If you are looking at buying metal outdoor furniture, the two metals you will likely find are steel and aluminum. But you may be thinking, which one is the right material for your backyard?
Metal frame outdoor furniture can look great in any backyard, and many brands produce a wide array of metal furniture options in different styles. But there are some key differences between the two common types of metal patio furniture (steel and aluminum) that you need to know before you buy.
Here we compare the two materials, so you can decide which one is best for you.
Read on below to learn more!
Steel and aluminum are both used to make great patio furniture. Aluminum’s natural rust resistance is a key reason that it is used in higher-quality outdoor furniture. Plus, aluminum is easy to work with than steel, which is why you will find this metal used in various styles of premium outdoor furniture. Finally, aluminum is lighter than steel which makes aluminum furniture easier to move around in your backyard.
Alternatively, steel is stronger than aluminum which gives it an advantage in durability in that it is harder to bend, break, or scratch. Although this steel is usually treated with a protective coating to prevent rusting (e.g., powder coating) or has natural rust resistance (stainless steel), steel can eventually rust over time.
In all, we think these are two great metals for outdoor furniture, and you are sure to find the perfect outdoor furniture item made from steel or aluminum for you and your budget.
Steel is a great material for outdoor furniture because it has several characteristics that make it ideal for patio furniture, and numerous outdoor furniture brands use steel to make great quality outdoor items.
Often you will find that steel patio furniture will be labeled as “Galvanized Steel,” “Stainless Steel,” “Powder-Coated Steel,” or “E-Coated Steel.” These terms refer to different weather-resistant finishes, treatments, or alloys used to enhance the durability of steel to make the metal material last many years outdoors.
Aluminum is an excellent material for patio furniture because it is strong, weather-resistant, and easy to maintain. Additionally, aluminum furniture is typically more affordable than other high-quality materials like teak and some wicker options. You can find outdoor aluminum furniture in many styles to match your needs.
Steel and aluminum are both very strong and durable outdoor materials. This is especially true of stainless steel patio furniture due to stainless steel’s specially designed corrosion resistance and aluminum which is naturally rust-resistant. If cared for properly, metal patio furniture made from aluminum or steel can last a very long time in your backyard.
Aluminum patio furniture is much lighter than steel options, making it easier to move around your backyard or patio. Additionally, aluminum does not rust, so you don’t have to worry about corrosion with this material as you do with steel. However, we have found that steel furniture is usually lower priced than aluminum furniture, so you may find more affordable patio furniture made with steel.
One of the greatest concerns about using metal outdoors is that the metal will eventually corrode and rust. Fortunately, aluminum is naturally rust-resistant, so you will not experience any unsightly rust stains from aluminum outdoor furniture.
Aluminum can still corrode (especially when exposed to salt water and chlorine), however, which is why you will find that this material on outdoor patio furniture will often be powder-coated.
Steel, on the other hand, will rust when exposed to moisture and humidity. This is why outdoor furniture made with steel will be labeled as “Galvanized Steel,” “Powder-Coated Steel,” or “E-Coated Steel,” which are treatments and finishes that can be added to steel (yes, stainless steel can be powder coated or e-coated) to prevent rust and corrosion. Stainless steel is an alloy of steel that is specially designed to be corrosion resistant.
However, under the right conditions, steel and stainless steel with these protective coatings can still rust.
So, opt for aluminum if you want a material that will not rust. Additionally, make sure your outdoor metals are powder-coated.
Sun & Heat
Winner: Slight edge to aluminum
Another consideration for metal patio furniture is how the material will withstand harsh sunlight and heat.
Both aluminum and steel patio furniture should not degrade from exposure to sun and UV rays. However, over time, UV exposure may degrade powder-coating and e-coating on these metals, which may, in turn, may reduce the weather resistance of the metal.
The one difference is that steel will generally be hotter to the touch than aluminum if the metal is left out in the sun. This is because aluminum disperses heat better than steel. Additionally, aluminum will cool down faster than steel too.
But, always be cautious when touching any metal surface outdoors, especially during those extremely hot days of summer.
Winner: Slight edge to steel
Aluminum and steel are both very strong materials. But steel is a stronger material than aluminum. As a result, steel furniture is often hard to dent, bend, stretch, or break. Thus, steel patio furniture is generally stronger than aluminum patio furniture, and this is true for cast aluminum furniture, which is a solid piece of metal (compared to extruded aluminum which is generally hollow aluminum outdoor furniture).
But the difference in strength between the two metals is slight when comparing outdoor furniture needs. Both metals are very strong and durable materials, and these outdoor metal furniture materials should last many years in your outdoor space if adequately cared for.
If you properly care for both of these materials, you should expect your steel or aluminum patio furniture to last up to 15 or 20 years. But, this can depend on the protective coating quality and your use of your metal furniture year-round.
Maintenance & Care
Winner: Slight edge to aluminum
Outdoor metal patio furniture requires very little maintenance and can be easily cleaned with soap and water.
To clean your outdoor aluminum or steel furniture, simply mix some mild dish soap with warm water and use a soft cloth to wipe down the furniture’s surface. You may also use a garden hose to rinse off the soap and dirt.
Do not use any harsh cleaning chemicals on metal outdoor furniture, as this will degrade any powder coating, e-coating, or other protective treatments. A degradation in these protective coatings could result in corrosion of the steel or aluminum patio furniture, which will require some extra care to prevent or correct any corrosion.
However, the key difference here is that aluminum will not rust, which means that it will be less of a concern about fixing or preventing unsightly rust spots or stains.
If you are looking for eco-friendly patio furniture, you will be happy to know that aluminum and steel are infinitely recyclable materials.
This means that when your metal patio furniture finally reaches the end of its lifespan, you can simply recycle it and use the material to create new patio furniture or other products.
So, when it comes to eco-friendly patio furniture, you really can’t go wrong with either steel or aluminum patio furniture.
We constantly review the prices of many outdoor furniture items, and our latest findings are compiled in our recent outdoor furniture pricing analysis. Our review found that steel outdoor furniture was consistently priced at lower price points than aluminum.
Of course, there are always exceptions to this rule, as the price of patio furniture can vary greatly depending on the style, type, and features of the furniture. But, in general, steel patio furniture is going to be more budget-friendly than aluminum patio furniture.
We all expect our patio furniture to handle the outdoor weather conditions during the spring and summer months. But what about the colder months during the fall and winter?
While steel and aluminum can likely last in cold conditions year in and year out without much concern, freezing conditions, snow, and ice can potentially degrade the protective coatings on these metals.
We recommend that you store or cover steel and aluminum furniture during the winter when you are not using this furniture to avoid any damage.
If you are looking for a piece of furniture that can be easily moved, aluminum patio furniture should be your choice. Aluminum is known as a lighter material than steel, all things being equal.
However, if you need a piece of furniture than can resist movement from strong winds, steel might be the better choice. Or you can opt for cast aluminum furniture, which is generally a solid piece of aluminum, compared to extruded aluminum, which is a hollow metal frame.
So, which is better – steel or aluminum patio furniture? These are both great outdoor materials. But we do prefer aluminum over steel given that it won’t rust, is very durable, is lightweight, and is often used to make more stylish furniture.
But, if you are looking for the most affordable, yet durable, patio furniture option, then steel patio furniture would likely be the better choice.