by Simmy Parker
These are two terms that you’ve likely heard together. It’s easy to get them confused. They’re often used interchangeably by people who don’t understand the difference.
We’ll be explaining the distinction here, so you’ll never make that mistake yourself. While nobody will call you on the mistake – since they likely don’t know the difference themselves – it’s good to know the characteristics of rattan versus wicker.
If you’re on the hunt for a wicker outdoor furniture set, you’ll want to know the distinction is between wicker and rattan.
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The process of weaving reed or cane-like materials into a strong surface is known as wicker. It’s a weaving that can be done with any kind of thin wood. Willow, reed, and bamboo, as well as synthetic fibers are woven traditionally.
Wicker has been found by archaeologists in the tombs of wealthy ancient Egyptians. It was used in chests, chairs, and baskets. From Egypt, wicker traveled to Persia and Rome.
The styles changed as it progressed from one area and century to the next. Wicker made it to countries like Spain and England by the 17th century.
It was the 19th century before it became popular in the US, parts of Europe, and England. In many areas of the world, wicker was thought to be more sanitary than other types of upholstered fabric furniture. Currently, wicker is found in outdoor furniture more than other types of settings.
Climbing palms are known as rattan. Rattan is a type of reed-like wood that’s flexible and can be used in furniture production. Instead of coming from a tree itself, rattan comes from the secondary growth like vines and stems that make the wood a liana. Liana isn’t considered a real “wood” like you’d get from trees.
Palm trees like the Raphia and Sago palm are a calamoideae, which is the classification of the rattan. There are over 600 species of climbing palms in that family.
It’s a cane or palm that mostly comes from Asia or Africa. They’re a slender stem that can be weaved into patterns for use in furniture as well as other applications. Rattan is easier to harvest than wood, but is threatened. It’s being cut too soon by harvesters, and it’s ability to sprout more vines has been reduced.
Rattan accepts paint and stain as well as wood, so you’ll see it used in furniture production. It is also used in other applications like basket weaving.
Rattan is the wood that is weaved to make furniture. Wicker is the weaving process used to make the furniture sturdy and beautiful. You’ll see a lot of furniture advertised as Rattan Wicker. It’s a woven rattan in a wicker style.
Moisture and heat are added to the rattan strips, so that they can be weaved into the proper shape for the chair, couch, or side table being crafted. Rattan furniture is always made out of the fibrous plant. It’s not always wicker, though.
Wicker furniture can be made from other types of materials like bamboo or willow. It can even be made out of synthetic materials to prolong its life outdoors.
You don’t want to wet rattan since that can make it lose shape. It can cause other serious problems like mold and mildew, too. To clean rattan, you’ll want to use a dry brush to remove dirt and dust from the material.
If it’s cracked or dried out, you’ll have to revive rattan using boiled linseed oil. If you’ve never added a preservant to your rattan furniture, you can add a coat of lacquer once the linseed oil has been allowed to dry thoroughly.
If your rattan furniture is a wicker pattern, you will have to get the in-between spaces to remove all dirt and grime. This is especially true if you have left the furniture outside throughout the year. Use a stiff brush to get the spaces between the woven material.
Your outdoor furniture – no matter what kind of material – should be cleaned regularly if you leave them outside all the time. Brushing the dirt and dust from the weave will keep it looking its best. Even wicker that isn’t made with natural rattan should be kept clean. The furniture will last longer with care.
Rattan and wicker are often used to mean the same thing, but they are not. Rattan is the material used in furniture while wicker is the pattern used in weaving them together.
Now, when you see that furniture is rattan wicker, you’ll know what that means. You’ll understand whether you want to buy wicker in rattan or a synthetic material, but still get exactly what you want.
About Simmy Parker
Simmy is an outdoor expert who loves to spend time in the wilderness. She received a BS degree in Civil Engineering at Sacramento State University, and has put her skills to use by helping design and build some of the most impressive structures in the world. However, Simmy's true passion lies in sharing her love of nature with others, and she spends much of her free time leading hikes and teaching people about the flora and fauna that can be found all around them.