Patio Umbrella Buying Guide

Large lime green patio umbrella by pool

Large lime green patio umbrella by pool

A patio umbrella covers a large outdoor seating area and is made of materials that withstand various types of weather. If you’re spending more and more time outside, an umbrella will help you enjoy your deck or patio even more. The right patio umbrella keeps you cool on those hot summer days, adding to your patio’s appearance and creating a natural place to socialize. Before you outfit your patio with a new umbrella, make sure you know exactly how to find the best choice for your home’s setup.




Break out the tape measure and find out exactly how large the area that needs shade is. In most cases, you’re likely to want to shade an outdoor table, as that’s where your guests are going to hang out and socialize. As a general rule, there should be an extra 2 feet of space on each side of the table. That means a table with a diameter of 6 feet should have an umbrella with a diameter of 10 feet, so the entire table has shade. For height, about 7 to 9 feet is short enough to provide shade but tall enough that your guests don’t need to duck underneath, unless you invite a basketball team over for dinner.


The base keeps your patio umbrella from flying away when it gets windy; as a general rule, heavier is better. The three factors that affect how heavy a base you need are the height of the umbrella, the type of umbrella and how windy your area gets. Patio umbrellas are either free-standing or table umbrellas (which you insert into the hole in a patio table). Since the table adds extra support to the umbrella pole, table umbrellas don’t need quite as heavy a base as free-standing umbrellas. For most umbrellas, you want at least a 50-pound base, which can reliably anchor a 7- to 8-foot free-standing umbrella or a 9-foot table umbrella. Bases lighter than 50 pounds should only anchor table umbrellas.

Frame Material

The most popular materials for patio umbrella frames are wood, aluminum and fiberglass. Wood umbrellas have a timeless style that obviously pairs well with a wood dining table. The wood is almost always treated to ensure that it stands up to the daily wear and tear of outdoor use. Aluminum is lightweight, an economical choice and resistant to corrosion and other damage. Fiberglass is also lightweight and resists corrosion. It’s also the most flexible material, bending a bit without breaking, making it an excellent choice for windy environments.

Umbrella Fabric

The most important factor in choosing an umbrella fabric is finding one that can stand up to a variety of weather conditions. Read the product description and look for keywords, such as “weatherproof,” “waterproof” and “UV-resistant,” indicating that the fabric can handle sunlight and rain. “Breathable” is also an important feature, as those fabrics resist mold and mildew. One of the most popular names in patio umbrella fabrics is Sunbrella, a water-resistant fabric that doesn’t fade in the sun. Polyester is another solid choice for a patio umbrella fabric.


Not all patio umbrellas follow the traditional umbrella design, as there are tilting patio umbrellas and offset patio umbrellas, also called cantilever umbrellas. A tilting patio umbrella, which can be either free-standing or in a table, has a crank so you can adjust the umbrella to the angle of the sun. Offset patio umbrellas, which are free-standing, place the umbrella pole off to one side. These heavy-duty umbrellas can often move in any direction.


Turn your patio into a neighborhood hot spot by adding umbrella lights. Some patio umbrellas include lights in the ribs, but if not, you can purchase lights and attach them yourself. Lighting options include string lights or LED lights designed to fit around a patio umbrella pole.

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