Best Oils For Restoring And Maintaining Rattan Furniture

Best Oils For Restoring And Maintaining Rattan Furniture

Discover the Best Oils for Protecting Your Rattan, Cane, and Wick Furniture

What is the Best Oil for Rattan Furniture?

Rattan furniture has become increasingly popular for contemporary outdoor spaces over the last decade. The natural material is praised for its lightweight durability, sustainability, and artisanal look that pairs well with a variety of decors.

However, like any natural material used outdoors, rattan requires maintenance and restoration over time to keep it looking its best. Using oil is one of the most effective ways to nourish, protect and restore rattan furniture.

But with different oil options available, how do you know which is the best to use?

According to restoration experts, the top oils for maintaining rattan are food-safe drying oils like boiled linseed oil and tung oil which deeply penetrate into the rattan while allowing it to remain breathable. These oils replenish natural oils lost through weathering, help prevent drying and splitting, and restore the supple flexibility that makes rattan so durable.

In this article, we’ll take an in-depth look at the benefits of linseed and tung oil, along with some alternatives you can use for your rattan furniture and care tips.

What is Rattan Furniture?

Rattan refers to over 600 species of palm vines native to tropical regions across Africa, Asia, and Australia. It is an extremely strong and fmaterial,natural material perfect for crafting into furniture and accessories. “Cane” also describes rattan stems or shoots specifically harvested for weaving while they are still solid.

Rattan’s lightweight yet sturdy properties make it ideal for fashioning into outdoor patio sets, chairs, tables, and shelving that can withstand the elements. Its intricate natural pattern and artisanal craftsmanship also give it an organic, modern appeal. While synthetics like resin wicker furniture have gained popularity for lower maintenance, natural rattan is still highly valued for its unparalleled quality and sustainability.

Why Does Rattan Furniture Need Restoration?

Though rattan itself is very hardy and long-lasting, exposure to sun, rain, salt air, and temperature fluctuations take a toll over time. The elements can dry out rattan’s natural oils, causing the material to become brittle and split or crack. Prolonged weathering also fades rattan’s light caramel color to an unsightly gray. While these changes don’t affect rattan’s structural integrity, restoring protection and suppleness helps it better withstand nature’s stresses.

Regular oiling is the best way to care for and extend the life of outdoor rattan pieces. The oils nourish into the plant fibers to replace lost lipids, lubricate, protect against moisture damage, and block UV rays. This keeps rattan flexible, resilient, and looking closer to its original beauty.

Best Oils for Restoring Rattan Furniture

Boiled Linseed Oil

Best Oil for Rattan Furniture - Boiled Linseed Oil

Linseed oil, also known as flaxseed oil, has been used for centuries to coat and protect natural wood products. It is non-toxic, eco-friendly, and becomes food-safe once fully cured. Linseed oil is derived by cold pressing the seeds of the flax plant.

As a “drying oil”, linseed oil soaks into rattan and forms a flexible breathable finish as it reacts with oxygen in the air. This gives linseed oil some unique advantages for restoring rattan furniture:

  • Deep penetration – Unlike varnishes or sealants that coat the surface, linseed oil is able to deeply soak into the natural fibers of rattan to recondition it from within. This helps restore suppleness and resilience.
  • Moisture resistance – When linseed oil cures, it forms a natural finish that helps repel water while still allowing rattan to breathe. This prevents splits, cracks and mold damage.
  • UV protection – The applied oil acts as a natural sunblock to reduce fading and discoloration from harsh UV rays.
  • Renewable finish – Unlike surface finishes that can chip or peel, linseed oil soaks in and bonds on a molecular level. It can be safely reapplied as needed without buildup.
  • Preserves look – Linseed oil enhances rattan’s natural light caramel coloration versus covering it. It brings out the material’s inherent beauty.
  • Non-toxic – Fully cured linseed oil is safe for use on dining furniture with no risk of food contamination.

Linseed oil does take quite a bit longer to fully cure compared to some alternatives — from 4-7 days indoors. But the trade-off is a non-toxic, highly effective finish from natural ingredients. Cold-pressed food-grade linseed oil is affordable and available from most hardware stores and online retailers.

Tung Oil

Best Oil for Rattan Furniture - Pure Tung Oil

Tung oil is produced by extracting and pressing the nuts from the seeds of the tung tree. It has been used for thousands of years to waterproof boats and preserve wood in China. Like linseed oil, it penetrates deeply into rattan rather than forming a surface coating.

Tung oil gives rattan a warm, slightly glossy finish after curing fully. It also restores suppleness to dried, brittle fibers and protects against moisture damage. The natural antioxidants in tung oil help reduce UV damage and fading. When fully polymerized, tung oil is non-toxic and food-safe.

A notable benefit of tung oil is a faster cure time, usually 3-5 days versus up to a week for linseed. This makes it a good choice for refreshing rattan between intense seasons of use. However, the more rapid cure means tung oil may require more frequent reapplication to maintain protection. It can also subtly darken some rattan more than flaxseed oils.

Both polymerized linseed and tung oils are excellent non-toxic options for restoring weathered rattan outdoor furniture.

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Comparing Linseed and Tung Oils

Linseed and tung oils have many similarities that make them optimal for renewing rattan furniture:

  • Penetration – Unlike surface sealants, both oils soak into rattan’s natural fibers rather than leave a film on top. This allows the material to remain breathable.
  • Renewability – The oils can be safely reapplied without chipping, peeling or scraping off previous layers. They offer an infinitely renewable finish.
  • Non-toxic – Once fully cured over several days, neither oil poses any toxicity risks. Both can safely be used on dining sets.
  • Enhance appearance – The oils bring out the inherent beauty of natural rattan rather than covering it with pigments or plastic-like coatings.

However, there are a few key differences to consider when choosing which oil to use:

Linseed oil advantages:

  • Provides maximum moisture resistance thanks to its longer cure time. Linseed forms an exceptionally water-resistant finish.
  • Better preserves original rattan color with less darkening. Subtle hues are maintained.
  • Slower curing allows the oil to penetrate deeper into rattan fibers for superior long-term conditioning.

Tung oil advantages:

  • Significantly faster cure time of 3-5 days allows furniture to be put back into use quicker.
  • Imparts a richer, slightly glossy finish compared to linseed’s matte protection.
  • Dense curing means tung oil may require slightly more re-application over time. But this allows flexibility in maintenance timing.

Either oil will effectively restore and protect weathered rattan. Consider the trade-offs and variables for your particular furniture and needs when choosing linseed or tung. Many experts recommend starting with food-safe linseed oil for eco-friendly protection that preserves rattan’s natural beauty. But tung oil also provides a viable natural option.

How to Apply Oil to Rattan Furniture

Restoring rattan with oil is a relatively simple process but following some key steps will ensure the best results:

Cleaning and Prepping Rattan

Before oiling, thoroughly clean the rattan with mild soap and water to remove any dirt, grime, or residues. Rinse and allow to fully dry. Lightly sanding with fine grit sandpaper can help the oil better penetrate.

Choosing and Applying Oil

Choose an all-natural, food-safe oil like linseed or tung variety. Test a small inconspicuous area first. Then liberally apply the oil across all rattan surfaces using a clean lint-free cloth or foam applicator. Coat rungs, edges, crevices and underneath joints. Let the oil soak in for 15-20 minutes then thoroughly wipe away any excess with a clean dry cloth.

Curing and Drying

Allow the oil to cure fully, for 4-7 days for linseed oil or 3-5 days for tung oil variants. Curing times are longer in cooler, humid environments. Avoid wetting or getting the furniture dusty during this period. Once fully cured, the oil will not leave a greasy residue or transfer onto clothing.

Re-Applying Oil

Re-coat outdoor rattan furniture whenever it starts looking dry, faded or splotchy, usually once or twice per year. Simply clean, lightly sand, and re-oil following the same process. The oil will continue penetrating without developing layers of residue. Properly oiled rattan can last decades.

Taking the time to regularly restore your rattan furniture with a penetrating oil will keep it looking like new for many years of enjoyment.

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Restoration Alternatives

While penetrating oils like linseed and tung are ideal for restoring rattan from within, some people do opt for alternative sealants and finishes:

  • Varnish or polyurethane form a hard plastic-like coating on top of the rattan rather than soaking into the fibers. This does help repel water and provide protection from weathering damage. However, the thick surface application can begin cracking or peeling over time as the rattan expands and contracts. Once this happens, varnish or polyurethane finishes must be completely stripped and refinished to restore the rattan. This is labor intensive and exposes the fibers to potential damage from chemical stripping. The plastic-like finish also inhibits the rattan’s natural breathability.
  • Pigmented stains can help refresh faded color. However, they work by leaving a coloring film on the surface rather than nourishing the rattan fibers. This coating obscures the natural color variations and beauty of the rattan. Stains can also chip and peel, requiring stripping to remove.
  • Clear sealers similarly leave a surface film on the rattan rather than penetrating and conditioning from within. Sealers vinylize and plasticize the rattan, inhibiting its ability to flex and breathe naturally. This can lead to cracking and peeling of the top coat over time.
  • Lemon oil is extracted from the peels of lemons. It contains the compound limonene which gives it mild solvent properties. Some use lemon oil for cleaning rattan or light restoration. However, lemon oil does not penetrate deeply or offer long-term protection. It can also damage rattan fibers with prolonged use as the fruit acids can be corrosive over time. Lemon oil is best limited to gentle cleaning.
  • Orange oil, derived from the rinds of oranges, contains the natural solvent d-limonene. This gives it cleansing and degreasing abilities. Orange oil has been growing in popularity for household cleaning uses. Though it can help lightly clean rattan, orange oil does not have the nourishing, penetrating, and UV-protecting abilities of oils like linseed and tung. It does not condition rattan fibers and leaves no protective finish. Orange oil is best as an occasional surface refresher rather than a restorative treatment.

While stains, varnishes, and sealers provide some protection initially, they do not nourish rattan fibers like oils. And their tendency to chip, crack, and peel means they require much more intensive maintenance over time versus simple reapplication of penetrating oils.

Oils remain the optimal restoration choice for protecting rattan while preserving its natural look and feel. Linseed and tung varieties allow the material to flex and breathe while providing renewable weatherproofing. With proper care, oil-treated rattan can endure for generations without the upkeep issues of surface finishes.


Regularly restoring faded, dried or cracked rattan furniture with natural oil is the best way to protect it from ongoing weathering. Penetrating oils like food-safe linseed and tung variants outperform surface coatings because they soak into the plant fibers to recondition from within.

Linseed oil is the optimal choice for deeply weatherproofing rattan while keeping it looking new. Tung oil offers faster drying but needs a bit more maintenance. With proper prep and application, oil treatments can keep rattan supple and resilient no matter how long it lives outdoors. Investing some annual upkeep into oiling rattan will pay off for decades of outdoor enjoyment.