lady sitting outside the house

How to Choose the Best Material for Outdoor Furniture

Saskia Rose Perron-Jansen

November 02, 2023

Like indoor furniture, finding the right outdoor furniture can breathe new life into your space, yet when choosing outdoor furniture, there are multiple elements to consider when finding the right pieces.

Read on to learn more about choosing the best material for outdoor furniture that is right for you and your style, whether you have a large backyard or a small outdoor space.

A lady sitting outside

What to consider when buying patio furniture

Unlike when shopping for indoor furniture that you can assume will stay mostly dry and warm when it gets into your home, there's more to consider when purchasing outdoor patio furniture. Important considerations include material, durability, versatility, fade resistance, maintenance, and weather resistance.

There are several important things to consider when choosing furniture for your outdoor space:

  • Moisture and rain: Storms and humidity can wreak havoc on outdoor furniture, so it's important to consider water and moisture resistance when choosing outdoor furniture to help avoid mildew, rot, mold, rust, and changes in shape due to moisture (warping).

  • Wind: If you live in an area that experiences high winds, it's important to consider this when purchasing furniture for your outdoor space. Ensuring the materials for your outdoor furniture are heavy enough to withstand the wind is one option, and another option is to secure or store the furniture when it's not being used.

  • Maintenance: Some outdoor furniture materials require more maintenance than others, depending on the material, the amount of use, and the weather to which the material is exposed.

    Some materials demand special treatment, time, and effort to maintain, while others are more low maintenance and need only to be cleaned seasonally. It's a good starting point to know how much time you're willing to spend keeping the furniture looking as good as new when you start shopping for the outdoors.

  • Cost: Investing in outdoor patio furniture can be as costly or inexpensive as your budget allows, so it's important to know your budget from the beginning and to consider how often you'll need to maintain or replace your furniture to help you make the best decision.

  • Environmentally Conscious: Some outdoor furniture materials are more eco-friendly than others - some are made with recycled plastic, and others are more long-lasting, needing to be replaced less often, thus decreasing waste.

    Many brands are also considering the environmental impact of manufacturing and production and have started using materials sourced from responsibly managed forests that are recyclable, biodegradable, and/or certified by sustainable organizations.

  • Durability: How often you use your outdoor patio furniture and the elements the furniture is exposed to can impact the durability of your patio furniture. Different materials can last years with proper care and maintenance, while others need replacing more often.

  • Sun and Seasonal Temperatures: Exposure to direct sunlight and extreme changes in seasonal temperatures can cause cracking, heat/cold retention, and fading to many outdoor furniture materials. This is why consideration of storage and covers for protection are key when shopping for outdoor furniture.

Also, it's important to consider the space that you're looking to create with the furniture. If you're looking to create a conversation area, outdoor seating sets that prioritize comfort and big cushions might be just what you need.

If you want to create an outdoor dining area, the patio set you're looking for may include a dining table, other outdoor tables, and cushion covers.

Versatility is also an important consideration when choosing outdoor furniture, and many people opt for outdoor furniture that is easy to rearrange to fit the needs of their gatherings - pairing tables, beverage carts, and comfortable seating to make a space that works.

When buying patio furniture, it is also important to consider storage options that will help protect your new outdoor furniture from the weather conditions of different seasons and extreme temperature changes that take place throughout the year.

Types of outdoor furniture

Types of outdoor furniture

There are many styles and types of outdoor furniture materials, including metal furniture, synthetic and plastic furniture, and wooden outdoor furniture. Examples of these include aluminum outdoor furniture, steel outdoor furniture, wrought iron furniture, resin wicker furniture, rattan furniture, teak furniture, and acacia outdoor furniture.

Style options for patio and garden furniture include outdoor dining tables, table sets, bistro sets, chaise lounges, sofa sets, and picnic tables, just to name a few.

Our outdoor picnic table is one of my favorite pieces that never fails to remind us and our guests of many outdoor meals enjoyed while camping, and seems an essential piece for enjoying an outdoor meal. For accessibility and versatility additional chairs and/or high chairs can be pulled up to the heads of the table.

Each type of furniture comes with its own strengths and weaknesses, including high and low maintenance, comfort, and durability so it's important to know what you're looking for when choosing the best outdoor furniture material for you.

How to choose outdoor furniture

It's best to choose outdoor furniture once you have researched and understand what it is you want out of your furniture.

Important things to keep in mind when choosing the outdoor furniture that's right for you are price, comfort, durability, and an understanding of how you want the furniture to work in your space. Some outdoor furniture is more versatile than others, which is another important consideration.

Another key consideration when choosing patio furniture is the maintenance required. Some outdoor materials are extremely durable, while other materials for outdoor furniture can fade or wear if they are not cared for properly.

Best material for outdoor furniture

Ultimately, the best material for your outdoor furniture largely depends on where you live, how you envision using the furniture, and the amount of maintenance and upkeep required.

Listed below are things to consider for the most popular outdoor furniture materials:

Wrought Iron Outdoor Furniture

Iron is a highly durable material for outdoor furniture. Because it becomes extremely pliable when heated, wrought iron can be shaped and molded into unique and elaborate designs for a classic patio look.

It is strong and heavy, so it can last many years and won't move around in high winds, but the heavy material can make wrought iron more difficult to move around and rearrange.

While wrought iron outdoor furniture can last a very long time, patio furniture of this material can demand maintenance and care to protect from rusting. For this reason, most wrought iron is now made with special finishes to improve weather resistance by sealing the metal from moisture.

From experience, many know that wrought iron is hard and without cushioning, it can be uncomfortable on its own. Typically wrought iron paired with backrests and cushions to improve comfort, which can take up more storage and require more care when the cushions need to be put away or covered.

Additionally, wrought iron can get extremely hot or cold to the touch depending on the climate around them. Most wrought iron outdoor furniture I've seen is used more for outdoor decor (think a seating area in a garden) rather than furniture to be utilized.

Rattan Outdoor Furniture

My personal favorite, rattan is a popular material for indoor and outdoor furniture. Outdoor rattan furniture is typically made of synthetic polyethylene resin that is more durable than natural rattan and is more low maintenance, especially when using an outdoor cover or patio cover to help protect the wicker-style furniture from the elements. The synthetic material isn't as eco-friendly as natural fiber options but is more quick-drying and easier to maintain.

For outdoor rattan furniture, there are different styles to choose from, including curved weave and flatweave.

Curved weave rattan is harder to clean but tends to last longer as its flexibility makes it more durable. Flatweave rattan is typically lighter, making the furniture more versatile as it's easier to move around, and flatweave is also less expensive.

Since synthetic resin wicker furniture is so popular, it comes in many different shapes and sizes that are sure to meet your needs and offer many choices for cushions and outdoor upholstery styles. Often made with a powder-coated aluminum frame, this furniture is lightweight and easy to move around, but remember, damage to the frames can be costly.

Teak Outdoor Furniture

Teak is the most popular choice of wooden furniture options. While aesthetically pleasing with its natural beauty, teak furniture is also strong. Left untreated, the warm color may fade to gray over time, but the durable wood won't crack or break.

The high oil content in the natural materials of teak wood helps it repel water making it more resistant than other wood furniture to damage from decay, bugs, and rot.

If properly cared for and maintained with oil treatments and mild soapy water for cleaning, teak wood furniture can last years in your outdoor space. For this reason, many patio furniture brands carry teak wood materials, which is usually one of the more expensive options.

Recycled Plastic Outdoor Furniture

While plastic materials are not the most environmentally friendly, some recycled plastic furniture can be durable, low maintenance, and more sustainable.

Recycled plastics are easy to clean with mild soap and water and require very little maintenance. This material is also naturally water resistant thanks to its smooth surface.

It is important to note that plastic furniture can be easily blown over in high winds, and recycled plastic can be a more expensive option than others.

Powder Coated Steel Furniture

Stainless steel on its own is highly likely to rust, so most stainless steel patio furniture is made with a protective powder coating to help make the material more durable.

Powder-coated stainless steel comes in many bright and fun colors and could be just what you're looking for in garden furniture. Stainless steel furniture is often less expensive than other options but can blow around in high winds and is prone to rust if the protective coating is cracked.

This outdoor material is easy to clean, and its protective coating means it can be left out during winter months. That being said, to keep the furniture in its best condition and to last longer, it's a good idea to store it safely away from the elements when patio season is over.

Friends sitting outside

Outdoor furniture upholstery

For many types of outdoor furniture, including wooden furniture, wrought iron, and typically rattan, opting for cushions helps make the furniture more comfortable.

It's important to consider the upholstery and ensure it's suitable for outdoor use when shopping for cushions. Some outdoor fabrics are more resistant to moisture, mildew, and fading than others.

Best treatment for outdoor furniture

Outdoor furniture

Different materials for outdoor furniture mean different types of treatment, and that's why considering maintenance is so important when choosing the best outdoor furniture materials.

The best treatment for your outdoor furniture is timely and specific to the materials you choose - some require only seasonal cleaning with soap and water as treatment, while others might need special oils or rust protection to keep them well maintained.

How to protect outdoor furniture

In order to ensure your outdoor furniture lasts as long as possible, it's important to protect it from all the elements it will face outside and take care of the furniture when you notice a scratch or imperfection in its surface.

Protection from the sun

While we may think of outdoor furniture as somewhere to relax while enjoying the summer sun, too much sun can cause damage to even the most durable furniture materials.

While some furniture is more fade-resistant than others, it's not good for any material to be in direct sun for too long. To combat the effects of the sun, consider covering your furniture when it's not in use, setting up your furniture in a location that doesn't receive full sun all day, or investing in an umbrella or patio cover to help keep your patio set shaded.

Protection from the rain

Few outdoor furniture materials are waterproof, so covering your furniture when it's not being used can help make it last even on the rainiest days.

Too much moisture can allow for mildew growth when the materials get wet and outdoor furniture doesn't have a chance to dry out in a humid summer, which can lead to mold.

Storing your furniture

For those who live in areas that don't offer patio season all year round, it's important to store and protect your outdoor furniture when it's not in use.

Storing your furniture in a shed or garage or using cushions and furniture covers will keep it from the elements, so you can enjoy your furniture for years to come.

Maintaining outdoor furniture

When you start to notice cracks, chips or damage to your outdoor patio furniture, no matter what material it is, it's important to fix any issues before further damage occurs.

Even the best materials will become less rot-resistant, mildew-resistant, and moisture-resistant when any damage occurs to their weather-resistant finishes or powder coating so it's important to maintain your outdoor furniture.

Treating your furniture appropriately (with oils or spot treatment paint) and keeping your furniture clean with mild soap and water will ensure you can soak up every moment in your outdoor space for many seasons.


The best choice for outdoor furniture material

When it comes down to it, the best choice for outdoor furniture is completely dependent on how you will use the furniture. Personally, my favorite outdoor furniture at home and when visiting friends is the furniture that is the most comfortable and inviting - furniture that makes me want to sit, visit, enjoy a lemonade or two and enjoy the outdoors.

To me, big cushions, and comfy pillows for added support with seating and tables sets that encourage conversation, or offer a comfy space to read a book and soak up the sun are the perfect choices of outdoor furniture.

So go ahead and start your outdoor furniture shopping, and use this list to help you find the best material that is right for you!