Garden Parasol Buyers Guide

No matter if you’re a fan of garden parties on the patio or just want something to protect you from the sun while you have a snooze on the lounger, parasols are a handy and appealing piece of garden furniture to have around in the warmer weather.

This said, there’s more to buying garden umbrellas than simply shading your patio space. Do you need a free-standing parasol or are you buying one to fit in with existing garden furniture? What material should the canopy be made of? Do you want the flexibility of a cantilever umbrella to protect you from anything the weather can throw at you? If you need some clarity on types of parasol frame, fabric, mechanism and base, read on for our full guide to garden parasols.

Size

The size of the garden parasol depends on how much of your garden you want to cover and who will be using the shade underneath. Garden parasol sizes range from 2 metres for a bench or small garden table – this is usually ok for two people. Families of four might want up to 2.5 metres, while larger groups will be happier with 3 metres. If you’re likely to be hosting a lot of garden parties or an outdoor event and need something more like a temporary gazebo , you can find canopies of 4 metres or more.

Base

Size is obviously a major factor with parasol bases, but also consider whether the parasol will be free-standing or fit in as part of a table. You need a base which is heavy enough to stabilise the canopy of your parasol so by size alone a small 2 metre parasol may only need a 15-20kilogram base. At the upper end of the scale, secure a 3-4 metre parasol with a 30-40 kilogram base.

However, standalone pole designs may need a 40 kilogram weight to hold them up, regardless of size. Scope out the area where the parasol will go before buying as well, to check how exposed the site is and how affected it may be by strong winds.

Looks-wise, you can go for anything from attractive wrought iron parasol bases to more functional covered concrete. Check that the base is weather-proof – if it’s heavy, you won’t want to be moving it in and out of the garage all summer!

Materials

Though truly scorching British heat is rare, garden umbrellas need to be durable and weather-resistant to be used outside, protecting against both sun and showers and withstanding strong winds when needed. Material choice is therefore essential to make sure your parasol lasts for years.

Water-repellent parasols are commonly made of synthetic fibres like polyester or acrylic, as these are best for keeping their colour through rain and sunshine. These fabrics are also fairly light and should stay in good condition throughout the summer. They’re often cheaper than canvas varieties as well. Check that polyester garden umbrellas have been treated with a chemical like polyurethane to make sure they’re waterproof.

Olefin is often used in manufacturing parasols as it’s formulated to repel water and remain sturdy in adverse weather. Made from poly-propylene, olefin is one of the best options for preventing the colour from fading and its water-resistance means it won’t mildew.

You can also find canvas umbrellas for your garden, which can be a more breathable choice and is naturally water-resistant. However, the material protects against rain by absorbing the moisture, so can be prone to damp and mould. Regular cleaning will prevent this being a problem, or you might want to treat your garden parasol with a chemical or acrylic paint coating.

Frames

Choosing a garden parasol frame should be about the practicalities as well as the look; consider both the type of material and how the frame operates to decide if it’s right for you.

Material

The main frame options are usually divided into wood or metal.

Aluminium frames are heavier than wooden versions and therefore more robust against the wind. They can come in scratch-resistant varieties, although metal can rust if not looked after properly.

On the other hand, wooden parasol frames can add an extra decorative element, especially if matched with a wooden garden furniture set. Their lightweight properties can be good for manoeuvring around the patio space but less reliable in stormy weather. Make sure the wood has been varnished to ensure protection from the rain.

Mechanisms

A big part of choosing which garden parasol you want is the mechanism. Standard frames are push-up, meaning you open them much like pub garden or market umbrellas and slide the mechanism up the umbrella pole with your fingers, opening the struts beneath the canopy.

However you may want something less manual like a wood pulley parasol, which lets you open out the canopy via a pull-cord. This can also be a little safer around children, to avoid any fingers getting trapped.

Cantilever parasols operate a bit differently to those with a central pole. Positioned at the side of a garden table or patio space, they have a flexible ‘free arm’ which overhangs the area where shade is needed. From a social point of view, they’re better for holding conversations without being distracted by a pole in the way and can be adjusted by angle to protect you and your garden furniture, whatever the sun’s position.

They also come in a standard single cantilever model, with one arm and canopy, or a dual cantilever design, with a double canopy that can be used to cover a larger garden, pool area or patio space.

Garden parasol cleaning and care

Always take down and store your garden parasol if you won’t be using it for a while. Keep it closed overnight regardless, to avoid wind damage. You can also use a tarpaulin cover if you want to keep it dry overnight during summer.

Regular cleaning is essential to keep your parasol bright and dirt-free. Before you put it away for the winter, brush down the outside of the canopy to take off any leaves or mud. Some parasols have to be cleaned on the frame, others can have the canopy removed. In either case, wipe down the fabric with some mild soap and warm water by hand, rinsing and leaving open to dry. Vinyl parasols may need a special cleaner to remove all the marks.

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