Natural rattan wicker and Polyethylene (PE) wicker are two different materials, with important distinctions. It would be natural to assume that organic wicker is the “authentic” material, while synthetic PE resin wicker and HDPE wicker are the knock-off materials. That would be wrong, or at least simplistic. In this article, we will contrast rattan wicker vs. plastic wicker patio furniture materials, discuss the differences between them, and examine when it is appropriate to use each material.
- 1 Rattan vs. Wicker
- 2 Indoor Furniture Materials
- 3 Outdoor Furniture Materials
- 4 HDPE Wicker
- 5 Typical Material Features of HDPE Resin
- 6 Plastic Wicker Patio Furniture
- 7 Patio Furniture Brands
Rattan vs. Wicker
Many people use the words “rattan” and “wicker” interchangeably, but in reality, these two words have completely different meanings. Rattan is a material, and wicker is a weaving technique. The use of wicker style weaving is many thousands of years old and was used all the way back in ancient Egypt.
The modern iteration of wicker originated in Scandinavia (the word “wikka” means “to bend”.) Wicker is a weaving style that involves bending reeds, cane (rattan), willow, bamboo, etc. to create baskets, furniture pieces, and other physical goods.
Rattan, on the other hand, is a type of climbing palm frond that, when dried and processed, is used for structure in furniture, baskets, plant containers, artworks, etc.
Indoor Furniture Materials
Typically, if you see a woven piece of furniture designed for indoor use, it made of rattan and woven in the wicker technique.
Rattan usually has a very organic look, like rope or dried grass, because it is a natural material, and typically does not change color significantly as it ages. Occasionally it is dyed, and there are significant variations in color as the material is woven together.
This material often creaks and cracks when sat upon, due to the natural materials flexing under different weight load conditions.
Rattan wicker is an excellent choice for an indoor furniture material and has been used for many thousands of years.
However, if rattan wicker is brought outside and left in the elements for any significant period, it will quickly degrade, turn black, and fall apart. Even though it seems like rattan should be able to survive outdoors, it will not.
Outdoor Furniture Materials
If you see outdoor furniture woven in the wicker style, it is not made of a natural rattan material. There are several possible materials that can be used in the wicker style, from low quality plastics to high-quality resin materials.
The best outdoor plastic wicker patio furniture material is High-Density Polyethylene (HDPE). It has the highest durability and the nicest look. However, PE Wicker is also quite decent, and much more common. It’s also significantly cheaper.
Wicker-Look Resin Panels
Frequently less expensive furniture pieces or products that are designed to be non-breathable are made of resin panels with a wicker look. Deck boxes, storage sheds, storage benches, etc. are often made of resin panels.
This material certainly has its purpose and often looks much better than solid plastic panels, but high-quality furniture typically should not be made of this type of material.
Unless it is to be used for storage of items that need to be protected from water, you should assume that wicker-look resin panel furniture is low quality.
Common Faux Wicker Patio Furniture Materials
Here is a list of several of the most common synthetic wicker materials available on the market today.
- PVC Wicker
- Polyethylene (PE)
- High-Density Polyethylene (HDPE)
HDPE resin is a high-quality resin material mimics the look of natural rattan. The material is very dense, and the color changes somewhat due to the way it is produced.
The material creation process results in a very natural looking material that has a nicer finish than PE Wicker and has many advantages other materials lack.
HDPE resin is an especially hardy material and is quite resilient to snow, rain, hail, sun, etc.
How to tell HDPE from other Synthetic Resin Materials
Hopefully, it will say so on the label! Typically if a furniture piece is made of HDPE, it is advertised as HDPE, and not just PE or Nylon or whatever. This is not always the case, however.
HDPE is made in such a way that the color is the same throughout the entire structure of the weave, and not just a painted-on color on the top at the end.
If you scratch at HDPE fibers, you will not remove the color to find a different color underneath. If you scratch at PE fibers, there is a chance that you’ll find a different color under the finish, depending on how it is made.
Of course, having the color flow through the material completely results in a much higher quality finish, as scratches don’t show up visually. No one will be able to see imperfections in HDPE resin, because of this color-through material design.
Typical Material Features of HDPE Resin
HDPE generally has the following features:
HDPE resin is virtually always produced to a matte finish, unlike cheaper wicker resins that are often glossy. HDPE is never shiny, and in fact, shiny finishes are usually a giveaway that the material is low quality.
Usually, HDPE has been treated with UV Protecting materials during the HDPE creation process, so the UV protection functions in the same way as the color; if a bit is scratched off, the UV protection is not removed.
High-Density Polyethylene is very strong and typically won’t break even when woven around tight corners, curves, etc.
HDPE typically does not stain, which is certainly an advantage over most other types of outdoor furniture materials.
HDPE usually dries pretty quickly when it gets wet, and does not feel sticky against the skin.
High-Density Polyethylene is recyclable and is environmentally friendly. Even though it comes from petroleum products, it can be reused or recycled. It is perhaps not bright green, but it is relatively environmentally friendly.
Plastic Wicker Patio Furniture
If you are targeting HDPE plastic wicker patio furniture, you want to stick with a furniture brand that uses high-quality frames to go with their HDPE resin. Aluminum frames are often the best choice for patio sets, as they are fairly lightweight (but not too lightweight), fairly strong, and are rust free.
Take a look at this list of our Luxury Patio Furniture sets for some ideas on how furniture designers are using HDPE and PE Resin wicker to make incredible outdoor furniture sets.
Patio Furniture Brands
Wondering which patio furniture brands you should stick to in order to ensure you get great materials? Check out our guide to outdoor furniture brands here.