16 Apr 2021

Office Chair Materials:
Fabric vs Leather vs PU Leather vs Mesh

Office chair materials

If you’ve been searching for a new office or desk chair, you’ll have come across several different upholstery materials. Most often, chairs are made with one of the following four:

- Fabric
- Leather
- PU leather/faux leather
- Mesh

In this article, we’ll teach you about what matters when selecting the material of your office chair. Then, we’ll tell you all about the characteristics of each of the materials.

We’ll also tell you about a new type of office chair material — the fabric-mesh hybrid — and why we think it’s the best.

How to choose the right material: 3 key criteria

There are three key criteria that you should look out for when you’re shopping around for office chair materials.

Comfort

Comfort in office chairs is really a matter of two questions:

1. Short-term comfort: how comfortable does a chair feel the moment you sit in it?

Some materials feel plush when you first sit because you sink into them. They give you a sense of instantaneous comfort. These materials tend to have more give and feel softer.

2. Long-term comfort: how comfortable will you feel after spending hours sitting in the chair?

Some materials might not feel quite as soft at first, but may keep you comfortable over long periods of time. Materials that offer long- term comfort tend to be more:

Supportive:
They support your body at its key contact points with the chair, helping you maintain good posture. Sitting in an unsupportive office chair for any lengthy period of time is a recipe for aches and pains. If you suffer from neck, upper, or lower back pain especially, you’ll definitely want to prioritise support.

Breathable:
They let air pass through and circulate between your body and the chair, keeping your body cool throughout. Without breathable upholstery in Singapore’s hot and humid climate, you’ll start feeling warm and your body will start sweating.

Unless you’re only using your office chair occasionally, or sitting in it for quick stints, you’ll want to think more about long-term comfort than short-term comfort.

Durability

You’re going to sit in your chair for hours at a time, and you’ll want it to last for years. Any material that cannot stand up to long-term daily use should not be on an office chair.

Maintenance

Some materials are just plain hard to maintain. They’re hard to keep hygienic and looking good. You’re already spending hours a day sitting on your chair. You don’t want to have to spend additional time every day kneeling next to it just to keep it clean and pristine, do you?

Fabric office chairs

Traditional office chairs are made by covering the seat and backrest with a layer of thick padding, then wrapping that padding in fabric. The padding is intended to make the chair feel soft and comfortable, while the fabric is supposed to give some resistance to wear and tear.

Fabric office chairs

Comfort

Depending on the quality of the padding and fabric, fabric chairs can be great for short-term comfort. With good padding, fabric chairs can feel very plush. If the fabric upholstery itself is soft to the touch, fabric chairs can feel great when you initially sit in them.

However, when it comes to long-term comfort, fabric loses out. Because of the layer of cushioned padding underneath, fabric chairs aren’t breathable at all. Sitting in one for long periods of time will likely leave you feeling warm and sweaty.

Additionally, the padding in fabric chairs, while soft, offers little support for your body. Instead of propping your body up at key points, padding sinks in when you place your weight on it. If you're looking for lumbar support, you'd be hard pressed finding it in a fabric chair.

Durability

In the long run, fabric chairs tend to deteriorate and lose their shape because of their structure. The padding underneath tends to compress and give in with time.

Over several years, you’ll definitely notice a difference in how your fabric chair feels. Sometimes, the padding disintegrates and breaks into pieces, rendering the chair unusable.

Maintenance

Fabric chairs are difficult to keep clean and hygienic. If you spill a liquid on one, the material will probably absorb the spill, and might stain permanently.

Fabric chairs also tend to hold in moisture and absorb odours — a major problem considering the tendency of fabric chairs to make you sweat.

Leather office chairs

Leather office chairs are built in the same way as fabric chairs. However, instead of fabric, genuine leather covers the layer of cushioned padding. Leather chairs are a step up in cost, but also offer a premium look and feel.

Leather office chairs

Comfort

Leather office chairs perform similar to fabric chairs in terms of comfort. Because of the padding underneath, they often feel plush when you first sit in them. In fact, they often feel even more luxurious because they are made of leather.

Similarly, leather office chairs score poorly when it comes to long term comfort. They run into the same problem with support — when you sit in one, the padding sinks in wherever you place your weight. Lumbar support is not easy to come by amongst such chairs.

Moreover, leather office chairs are even less breathable than fabric ones. Despite feeling cool to the touch at first, leather gets warm quickly. Leather doesn’t breathe at all, meaning that your body will sweat. When that sweat accumulates, the leather will start feeling sticky and clammy.

Durability

If cared for properly, quality leather is extremely durable and will last for years. However, just like fabric chairs, leather chairs’ downside is the padding underneath. Over time, it sinks, and can disintegrate in some cases.

Maintenance

The flip side of leather’s durability is the fact that it requires frequent maintenance. Without regular care, leather dries out and cracks. Make sure to clean a leather chair often, and don't place it in direct sunlight.

Be mindful that there are some issues that routine maintenance cannot fix. With repeated use, leather stretches where stressed (at weight-bearing areas), causing it to develop wrinkles. Permanent butt prints are commonly seen in leather chairs that have been used extensively. Furthermore, scuffs and scratches in leather are difficult to remove without specialist care.

PU Leather office chairs

Synthetic PU (polyurethane) leather (or faux leather) is a way of getting the premium leather look at a more reasonable price. PU leather chairs are built exactly the same way as fabric and leather chairs, just with a different covering. Instead of fabric or leather, the padding is wrapped in faux leather.

PU leather office chairs

Comfort

Because PU leather chairs are built similarly to real leather ones, they have similar comfort characteristics. With quality padding, they feel plush in the short term. Additionally, well-engineered faux leather can feel indistinguishable from genuine leather.

However, the PU leather covering amplifies the long-term comfort issues that genuine leather has. PU is not breathable at all; it feels even warmer than leather. This means that you’ll perspire if you spend a reasonable amount of time in a PU leather chair. Like leather chairs, PU leather chairs don’t offer much support, with the padding sinking in rather than holding your body up where weight is applied.

Furthermore, PU leather is an irritant to some people’s skin. If you have sensitive skin or allergies, prolonged contact to some types of PU leather will leave you feeling itchy.

Durability

PU leather has a poor reputation for durability. Exposure to heat (like direct sunlight) is damaging to PU leather, resulting in unsightly cracking and peeling. The top coating is also easily damaged by exposure to moisture (such as from spilled drinks or perspiration) and skin oils.

On top of this fragility are the problems that arise from the padding. Just like real leather chairs, PU leather chairs are vulnerable to having their padding break down and lose shape over the years.

Maintenance

Staying on top of maintenance is crucial with PU leather chairs because the material is so easily damaged. The chair should not be exposed to heat or moisture — for example, make sure to wipe up spills immediately.

On the flip side, maintenance on PU leather is relatively easy. Faux leather can be wiped down easily with soapy water. Just ensure that you do it often to avoid the buildup of sweat and skin oils.

Mesh office chairs

Mesh office chairs are built completely differently from fabric, leather and PU leather chairs. The woven mesh material is everything. It is responsible for both support and comfort — there is no layer of thick padding underneath.

With mesh office chairs, the type of mesh matters. Mesh comes in different stiffnesses — a stiffer mesh will perform differently from a softer mesh.

Mesh office chairs

Comfort

Mesh office chairs definitely do not feel like any of the other chairs. A mesh chair doesn't have the padding that other chairs have, so your body doesn’t quite sink into them. No matter how soft the mesh, it will not feel as plush as a padded chair when you sit. Nevertheless, even the stiffest mesh still has some give, so you definitely won’t feel like you’re sitting on a plank.

Where mesh office chairs truly win out over others is in long-term comfort. All types of mesh are much more breathable than the other materials. Mesh allows free airflow around your body, keeping you cool. 

Mesh office chairs in general excel at supporting your body, allowing you to sit for long periods of time without aches and pains. The material is uniquely suited to supporting your body. It props up the parts that matter (like your hips, buttocks, and spine) while simultaneously spreading your weight over a large area.

However, be mindful of the mesh stiffness: mesh that is too soft compromises on support, while too stiff a mesh will feel hard and uncomfortable.

Additionally, some mesh chairs suffer from other issues. Certain types of mesh are woven from materials that may irritate some people’s skin. Also, some mesh is abrasive to skin and clothing. Others still may dig into your skin, causing itchiness.

Durability

Mesh’s achilles heel is its durability — it tears and fray easily, especially when poked by sharp objects or metal hardware.

Another durability issue that plagues many mesh chairs (especially ones made with softer mesh) is the tendency to stretch and sag over time. This reduces the ability of the chair to support your body.

Maintenance

Mesh is much easier to maintain than it looks. It is easy to wipe down or vacuum. Nothing — not dirt, dust, or food crumbs — will get stuck in the material.

Furthermore, mesh requires less maintenance than other materials because of how breathable it is. Free ventilation means that you won’t end up sweaty, which in turn means that cleaning is quick and easy.

Fabric-mesh hybrid office chairs

A new innovation in chair upholstery is the fabric-mesh hybrid material. While mesh is uniquely suited to building office chairs that are comfortable over hours of sitting, it suffers from longevity issues.

Fabric-mesh chairs look similar to mesh, but are a composite of fabric and mesh. This makes them much more durable than normal mesh, while retaining the benefits of mesh office chairs. 

Fabric-mesh hybrid office chairs

Comfort

Fabric-mesh hybrids offer the same comfort characteristics that ordinary mesh does. Fabric-mesh hybrid chairs are just as breathable as mesh chairs, allowing the same free airflow that keeps your body cool. They also offer similarly excellent long term support. For long term comfort then, fabric-mesh hybrids sit right up there with ordinary mesh.

Durability

Where fabric-mesh hybrids improve most over ordinary mesh is in their durability.

In a fabric-mesh hybrid, the fabric lends strength to the mesh. Fabric-mesh hybrid materials neither tear nor fray easily. Additionally, they don’t sag or deform over years of use.

Maintenance

Fabric-mesh hybrid chairs are just as easy to maintain as mesh chairs.

Like mesh, their breathability means hassle-free cleaning, because they don’t make you sweat. They are also easy to vacuum and wipe down, just like mesh chairs. They don’t trap dirt, dust, or anything that you drop.

The ErgoTune: a great fabric-mesh hybrid ergonomic office chair

Here at ErgoTune, we know a fair bit about office chairs. After all, they’re the only things we make. We’re well aware of each material’s properties, so when it came to selecting the right material to cover our ergonomic chairs in, we had to pick the best — a fabric-mesh hybrid.

DuraWeave

We use a high-quality fabric-mesh hybrid called DuraWeave™ that is woven specially for us in Germany. It has the airiness of breathable mesh and the strength of fabric reinforcement. It also has just the right stiffness to support your entire body and keep you feeling comfortable for long periods of time. It won’t sag after years of use, and will neither tear nor fray. We’re very proud of it, to say the least.

We’re so proud of DuraWeave™ that we’ve sent it to be certified by various international testing organisations. DuraWeave™ is OEKO-TEX certified for being friendly to sensitive skin and allergies. It is also ISO-certified for durability. We’re so confident in its durability that we offer a 12 year warranty on our chairs. 

Of course, an office chair isn’t just all upholstery. We’re not about to make you sit on a pile of DuraWeave™. There are casters, armrests, backrests, headrests, etc. We’re just as confident in the rest of the chair as we are in DuraWeave™. We believe that we make fantastic ergonomic chairs, and so do the hundreds of people who have left rave reviews of them.

All-day comfort, day in day out. Get the top rated ergonomic chair today!