on a scheduled basis is necessary.
Things To Look Out For
While wood, especially treated varieties, can offer great durability and appeal at a reasonable price tag, the material is undoubtedly susceptible to damage. Before shelling out a large amount of money on a wooden outdoor dining table, consider the following.
Wood is affected by moisture, even when treated. Avoid staining and warping by using coasters on outdoor sets. Similar effects can be noted when exposed to heat which can tarnish or warp the finish of stains and sealants.
If you live somewhere that experiences year round precipitation, be prepared to take steps to keep your pieces in great shape. Avoid warping with regular sealants and treatments. For lower maintenance winters, considering taking wooden furniture inside or finding alternative storage. Like most materials on this list, wooden furniture should be cleaned once or twice a year to keep it looking its best.
Preferred for their all-weather durability and low maintenance upkeep, synthetic material has been big on the outdoor furniture scene for years. Like many synthetic materials, the look and quality of synthetic furniture has improved greatly in the last decade. Great in most weather, you’re likely to find a perfect fit for your area among one of the most popular synthetic options on the market.
Most people are familiar with wicker, but what they may not know is that the word wicker does not actually describe the material, but rather the woven style of the material itself. Traditional wicker furniture is made of cane or rattan, however both of these materials are unlikely to stand the test of time as outdoor pieces, especially in highly seasonal climates.
To retain this classic, laid back look without compromising on durability, resin wicker was invented. Made of woven synthetics like polyethylene, PVC, or nylon, there’s little care that goes into keeping this furniture looking great. However, if you live in a very hot climate, PVC may not be up to the challenge. For wicker that can handle more extreme temperatures, look for higher density polyethylene materials that are less likely to degrade.
It should be noted that due to it’s woven style, even the best synthetic furniture may begin to fray if treated roughly. To keep your set looking its best, wipe clean a few times a year, and prevent snags and build up that can cause the weave to loosen or become dirty over time.
Recycled Plastic or Composite Furniture
As seen in recent advancements in composite decking, composite materials continue to offer undeniable appeal in not only their all-season durability and hands off maintenance, but their overall appearance. Unlike cheap, plastic furniture sets you may have seen growing up, recycled and composite furniture is now a beautiful and practical way to make outdoor furniture work in all climates
Impervious to other issues experienced by wood or metal, homeowners need not worry about fading, cracking, rot, splitting, or staining. Winter salt and snow can discolor wood, and corrode metals like wrought iron. This is not the case with composite blends. Other benefits are synthetics lower density, making them less heavy than other outdoor furniture options. This means if you’re constantly redesigning your space, you won’t find yourself regularly lifting heavy, unyielding pieces.
Care for synthetic or plastic blends is truly minimal. Wash when needed with soap and warm water, and wipe clean. While it may cost a bit more to find a set that truly wows you, it’ll be worth it to watch your investment look its best for years to come.
Another one of the most popular picks, metal furniture can often serve you well no matter where you live, with a few exceptions. As is the case with wood, chronically damp or wet weather can be corrosive to the finish of your outdoor furniture if left unattended. For this reason, certain metals may serve some seasonal climates better than others.
Undeniably durable, the distinct look and feel of wrought iron patio furniture has drawn many to the material for decades. The heavy, solid look of this metal gives the impression that not much could cause damage to its finish. Sadly, while this may be true in the case of elements such as wind and sunlight, wrought iron has its own achille’s heel- moisture.
Lingering moisture can quickly lead to rust and breakdown of the finish of wrought iron. This means cold climates experiencing year round precipitation may need to think twice before making an expensive purchase. Many homeowners living in less-than temperate climates go through the effort of hauling in their furniture when summer has ended to prevent rusting and damage.
If you don’t have a place to store your furniture in the off season, or simply don’t foresee yourself taking kindly to the work of placing and replacing your table and chair each year, another material may be better for your outdoor space.
Steel offers strength and a clean, modern, sophisticated look to outdoor furniture. While not as heavy as wrought iron, and resistant to fluctuations in temperature, it still must be maintained to prevent degradation.
When steel chips, it immediately becomes vulnerable to rusting and corrosion. Furthermore, steel and salt or chlorine do not mix. If you find yourself treating your icy patio with chemical salt each winter, you could be unknowingly shortening the lifespan of your table and chairs.
To keep steel sets looking great, treat yearly with wax or other protective coatings. Watch out for chips or scratches, and be sure to treat if detected. For the most durable finish, find furniture made from galvanized or stainless steel which offer better resistance to moisture and the elements.
Aluminum offers solutions for those looking for the aesthetic of metal without the worry of corrosion and rust. Unlike wrought iron or steel, aluminum is resilient against the elements. Additionally, it’s lightweight appeal makes storage and rearranging your furniture a breeze.
However, those in particularly windy or frequently stormy climates should take caution. The lightweight appeal of aluminum furniture can make it a flight risk! To avoid chasing down your table and chairs, take care to stow during extreme weather, or weigh down on especially windy days.
Mosaics, Fabric, and More
Though metal, wood, and synthetics take center stage with most outdoor furniture, there are still other options on the market.
The beautiful, stylized look of mosaic is popular for homeowners looking to achieve a unique, artistic look in their outdoor space. While the overall impression of mosaic furniture can be beautiful, these pieces require frequent care to prevent damage, cracking, and chipping. Most sets do poorly in cold or changing climates, but can be a feasible option for families experiencing year long warm weather.
Those looking to lounge outside on couches or comfortable chairs may quickly find themselves searching for fabrics that hold up against the elements. To find a fabric model that works in most climates, pay special attention to the quality of the filling.
Outdoor couches and chairs should ideally sport cushions filled with quick drying foam and fill material. Traditional stuffing used for indoor furniture will begin to accumulate mold and mildew when left exposed to rain.
No fabric furniture, however, should be left uncovered in the winter season. Extended snow and freezing can severely damage the piece, and leave you searching for a replacement come spring.
No matter where you live, there’s outdoor furniture that can handle everything your region has to offer for years to come. Having a good understanding of how elements such as rain, snow, salt, and temperature affect your furniture can help you make the right choice before you buy.
Those looking to invest in pieces that are vulnerable to damage from the elements should be committed to regular upkeep and yearly care. If you are unwilling to seal, stow, or otherwise care for materials such as wrought iron and wood, investing in high quality composites can be the solution you’re looking for. With a little bit of research and work, anyone can find a set that’s perfect for not only their yard, but their climate as well.