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Buyers are often attracted to materials like steel, aluminum and iron because they seem easier to clean, more water resistant, lighter and more durable than materials like wood, wicker and rattan — all of which seem to be more delicate. Many either consider or choose to buy metal dining sets and other pieces for their backyards, patios, gardens, decks and side yards because these options can be less expensive while lasting longer. Some metal patio furniture can actually be made to resemble wicker furniture and rattan furniture, expanding one's design options considerably. However, before purchasing an aluminum dining set or a wrought iron dining table and chairs, one should consider our guide and make sure such materials will work for their home. In this Patio Living buying guide, we will answer frequently asked questions about buying outdoor furniture made from different types of metal, whether they be wrought iron, aluminum or steel. Finding the most suitable metal patio furniture for your outdoor space can be difficult when your area is faced with changes in weather and temperature. Learn about which types of metal patio furniture are weather resistant, which are best for and most comfortable in hot and cold temperatures, which are lightest and which last the longest. Follow below for more about how outdoor dining sets, chairs and more made from metal materials fare in different climates and for different types of use.
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Aluminum, stainless steel, wrought iron, cast iron and cast aluminum are all common types of metal found in patio furniture. In her article "The Best Materials for Your Patio Furniture" for Houzz, Marianne Lipanovich describes the pros and cons of buying patio furniture constructed from these five types of metals. When describing aluminum, Lipanovich writes that the material is easy to care for, "tough enough to stand up to almost anything Mother Nature can throw at it and requires almost no maintenance." Aluminum is also often quite less expensive than "many other options" and is lightweight enough to stack and reposition easily without dragging and scratching floors or tearing grass. Aluminum is less expensive and less heft than its cousin cast aluminum. Custom furniture is often constructed from cast aluminum — writes Lipanovich — which is "sturdier and more expensive, [and] also usually more traditional in style." Though cast aluminum is durable and heftier than cast aluminum, both are light enough to be picked up and thrown by wind. As such, Lipanovich recommends against purchasing aluminum patio furniture in areas subject to high or unpredictable winds.
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According to Lipanovich, stainless steel is another great option for those searching for lightweight, easily repositioned outdoor furniture. Stainless steel patio furniture is excellent for gardens and yards with lots of grass or landscaping that would be ruined by heavier furniture. Lipanovich notes that stainless steel outdoor furniture is "a good compromise between [aluminum and wrought iron] when it comes to its weight, being heavier and less prone to being bounced around than lightweight aluminum pieces but not as massive as wrought iron." Stainless steel patio furniture is available in many more styles, colors and coatings than wrought iron furniture, making it more versatile for a wider audience and array of consumers. Unfortunately, writes Lipanovich, "steel conducts heat and can become hot to touch." As such, "you may need cushions to offset this, or just for general comfort [and] will need to [make sure] to apply a protective finish every year or two to galvanized steel furniture if it hasn’t been treated."
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Lastly, Lipanovich outlines the pros and cons of buying wrought and cast iron outdoor furniture for your patio or garden. She notes that "both wrought iron and cast iron are remarkably solid and also add a sense of historic graciousness and beauty to your space." She lists their solid construction and aesthetic value as a plus, but their heavy weight as a con. However, their heavyweight might be a positive in areas prone to windy weather, as wrought iron dining tables can provide buyers with a safe, sturdy option. Unfortunately, unlike steel and aluminum patio furniture, wrought iron tables and chairs are rarely foldable, limiting storage options.
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One might assume that all metal patio furniture is weather resistant, but some cannot resist wind and others cannot resist absorbing, becoming brittle in cold climates, transferring heat in the summer months or rusting in wet climates. As briefly outlined above, aluminum patio furniture is not suitable for particularly windy areas and should be avoided in coastal areas prone to hurricanes, and inland areas prone to seasonal gusts. Wrought iron, however, is heavy and durable enough to resist high winds, but does not fare well in humid or rainy areas. Unfortunately, all three types of metals — wrought iron, aluminum and steel — will become hot in the sun and cold at night. Stainless steel might be your best bet for hot or cold climates, as it does not absorb and transfer heat as intensely as wrought iron does. However, patio furniture made from all three types of metals can be augmented with cushions and covers to avoid guests contacting hot or freezing metal with their skin.
Those considering metal patio furniture for their outdoor space might be stuck between steel and aluminum. One might imagine the two are fairly comparable, though aluminum is typically less expensive and steel might offer more aesthetic options. Elizabeth Mayhew outlines the primary differences between aluminum and steel patio furniture in her article "Buying outdoor furniture? A guide to fabrics and materials that will last past Labor Day" for The Washington Post. Mayhew writes that "you want your outdoor furniture to fit your style and budget, and you need it to stand up to the elements and your family’s activities."
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She recommends "buying outdoor furniture that is a natural extension of your indoor look and your house's architectural style." As such, if your home is very modern, you might choose sculptural, cutting-edge designs common of stainless steel patio furniture. If your style is softer, you might choose a delicate aluminum frame for your outdoor dining table and chairs, augmenting with cushions and backrests. When budget is your primary concern, Mayhew recommends considering treated tubular aluminum, which is "the least expensive and the lightest because it is hollow." If durability and easy maintenance are what you want out of your metal patio furniture, Mayhew recommends choosing stainless or powder-coated steel.
While resistance to weather and wear from use are common factors that play into whether patio furniture is durable, there is one more fact to consider when determining durability. Collapsible patio furniture that is easy to store will likely last longest and look best over time as it can be placed in a shed, carriage or pool house during off seasons. In her article "8 Tips for Choosing the Best Patio Furniture for Your Outdoor Space" for Better Homes & Gardens, Jessica Bennett writes that picking properly coated metal patio furniture and that which can be stored and covered ensures durability.
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Jessica Bennett explains that "even the toughest patio furniture, such as...a wrought-iron settee, will last longer if it is placed in storage when not in use." Bennett recommends buyers remove patio furniture from its outdoor space during rough seasons and that they "look for patio furniture that folds or can be easily taken apart for compact storage." Bennett writes that "most metal...and all-weather wicker pieces are unfazed by whatever nature throws their way." She notes that "with a bit of regular cleaning, [outdoor space] furniture made using these forgiving materials will look wonderful for years." Those hoping to further extend the lifetime of their metal patio furniture should make sure to "accessorize patio furniture with outdoor cushions and [patio] pillows with removable covers that can be easily tossed in the washing machine."
Though wrought and cast iron are more resistant to rust — better repelling water and thus better protected from rusting than pure iron — they both can still rust in an uncovered outdoor space experiencing rain or an outdoor space covered by an umbrella but experiencing high humidity. The Monroe Engineering article "Why Iron Rusts (And How to Prevent It)" explains that cast and wrought "iron have a higher carbon content than pure iron, and with more carbon, it’s naturally better protected against rusting." However, the article continues, "with that said, pure iron, wrought and cast iron can all rust when exposed to moisture or air." Any time in which moisture has access to iron — whether as dew atop grass in a garden, puddles on a deck or rain sprinkling over a table — that iron patio furniture might rust.
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However, there are ways in which to provide your iron furniture with additional protection, making it more resistant to weather and the oxidation that it can cause. Consumers have two accessible, easily employed options for preventing rust on their wrought or cast iron patio furniture. First, they can add a layer of zinc or form of surface plating — using nickel or chrome — to the outdoor furniture, which prevents rusting by ensuring that "the iron doesn’t come into contact with air or moisture." This first process is referred to as "galvanization." Second, "something as simple as painting the surface of iron can protect it from rusting." According to Monroe Engineering, "the presence of the paint creates a barrier between the iron and its surrounding environment."