10 Frequently-Asked Questions About Wicker and Rattan

Thus far, you’ve learned a lot about wicker and rattan. You’ve learned the sources of rattan, you’ve learned how this rattan converts into furniture, and you’ve learned the many types of wicker and rattan furniture that are available for purchase. You’ve even learned about maintaining and cleaning this rattan for the long-term future, as well as putting your furniture to the best possible use.

But that doesn’t mean we’ve necessarily covered all of your questions about wicker and rattan. In this chapter, we’ll examine ten of the most frequently asked questions about wicker and rattan furnishings just to be sure that there are no questions remaining by the time you finish this book. Without any further ado, let’s ask – and answer – some of the most popular questions about wicker and rattan.

1.What is “paper fiber” wicker, and how does it relate to rattan-based wicker furniture?

Answer: You may have heard about wicker made from paper fiber (sometimes spelled as “paper fibre”). Paper fiber is the result of a highly man-made process that gives a wicker weave the appearance of being natural without actually being as natural as a rattan wicker weave.

The question you may be asking now is simple: is this the same as the rattan wicker you’ve been reading about, or is it really some category of synthetic wicker?

The truth is just a little more complicated than that. Paper fiber wicker is indeed man-made—making it fall under the category of “synthetic” wicker—but it’s not quite the “plastic” material that you may associate with synthetics, either. Instead, paper fiber is indeed what its name claims it to be—it’s a highly processed paper fiber. The resulting material is not exactly natural, like rattan, so it has certain advantages that artificially-processed substances often have. For example, it is highly responsive to color, which is why so many manufacturers will simply use a paper fiber wicker weave and then color it like wood or rattan. This gives a strong “naturalistic” appearance without the real natural feel of materials like rattan or bamboo.

Paper fiber wicker is generally used for easy-to-produce wicker patterns. These patterns work just as well as a variety of other wicker patterns, which means that there’s nothing inherently wrong with their use. But if you want a totally natural piece of furniture, you’ll want your wicker to be made out of smaller pieces of rattan, too. Generally, paper fiber has to be stained and treated to get the same “look” as natural rattan and other natural materials like bamboo.

If you’re unsure about what kind of material is being used to produce the wicker weaving on your own furniture, you can ask them about paper fiber and learn more about the process of producing wicker weaves. You might find out more about a piece of wicker furniture you were considering. Whether or not this piece of information will be the deciding factor in your next purchasing decision, of course, is up to you.

2.What is my antique/old wicker furniture worth?

The answer, of course, is highly variable. But some people really do discover that the wicker already in their possession is highly valuable as antique pieces. In order to determine the value of the wicker that you already have on your hands, you’ll want to pay attention to a few key variables.

First, review the section on purchasing new wicker. In that section, we discussed at length exactly how you can go about “diagnosing” the quality of wicker in your possession. Take out your old piece of wicker furniture and ask yourself the same questions posed in that section. This requires an objective eye, which is not always easy if you’ve already made several assumptions about the value of your wicker furniture. So try and throw those assumptions out the window as you assess the value of your wicker furniture.

There are other variables to consider as well. For example, is there any historical value to the wicker at all? Do you have any documentation that proves when the wicker furniture was made or used? Older wicker furniture accompanied with a picture of it being used decades and decades ago can gain more value as an “older” piece. If you’re unable to prove the furniture’s age, you’ll likely have difficulty proving that the piece is inherently valuable.

You’ll also want to consider the condition of the material itself. As you know, natural rattan and other natural wicker products do not exist in a permanent condition. They weather. They respond to sunlight. They respond to dust and dirt that’s accumulated over the years. In other words, a piece of furniture’s quality can decline over time, especially if that wicker hasn’t been properly cared for.

Aging isn’t necessarily a bad thing, of course. Some people prefer the “classic” look of an aged wicker antique. However, you’ll want to check for signs of “bad” aging: erosion, scuffs, etc. If the piece is lined with wood, you’ll also want to be sure that the basic structure of the furniture is in tact and perfectly capable of handling the weight it was designed to handle.

If you’re still confused, you can take your furniture to a wicker furniture appraiser in order to get a more qualified opinion on the value of your piece. If you’re still a little on the wary side, you could also bring your wicker in to another appraiser and get a second opinion—though this is generally only required if you’re confident that you have in your possession a piece of immense value.

3. Where exactly do I get an appraisal anyway?

If you read the question above with a question mark floating above your head because you’ve never heard of a wicker furniture appraiser, don’t worry. You’re not alone. Not everyone has the time to find and identify the best wicker appraisers and repairmen nearby; they’re more concerned with finding a good auto mechanic or land appraiser.

But the truth is, finding the right wicker appraiser can be a very good way to find out exactly how valuable your wicker furniture is. If your find a wicker repairman who can also give you a quick appraisal on your wicker is also very valuable. Typically, these repairmen know the best way to approach your older wicker furniture, restoring it in a way that doesn’t harm its long-term value.

If you haven’t worked with a wicker repairman yet, don’t worry. It’s not difficult to get the process started. You can always turn to the yellow pages to find someone in your area. You can start wick a word like “wicker” in your search but, failing that, you can also call around the local furniture shops. In many cases, you’ll find furniture outlets that employ experts that are well-versed in wicker without necessarily advertising this fact. Yes, that means you may have to do a little poking and prodding around to be sure that you’re finding a good appraiser and repairman, but remember: once you have a good wicker repairman’s number, that’s all your wicker furniture needs for a long, long time.

You might also try the internet to find the experts in your area. Online review sites can be helpful, but be wary of taking them on face value: just because a wicker repairman doesn’t have a well-established online presence doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re bad at what they do. Even so, finding a well-reviewed wicker or furniture repair company in your area goes a long way in supplying you with confidence the next time you take your furniture in.

Once you’ve identified a few names, you can try calling around to get various opinions and choose which repair service you like best. Ask wicker repairmen if they also offer appraisal services; this is generally one of the most efficient ways to snaring a good appraiser as well. Describe your furniture to them in detail to get their initial opinion and then take it in to the shop so they can appraise the furniture in person. Don’t be afraid to ask questions; you’ll learn a lot about wicker along the way.

4. What is the quickest way to clean wicker furniture?

The quickest way? Hosing it down.

But that isn’t necessarily the right answer for the wicker furniture you have in your possession. If you have a few synthetic wicker chairs without any fabric cushioning, then hosing it down is absolutely the way to go. But what if you use water-sensitive fabrics? What if you’re talking about natural rattan? What if you have different types of wicker furniture in your possession and you don’t know where to get started?

The truth is, the quickest way to clean your wicker furniture will vary depending on the type of wicker furniture you own. But there are a few key principles you’ll want to focus on if speed is your concern. Let’s take a look at a few of them:

  • With natural rattan, avoid moisture. Yes, avoiding moisture when you clean out a piece of furniture sounds counter-intuitive. But as we showed you earlier on, it’s entirely possible to use a minimal amount of moisture when cleaning out your rattan. It doesn’t even take a long time: you can simply mix soap and water and use the bubbles for cleaning the difficult crevasses of your rattan with a toothbrush. This approach is not time-consuming unless you’ve let a lot of areas of your rattan grow less and less clean over time. Which leads us to the second principle…
  • Clean your furniture often. You don’t have to do a comprehensive job every time. Just make an effort on a somewhat regular basis to keep your natural rattan clear of debris and you’ll find that when it does come time to clean it up to a natural sheen when you have guests coming over, there isn’t as much work to do. This isn’t so much about cleaning quickly as it is about being sure that you don’t have a whole lot of rattan to clean when guests are on their way.
  • Preparation is key. You can’t hose down your synthetic wicker furniture as-is, or else you run the risk of getting water where you don’t want it—on your deck, on your car, on the side of the house, etc. So make sure that you take the time to prepare your furniture—synthetic or natural—before you clean it. It’s going to save you time on the actual cleaning process itself. In the case of synthetic furniture, you can simply hose it down once you’ve cleared all water-sensitive materials out of the way. In the case of natural rattan, clearing out cushions and preparing bubbles for washing will ensure that you spend most of your time cleaning and not re-loading a bucket full of bubbles.

5. What about cleaning paper fiber wicker?

Paper fiber wicker is a type of wicker that we haven’t explored quite as thoroughly as natural and purely synthetic wicker, so it’s important to take some time and address how to clean and maintain paper fiber wicker so you can get as much use out of it as possible.

One of the best ways to quickly clean paper fiber wicker is to use the “brush” tool on your vacuum cleaner to suck out all of the excess dirt and debris that’s gathered on the surface and in the nooks and crannies of your paper fiber wicker. The brush will ensure that you don’t do any damage to the paper itself while the suction will do the rest of the work.

As is the case with natural rattan, you’ll want to avoid hosing this type of furniture down, as well. Instead, you can use a damp wash cloth to remove much of the excess debris on your paper wicker; the paper should be able to handle that amount of moisture. But remember: paper fibers are, well, paper fibers. They don’t agree with an excessive amount of moisture, which is putting it kindly. Instead, use moisture as minimally as you can—the same way you would use the minimal amount of moisture to clean out rattan.

Depending on what kinds of materials your paper fiber wicker patterns are attached to (and this can vary from piece to piece), you might be able to use more aggressive methods of cleaning out the rest of the furniture. But be sure to know which types of material you’re working with before you get started on the rest of your paper fiber wicker piece. If you’re not sure, call the manufacturer to find out—they should at least be able to give you a basic amount of information, which should be all you need in order to clean you’re your paper fiber wicker without doing more harm than good.

6. How can I restore overly dried out rattan furniture?

This is one of the biggest questions posed by those who want to make sure that their rattan furniture lasts a very long time. The truth is, rattan can dry out. It’s porous, which means that not only moisture can get in, but air can get in as well. Of course, you can’t really avoid exposing your rattan to air, so you’d be better be up-to-date on restoring dried out rattan furniture if you want to be sure that you can make the most of your particular piece.

The good news is that it’s not very difficult to restore a dried out rattan piece to its original luster. You’ll want to acquire boiled linseed oil (you buy it boiled to avoid boiling it yourself; it’s a highly flammable substance) and turpentine. A mixture of two parts boiled linseed oil to one part turpentine is one recommended method of re-finishing your dried out rattan.

It’s highly recommended that once you’ve formed this mixture that you try it out on a piece of your furniture that is usually something you can’t see: for example, behind a cushion or under the furniture (being sure to avoid getting anything in your eyes thanks to the effects of gravity). Once you’ve applied this mixture to the rattan, give it a look to see how it appears on your natural rattan. Does it seem to restore the original luster of your rattan? If so, you may be “good to go.”

Be sure to perform all of the above when the furniture is somewhere safe and the ground is protected—above a protective material in the garage, for example. You don’t want to do this refinishing in your living room only to find out that the mixture you’re applying with doesn’t agree with your carpeted floors.

You’ll want to use a good brush to ensure that your oil-turpentine mixture applies to the porous surface of the rattan evenly. The better a job you do at this, the more your rattan will shine like new once the mixture has dried out.

After drying for a few days, you may want to look at the furniture again to see if there’s anything that needs changing. For example, sometimes oil seeps to the surface in small pools that may need to be wiped away. You don’t want guests sitting on a seeping piece of rattan furniture, so clear these spots away with paper towels.

After the rattan is dried thoroughly, you have the option of applying a layer of lacquer to truly restore the finish of the natural rattan. It’s recommended that you use an oil-based finish on the final finish of your rattan because the mixture you’ve already used will have a similar makeup thanks to the boiled linwood oil you’ve employed.

7. What about mold and mildew?

Presumably, this question means that you want to prevent as much mold and mildew as possible. Needless to say, mold and mildew can be a concern when working with a natural product like rattan. That means you’ll have to put in some extra time dedicated to ensuring that you don’t lose your furniture to an excessive amount of mold and mildew.

The first thing to pay attention to is the amount of humidity in your home. You can’t help living in a humid climate, of course, but you can control the humidity of your home. For example, you can employ a dehumidifier to keep the air in your home dry; this is generally a good idea for all sorts of natural elements present around the house. The dehumidifier will also keep your house comfortable in the summer and avoid a “muggy” feel to the air around you.

You’ll also want to be sure that the amount of humidity present in your home is consistent. Unstable humidity levels in the air can definitely “mess with” the condition of your rattan furniture, so do your best to keep your dehumidifier empty.

If you notice that there has already been a mold/mildew buildup in your existing furniture, you’re going to have to do a thorough cleaning. Bring the furniture outside on top of a surface that can handle the washing and draining away of bleach and water.

This will mean exposing the furniture to a little more moisture than you may be used to. A soft-scrub brush that’s been dipped in a mixture of bleach and water (do not mix bleach and ammonia, remember!) will be effective at eliminating the offending mold and mildew present in your rattan furniture. Note: this is not the recommended cleaning method if you have paper fiber wicker.

You should then rinse out the rattan with water and leave it out to dry—in the shade in order to protect the rattan from UV rays as much as possible. You’ll want to make sure that the people in your home know that the furniture is not ready for sitting yet—the rattan needs to be thoroughly dried first. Remember that it’s porous and after it’s been rinsed, it’s going to be going through some pretty dramatic structural changes.

From there, you should be able to return your cleaned, rinsed, dried rattan indoors. If there is more offending mold and mildew, you can go more powerful with the bleach and use site-specific tools like cotton swabs to clean out specific areas. It’s more prudent to simply check for these areas as thoroughly as possible when you’re performing your initial cleaning.

Yes, we recommend against using water and rattan in most cases, but in this case it’s the only way to eliminate the bleach and water solution you’re using to eliminate the mildew. You have to weigh the consequences of using water on your wicker furniture and allowing mildew to remain—obviously, we prefer that you have mildew-free furniture.

8. Can I paint my own wicker furniture?

It’s your furniture—you can do whatever you want with it! Of course, we assume that you want to leave your wicker furniture in the best condition possible even after you’re done painting it, so it’s worth taking a few moments to go through what this process is like.

In general, you’ll want to pretend that rattan is wood. Rattan, for example, is not aluminum and it’s not dry-wall. Because it’s porous, it’s more comparable to wood, which means that if you’ve painted wood before, you’ll have some experience to draw from.

To get started, you’ll want to remove any vestiges of a previous coat of paint. Sometimes people decide to re-paint their wicker furniture simply because the old paint is rubbing off. If this is the case, do your best to get rid of the old paint as gently as possible. Pressure-spraying the rattan is a potential way to do this, and the quick exposure to water is generally negligible.

You’ll want to apply primer to the rattan—generally, two coats may be recommended but only use it if you feel it’s truly necessary. You can then wait for the primer to dry and apply your own coat of paint. Be thorough, especially the first time. The first pass of paint can still leave unpainted parts exposed, so this is when you’ll want to identify them.

Wait for the paint to dry and apply a second coat. This may be optional, depending on how well your furniture took to the second coat. You can use large brushes for bigger areas and smaller brushes in order to make sure that all of the little pores, nooks, and crannies of your rattan furniture is thoroughly colored in the paint of your choice. Allow the paint to dry and—voila! You’re ready to move your painted furniture back into your room of choice.

9. How can I tell if my wicker furniture is synthetic or natural?

You’d be surprised at how challenging this distinction can be, especially to someone who’s recently come into some wicker furniture without having any extensive knowledge on the subject.

There are a few sure-fire signs of synthetic wicker: it may have something printed on it! Check the entire piece of furniture to see if something is printed on the material itself. This isn’t a traditional practice when furniture builders use natural rattan, after all. If you can identify a company logo or manufacturing print somewhere on the material, chances are that it was factory-produced and is therefore artificial.

Failing that, there are some general rules of thumb to consider:

  • Natural rattan is porous. How does the material feel to the touch? Granted, some synthetic wicker material can feel very authentic. But when dealing with natural rattan, even the larger pieces should feel porous. This generally isn’t the case for synthetic chair legs, for example, where the material is kept smooth in order to be fully water-resistant. But natural rattan rods—the structure of the rattan furniture—or the wood that they’re lined with will be porous. Develop your sense of touch and you’ll be able to discern between the two types quite easily.
  • Observe the different reaction to moisture. Although natural rattan can be water-sealed to some degree, it still won’t necessarily have the same reaction to moisture that synthetic material. A good way to tell the difference between the two types is to try out a water “test” where you expose it to a little bit of moisture. Synthetic wicker will – pardon the pun – “wick” the water away much more easily than the natural rattan will. You’ll likely need a side-by-side of a material of each type to truly tell the difference, however.
  • Have it appraised! There’s a reason we recommended you get in touch with a good wicker repair shop in your area—these are the types of questions they’ll be able to answer for you if you’re still unsure about exactly what you’re dealing with. Bring in your material and let them have a look at it; there’s a good chance they can tell you just by looking at it or touching it.

10. When do I know a wicker piece’s time has run out?

Let’s face it: as long as wicker furniture can last, it’s not always going to look its best. It’s tempting to call old pieces of wicker furniture “antiques” – and in many cases they are—but cheaply produced wicker doesn’t always fall into the “antique” category before biting the dust.

There’s just one problem: it’s difficult to say exactly when it’s time for you to buy new wicker furniture. It may simply be time for you to contact a repairman who can fix the problems you’ve been having with your wicker furniture.

Since each wicker furniture piece varies, there’s no straight-forward answer we can give you here. The most obvious way to determine a wicker piece’s sustainability is to take it to an expert. But if you’d prefer to know the difference yourself, there are a few tips you should keep in mind:

  • Dryness. We’ve explained some steps for restoring your wicker piece’s original luster after it’s become dry and brittle. But if it doesn’t “take” very well, you’re likely looking at a piece that has worn out its usefulness. It’s worth a shot to try and restore your dry wicker furniture, but there’s no way to fully restore wicker to its original quality unless you’re a miracle worker.
  • Fragility. Dry and brittle is bad—particularly if you’re working with cheap plastics. The problem with cheap synthetic wicker is that it’s difficult to tell when it’s about to break without it actually breaking. And since no one wants to be sitting in a piece of synthetic wicker when it breaks, you’ll want to give your outdoor wicker furniture a once-over every so often to determine its strength. It should not be too hard and unbendable—a little “give,” when it comes to this type of plastic, is a good thing.
  • Mildew and mold. Though it’s possible to clean out mildew and mold and still enjoy many years out of your wicker furniture, there may come a point when your furniture is more attractive to mold and mildew than it is easy to clean the stuff out. Sometimes, you simply have to surrender to the natural way of things and bring in fresher rattan—while making sure that you control your home’s humidity better next time around, of course.

Hopefully, any lingering questions you had about caring for and understanding wicker furniture were answered in this series of frequently asked questions. If you want to learn more about wicker furniture, be sure to visit wickerwarehouse.com.