When shopping for outdoor furniture, it is common to see many items made from bamboo or rattan. While the materials are often referred to interchangeably, there are both similar characteristics and properties that are vastly different. If you are shopping for either bamboo or rattan outdoor furniture, we highlight the similarities and differences between the two.

What Is Rattan?

Round rattan chairs with cushions on deck

Rattan is made from rattan palm. It is a climbing palm, like lianas or vines. At first, the plant grows upright like most palms. However, after time, it bends and then grows downward like vines. Rattan palms are native to Southeast Asia with 70% of overall production coming out of Indonesia. It also has a diameter between one to three inches and can grow as high as one hundred feet.

As this material matures, it is cut and processed into wicker. Depending on its diameter, the procedure to process it differs. Smaller palms are laid out under the sun to dry. They are commonly smoked to temper the wicker and speed up the process. 

Larger palms take a long time to dry if they are laid out in the sun. Therefore, they are boiled in oil to remove excess moisture.

After they are dried, the palms are peeled to create two different materials. Outside skins turn into a fabric-like material used to create ropes or baskets. The core becomes wicker that is used for outdoor furniture or patio sets.

What Is Bamboo?

Bamboo table and benches in garden

Bamboo also comes from Southeast Asia. Its primary use is for furniture because of its durability. It is one of the fastest-growing plants on earth. Some types can grow an inch in as little as 40 minutes! You can actually see it grow, making bamboo the most sustainable material found on our planet.

Despite that it belongs to the grass family, bamboo is one of the strongest plant materials available. It is stronger than maple, cherry, oak, and mahogany. Since the plant itself is hollow, it has the added benefit of being lighter than other types of wood. Bamboo’s unique properties mean that it is perfect for flooring and furniture.

The Similarities

Both rattan and bamboo are ecological because they grow quickly and offer cheap processing methods. The plants are very similar in appearance. After processing, they have a light brownish-yellow color to them. Both materials are commonly used for construction and furniture.

Yet, despite how they look and the ecological advantages, this is where the similarities between the two materials end. 

The Differences

There is a misconception that rattan and bamboo garden furniture are the same thing, but they are not. Each is a very different type of material.

Tree vs Grass Family

Rattan belongs to the tree family. The material is solid but flexible. It is easily woven or bent into many shapes, making it ideal for interior accessories, furniture, and anything with an intricate design. 

Bamboo, as mentioned, belongs to the grass family. As such, it is hollow yet rigid. It doesn’t bend easily and is unable to be easily shaped. This makes it primarily used for straightforward and simplistic designs. 

Different Strengths

Rattan has a strong core that makes it durable and difficult to break. Its solid core is harvested with vertical grains and then cut into smaller sections and steamed to give various shapes. The outside skin of the pole is used to bind furniture together. 

Because it is so strong compared to other types of wood, it makes an ideal choice for outdoor furniture or flooring. This type of material lasts for a long time. It is also gaining popularity in the fashion and bioenergy sectors. 

Bamboo is lightweight and robust. It is almost as strong as rattan but is less flexible due to bamboo’s hollow core. This means that it is not suitable for intricate designs like rattan, but the furniture made from it is exceptionally durable. 

Additionally, rattan tends to fade quicker than bamboo. If your furniture is exposed to sunlight, you may want to take that into consideration.

Rattan is also a specific material. Rattan furniture is crafted solely out of rattan, whereas wicker furniture is made of various materials, including bamboo, rattan, and straw. Additionally, since bamboo is so strong, it often requires being soaked to be woven into different items. 

Sustainability and Harvesting

While rattan grows quickly, bamboo is the fastest-growing material found on Earth. A bamboo plant grows 47.6 inches per day. It reaches full size in three to four months compared to other trees that take years to mature. It grows in straight stems rather than in vines like rattan. They also do not need to have their bark stripped. Stems are removed and soaked.

In terms of sustainability, bamboo is a naturally renewing property, making it a wonderful alternative to other types of plants and trees that take a longer time to grow. It doesn’t require chemicals and pesticides for harvesting either, which helps with the environment.

Rattan is easy to harvest as it is gathered from wild-growing creeping plants. It is easily transported between locations. When harvested, people remove the bard and sand the plant. After that, it can be treated. 

Care of Each Material

Rattan is easy to care for. Use soapy water and a soft brush or damp cloth to wipe it down as needed. While it is UV-resistant, consistent exposure to bright sunlight causes the material to fade. Also, damp or wet conditions can cause it to rot. To keep this material in the best condition, you need to cover it. During the winter, store it indoors or in a shed to keep it looking good.

You can also clean bamboo furniture with a damp cloth or soft brush and soapy water. Since bamboo is grass, it is resilient and resistant to water. However, constant moisture may warp the patio furniture, so it is best to cover it when not in use. 

Final Thoughts

When looking at rattan or bamboo outdoor furniture, both are excellent choices. Bamboo ranks higher in terms of weathering the elements and sustainability. While rattan furniture is a bit stronger than bamboo, exposure to the elements can cause issues, so it requires more care to keep it in prime condition.

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