How to Select Durable Outdoor Furniture

We hate to be the bearers of bad news, but there's more to your outdoor patio furniture than picking out pretty patterns. Whether you're basking in the sunshine year-round or embracing all four seasons, it's important to select outdoor furniture that can handle whatever Mother Nature throws your way.

So what makes a table or chairs outdoor-friendly? The right materials. Not only should you invest in materials that are durable enough to withstand a torrential downpour, but it's also in your best interest to focus on fabrics that won't fade over time.

Before you add anything to your e-cart, check out our tips for choosing durable outdoor patio furniture. They include materials you should look for, how to care for the furniture and how your home's climate weighs in. Our comprehensive guide below covers all the bases.

The Best Fabrics for Outdoor Patio Furniture

black and white patio
credit: Codi Ann Backman

Don't be fooled by the fabric on outdoor patio furniture. Though these textiles might look and sometimes feel the same, they are very different. Generally speaking, there are three common types of outdoor fabric: Acrylic, olefin, and polyester.

If you ask us, acrylic is arguably the most popular outdoor furniture fabric around, and for good reason. Not only is this fabric super soft, but it's also known to dry quickly, stay cool in the beaming sun, and keep mildew at bay. Plus, the fade- and water-resistant fabric Sunbrella — which is featured on everything from throw pillows to cushions to umbrellas — falls under the acrylic category. After all, Sunbrella can reportedly block as much as 75% of the sun's heat and reduce a space's temperature by a few degrees. Since Sunbrella is often regarded as the premium outdoor furniture fabric, use this textile for outdoor space staples like a rug or umbrella.

While acrylic fabrics like Sunbrella are regarded as some of the best outdoor textiles around, they can get a little pricey. For a cost-effective alternative, give olefin a try.

All things considered, olefin is a suitable alternative to acrylic fabric. While some sources argue it's not as game-changing as Sunbrella, it's not as expensive, either. Of course, olefin has its share of perks, too. In addition to being water-, fade-, and UV-resistant, olefin reportedly doesn't transmit static charge. If you don't want to splurge on a fancier fabric like Sunbrella, olefin can be a great option for outdoor cushions.

Looking for outdoor patio furniture on a budget? Opt for polyester, which is known for being incredibly affordable. But while polyester fabric is one of the cheaper options on the market, the quality can vary based on the thickness of the material. In fact, some experts say it's prone to sunspots. Yikes! But just because polyester furniture has its flaws doesn't mean you should overlook it. If you're on a budget, you can reduce potential sunspots by coating your fabric in a sun protector or storing your cushions and umbrellas inside when idle. However, if you're willing to spend some more money on your outdoor patio furniture, polyester is a go-to fabric for finishing touches like trendy throw pillows.

Once you've found the best type of fabric for your outdoor furniture, you can go ahead and select a style for your space. With plenty of patterns and colors to choose from, you'll be in no shortage of options.

The Weather Factor: Does your home's average climate determine the best type of fabric for your outdoor furniture? Not particularly. Since Sunbrella is both fade- and water-resistant, it's a great choice for all regions.

The Best Filling for Outdoor Patio Furniture

covered patio
credit: Codi Ann Backman

Of course, the fabric you use for your chaises, couches, and throw pillows is only one piece of the puzzle; it's just as important to choose filling that will make it easy to kick back, relax, and, you know, enjoy your outdoor furniture.

If you're looking for filling that's equal parts comfortable and supportive, opt for either polyester or polyurethane. Both options are suitable for your outdoor patio furniture; however, they each have their own pros and cons. While polyester air dries quickly, is non-allergenic, and doesn't break down over time, it will eventually compress, so your cushions won't be as plush as they were when you first purchased them.

But while polyurethane foam is often used for the filling on pillows, it's usually treated with chemicals to keep fungus at bay. The use of chemicals shouldn't keep you from buying polyurethane, but you might want to wrap your foam in plastic before slipping it into the pillowcase. That way, you can be comfortable and give yourself some peace of mind.

The Weather Factor: No matter what type of foam you purchase, it's important to choose between open- and closed-cell foam. Since open-cell foam has pores that let air and water easily pass through, it's a great option for wet climates. If you live in a warm, dry climate, give closed-cell foam a try. Not only is closed-cell foam often used on boats, making it perfect for any and all outdoor activities, but it also doesn't absorb water, so you won't have to worry about your cushions slumping and sagging in the long run.

The Best Wood for Outdoor Patio Furniture

outdoor dining room
credit: Brandon Stanley for Hunker

Just because wood comes from the great outdoors doesn't necessarily mean every single type is ideal for your outdoor furniture. When it comes to finding the best wood for your outdoor patio furniture, it's important to keep strength and durability in mind.

Acacia, for example, is a great option if you're looking for something that is durable and affordable. Plus, thanks to its high oil content, it can repel the elements, rotting, and even insects. Just make sure you treat acacia with a sealant, otherwise it can fade in the sun or, even worse, rot. Live in a super cold or hot climate? Black locust boasts flavonoids that combat heat, cold, fungus, and bugs such as termites and ants. However, its tight grains can make it tricky to stain. If you want to flex your DIY muscle, cypress is a great option, though you'll want to treat it in sealant to prevent it from fading.

That being said, teak is still considered one of the top woods for your outdoor patio furniture, and for good reason. This species features natural oils that repel water — which keep it from warping and cracking — as well as insects. Not only is it virtually weatherproof, but it's also insanely beautiful.

The Weather Factor: When it comes to wooden outdoor furniture, you can never go wrong with teak wood. As long as you treat it with a sealant, teak is a suitable option for hot and sunny climates, mild regions, and chilly outdoor spaces.

The Best Metal Fixtures for Outdoor Patio Furniture

black and white patio
credit: Stephen Paul for Hunker

When it comes to choosing metal outdoor furniture, it usually boils down to aluminum or steel. And, if you ask us, they both have their fair share of pros and cons. While steel is durable and heavier, it's often more expensive than its metal counterparts. Plus, steel outdoor furniture can get really hot after a long, sunny day. Aluminum, on the other hand, is less susceptible to corrosion and heat retention; however, it can easily blow over with a big gust of wind.

But no matter which metal you choose, it's important to protect your outdoor furniture. Generally speaking, powder-coated aluminum and galvanized steel are less vulnerable to rust than their unprotected counterparts. And, when it's time to clean your outdoor furniture, avoid tough scrubbers and heavy detergents that can expose your pieces to rust-causing moisture. A soft cloth and thin liquid soap (or combination of water and white vinegar for tougher stains) will get the job done.

Somewhere between choosing between aluminum and steel, you probably wondered: Whatever happened to wrought iron? Not only is iron prone to rust, but it can also be extremely hard to maintain. And while it may be heavy enough to resist that gust of wind, wrought iron outdoor furniture isn't necessarily doing your backyard's feng shui any favors.

The Weather Factor: The verdict is in: Weather can play a huge role in your metal outdoor furniture selection. While steel is a sound choice for mild climates, some sources claim treated aluminum is suitable for cold, mild, and coastal regions. But while you'll have plenty of options between wood and metal, don't write off plastic outdoor furniture just yet. Resin and high-density plastic are popular in coastal regions, while PVC is a must for hot, dry climates.

Now that you know the basics, are you ready to shop?

Here's our comprehensive list of the best places to shop for outdoor patio furniture.


Kelsey Mulvey

Kelsey Mulvey

Kelsey Mulvey is a freelance lifestyle writer and editor. Her work has been featured in Lonny, Apartment Therapy, and Wallpaper*, among others.