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How to Buy Outdoor Patio Furniture

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What is composite recycled outdoor patio furniture?

Recycled plastic patio furniture is increasing in popularity at a very fast pace, and has been referred to by many names. Each company manufactures its own raw material lumber and trademarks their lumber name. Some knock-off brands use these trademarked names as their own in an attempt to bring them into the same category. Think of Band-Aids and Kleenex versus off-brand bandages and tissues. While Band-Aid brand hopes everyone refers to bandages as “Band-Aids” they certainly acknowledge that people refer to off-brands as Band-Aids as well when the quality is not the same at all. Envirowood is a trademarked name for the lumber that Seaside Casual composite furniture is made from. Polywood is a trademarked name reserved only for furniture manufactured by a company named Polywood. It is easy to find other competing companies referring to their furniture as “Polywood” when clearly it was not manufactured in Syracuse, Indiana at the Polywood factory.

Composite lumber is of varying quality. Longevity in the industry is perhaps the best reflection of quality in this market because the product has been tested in multiple climates for so long. Some manufacturers refer to this material as HDPE, or High Density Polyethylene. In this overview, we’ll refer to this furniture as composite.

The first step in the manufacturing process is extrusion. Individual pieces of lumber are made in long lengths then cut. The raw material is recycled plastic, such as milk jugs, water bottles, and detergent bottles. The extrusion is a slow process that results in a consistent finish with no voids and 100% color permeated throughout the material. UV stabilizers are mixed into the solution to further improve color fastness. Foaming agents are added in varying degrees per brand, along with proprietary mixes of polymers and other secret ingredients that differentiate one from another.

Many different shapes and thicknesses of lumber are created to satisfy the wide array of furniture pieces that are manufactured. The design variations are endless. Several colors, from earth tones to vibrant rainbow colors are made, and multiple colors of lumber may be mixed into a single piece.

Composite patio furniture is colored solid throughout, will not crack or peel, does not absorb moisture, doesn’t rot, rust, or corrode, resists mold and fungus, is very easy to clean, and is heavy. It’s manufactured with the intention of leaving it outside year round regardless of weather conditions. While this material was once stereotyped as coastal, or nautical in design, many traditional and contemporary designs are widely available.

The United States recycles a tremendous amount of plastic. The raw materials are plentiful. The longest standing mature manufacturers of composite outdoor patio furniture are found in the United States, one with over 100 years of experience.

  • Anesia St. Clair

Should I be afraid of wicker outdoor patio furniture?

Like many other categories, wicker outdoor patio furniture runs the gamut in terms of quality, price, how it’s made, and what it’s made of. If you want temporary furniture that looks good for a party, it doesn’t matter what you buy. Buy it for it’s design and pretty color. If you want furniture that’s going to last, you need to carefully interrogate what you’re getting before you pay for it.

The word wicker itself is misleading. There are several words used when referring to this type of furniture that are confusing and sometimes inaccurate. It’s a good idea to know a few terms:

Wicker: To bend; the act of weaving. Wicker does not refer to a type of material, but rather what has been done with the material.

Rattan: The name referring to approximately 600 species of palm trees. Rattan furniture would be made from fibrous, strand-like material from these trees. Wicker furniture could be made with rattan. Many times “rattan” furniture is made with reed, cane, seagrass, or bamboo rather than actual stems from a rattan tree. All of these materials are organic.

Vinyl: A synthetic resin or plastic consisting of polyvinyl chloride (PVC) or a related polymer. Vinyl is in powder form before it’s compounded into the material that you see in furniture. During compounding, it’s mixed with various additives and modifiers. How the compounding is done dictates how rigid or flexible the material is, how thick it is, how color fast it is, and how it will react to sun exposure in general.

PVC: Polyvinyl chloride, the world’s third most widely produced synthetic plastic polymer, after polyethylene and polypropylene. PVC is less flexible and elastic than other similar materials. In order for it to be adequately heat resistant for full sun applications, an expensive chlorination process must modify it. PVC is petroleum based and is used in everything from intravenous tubes, underground pipe, flooring, and imitation leather. Exposure to the elements can lead to surface embrittlement and microcracking. PVC carries with it an environmentally unfriendly stigma. Many consumer products today are labeled “PVC Free” to let buyers know that it’s not included in their item.

Polyethylene/Polypropylene: Polyethylene is basically synonymous with plastic, resin, and HDPE (high density polyethylene). There are some technical chemical variances that create different densities and strength of this material. It may be clear, cloudy, or opaque depending on the catalyst used during production. This is a very good type of material to use in the manufacturing of outdoor patio furniture. As with most anything, there are differences in overall quality of polyethylene given the application. For example, would you want clear polyethylene as your base material with a color applied to the surface? No. You would much prefer a product that is opaque and colored all the way through. In other words, all polyethylene patio furniture is not created equal.

Resin: A heat resistant, plastic chemical-based substance that is made from a mold. It begins as a liquid and then hardens. The hardening is irreversible, so there is no concern that resin patio furniture will ever melt in hot sun climates. The word resin is quite general considering it can be derived from petroleum, plants, or insects, and many additives can differentiate one particular resin product from another. You can generically refer to resin as plastic.

Synthetic: Patio furniture is sometimes referred to as synthetic if it’s not made from real rattan, reed, cane, bamboo, grass, or similar plant parts, or metal. Synthetic patio furniture is often used to describe the various plastics

All-Weather Wicker: This is a very general term often used to describe any non-rattan polyethylene, resin, or recycled plastic outdoor furniture. This means it is intended to be used outside without concern for temperature, sun exposure, humidity, rain, salty air, or snow.

Woven: Woven is a newly adopted term that the industry uses to refer to any type of synthetic wicker patio furniture. Since wicker carries with it a connotation of olden days, rattan, sun-fragile furniture that doesn’t hold up well, woven is the new wicker. Customers often say “I don’t want anything wicker” until they start to touch the synthetic woven pieces and discover how durable they are. Then it’s just a matter of style and if they like the more contemporary designs available today. Many people learn to love it once they are comfortable with its durability.

Mixed Media: This term typically means that there are woven panels mixed with aluminum. The piece could be largely woven with aluminum trim, mostly aluminum with woven panels in the seat or back, or a mix of woven chairs and coordinating aluminum tables, or vice versa. Mixing materials within the same set is very popular and attractive. It provides for more versatility in designing an outdoor space that resembles an indoor space. You can even mix materials to help define different spaces, or rooms, within a large space such as a back yard with several sitting areas.

To summarize, wicker furniture is an exciting, versatile category that can be very durable and enjoyed for many years. Real rattan furniture should be considered temporary. It won’t last in the weather. Quality woven outdoor furniture is probably made by hand, and therefore may be more expensive than other sets. If you’re looking at a woven set and it’s inexpensive, it’s probably cheap. It’s made from vinyl, PVC, thin synthetic material, lacking UV stabilizers, the construction may be substandard, and the cushions are probably not Sunbrella. If you’re looking at a high end set, you’ll know it. The quality will be unmistakable. Touch it and examine the materials. You get what you pay for – there really are no shortcuts here.

  • Anesia St. Clair

How much should I expect to pay for patio furniture?

This is the big question, isn’t it?  How much is this going to cost?  The answer to this question varies widely due to several factors.  In short, expect to pay the same amount or more than what you pay for indoor furniture.  Outdoor furniture requires more to prepare it for the elements of sun, heat, wind, cold, dry, and wet extremes.  Here are the main ingredients that contribute to how much patio furniture costs:
What it’s made out of – aluminum, extruded, cast, wrought iron, steel, recycled plastic, composite plastic, woven material (wicker, rattan, resin, polyethylene, synthetic), wood, teak, or a combination of more than one material.
The thickness of the frame material overall as well as the thickness of the interior sidewalls of any legs or tubular pieces.
The type of finish applied to the metal parts – paint, powder coating, hand applied, machine applied, multiple layers, multiple colors, multiple steps.
How heavy it is.
The labor involved in making it.
Assembly required versus it arrives all in one piece.
Where it’s made.
How many times it’s changed hands between the original manufacturing facility and your back yard.
Welding is more expensive than nuts and bolts.
The type of foam used inside the cushions and the fabric used on the outside of the cushions – Sunbrella, Olefin, Phifertex, other.
The amount of UV inhibitors or UV stabilizers that have been used in the material, if any.
Outdoor patio furniture is one of those items where you get what you pay for.  If it’s inexpensive, it is cheap.  Every aspect about how the furniture is made and what materials are in it add up to the price tag.  In the composite recycled plastic patio furniture category, you can see a direct correlation between the ounces of composite in the piece and the price.  The heavier it is, the more expensive it is.  The material is molded and made into lumber, then made into furniture.  Every granule of plastic that’s processed and put into the lumber counts towards dollars in the price.
You can definitely go to any of the big box home improvement stores, membership clubs, or discount retailers and find patio furniture at very low prices.  You might find a dining table and four chairs for $99.  This is temporary, disposable furniture.  We’ve all bought it.  Some cheap furniture is sometimes sold at not-so-cheap prices.  Nice, specialty retailers may blend some very inexpensive imported non-Sunbrella aluminum sets right in with their luxury lines and price them at similar price points.  Some stores mark up more than others.  Some high-end name brands make a very cheap line exclusively for a big box store and consumers naturally assume it must be good because it carries the nice brand name.  It can be tricky to figure it all out.
Generally speaking, a quality cushioned chair will cost between $800 and $2,000.  A quality sofa will cost $1,800 to $3,000.  Look for dining tables between $900 and $2,000 or more.  These can vary quite a bit based on design and size.  Some stone tops can sway the price quite a bit.  You can certainly pay a lot more for each.  Swivel rocking chairs and gliders are slightly more than stationary chairs.  Dining chairs with no cushion or a thin seat cushion will cost $300 to $600 or more.  Chaise loungers range from $600 to $2,000.
Most first time consumers of quality outdoor patio furniture are surprised (and maybe a little confused) by the wide variation in price, and how much they need to spend in order to get quality pieces.  Give yourself a little time to do some research and look at the options.  Allow the reality to set in and budget accordingly.  Once you decide you are buying good patio furniture and you’ve committed your dollars to it, have fun!  There are so many fun styles and colors available.  Take a chance with a bright color or pattern.  Accessorize with accent pillows and a rug.  Look for metal art pieces to compliment it elsewhere in your yard.  If you love the outdoors, it can be your happy place of luxury and enjoyment for many years.
  • Anesia St. Clair

How to clean Sunbrella outdoor patio furniture cushions

Sunbrella fabric is treated with a water and stain repellant when it’s manufactured. Cleaning the fabric may remove this repellant, so a re-treatment of fabric guard is recommended after you clean Sunbrella with any soapy solution.

It is not recommended that you unzip the covers on your cushions and remove the Sunbrella fabric from the inner foam. It is very difficult to get the foam back inside with the corners tightly in place and without creasing or ripping the Dacron that may be wrapped around your foam. Always clean your cushions with the Sunbrella fabric in place.

Preventative Maintenance:

Vacuum your cushions regularly to remove surface dirt and pollen and to prevent it from becoming embedded into the fibers of your Sunbrella fabric. Fine dirt can act as an abrasive substance that tears the threads of the fabric and wears it thin. Once dirt gets through the fabric and into the foam, it needs to be drenched with water and pushed all the way through and out of the cushion.

Dirt on the surface of the fabric can be removed regularly using a quick and easy clean up process. Drench a microfiber towel in water. Use it to wipe the surface of the cushion off. Rinse the rag with clean water and continue to wipe off the surface until dirt no longer appears on the rag.

Bird Droppings:

Remove this as soon as you notice it. Bird droppings are acidic and can cause permanent discoloration. If it’s dried, use a credit card or other hard edge (not a knife) to swipe across it to remove the majority of it. Vacuum the area and spot clean using the cleaning instructions below. If it’s wet, treat it as a new stain using the instructions below.

New Spills and Stains:

Blot with a clean, dry, absorbent cloth or paper towel. Cushions treated with fabric guard may repel the stain completely. If it’s an oil-based stain, apply corn starch from your kitchen pantry to it. Allow the corn starch to absorb the liquid and turn into a crumbly consistency. Use a hard edge such as a credit card to scrape the corn starch off. Vacuum and then proceed to clean.

For non-oily stains and oily stains that have been absorbed with corn starch, spot clean the area. Mix a solution of mild soap and lukewarm water. Use ¼ cup of Dawn dishwashing liquid or Woolite per gallon of water. Put it in a spray bottle and saturate the fabric in the affected area. Use a sponge or very soft bristle brush to work the soap into the stain. Rinse the area with water to clean the soap residue away. Do this by repeatedly wiping the surface with a wet sponge or rag until soap suds are no longer visible. It may be necessary to spray the area with a squirt bottle filled with plain water.

As an alternative and for particularly stubborn stains, use the only stain cleaner officially recommended by Sunbrella: 303 Products Spot Cleaner.

Be aware that cleaning only a spot on the fabric may result in a water ring. It’s best to clean the spot and then clean or at least dampen the overall surface to avoid this.

Overall Dirty Cushions:

Scrape any crusty material off with a credit hard or other hard edge (not a knife). Vacuum the cushions off. Mix a solution of mild soap and lukewarm water. Use ¼ cup of Dawn dishwashing liquid or Woolite per gallon of water. Put it in a spray bottle and spray it over the entire surface. Use a very soft bristle brush to work the soap into the fabric. Rinse the area with water to clean the soap residue away. Do this by repeatedly wiping the surface with a wet sponge or rag until soap suds are no longer visible. It may be necessary to spray the area with a squirt bottle filled with plain water.

If the cushions have been neglected for a long time, if you unzip the Sunbrella fabric and see dirt inside of the fabric and in the foam, or if there is a lot of dirt and it becomes necessary to use a lot of water, consider using a hose during your rinsing. If you have or are going to get dirt through your fabric and into the foam, the goal is to rinse the dirt out of the foam. It will be necessary to apply a large volume of water in order to push the dirt through and out the other side. You do not want to trap dirt or pollen inside of the foam. If you have reticulated foam, or dry foam, this will be very easy to do. If you have a denser foam, it will take bit of time for the water to saturate and move through. You may use a water extractor to vacuum up most of the water before setting the cushion out to air dry.

Always allow cushions to air dry with them standing on end, zipper side down. Do not put in a dryer. If you ever need to use an iron, be sure to use the setting for synthetic fabric and test it in an inconspicuous place first. Do not use a steamer to remove wrinkles.

As an alternative to soap and water, use the only fabric cleaner recommended by Sunbrella: 303 Products Fabric Cleaner. Remember to treat your Sunbrella with fabric guard after cleaning. You have just stripped away the original factory-applied repellent that was on the fabric. Sunbrella recommends 303 Products Fabric Guard. Two light applications of fabric guard is recommended. Allow the first application to dry before beginning the second application.

Mold and Mildew:

Use the same cleaning method as described above, except the cleaning solution will include bleach. The recipe is:

1 cup of bleach

¼ cup Dawn dishwashing liquid or Woolite

1 gallon of water

When you spray the solution onto the moldy fabric, allow it to soak into the fabric for 15 minutes before working it in and then rinsing. If this solution does not remove the mildew, you can strengthen it by increasing the bleach.

Always treat your Sunbrella with fabric guard after cleaning. Sunbrella recommends two light applications of 303 Products Fabric Guard. Allow the first application to dry before beginning the second application.

  • Anesia St. Clair