Rattan: How To Care for This Natural Product

Rattan: How To Care for This Natural Product

Furniture made of rattan is the trendy sibling of wooden furniture: delicate yet robust, elegant but not pompous. For a long time now, more furniture has been made from natural raw material than just the classic, semi-circular bent shelf: from beds to cabinets to chic furniture for lounge or garden. But how to choose the right wickerwork? And above all: What do you have to consider when caring for rattan so that it lasts for a long time?

Whether tables, chairs, or sofas: furniture made of rattan has long since shed its dusty image
Whether tables, chairs, or sofas: furniture made of rattan has long since shed its dusty image.

What is Rattan?

Rattan is obtained from the shoots of the rattan palm or rotang palm (Calamus spec.). A special feature of rattan palms is their growth habit: the shoots, five to eight centimeters thick, grow liana-like into neighboring trees and can grow up to 150 meters long. The spiny, slender palm is mainly found in Southeast Asia and Australia.

There are about 600 different species; however, only about 30 species of palm are used in furniture making, i.e., for producing wickerwork and furniture such as chairs or tables. If you see open the rattan cane, the material shows a honeycomb structure in cross-section – this gives rattan this incredible elasticity and makes the natural product at the same time ut quite porous. Rattan can be easily bent over an open flame or hot steam and made into wicker furniture, among other things. For the basic framework of rattan furniture, furniture makers usually use stronger rattan sticks, which are obtained from the trunk of palm trees.

Chairs made of rattan perfectly integrate into the modern living room
Chairs made of rattan perfectly integrate into the modern living room.

Other names for rattan are pedigree, chair cane, coiled cane, or rattan. In Germany, however, rattan often refers only to the smooth surface, i.e., the outer skin of the shoots or the entire woody stalk. The latter is used, for example, to make furniture frames and sometimes even entire pieces of furniture. For example, the outer skin of the stems can be used for the seat mesh for chairs – this is called a chair cane. By cane, it meant the inside of the shoots. Pedigree is nothing more than split rattan, which is then used in different thicknesses for weaving furniture.

Rattan: A Comeback of Sustainable Furniture

For years, furniture made from rattan, wicker, rotating, or chair cane, was considered a dusty furnishing style in Europe. Tables or chairs made of natural material were often found mainly among Asia fans who like to have Asian furniture in their homes. But more and more people recognize the advantageous properties of the comparatively rapidly renewable plant and rely on the coziness of rattan furniture in wickerwork, chairs, tables, chests of drawers, or even decorative items. Natural, only waxed furniture made of rattan gives the room a homey, not overloaded atmosphere. The wickerwork captivates – especially in comparison with the traditional German cabinet made of oak – restrained presence allows the room to breathe. Already painted or self-painted furniture frames made of rattan create cozy and individual accents in the room. White, red, gray, dark brown – just as you like. Another positive feature is rattan wickerwork is lighter than wood and, therefore, easier to move or store.

Is Rattan Suitable for Outdoor Use?

Some people want to use rattan, for example, as garden furniture or furniture on the balcony, terrace, or conservatory – this can be problematic: For permanent outdoor use, rattan should be treated with a colorless or colored varnish. However, this varnish ensures that any moisture that may penetrate can no longer escape properly. The piece of furniture can then begin to rot. Because rattan is so elastic, the hardened varnish will crack and flake off over time.

Bedding cane and chair wicker are generally less suitable for outdoor use. Furniture for which stronger rattan canes were used – for example, for the furniture frames – is more suitable as garden furniture. The current weather also greatly influences the weather resistance of rattan: How often and how hard does it rain? Is the furniture even sheltered from the rain under certain circumstances?

If you still want to use a piece of rattan furniture outside, it is essential to protect the balcony or patio furniture from too much sun, rain and snow with a cover or a cover when not in use. The bottoms can be left open and do not need to be wrapped, but the ends of the chair and table legs do. Otherwise, they will be slowly but steadily softened and decomposed by the rain left on the tiles or the snow left on them. Even better, store wicker furniture in the winter, preferably on a pallet or platform under the roof, in the garden shed, or the basement. Then you will sit comfortably on your rattan furniture for many years.

If you want to use furniture made of rattan in the garden, be sure to protect it from the rain with a cover when not in use. Alternatively, use the material poly rattan
If you want to use furniture made of rattan in the garden, be sure to protect it from the rain with a cover when not in use. Alternatively, use the material poly rattan.

To see if certain rattan furniture can be used for outdoor use as garden furniture, you are best advised to ask the respective manufacturers. If in doubt, poly rattan garden furniture is preferable to a natural product.

How To Recognize Good Quality Rattan?

Most manufacturers weave rattan furniture by hand. The higher the quality of the raw material and the more elaborate and dense the weave of rattan, the better the quality. However, an elaborate weave also means that it longer worked on it. High-quality furniture made of rattan costs more than glued chipboard products from the department store. You can also recognize good quality by the weave fibers. These should be smooth and round – rough fibers do not weave well and could damage your clothes later.

Also, ensure that your rattan furniture has been connected with dowels made of wood and wooden pegs – this is an important characteristic of good quality. It is better to stay away from furniture with iron nails. Unlike wood, these can rust quickly, making your new chair or table, for example, unsightly and dangerously porous.

Exactly processed and woven rattan is a sign of quality, but it also shows in the price
Exactly processed and woven rattan is a sign of quality, but it also shows in the price.

What Is the Difference Between Rattan and Poly Rattan?

You can buy furniture made from the natural product rattan and cane, but also so-called poly rattan. The latter is an artificial variant made of polyethylene. If you decide to go for the plastic, take the more expensive version; even, in this case, it costs more than the plastic parts pressed together from fiber scraps, which are thus often full of harmful substances. Quality, in this case, guarantees products from Indonesia. Polyrattan is used mainly outdoors, in the garden, or on the balcony and terrace.

How To Properly Care for Rattan and Poly Rattan?

Natural and synthetic, Rattan furniture should be vacuumed regularly to remove dust, crumbs, and clothing lint from the grooves. Those who use the furniture on the terrace or balcony should do so more often, especially in the spring, because pollen and flowers easily settle in the wickerwork. The sofa brush attachment of the vacuum cleaner is best suited for cleaning. Alternatively, you can get to grips with the dirt with a soft, dry cloth and a toothbrush or brush. Robust poly rattan furniture can also be cleaned with compressed air.

After that, cleaning the furniture with a mix of warm water and mild soap with a lint-free cloth is recommended. Wipe with a cloth moistened with water to remove any soap residue. Caution: waterlogging is not good for rattan. Let the rattan furniture dry well. But: do not blow dry because warm air contributes to the natural material drying out and cracking.

With the synthetic variant, in contrast to the natural variant, nothing can soften in the event of waterlogging. Still, the plastic could also discolor if wet for a long time, or unsightly water marks could form on the surface. With poly rattan, you can additionally use special varnishes and sprays to protect the polyethylene.

You can clean both rattan and poly rattan with a damp cloth
You can clean both rattan and poly rattan with a damp cloth.

Special Treatment for the Natural Product Rattan

Natural rattan is a low-maintenance material. The only challenge in maintaining rattan furniture is the right amount of water: too much softens the natural material, and it breaks down. Too little, and it dries out and starts to creak and crack. Therefore, it is important to always clean rattan with damp cloths that are not too wet. However, you should not expose rattan to moisture for long periods.

As soon as the natural rattan furniture is dry, it goes to the care: Every eight to twelve weeks, they should, whether varnished or natural, get their wellness cure – otherwise, they threaten to become cracked, discolored, and creak. Special products to protect rattan are available at specialty stores and on the Internet: Spray wax, for example, beeswax-based, rattan care oils, and care butter.

Linseed oil is a proven home remedy for the care of real rattan furniture. Put a bit of it on a cloth and carefully rub the painted furniture. Then polish with a soft cloth. For natural, i.e., unpainted, rattan furniture, you can even combine the cleaning and care process: Mix a liter of warm water with a tablespoon of turpentine and add half a glass of linseed oil. Use a soft cloth to clean the rattan furniture, and then rub it with cold water.

Do not place products made of rattan too close to the heater.
Make sure that the wicker furniture in the apartment is not too close to the heating – if it can not be avoided, spray them with water every two months as soon as the heating is running. The dose makes the poison: do not spray too much; otherwise you will harm the rattan furniture.

Jemma Huyett
Design My Home | Online magazine about the design and improvement of homes and grounds