Outdoor wicker has received a new lease on life with man-made fiber construction that withstands wide temperature fluctuations, assault by salt-laden ocean air, high humidity and arid desert winds. This tough material still manages to retain an upscale look with texturing and weaves that mimic natural rattan. It remains a fact that rattan is the ultimate in beautifully exotic furnishings, but it will never last long outdoors without protection, and it should always come inside during the winter. On the other hand, man-made wicker, often referred to as synthetic or resin wicker, can remain outside through the worst seasons with few precautions.
Synthetic/Resin Wicker Definition
While PVC (poly vinyl chloride) plastic is well recognized as an outdoor choice in furnishings, this material does not last very long. With exposure to sun and the elements, it soon begins to tear and lose strength while colors will fade or scratch off. Still a popular choice today because it is economical, PVC for quality outdoor furniture is never a wise investment.
Premium and long-lasting wicker products available today are made from polyethylene, or PE. Some products are listed as HDPE, or high-density polyethylene. Polypropylene is an inferior alternative to PE, but is still a stronger product than PVC. When shopping for wicker furniture, PE is the premium choice.
Manufacturing and Properties of Synthetic Wickers
Polyethylene, while still considered a plastic, has come a long way in safety and durability. The complicated chemical process begins with crude oil that is heated until ethylene is released. In its minute gas form, ethylene particles bind together to produce the pulp-like polyethylene. As the pulp is extruded through plates, it forms small granules similar to hail. In this form, it can be shipped to various manufacturing plants where the granules can then can be transformed into a vast variety of flexible or hard-structured products.
During the manufacturing process, other infusions are added in the making of resin wicker. These include UV inhibitors to reduce fading along with color dyes that are fused all the way through. Newer PE wicker fibers also feature textured surfacing with color variations to mimic the natural characteristics of rattan.
Resin wicker is also extremely flexible and resilient, adding to its comfort enhancements in seating. While providing a firm base, outdoor wicker furniture often includes cushions shored by woven under-supports. Other properties that make resin wicker a smart outdoor choice include the fact that materials will not absorb water, have no attraction for insects and will never develop mildew.
Maintenance is minimal, involving an occasional rinsing from a water hose. Due to the lightweight nature of outdoor wicker, furniture and accessory pieces should be secured in some way to protect from lift in high winds.
One final precaution for outdoor resin wicker involves cold weather. The fibers can stiffen in extremely cold temperatures, which make them susceptible to cracking under pressure. Cover furniture during the winter months, if possible, or at least avoid sitting on or subjecting pieces to any type of abuse until materials have had a chance to warm to their intended resilience.
Aluminum Framing Makes Resin Wicker Even Tougher
Framing is just as important when it comes to placing furniture outdoors. Resin wicker pieces typically utilize aluminum framing as an under structure. Completely wrapped in synthetic fibers, aluminum is highly resistant to temperature or weather changes, but it can develop a powdery white coating that will not affect its integrity. Unlike steel, which may eventually rust, it is just as hardy over the long term as its beautiful outer wicker coverings.