From priming to topcoat techniques, here's what a professional restorer says to do.
olive green painted wicker sofa with throw pillows
Credit: Addie Juell

No matter how well-made your wicker furniture may be, over time it can start to show signs of wear and tear. "Natural wicker is made of one of several plants including rattan, willow, reed, and bamboo," says Jane Henry of Jane Henry Studios, a full-service antique conservation and restoration shop based in New York City. "There is also synthetic wicker, which needs no maintenance other than keeping it clean."

And while synthetic wicker furniture pieces, as well as ones finished with a waterproof sealant, are okay to keep outside, Henry says that doesn't mean they're safe from effects of the elements. "Sun damage can cause wicker to become discolored and brittle," she explains. "Moisture damage can lead to rotting, and exposure to the sun and heavy use can cause the material to fray. If wicker weave unravels, it definitely needs attention."

Interested in advice on how to repair, paint, and restore your wicker furniture so it stays looking new for longer? We asked Henry to take us through the step-by-step process, and here's what she had to say.

First, clean.

Before you can assess a piece of wicker furniture for damage, Henry says you need to give it a good cleaning. "Scrape off as much flaking paint as possible with a wire brush, gently so you don't fray it," she says. Using a soft-bristle brush, she suggests carefully scrubbing the entire item with a mix of warm water and mild detergent, taking care to get in between any dirty reeds of cane, and then hosing it down, and letting it dry overnight.

Repair and prime.

Once your wicker furniture is clean and dry, the next step is to prep it for a paint job. Carefully inspect the item for damaged reeds, and glue any broken pieces back into place with wood glue and let it dry. After you've completed any repairs, Henry says to apply an oil-based primer using a natural bristle brush. "Brush slowly and consistently over each section of the piece to avoid drip marks," she says.

Apply paint.

Now that you've prepped your piece of wicker furniture, Henry says it's time to paint it. "Using a natural bristle brush, apply two coats of oil-based paint to all parts of the item, stopping to wipe up any drips," she says. "For raw wicker, I recommend sticking with an oil stain." If you're using spray paint, slowly spray each section of the furniture lengthwise from top to bottom, and allow to dry for 24 hours before spraying on a second, but lighter coat.

Finishing matters.

If you aren't applying some kind of varnish or seal to protect your wicker furniture from future damage after cleaning and painting it, Henry says you should start now. "A clear varnish or polyurethane topcoat is the best to use," she says. "Use a synthetic brush and apply carefully to avoid drips and spills." Remember to let it dry for at least 24 hours before putting any cushions on it.

Maintenance makes a difference.

No matter how well you repair or restore it, Henry says proper maintenance is essential to extending the life of your wicker furniture. "When not in use, make sure to cover it, and keep it out of the sun," she says. "Rain and cold weather can also damage wicker. It's also important to keep dirt and dust off of wicker to avoid erosion. You can safely hose it down with water, but wait for it to dry before using, because wet wicker can start to sag when stressed."


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