As you are shopping for outdoor furniture for your patio, backyard, porch, or other outdoor space, you will likely finds lots of different material options… LOTS of options. And you may not be familiar with all of these materials. Additionally, where you are looking to buy outdoor furniture from might not give you all of the information about the quality of the material.
In this post, we provide a complete and detailed overview for many different material options that you will find as you shop for outdoor furniture. Use this post as your go-to resource to help you answer key outdoor furniture material questions.
So start scrolling down to find the answers you need!
Table of Contents
There are several factors to consider when selecting the right materials for your outdoor furniture and other items. A key but very personal factor is the material’s appeal – do you like how it looks? We don’t attempt to rate the aesthetics of materials in this guide because, as stated previously, the appeal of a material is a personal and design preference.
Another key factor for you will be the price of the material. Some materials will typically be more expensive than others, which usually indicates the quality of the material, and we note this for some materials in this guide. However, we do not consistently rate materials in this guide based on price, as prices vary depending on the brand, item type, and design.
For this guide, we focus on five primary factors to compare outdoor materials, which we believe are core factors to evaluate when looking at different backyard items. These items are listed below:
- Moisture: How well can the material repel water or dry?
- Sun & Heat: How well can the material resist fading and damage from the sun?
- Wind: How well can the material withstand movement from the wind?
- Durability: How well can the material withstand backyard wear and tear?
- Maintenance: How much care is needed to keep the furniture clean and looking like original condition?
Feeling overwhelmed with all of the options to choose from? We highly recommend that you check out our Ultimate Shopping Guide that gives our thoughts on the top materials and other items to look for when buying outdoor furniture.
You will find plenty of metal material options for outdoor furniture, equipment, and other items. Metals are a solid and durable material that is perfect for outdoor environments. There are three main types of metal used in backyard furniture and other items: aluminum, steel, and iron.
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Aluminum is one of the most popular outdoor furniture materials due to its light weight (making it easier to move around than other metals), high strength and durability, and low cost and maintenance. There are two aluminum varieties that you typically find in outdoor furniture: extruded aluminum (also called hollow or tubular aluminum) and cast aluminum (a solid piece of aluminum).
Moisture: Aluminum is naturally resistant to corrosion in most environments (rust is a form of corrosion for steel and iron). However, if you are planning on using aluminum furniture or equipment near saltwater environments or pools, it is recommended that you use powder-coated aluminum. Saltwater and chlorine can corrode aluminum (the corrosion will appear white or gray).
Sun & Heat: The sun won’t affect the durability of the aluminum, so it is safe to use in direct and constant UV light exposure. The only caveat, like any metal, is that aluminum can get hot to the touch from long durations in the sun. On the other hand, aluminum is known to quickly cool off when moved into the shade.
Wind: One of the excellent properties of aluminum is that it is a lightweight metal, which allows it to be easily moved. However, this can be a problem in high wind areas because aluminum furniture may be moved by wind, especially extruded aluminum. Cast aluminum may be more resistant to movement from the wind.
Durability: Aluminum is a very durable material: it is tough to dent and bend (cast aluminum more so than extruded aluminum), and it won’t chip or crack.
Maintenance: Aluminum needs very little care. At most, you will need mild soap and water to clean off dirt and dust. If the aluminum is powder coated (and many forms of outdoor furniture and equipment will be powder coated), then your furniture will be nearly ‘set and forget’ from a maintenance perspective.
Steel is a commonly used material for outdoor furniture and other items in your backyard. When considering steel as a material in your backyard, you will primarily find two types of steel: galvanized steel and stainless steel. These types are heavier than aluminum but are very versatile and reliable outdoor materials that you can use in many design options.
Moisture: Stainless steel and galvanized steel are both designed to resist rust and corrosion. However, that doesn’t mean these metals will last forever, especially in some environments. Saltwater and pool chlorine can cause stainless steel and galvanized steel to corrode, leading to rusting. Additionally, high humidity environments and situations in which the material is constantly wet can hasten the corrosion of galvanized steel. As a result, it is recommended to choose metals that have been powder coated for enhanced resistance to corrosion.
Sun & Heat: Long duration of exposure to sunlight will not affect the durability of this metal. However, expect steel to become hot to the touch the longer it sits in direct sunlight throughout the day.
Wind: Steel is a heavy material. In some cases, the heavy weight of your steel furniture or equipment may make it burdensome to move. Additionally, this heavy weight of steel makes it resist movement by the wind, and it should be expected to perform well in high wind areas.
Durability: Steel is the strongest metal on this list, and it is very hard to dent, bend, crack, or scratch. This is a hard-wearing metal that is hard to damage.
Maintenance: If stainless steel and galvanized steel are powder coated, you should expect light maintenance to clean away surface dirt and dust. However, non-powder coated metals will require extra care to inspect for corrosion and treat as necessary.
You will typically find iron outdoor furniture and other outdoor items as either wrought iron or cast iron, with the former being more prevalent for outdoor furniture. The main difference between wrought iron and cast iron involves how the metal is made: wrought iron is formed by hand, and cast iron is made in a mold. Each of these types is usually used to make traditional design outdoor furniture and other items.
Moisture: Untreated wrought and cast iron can easily and quickly corrode, which will lead to rusting if not properly cared for (cast iron will rust faster because of a higher carbon content than cast iron). Fortunately, most wrought and cast iron furniture today is sold with protective finishes or powder coating to prevent this metal from rusting.
Sun & Heat: Wrought and cast iron can be left in direct sun without affecting its durability. However, this metal can get very hot and retain this heat for a long time.
Wind: Wrought and cast iron are the heaviest metals listed on this list. Furniture made from iron can be expected to resist movement by the wind.
Durability: This metal is a very durable metal with adequate care. It is tough to dent, bend, crack, or scratch.
Maintenance: Untreated wrought iron requires a high level of care to prevent rusting. If the wrought iron is treated to resist rusting, maintenance can be relatively minimal to ensure that furniture is clean and avoid wear and tear.
As you probably already know, there are many different kinds of wood. Each type has various characteristics which may or may not make a type of wood suitable for use in your backyard furniture. In this section, we will detail some common types that you will regularly find in outdoor furniture.
As a starting point, a critical categorization that helps understand the fundamental properties of different woods is defining a wood type as a ‘hardwood’ and ‘softwood.’ Although there are some exceptions, hardwoods are typically denser and more durable than softwoods. As a result, you will find that a lot of outdoor furniture is made with hardwoods. However, many softwood backyard furniture options can be an excellent choice for you.
Hardwoods are an excellent choice for outdoor furniture due to high densities and natural oils that make these woods naturally weather resistant with little maintenance and a long lifespan. One drawback is that hardwoods have a slower growth rate than softwoods. There are some concerns about sustainably harvesting these woods due to a slower growth rate and high production demand for these woods. If you choose a hardwood, ensure that you select wood sourced from a responsibly managed producer.
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Teak is one of the most popular wood options for outdoor furniture. It is an incredibly strong wood, and its natural oils make it exceptionally weather-resistant, which can make this material a great choice for your backyard furniture. This wood can be comparatively expensive to other material options. Additionally, Teak comes in different grades: A, B, and C. The higher the grade, the more costly but more durable and weather-resistant.
Moisture: The natural oils of teak make it water-resistant, which helps prevent this wood from rotting, decaying, and cracking.
Sun & Heat: Again, teak’s natural oils provide excellent protection from heat and UV rays. The oils prevent the wood from drying out over time which stops the wood from cracking and becoming brittle. The only effect the sun will have on teak will be the change of color from golden brown to gray, if not treated.
Wind: Teak is a dense wood that should withstand most normal winds and wind-related damage.
Durability: Teak is known for being a very durable wood that resists shrinking or swelling, which means this wood will not warp or crack. Additionally, the natural oils help repel insects that could potentially damage the wood. Teak can last up to 50 years.
Maintenance: Teak can be very low maintenance if you don’t mind the wood turning gray. At most, you will need mild soap and water to clean off dust and dirt. However, if you want to retain the natural golden brown color of the wood, you will need to apply special teak oil annually.
Moisture: Ipe is naturally water-resistant due to its natural oils and high density.
Sun & Heat: The natural oils of Ipe help it resist UV and heat damage, preventing the wood from becoming brittle or cracking. Over time, the wood will turn gray if not properly treated. But, the change in color does not equate to decay in the wood.
Wind: The high density of Ipe enables it to withstand high winds better than other woods and allows the wood to resist potential wind damage.
Durability: Given that Ipe is one of the densest woods, it is very resistant to physical damage, especially normal outdoor use. This high density also makes the wood resistant to decay, warping, cracking, and insects. This wood can last up to 40 years.
Maintenance: Like teak and other hardwoods, Ipe can be left alone for many years and will only need an occasional clean to remove dirt and dust. However, if you prefer to retain the natural color of the wood, you will need to apply oil to the wood regularly.
A somewhat lesser-known alternative to the uber-popular teak, shorea shares many similar characteristics as teak and can often be found at a lower price.
Moisture: Like teak, the natural oils of shorea enable this wood to be water-resistant and prevent decay and rotting.
Sun & Heat: Shorea is known for actually having increased strength and flexibility when exposed to heat. However, if left untreated, this wood will become gray over its lifetime in the sun.
Wind: As a hardwood, shorea is known for its high density, allowing the wood to resist movement by typical winds.
Durability: This highly dense and hard wood is very durable in outdoor environments. This wood is resistant to decay, warping, and insects. However, shorea is susceptible to slight checking as it ages.
Maintenance: Like most hardwoods, shorea is very easy to maintain and usually only needs mild soap and water to clean. However, if you want to prevent the wood from turning gray, you must treat it with oil to retain its original color.
Popular for its warm, reddish color and even grain, Mahogany is a common choice for outdoor and indoor furniture. This hardwood has many characteristics as other hardwoods, making it an excellent choice for outdoor use.
Moisture: The density of the wood and natural oils of mahogany allow the wood to be a natural repellent of moisture, which helps prevent moisture-caused rot and decay.
Sun & Heat: Like other hardwoods, mahogany will not crack or become brittle due to heat and sun. However, the wood can lose its color if continuously exposed to the sun for long periods without treatment.
Wind: The high density of mahogany should allow it to resist movement during typical winds.
Durability: Mahogany is a very durable and hard-wearing wood due to its high density. This wood is not known to shrink, expand, warp, or crack. Additionally, it naturally repels insects.
Maintenance: Like other hardwoods, this can be a low-maintenance wood if you don’t mind your wood turning gray over time. However, if you want to protect the natural color of the wood, you will need to apply oil to the wood regularly.
Acacia is another durable hardwood. At a glance, this wood can be confused with teak because it has a similar golden brown color. This is a sustainable wood because it is prevalent worldwide, making it less expensive than some other hardwoods.
Sun & Heat: This wood will dry out, warp, and crack if in constant direct sunlight or near a heat source (e.g., outdoor heater, firepit, or even a hot drink placed directly on the wood) for long durations. Additionally, sun and heat exposure will lead to discoloration.
Wind: Even though there are many types of acacia, all types are high density which typically makes this wood type a good choice in typical wind environments.
Durability: This is a very durable wood resistant to scratching and cracking from normal backyard wear and tear. If properly cared for, Acacia can last several decades.
Maintenance: Unlike other hardwoods, extra care needs to be applied to this wood. Regular oiling or waxing will be required to negate any moisture issues your backyard environment might create for this wood. Additionally, you may need to rotate your furniture regularly if it is out in the sun so that one side does not discolor faster than another (if it is not properly treated for UV resistance). Also, any spills from alcohol, nail polish, and silicone-based products can draw moisture out of the wood, which will cause it to dry out and crack. So, you will need to clean up these types of spills quickly.
White Oak is a very sturdy and comparatively inexpensive wood. It has natural water resistance; however, regular maintenance is required to ensure the durability of the wood.
Sun & Heat: If white oak is properly sealed or painted, this hardwood should be able to sustain sun and heat comparably to other hardwoods.
Wind: The high density of this wood lends it to resist moving during normal wind conditions.
Durability: Although white oak is a dense wood, it is not as naturally oily as other popular hardwoods used for furniture. Therefore, it needs to be painted or sealed to maintain its durability for the life of the furniture.
Maintenance: White oak needs to be painted or sealed with regular maintenance to extend the durability of the wood
Unlike other hardwoods usually known for a slower growth rate, eucalyptus trees are fast-growing hardwood with many of the same weather resistance and durability properties as other hardwoods. Additionally, this hardwood may be a cheaper option than others like teak.
Moisture: Eucalyptus’s density and natural oils provide some natural water resistance to the wood, but it can shrink or swell due to excessive moisture. As a result, regular sealant application is recommended to ensure high water resistance for the life of the furniture.
Sun & Heat: This wood, like other hardwoods, is not susceptible to cracking or becoming brittle in the sun. However, eucalyptus can lose its color over time due to extensive UV exposure.
Wind: The high density of eucalyptus should prevent the furniture from moving during regular winds.
Durability: The oils and density of eucalyptus make this a durable wood but not as hard-wearing as others like teak. It is recommended that a sealant is regularly applied to this wood to extend the durability of the wood.
Maintenance: Unlike other hardwoods, a regular application of a sealant is recommended to ensure pest and water resistance.
Softwoods are typically faster-growing trees that allow softwood material to be in higher supply and at a lower cost than hardwoods. This higher growth rate and availability usually carry a lower concern about sustainable harvesting. You will likely find these materials in limited use for some outdoor chairs, benches, and tables.
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Known for its distinct aroma, cedar is a popular choice for inexpensive and lightweight furniture. Ideally, this wood should be treated to handle constant outdoor conditions.
Moisture: Cedar does not tend to crack when exposed to rain and moisture and is naturally rot-resistant
Sun & Heat: This can be a brittle wood, and leaving this wood type in constant UV ray exposure could hasten this wood’s aging process, causing it to become more brittle.
Wind: As a softwood, cedar is relatively light weight and thus susceptible to movement from some winds.
Durability: Cedar is a durable, lightweight wood that can last years without any maintenance. Additionally, this wood is naturally resistant to several types of insects and termites.
Maintenance: As stated above, this wood can go untreated and last for years. However, painting or sealing the wood can extend the useful life of cedar furniture.
This is a popular softwood option for outdoor furniture known for its knot-free grain pattern and light brown to reddish natural color. Ideally, this wood should be treated to handle constant outdoor conditions.
Moisture: The natural oils in cypress wood make it naturally water and rot-resistant, more so than cedar.
Sun & Heat: Like other softwoods, caution should be used when placing cypress-made furniture in direct sunlight for extended periods of time. Sun and heat can speed up the aging process and make this wood more susceptible to degradation.
Wind: Since cypress is a lightweight wood, caution should be used when considering this wood in high wind areas.
Durability: The natural oils in this wood provide a natural insect resistance, which helps extend the useful life of cypress furniture.
Maintenance: Like cedar, this wood can be left alone and last for years. However, regularly treating the wood can help extend the life of cypress furniture.
Synthetic Resins and Plastics
You may come across the terms synthetic resins and plastic as you research outdoor furniture and equipment, and it may be confusing as to the difference. Synthetic resins are artificially synthesized polymeric materials. Synthetic resins are the main components of plastics – additional fillers are added with these resins to make plastics. Given that resins are the primary building blocks of plastic, plastic will typically be referred to by its polymeric material name. These materials can offer stylish, long-lasting products at inexpensive costs. However, some types of these materials perform better than others for backyard furniture and other items.
PE / LDPE
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High Density Polyethylene (HDPE)
HDPE is one of the most durable plastic materials that you will find for outdoor furniture. Due to its high performance outdoors, this material usually carries a premium price compared to other plastics. If you are looking for a material that performs well in all climates and weather conditions, you should consider furniture made from this material.
Moisture: HDPE is a nonporous material which means that it is very resilient against moisture, mold, and mildew. Additionally, if this material does get wet, it is relatively quick drying.
Sun & Heat: HDPE is typically made with a UV treatment which enables it to withstand fading from long periods of exposure to the sun. Also, the color of HDPE is dyed all the way through the material, so HDPE will not discolor.
Wind: This is a ‘high density’ material, so you should expect this plastic to be heavier than other plastics. However, the actual weight, and resistance to movement by the wind, depends on how the furniture piece was designed and manufactured. When this material is used to make wicker furniture, you will often find aluminum used as an inner frame for the wicker to make it more resilient against the wind.
Durability: As the name describes, HDPE is a high-density material and is thus much harder compared to other materials. This high durability means it is harder to damage. Additionally, since HDPE is colored all the way through during the dying process, the color will appear the same if your furniture does get scratched or cracked.
Maintenance: Mild soap and water will be all you will usually need to clean this furniture, especially since HDPE is stain resistant.
Polyethylene (PE) / Low Density Polyethylene (LDPE)
PE is commonly listed as the material used for many different types of outdoor wicker furniture. You may find products listed as “PE Rattan” or “PE Wicker.” (If you don’t know what these materials are, check out our post to find out what PE Rattan or PE Wicker really mean) It is a safe assumption that the “PE” used for this furniture is likely LDPE.
Moisture: Like HDPE, PE is well-known as a water-resistant material that will resist mold and mildew.
Sun & Heat: Although PE is well suited for the outdoors, it is prone to fade if left in direct sunlight for extended periods of time.
Wind: This is a lightweight material that can move in high winds. Aluminum or stainless steel are generally used as an inner frame to make PE wicker furniture sturdier.
Durability: PE is a good durable material for backyard use. However, since PE has a low density, this material is more susceptible to damage from normal backyard wear and tear. If this material does get scratched, torn, or it cracks, you will likely see a different color in the material as the color of PE is not consistent throughout the plastic like it is for HDPE.
Maintenance: Mild soap and water are typically all that is needed to clean PE furniture. However, this material is more susceptible to staining, cracking, and breaking. So, additional care is required to maintain the original condition.
Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC)
You may recognize this material from its everyday use for plumbing pipes. When used in outdoor furniture, PVC provides weather-resistant characteristics; however, it is a lower grade material than other plastics. You may find this material used in combination with another plastic to provide additional durability and weather-resistance.
Sun & Heat: This plastic should last reasonably well in the sun and heat. However, extended exposure to direct sunlight could lead to fading. Additionally, this material can be very hot to the touch if left in the sun for a long time.
Wind: Like other plastics, PVC is a lightweight material, and care should be used in windy conditions if the PVC material is not adequately secured.
Durability: PVC is a relatively sturdy material but is a lower grade plastic and is, therefore, more prone to cracking, tearing, and scratching over time.
Maintenance: PVC will require a low amount of regular maintenance and cleaning. But, given the durability concerns with this material, PVC may require extra care to ensure that cracks, tears, or scratches do not result in more extensive damage to the furniture.
PP is another popular choice for outdoor furniture and shares similar weather-resistant properties as other plastics. Like PVC above, you may find this used with another plastic or on another material to enhance the durability or weather-resistance of the product.
Sun & Heat: PP can withstand extreme heat, making this a great choice if you plan to leave the furniture in direct sunlight. Additionally, the color of the plastic is usually embedded within the plastic, which enables PP to resist fading like other plastics.
Wind: Like other plastics, this lightweight material can be moved by windy conditions.
Durability: PP is a very durable material but is susceptible to damage from normal backyard wear and tear, and it may degrade faster than some grades of polyethylene.
Maintenance: Minimal maintenance is required to keep PP furniture clean and serviceable. However, extra care may be necessary for any cracks or scratches.
Recycled plastics have become a trendy choice for backyard furniture over the past several years. As the name implies, this material is made from recycled plastic containers and other objects. More often than not, Recycle Plastics used for outdoor furniture will be made out of HDPE. As a result, this material has excellent weather resistance and durability and can be molded into many different styles.
Moisture: This material, like non-recycled plastics, is very water, mold, and mildew resistant.
Sun & Heat: Like HDPE, recycled plastic receives a UV treatment during production, which helps the furniture resist fading from the sun. Additionally, the color of the material is introduced in the production of recycled plastic. Therefore, the color is consistent throughout the material.
Wind: Like HDPE detailed above, the wind resistance of this material depends on the design and manufacture of the furniture piece. Generally, this is a heavier plastic and should perform better against movement by the wind compared to other plastics.
Durability: Recycled plastics are highly durable and generally do not crack, stain, or break like other plastics may.
Maintenance: Generally, all that is needed to clean and maintain recycled plastics is mild soap and water.
Although metal, wood, and plastics are the typical materials used for outdoor furniture frames and other items, there are several other choices that you may find when looking for different items.
Concrete & Stone
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