There are distinct differences between rattan and wicker, but sometimes, they're the same!
As wicker has gained in popularity through these past seasons, you may be faced with the confusion of labeling. In fact, this is a question that many may not think to ask before they buy.
The latest in wicker "styling" includes composites and resins that resemble the weave, but are more weather resistant. They won't warp or develop mildew, and never need painting. We've discussed these wonderful products here.
However, if you're seeing rattan and wicker (the "real" stuff) used interchangeably, that simply may not be the case.
The term "wicker" refers in particular to the process of the weave - it is not a fiber or a wood. Rattan can be stripped and woven to become a wicker product as can paper, other woods, and the above-mentioned composites. They are all "true" wicker and, when well-crafted, will last a very long time if not generations.
If you're investing in wicker that is of wood or paper, it should be protected to some degree from the elements. Even those pieces that have been treated should not be left exposed to sun or moisture. Once mildew has formed, it is almost impossible to remove. It's also not a wise idea to try to seal wicker furniture yourself. If you love the look of non-resins, then keep these pieces in a sunroom or other indoor spot.
Rattan, on the other hand, is one of the hardiest woods available. It's a solid (unlike bamboo) and can be used for furniture framework. Other hardwoods are commonly used, along with PVC and aluminum.
Regardless of which type of wicker you are purchasing, always test it, if possible, for stability. Even the lightest weight pieces should exhibit no wobbling or movement.
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