Wicker — How to clean and care for wicker items

Have any wicker in your home? Baskets, tables, indoor furniture or out? Maybe yours is a brand-new purchase, or maybe it’s been around since the seventies — wicker is long-lasting stuff! It’s great for adding texture and interest to a room or yard, and at the same time it’s airy feeling, lightweight, and very durable. There are just a few things to keep in mind about wicker to keep it looking its best. 

But first a little background — because it’s fun to learn about and easy to iron out any confusion you might have.

What is wicker? Are wicker and rattan the same thing?

No, they’re not the same thing, though the names are often used interchangeably. Wicker is a weaving technique, and rattan is a material (just like carving is a technique and balsa wood is a material). Rattan is one of the many materials that can be used in wicker making (just like balsa is one of the many woods that can be used in carving).

the bottom of a wicker basket

Wicker can be hand woven or woven on a loom. It comes from the Scandinavian words vika, to bend, and vikker, meaning willow (another plant material used for making wicker). Pliable natural and synthetic materials are both used for wicker, and the result is very sturdy. Many different patterns can be woven; the craft is called rushwork or wickerwork. Wicker can be stained, painted, or left natural.

Wicker was first introduced to America when a baby cradle arrived on the Mayflower in 1620, but it’s been dated to ancient Egypt. Read more about the history of wicker

What materials are used to make wicker?

Natural materials include reed, cane, rattan, seagrass, bamboo, water hyacinth, and willow. These are all very durable, strong, and pliable. Some of these materials are used for the frames of wicker furniture and others are used where less structure is called for. 

Synthetics include resin, vinyl, and chemically treated paper. Sometimes paper-wrapped high tensile wire or an aluminum frame is also used. Resin is usually made from a plastic called polyethylene, or PVC, or nylon, or high density polyethylene (HDPE).

Experts recommend using wicker made from natural materials indoors only, because it can be damaged by the sun and moisture outdoors and quickly deteriorate. (It’s very porous, so it will quickly soak up the dew as well as the rain, causing mildew and rot.) If you do have natural wicker outside, it’s a good idea to at least keep in a covered area (such as a patio or porch) and bring it indoors in the cold or rainy weather. 

Outdoor wicker furniture made from synthetic materials, on the other hand, can better withstand some sun and moisture. 

Taking care of wicker baskets, furniture, and other items

a wicker bike basket on the front of a green bicycle in front of a stone wall
  • Whether it’s natural or synthetic, keeping your wicker clean and dry will help preserve it. Wicker that stays wet can develop mildew, which will cause it to break down. Towel dry it after it gets wet, and clean up any spills promptly. 
  • Sunlight can cause both natural and synthetic wicker to crack and deteriorate, so keep it all out of direct sunlight, if possible. (Put wicker furniture on a porch or under an umbrella). Keep in mind that in very hot weather wicker can stretch (so sitting in a wicker chair that’s been baking in the direct sun may stretch it).
  • If the weave has shifted (creating a wider space in one area, for example), simply use your fingers to move it back into place. 
  • If the weather is very cold, outdoor wicker furniture may become brittle, so store it indoors (or, if that’s not possible, then cover it) in the winter.

Cleaning wicker

Really dirty wicker (a hand-me-down or something that’s been sitting for some time without care) can take some patience to get clean, but bringing it back to life is rewarding work. If you maintain your wicker regularly (with say, a good washing twice a year), the task will be easier.

Here are the steps for cleaning wicker:

  1. Vacuum the surface and crevices with the brush attachment on your vacuum cleaner. If you don’t have one, simply brush the dust off surfaces and out of crevices with a soft brush (a soft paintbrush or cleaning brush, for example).
  2. If your wicker is synthetic material (that outdoor patio set, for example), use a hose to wet it all well. Don’t hose down natural wicker (remember, it’s very porous). And don’t use a pressure wash on wicker of any kind.
  3. Mix up some mild dish detergent or mild laundry detergent and warm water. Using a clean sponge, cloth, or soft brush, spot clean where needed (which may be everywhere!). 
  4. Rinse with a clean cloth or sponge. If your wicker is synthetic, you can hose it down again to rinse it.
  5. Let the wicker dry completely before using it. This is important because you may stretch the fibers if you use the item before it’s dry.
A wicker loveseat with white pillows on it beside a wicker chair and table

What can I do about rough spots on wicker?

Don’t wait until your wicker chair snags a favorite sweater or scrapes an elbow! Simply use some sandpaper to smooth any rough spots now and then, especially around edges.

Can I put anything on wicker to protect it?

I wouldn’t apply anything to wicker baskets that will be used for food (produce, for example). But some experts suggest polishing wicker furniture with clear furniture polish, after cleaning, to protect it. And some recommend applying lacquer every year or two to wicker (indoors and out) to seal and protect it. (If you have new wicker furniture, check with the manufacturer before applying anything.)

Shopping for wicker?

Etsy has some wonderful wicker products. Some are vintage, like this round basket, and others are hand crafted today, like these sweet woven baskets (I’m ordering a couple to plop plants in) and this gorgeous wicker purse. (Just type “wicker” into Etsy’s search bar, and you’ll find all kinds of wonderful!)

(I’m showing you these products because I think they’re lovely and you might be interested. Im also an Etsy affiliate, so if you purchase anything via my links, I’ll earn a little coffee cash — without changing your price.)

You might also enjoy:

Keeping a laundry hamper fresh

How to take care of a wood cutting board

Brooms — How to clean and care for your household broom

Area rugs — How to take care of rugs so they look good and last

5 thoughts on “Wicker — How to clean and care for wicker items”

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