What Is Rattan and How Is It Different to Wicker?

Rattan is one of the best materials for outdoor garden furniture out there. It's tough, flexible, and looks great. Plenty of people think because rattan has a more conservative, simpler look, that it’s not stylish. The fact of the matter is that rattan is exceptionally versatile and you can dress it up to suit any style.

At the height of the 19th century British Empire, rattan, bamboo, and other tropical styles of furniture were extremely popular. Families who spent time in the tropics or other Asian countries often returned to England with their rattan furnishings and it even made its way to the United States in the early 20th century.

But what is rattan and why is it such a popular choice for garden furniture? What makes it different or better than wood or metal? And do you know the difference between rattan and wicker?

Let's dive into this and take a look.

What’s the Difference? Rattan vs Wicker

Rattan and wicker are two words that are often used interchangeably, but they are both unique to each other. For example, plenty of people think that rattan furniture is the same as wicker furniture, especially for outdoor garden sets. We can understand the confusion because the differences don't seem so stark at first glance.

Let's look at the differences.

What Is Rattan?

Rattan is a specific species of plant that grows in areas like Africa, Australia, and Asia. It particularly likes tropical regions and is a vine-like plant that, when appropriately treated, can be woven into various shapes. This happens by peeling the skin away, which gives us a flexible but sturdy material.

Though the skin is largely used for weaving, the core of the plant can also be used to build other types of furniture.

There are also over 600 species of Rattan, and because of its strong and fibrous characteristics, it's particularly popular as a material for garden furniture. It's flexible, lightweight, durable, and, most importantly, appealing to look at. The only problem is that rattan stalks don't grow back when they're cut.

This basically means that rattan is not necessarily a sustainable source of material, but we'll touch on how the industry is working on solutions for that in a moment.

What Is Wicker?

Wicker is essentially a style of weaving. It's not a material in and of itself. It's been used for thousands of years to make chests, baskets, and boxes, and has even been found in the tombs of pharaohs. Though it's been around for ages, it's grown in popularity over the last century because of the Arts and Crafts movement.

It's a method which produces particularly strong objects and it looks good in the home. Traditionally, wicker is made of woven fibres, but we have used synthetic resins in more recent times to create the same weaves.

They’re Not the Same!

So the difference between Rattan and wicker is clear. Rattan is a material, and wicker is a style of weaving. You may find plenty of cases where Rattan is woven using a wicker style. Something like a wicker, rattan weave, for example, is a popular choice for many gardens.

They're both used most commonly for outdoor furniture, particularly because Rattan is easy to maintain and really affordable. That being said, there are plenty of great indoor options for both the style and material. For example, we can wrap Rattan around the furniture to create a modern and contemporary feel, or work with it to enhance the vintage beauty of an item.

While wicker is popular in furniture design, because of how it's woven, and the fact that it can come in many types of material, it can be difficult to clean, and some of the other material options are not as durable as Rattan, especially when we begin to consider synthetic Rattan.

The Difference Between Natural and Synthetic Rattan

So we mentioned already that Rattan is not a plant that regrows once cut, which can be a problem, especially because it is gaining in popularity once more. However, the industry has embraced synthetic Rattan, which kills two birds with one stone. The first is that synthetic Rattan is arguably more durable than natural Rattan, but also because, though it's manufactured, is a more sustainable choice.

Real rattan may not actually fair that well in UK weather since it can be very wet and a bit unpredictable. Synthetic rattan aims to improve on this. In using furniture materials like PU, PE, and PVC, manufacturers can create a product that is both highly durable and feels like the real deal. Not only that, the manufacturing process helps drive down costs, helping you save money.

In terms of materials, PE is the hardest wearing and is often used in synthetic rattan. It offers great protection against UV, so colours don't fade as easily while sitting out in the sunshine, and it can withstand English weather better than its counterparts. That being said, real rattan is a great material for a conservatory, since it will stay out of the rain.

Though you'll be hard-pressed to find many people selling (or buying) real rattan in the UK since synthetic rattan is a better choice of furniture year-round. And, when treated right, it'll last you years or even decades. Rattan is also more comfortable than wood or metal, is often cheaper, and can withstand changeable weather conditions more readily.

Caring for Rattan

Speaking of treating it right, how do you actually go about caring for rattan? Synthetic rattan could last you as much as 20 years, even if left out during the winter (which we don't recommend). Even though real rattan can have some level of weather resistance to it, it'll still become fragile in the sun over time, and start to rot when exposed to too much water. That's a hard thing to get away from in England.

Synthetic rattan is completely water-resistant and easy to clean and maintain, but a little extra love will go a long way. Here are a few ideas for keeping your outdoor rattan furniture looking new and fresh for years to come.

Furniture Covers

One of the best things you can do to improve the longevity of your outdoor rattan furniture is to invest in some high-quality furniture covers. The best covers are made of polyester with a PVC backing and water-proofed seams. As this type of material is both breathable and showerproof, it's ideal for furniture made of rattan.

Cover your furniture during winter, and whenever you expect extended periods of rain.

Store Cushions Away

Cushions add an extra dimension to rattan furniture. While not necessary, cushions provide an added layer of comfort to help you enjoy the afternoon sun. They're an additional layer of protection, keeping your weave safe from keys and cellphones in pockets, or other sharp objects like pens and zips, which could poke or scratch into the weave and damage it.

They also help disperse the pressure of someone sitting on the weave, which places less overall stress on the material. Most outdoor cushions may be described as showerproof and not necessarily waterproof. This means if they get too wet, they can start to mould and discolour, which will affect the rattan underneath.

When you're expecting a proper deluge, store the cushions away and leave them to dry. If they do get wetter than expected, remove them from the chairs and leave them in the sun to dry completely.

Avoid Direct Exposure to UV

While synthetic rattan is certainly UV resistant, you'll increase its lifespan by minimizing its exposure to harmful UV. The same sun power that burns our skin might bleach and weaken the material of your furniture sets over extended periods of time. This is true for synthetics but is exactly the same for real rattan.

The best course of action is to make sure the furniture is seeing some shade throughout the day. This is especially critical when your rattan furniture is not in use.

Rotate the Chairs

Where you can't avoid having furniture in the sun, move the chairs around every now and then. Sometimes you just can't avoid putting a piece in an area that gets more sun than the rest. Simply rotate the chairs around, like you would the tyres of your car, and you'll help extend the life of your entire rattan garden furniture set.

Move Furniture Properly

One of the major benefits of rattan is that it's light and sturdy, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't handle your furniture with care. If you're too reckless with the furniture, you can still damage the woven material. All you need to do to prevent this is to pick up the furniture by its frames, not on any woven panels.

Additionally, the help of an extra person can make moving your rattan furniture easier. Garden furniture is generally quite bulky and awkward to manoeuvre so having two people lift your furniture will minimise the risk of damaging it.

Using Rattan in Your Back Garden

Understanding the difference between rattan and other garden material options is important, especially if you're looking at investing in a garden furniture set that's going to last you for years to come. And no longer will you need to ask, "what is rattan?" You should now be able to make a purchase in confidence that you know what you are buying and how to look after it.

The types of furniture you choose don't matter, rattan will work for them all. So why not come and see what we have available? We've got styles to suit every taste, budget, and space.

Cookies in GardenFurnitureSets

We use cookies to give you the best experience with us and track our marketing. You are free to manage cookies via your browser settings at any time (Allow/Remove). By continuing to use the site you confirm are happy with our privacy policy.