Should I buy expensive or cheap outdoor furniture?

Avleen M.
Avleen M.Published on 2 Nov 2021

From outdoor lounges to garden benches, outdoor furniture can be so expensive. Instead of focussing on price, it's a better indicator of quality to look at the materials used. Also consider the garden furniture's suitability for your climate and unique outdoor area, its comfort, support, and how often you'll realistically use it.

outdoor furniture set on sunny patio

Why is outdoor furniture so expensive?

Since garden furniture is designed to be left outdoors 24/7, it needs to hold strong against inclement weather like harsh sun, rain and wind.

This resilience to all sorts of outdoor weather is a non-negotiable. Poor quality outdoor furniture will turn into junk fast - it can rust, corrode, fade, get mould on it, or fly away in the wind.

To avoid this, the materials must have naturally weather-resistant properties. Furniture is then treated for extra protection against the elements, e.g. through powder coating or UV stabilising.

Indoor furniture doesn’t need this extra step in the manufacturing process. It can use non-weather-safe materials like pine, which makes it cheaper than outdoor furniture materials to produce.

Shipping costs are higher

Since garden furniture is big and bulky, delivery is expensive if you're buying online. Even delivering a small 3-piece lounge set from a local retailer can cost upwards of $100.

Picking up your furniture from the store directly is cheaper; just make sure you have enough boot space and a passenger to help you convey the furniture into your car.

What is the average price for patio furniture?

We did some research on the price range of commonly bought furniture items sold by four popular retailers - IKEA, Mimosa and Marquee outdoor furniture (both Bunnings brands), and Harvey Norman.

Product & Store

IKEA

Mimosa

Marquee

Harvey Norman

Outdoor dining chair

$17 - $129

$45 - $249

$8 - $399

$149 - $599

Outdoor table

$21 - $349

$70 - $1,369

$20 - $319

$399 - $3, 099

Outdoor dining set (outdoor table and chairs)

$55 - $1, 303

None

$99 - $199

$599 - $5, 699

Outdoor lounge setting

$368 - $1, 559

$349 - $3, 069

$159 - $399

$699 - $4, 999

Single cushion

$1 - $69

All $19

$29 (only one cushion sold)

$19.95 - $49

Prices current at 29/10/21.

Top Tip - Look at materials, not at price

Based on our research on the websites of the above four retailers, we found that price is often a good indication of the quality of materials used in garden furniture - but not always.

A more reliable way to gauge durability is to look at a garden set's specs to see what it's really made of. This means if you want to scout for a good deal, you may be able to find decent quality materials at a more affordable price.

Here are some materials that are commonly cheap or expensive, and an explanation of whether they are long-lasting or not.

Cheaper materials

Resin/plastic

Plastic or resin is cheap and cheerful - but it's also pretty resilient.

It's easy to clean, doesn't need cushions because it's soft, and doesn't require yearly treatment or maintenance. It will still be slightly pricier than indoor plastic furniture due to its weather resistant quality.

The downsides are that it can lose its shine after many hours in the sun. If you covet flair, it isn't the most stylish option.

Rope construction

Rope fabric is used on outdoor chairs. It's weaved to form the structure of a chair back and seat. Durability will depend on what the rope is made of (e.g. Olefin is resilient while cotton is unsuitable for outdoor use), and also what the chair’s frame and legs are made of.

Plain steel

On the cheaper end of the scale, this includes hollow steel tube frames. Steel, like other metals, can rust and corrode in response to water and salt in the air.

For outdoor furniture to last, steel shouldn't be plain steel, but powder-coated or stainless steel. These extra layers protect it against weather-related damage.

600D polyester cushions

Polyester is naturally water-resistant, but if it’s not coated with a special material like PVC, it can wear out fast. If the fabric has a low thread count, this is especially the case.

Most cheaper outdoor cushions are made from 600 denier polyester, which is coated on one side and does the job of resisting water well enough. Any dye will be fade and weather-resistant.

More expensive materials

*A 5-piece teak dining set.*
A 5-piece teak dining set.

Image 2
A natural rattan outdoor lounge.

Teak

One of the few all-weather hardwoods, teak is a sophisticated and expensive material for outdoor furniture. Teak is extremely longwearing when regularly maintained and treated.

Synthetic rattan

This takes other names, such as resin wicker or PE wicker. Synthetic rattan is an artifical version of rattan, a natural material sourced from a vines.

Synthetic rattan is actually more durable than natural rattan (which is just as expensive - if not pricier). Resin wicker is moisture, fade and UV-resistant, and requires minimal cleaning and maintenance.

Stainless steel

This is a corrosion-resistant metal alloy that stands up strong to Mother Nature. It's heavy and robust, making it great for large, weight-bearing dining tables.

Olefin

Used in outdoor cushions, this is a synthetic material made from polyolefin. It resists water, heat, UV rays, mildew, colour fading and stains. This is a resilient material that’s also more comfortable than polyester.

Textilene

This is a woven polyester fabric covered in PVC used in more expensive outdoor cushions. The material is typically thick and resilient.

It is resistant to water, wind, mould, UV rays and fading. Some manufacturers claim it is a flame retardant, which could make it safer when using it near a firepit. It’s less comfortable than Olefin fabric.

Best bang for your buck

We found these wild card materials on both cheap and expensive furniture. They are all considered good quality materials, and you can buy them affordably if you look hard enough.

Powder-coated aluminium

Versatile and durable yet affordable, powder-coated aluminium is a top pick when it comes to outdoor furniture. It’s strong, like stainless steel, and the powder coating prevents rusting, corrosion or peeling of the metal underneath. The more layers the better, which you can preserve by avoiding harsh chemical cleaners.

Eucalyptus

While timber outdoor furniture is usually expensive, eucalyptus outdoor furniture appeared to be an exception with some brands, such as Mimosa Outdoor Furniture.

Wrought iron

ikea wrought iron dining setting
The LACKO 2-piece dining set from IKEA, $115.

wrought iron dining set Vintage wrought iron outdoor dining set.

Wrought iron may look thin, intricate and delicate, but it's surprsingly strong. Many pieces have a vintage look and are fairly budget friendly. Like other outdoor metals, wrought iron is best protected with multi-layered powder-coating.

However, this furniture may also use paint or clear coating for protection. This isn't as enduring as powder coating, but will still afford some protection against the elements - and bring the price down.

Shopping based on your climate

Even if a material is weather-safe and you can afford it, it should also suit your climate.

Windy weather

  • Avoid aluminium or other light furniture, for example made of plastic. It can go flying when it’s too windy.
  • If you're buying an outdoor umbrella, the more durable the better. Patio umbrellas can withstand wind - but only with a heavily weighted base, durably constructed frame and thick fabric.

Hot climates

  • Furniture made from stainless steel or other hot metal alloys retain heat. It can be dangerous to touch if furniture is left exposed to the sun.
  • Left in prolonged sunlight, some timbers may develop a patina and change colour over time. Eucalyptus, for example, develops a silver patina. Some people find it attractive; others don't.

Wet or humid climates

  • You’ll want to avoid anything made of timber. Even weather-safe hardwoods can soak in condensation. When the wood dries again, it can become cracked and warped, making the shape uneven. Yearly treatments are neccessary to maintain outdoor timber - but even this may not be sufficient if you live in a wet or humid climate.

Final tips to save money on outdoor furniture

Be flexible with the aesthetic

If you’re intent on your outdoor furniture having a certain look, you may have to pay more. If you're flexible with the aesthetic you may be more likely to snag a bargain.

Having a cohesive furniture design outdoors is arguably less important than having one indoors. Outside, it's nature rather than manmade creations that's the focal point! Furniture and decor doesn’t all have to be matching, either; variety can be eclectic and fun in an outdoor setting, and can make it feel more relaxed.

Scale down

While it may be tempting to splash out on that luxurious 9-piece dining set for all your summer alfresco dinner parties, realistically consider how often you'll get practical use you’ll get out of your purchase. Maybe you’re inspired by the idea of having a fancy outdoor entertaining space, but will actually only do it occasionally. In this case, scaling down to a smaller set-up that's suitable for your everyday household needs will save money.

Shop off-season

Garden furniture is usually cheaper in the colder months. (This trend excludes the pandemic prices of 2020 and 2021, when garden furniture was flying off the shelves in winter lockdowns). While shopping on second-hand sites like Gumtree or Facebook marketplace is appealing, you can't verify the materials used, or know how long ago the furniture was bought. This means the quality and longevity of your new garden furniture will be in question.

Wrapping up

While you may want to save some cash on your outdoor set-up, furniture that's not properly treated or made to last in all sorts of weather conditions won't last very long. However, it is possible to find resilient materials at a cheaper price if you take the time to look for them. This way, a good deal doesn't come at the cost of quality.