Pros and cons of the best materials for outdoor furniture

Get the lowdown on the best materials for outdoor furniture so you can choose the right style and design for your patio set

Garden furniture sest under a pergola with climbing flowers
(Image credit: OKA)

Researching the best materials for outdoor furniture is key when buying a new patio set for your outdoor space. Whether you have a vast space suitable for a luxurious sofa or dining table and chairs, or a small patio just big enough for a foldaway bistro set, it's important to know what to expect from the different options out there so you can make sure you're choosing the right material option for your needs.

It's important to think about what you will be using your outdoor furniture for, where it will be stored and how easy it is to maintain. There are plenty of different material options to choose from including different types of wood for a traditional set, long lasting metal designs, classic rattan or eco-friendly products made from recycled materials. 

As well as the overall style, you'll also need to consider the maintenance requirements of your chosen material, especially if you don't have somewhere to store your furniture over winter to protect it from bad weather. Also consider the weight as lighter furniture is more susceptible to blow over in strong winds, whereas something heavy and sturdy will stay in place. 

To help you make the right choice when buying the best garden furniture, our handy guide will talk you through the pros and cons of some of the most common materials used.

Make a smart choice when considering the best materials for outdoor furniture

Whether it's price, aesthetics or durability which are most important to you when making updating your garden furniture ideas (or indeed a mixture of all three), our guide to the best materials for outdoor furniture will help you to select the right style.  

Teak

Teak wood furniture set from Bridgeman

Henley Glass and teak dining table with six chairs fromBridgman

(Image credit: Bridgeman)

One of the most common materials for outdoor furniture is teak as it is naturally weather-resistant thanks to the oils within the wood. It's a smart choice if you're searching for the best wooden garden furniture as it can be left out in all seasons and takes on a lovely silvery patina over time. Due to its durable qualities teak furniture can be expensive, but it will last a long time if cared for properly. 

Twice a year your garden table and chairs should be scrubbed with a brush and warm soapy water in the direction of the grain before hosing down to wash away any debris. If you have any stubborn stains they can be sanded out easily. 

When buying teak furniture, check with the supplier that it has been sourced from sustainable forests which encourage reforestation.

Pros of teak outdoor furniture

  • Long lasting material
  • Naturally weather resistant
  • Weathers to a beautiful silver color
  • Easy to maintain

Cons of teak outdoor furniture

  • Expensive to buy
  • Color fading may not be to everyone's taste
  • Needs regular maintenance
  • Can warp over time

Acacia

Indoor/outdoor acacia dining set on a decked patio

(Image credit: Cox & Cox)

The renowned water-resistant qualities of acacia once attracted the attention of the Royal Navy who used it for ship building during the 18th-century, but now it is more commonly used as one of the best materials for outdoor furniture thanks to its durable qualities. 

It can last decades so it's a good choice for a long-lasting furniture set. Like teak, acacia will fade to a silvery grey color as it weathers but you can use an oil or stain to retain the golden brown shade. 

Knowing how to clean garden furniture properly is an important part of maintaining this material. Acacia should be cleaned regularly with soapy, warm water and a soft cloth to keep it in top condition. 

As it's a faster growing species, acacia is a cheaper option than teak and is sustainable. Check that your set has the FSC stamp of approval when buying.

Pros of acacia outdoor furniture

  • Long lasting
  • Attractive finish
  • Good water resistance
  • Attractive grain
  • Fast growing wood

Cons of acacia outdoor furniture

  • Needs regular cleaning
  • Will need oiling to retain the golden color
  • Expensive to buy

Wrought iron

Mosaic bistro garden furniture set

(Image credit: Sue Ryder)

For a sturdy set of garden furniture, wrought iron is a good choice for your patio ideas and being heavy it's not easily blown over unlike many lighter weight materials. It can be liable to rust so ensure your set has been given an anti rust treatment and keep it stored away during the winter months if possible. 

Whether you're going for a full dining set or a couple of smart garden benches, wrought iron is a classic choice for a traditional English garden, with many incorporating decorative designs. 

If maintenance is important to you then a good tip for choosing outdoor furniture is to think about how easy it will be for you to look after it. Wrought iron is easy to clean with warm soapy water, and a small brush can be used to get into hard to reach crevices. 

As a long lasting material, wrought iron products can be more expensive than other types of outdoor furniture.

Pros of wrought iron outdoor furniture

  • Decorative designs
  • Long lasting
  • Sturdy material

Cons of wrought iron outdoor furniture 

  • Needs protecting from rust
  • Can be expensive
  • Can be heavy and difficult to move around
  • Needs cushion pads

Aluminum

two seater outdoor sofa and armchair with matching side table on a decked patio

Cocotte side table; Luxembourg garden trolley/side bar; Bellevie two-seater sofa; Bellevie armchair, all from Furl

(Image credit: Furl)

When it comes to lightweight furniture, aluminum is an ideal option for your outdoor seating ideas as it's easy to move furniture around. 

'Fermob furniture is made of a clever mixture of steel and aluminium, giving it lightness and strength,' says David Norman, director at Furl. 'Aluminum is extremely lightweight and is naturally corrosion resistant, which helps maintain its structure and increase the lifespan.' 

To keep it in top condition, aluminum furniture should either be left outside or stored away somewhere dry with good air circulation. Never leave it under cover as it can cause deterioration of the finish. It's easy to keep clean by washing regularly with soap and warm water. 

'Bird droppings, sap, leaves and other potentially corrosive substances should be cleaned as soon as noticed,' says David. 'To prevent scratches and water retention, we recommend that you do not place decorative objects or flowerpots on tables.'

Pros of aluminum outdoor furniture 

  • Lightweight
  • Can be left outside
  • Strong
  • Easy to clean

Cons of aluminum outdoor furniture

  • Can't be stored under cover
  • Lightweight pieces may be knocked over in extreme weather
  • Needs regular cleaning

Powder coated steel

four seater bistro set from Garden trading

Rive Droite large bistro set in powder coated steel from Garden Trading

(Image credit: Garden Trading)

As stainless steel can be susceptible to rust, a lot of steel based garden furniture is powder coated giving it a protective finish to help protect against rust. Regularly check your furniture for cracks in the coating as these will need fixing to prevent the metal underneath from rusting. It's also a cheaper option than wooden furniture sets like teak. 

Being powder coated means there are lots of colorful garden furniture ideas for this type of furniture, so if you're after something bright and modern to perk up a balcony or patio there are lots of vibrant options to choose from. 

It's also easy to clean with soapy water or can be hosed down and can be left out in winter but storing away in a shed or garage will help protect it against the elements. 

Pros of powder coated steel outdoor furniture

  • Lots of color choices
  • Easy to clean
  • Modern appearance
  • Cheaper than wood

Cons of powder coated steel outdoor furniture

  • The color can fade in UV light on some cheaper products
  • Can be blown over in extreme weather
  • Can rust if cracked

Rattan

rattan outdoor furniture set moda furnishings

(Image credit: Moda Furnishings)

One of the most popular materials for garden sofa and dining sets is rattan for its classic country style. While natural rattan is often used for indoor furniture, PE rattan garden furniture is made from a synthetic Polyethylene resin that is far more durable and requires less maintenance.

'There are different types of weaves to choose from. Flatweave rattan is perhaps one of the most popular choices and one of the cheapest,' says Jonny Brierley, CEO at Moda Furnishings. 'Flatweaves are also lightest, making your furniture much easier to move around and easier to clean. 

'Curved weave is also popular for a more luxurious and traditional appearance. This weave will need more cleaning than a flat weave as dirt can get in the gaps, however, its looser and more flexible style makes it less brittle and and excellent choice for a longer lifespan.' 

Depending on the space you have, PE rattan furniture comes in a range of sizes. From large corner sofas to smaller two piece armchair sets which work well if you're on the lookout for options for a small patio.

PE rattan is also UV and frost resistant which means they can be left outside all year round. Covering rattan furniture (without cushions) gives it that extra bit of protection from leaves and bird droppings when they're not being used. 

When buying PE rattan furniture, aluminium frames are better quality than steel which can rust. Powder coated aluminium frames can be left out in all weathers without any deterioration.

Pros of rattan outdoor furniture

  • Durable and long lasting
  • Can be covered to protect from garden debris

Cons of rattan outdoor furniture

  • Aluminium frames can be expensive
  • Curved weaves are more difficult to clean

Recycled plastic

Outdoor furniture set made with recycled plastic

(Image credit: Eden Project Shop)

Some of the best materials for outdoor furniture can be eco-friendly too. Recycled plastic, for example, can be used to make durable and low maintenance furniture. 

The Nassau range (pictured) has extreme weather resistance and can be completely recycled at the end of its life, while every Nassau chair is made from the equivalent of 175 recycled plastic bottles, with each chair directly contributing to vulnerable communities supported by Plastic Bank. 

'Plastic Bank builds ethical recycling ecosystems in vulnerable coastal communities and reprocesses the materials for reintroduction into the global manufacturing supply chain as Social Plastic,' says Paul Cohen, sales director at LifestyleGarden. 'The company empowers disadvantaged communities and helps them to transcend inequality by providing an opportunity to collect and monetise plastic waste.' 

It's easy to clean recycled plastic furniture with just soap and water thanks to the smooth surface, making it a low maintenance choice.

Pros of recycled plastic outdoor furniture

  • Environmentally friendly
  • Durable
  • Low maintenance
  • Recyclable

Cons of recycled plastic outdoor furniture

  • Can be expensive
  • May be blown over in extreme weather

What is the best material for outdoor tables?

Aside from a wrought iron design, teak is one of the most popular materials for garden table ideas thanks to the material's durability. As long as they are properly cared for, teak furniture will last for years taking on a silvery patina as it ages. The wood has natural oils which prevent rotting and any stains can easily be sanded out. 

large teak table and chairs on a patio with a swimming pool and greenhouse in the background

(Image credit: Jo Alexander)

What type of outdoor furniture is the most durable?

Wrought iron furniture is one of the most durable materials when it is sealed to prevent rusting. It's heavy duty so it's not easily blown over in windy weather and with some care and attention it can last a lifetime. Check your furniture for rust and flakey paint and repaint when necessary with a specialist paint like Hammerite Direct to Rust metal paint, available from Amazon.

Amy Hodge
Amy Hodge

Amy has always loved spending time outdoors and since moving to the countryside a few years ago, she’s become a keen gardener. In her spare time she has slowly been transforming her garden, building a dedicated fruit and veg plot and a seating area overlooking the local fields. She has learnt lots of new skills along the way and enjoys growing her own fruit and vegetables. Amy is a freelance journalist with over 16 years experience writing for consumer magazines and websites, writing on everything from gardens and interiors, to tech and food.