Aluminum and resin wicker are two of the most popular materials in contemporary outdoor furniture design. These newer materials offer a slew of advantages over more traditional materials like cast iron, wood, or natural wicker, and are both smart, all-weather choices for your outdoor space. But they’re also quite distinct from each other, both in terms of style, comfort, and durability. So which type of outdoor furniture is right for your outdoor space? We’ve got a quick introduction to both to help you decide.
Resin wicker, which is made out of PVC, polyethylene, or another synthetic material, is the modern successor to natural wicker. Synthetic resin wicker offers a similar look and feel, but is much, much easier to care for. Unlike natural wicker, resin wicker is naturally water resistant. That means not only is it less likely to develop mold or mildew, but also that it can handle the chemical water of pools (and oily suntan-lotioned bodies) that would destroy true wicker.
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Similarly, because traditional wicker furniture is made of natural materials, it tends to become brittle and crack or unravel over time. Synthetic resin wicker can fade if left in direct sunlight, but is designed to be UV resistant, so it won’t lose its flexibility. While natural wicker requires the application of oil to remain smooth and plaint, resin wicker outdoor furniture always makes for comfortable outdoor seating, with or without a cushion. Conveniently, the more plaint material can be cleaned with a pressure hose or steamer without damaging it. Mild soap and water should usually do the trick to clean this dirt-resistant material, but you don’t need to be afraid of a more intense cleaning if it needs it.
Like traditional wicker furniture, synthetic wicker furniture made of thin strips woven around a hard base to create a slightly flexible, comfortable, basket-like texture. But while natural wicker is usually woven around a wood base, synthetic wicker is more typically built around an aluminum frame. It depends a little from one manufacturer to another, but usually the internal bars are hollow, powder coated aluminum tubes, which makes them very sturdy, very light weight, and resistant to the elements.
In fact, a lot of outdoor furniture these days is made with aluminum, especially tables and chairs. These can be made from aluminum tubing or extruded aluminum as well as cast or wrought aluminum. Furniture that’s made only from hollow aluminum tubing is sometimes considered to be a little bit lower quality – it’s very, very lightweight and usually made in separate pieces that are welded together or, occasionally, can be disassembled for easy storage, while cast aluminum is made from molten metal poured into molds and then welded together. Aluminum furniture can also be finished or left bare, and sometimes has cushions or cloth slingbacks, but all types of aluminum offer similar benefits.
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If resin wicker is the modern incarnation of wicker furniture, cast and wrought aluminum outdoor furniture is the grandbaby of wrought iron. Aluminum can be similarly shaped into elegant, Victorian-style loops and whorls, but it is dramatically lighter. Cast iron is incredibly heavy for its size, and full dining sets made of the material can be quite cumbersome to move. But cast aluminum or wrought aluminum – which are considered superior because they’re made of solid metal – are light enough to comfortably move on your own.
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Unlike wrought iron furniture, outdoor furniture made from aluminum is completely rust-free. That means both that the surface of the furniture won’t rust and that it won’t stain your porch, patio, or deck. In fact, aluminum furniture can be left outdoors year round in all but the saltiest seaside environments. That said, aluminum does oxidize (and is susceptible to airborne salt and other pollutants), so if you notice it discoloring, be sure to wash it with soap and water. By and large, though solid aluminum outdoor furniture is among the most inert, and requires little care and maintenance even in harsh climates.
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In recent years, powder coated aluminum outdoor furniture of all types has become more popular. Powder coating is a special painting process used on cars, bicycles, and some home appliances. A powdered paint is bonded with the underlying metal using very high heat, which creates a smooth, hard finish that won’t flake away with time. Powder coated aluminum comes in a wide variety of bright colors and offers some protection from oxidization, but it does require a little more care, as the finish can be scratched or marred. Unlike aluminum, powder coated aluminum can’t be sanded or polished to restore the finish.
Ultimately, both aluminum and resin wicker outdoor furniture are more resilient than their predecessors. Resin wicker tends to offer a little more in the way of comfort, and aluminum a little more all-weather durability, but both are easy to clean, lightweight, and stylish.