If you’ve ever shopped for outdoor furniture, chances are you’ve come across material names like poly lumber, poly, plastic, resin, or composite. Some furniture manufacturers use the terms interchangeably, while others make the distinction based on manufacturing technique; but, all of these terms mean something different. This short guide will help you to understand the differences between each material and its benefits.
Poly / Poly Lumber Furniture
Poly lumber is made from high-density polyethylene (HDPE), a plastic that is used for a wide variety of products like furniture, toys, food containers, and more. In fact, most poly lumber is made from recycled HDPE that comes from discarded water bottles and milk jugs. The plastic is melted down into a liquid and extruded into different board sizes. The poly lumber is then used just like wood to build each piece of furniture.
Poly lumber is solid, and colored throughout, so it is a heavy material that is scratch-resistant and weathers well. One of the side benefits of poly lumber that is made from recycled materials is that it keeps plastic out of the landfill, giving them new life as a piece of furniture or other consumer good. It is more expensive than injection molded plastic furniture, both because it is more durable and not made using mass production.
Plastic furniture typically refers to injection molded plastic, in which melted plastic is forced into a mold and rapidly cooled so that it retains the shape of the mold. A lot of plastic furniture is molded into a single piece, which means that no assembly or hardware is necessary. For that reason, injection molded plastic has the lowest price point of all plastic furniture because it can be mass produced quickly and cheaply. However, there are manufacturers that mold plastic chair pieces (like seats and backs) and use a heavier frame material like aluminum or steel for additional strength and durability.
Plastic furniture is popular as an economic option that will usually last a couple of years and then needs replaced due to its tendency to bend and crack, particularly in cold weather. There are higher end plastic furniture manufacturers that make furniture with thicker walls and higher weight limits, however.
If you search “resin furniture” on Google, you’ll find a wide range of different options, including furniture that isn’t resin at all. The truth is that plastic resin is a bit of a misnomer; real resin is a plant-based material, and, unlike plastic, is not made from hydrocarbons. Regardless, “plastic resin” is often made of high-density polyethylene (HDPE), and is typically woven into a wicker to look like natural wicker furniture. It is also commonly called synthetic wicker or resin wicker.
Resin wicker is a strong material that is resistant to fading and cracking. It also comes at a lower price point than natural wicker because its base components are widely available and relatively inexpensive to produce.
Composite furniture is a term that is often used synonymously with poly lumber, however they are not the same thing. While poly lumber is made 100% from plastics, composite lumber is made from a blend of wood pulp and plastic. Composites are used mainly in the building industry for decking and fencing, and are not widely used for building furniture.