6 Aug 2021
The best material choice for an office chair
When investing in a quality ergonomic office chair, one of the most important factors you should never neglect is the type of material your upholstery is made of.
Then again, there are so many different types of materials to choose from, whether is it leather, faux leather, vinyl, mesh, fabric, plastic or even wood, which can be very perplexing especially for the first-time buyer.
How do you choose which one is the best for you?
To answer this question, we'll be providing you with 3 simple guidelines to determine what your priorities are when choosing your chair material, including its pros and cons objectively for you to make an informed and objective decision at the end of the day.
Table of Contents1. How do I go about choosing what material to use?2. Types of upholstery for office chairs2.1 Leather2.2 Faux Leather2.3 Vinyl2.4 Mesh2.5 Fabric2.6 Plastic2.7 Wood2.8 Hybrid Mesh3. Mesh chair vs leather vs fabric, choosing the best one for you
How do I go about choosing which material to use?
- How Will It Feel on My Skin?
Naturally, different materials will feel differently on your skin, and if you want to choose an office chair that you can sit on for a lifetime, how comfortable this material is to you is of utmost importance.
Some materials, such as leather and faux leather, tend to feel stickier especially in hot and humid climates like Singapore’s. This can be quite annoying for most people due to the feeling of your skin sticking and peeling away from your seat every time you stand up or sit down.
In contrast, other materials like mesh or fabric can feel scratchy at times, which occurs due to wear and tear, resulting in the tiny fibres of the material breaking free and poking at your skin. However, this can be easily avoided when purchasing chairs with good quality mesh/fabric, which have high durability and tend to still feel smooth even after years of usage.
- How Easy Will It Be to Maintain?
The next most important factor to consider would be how easy it is to maintain the upholstery of your ergonomic office chair, so that you can continue using the chair for years to come.
For example, while most chairs made out of wood might appear elegant on first sight, but the amount of maintenance required to polish it and how easily its appearance can be ruined when in touch with liquids might be an extra time commitment that can be hard to handle.
On the contrary, a mesh chair might not look as impressive, but the procedures to clean it are quite simple, which involve just a damp cloth and a vacuum cleaner, at most.
- How Long Will It Last?
Last but not least, you will also want to look for upholstery that can last, which saves you the trouble, time and money to reupholster your chair.
Without finding the proper material for your chair that is sustainable enough for your own personal usage, your chair could end up in an unsightly state that will leave you regretting that you did not opt for something better when you had the chance to.
For example, materials such as leather tend to wear, crack or even peel after extended periods of time under more hot and humid climates, whereas low-quality mesh is also more likely to lose its elasticity as it stretches itself out over time. Vinyl, especially low-end vinyl is known to give off an extremely distinct odour after years of usage and has a very high chance to peel as well.
Hence, getting a chair that lasts you for a significant amount of time is one that will leave you a satisfied and happy customer.
Types of upholstery for office chairs
Moving on to the types of upholstery for office chairs, the 8 most common types are: Leather, Faux Leather, Vinyl, Mesh, Fabric, Plastic, Wood, and Hybrid Mesh.
The most traditional upholstery for ergonomic office chairs, leather is typically used for high-end chairs and is tied to an image of prestige when it comes to office furniture.
Leather is considered to be a hypoallergenic material, which means that it produces fewer allergic reactions compared to other types of upholstery. This is because of its microbiological structure, which makes it much less likely to harbour pet dander, dust mites or other allergens. Likewise, it does not trap odours as easily, which is an added bonus.
In terms of durability, the upholstery of quality leather chairs can last you up to 25 years or even 40 years if you are extremely careful.
Leather is the most expensive on this list. Often seen on high-end chairs, some of the finest leather chairs can cost over $5,000. In some cases, the cost of the upholstery is so expensive that it usually costs as much, if not more, than the cost of the other parts of the chair itself. Leather is expensive due to the tedious process required to produce it.
- Hot and sticky
Leather is an excellent conductor of heat, which might be fairly problematic if your working space is naturally hot. Sometimes, leather chairs may trap so much heat that it feels scorching to the skin. Not fun.
On top of that, hot leather feels sticky to the touch, which could make you literally peel yourself as you get out of your chair!
💡 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.
Also known as “leatherette” or “vegan leather”, faux leather is a form of synthetic leather that is considered as a lower cost alternative to regular leather. Faux leather is made from a plastic base, and is then treated with wax, dye or polyurethane to create a similar color and texture to the real deal.
Compared to leather, faux leather chairs usually cost a lot cheaper. An average faux leather office chair on Amazon, for example, can cost about $76 to just over $100, compared to leather chairs which are usually in the thousands range when it comes to pricing.
- Easy to maintain
Unlike leather, 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.
- Tends to peel (Cannot be prevented)
Faux leather has a laminated surface, which can crack and peel over time. Furthermore, as faux leather is synthetic, attempting to keep it moist through the usage of oils will not prevent or slow down this process. This is especially with hard faux leather, which tends to dry and crack much more easily.
Faux leather has a poor reputation for durability. Exposure to heat (like direct sunlight) is damaging, resulting in unsightly cracking and peeling. The top coating is also easily damaged by exposure to moisture (such as from spilt 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.
- Not resistant to puncture and tear
Unlike genuine leather, faux leather is not resistant to puncture and tear. This could be problematic in households with pets or children, where these chairs can be easily damaged.
- Does not age well
When it comes to real leather, it ages quite well as it is not only able to retain its lustre, but also forms a patina, which is a gloss or sheen as a result of ageing. However, faux leather does not possess these qualities, which results in faux leather wearing out unattractively.
Vinyl, also known to be a common substitute for leather, is made from two separate synthetic materials, namely polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and plasticizers (phthalic acid). This vinyl is then melted onto polyester fibres that form the skeleton of the upholstery, thus forming the vinyl upholstery.
- Easy to clean
Vinyl upholstery can be cleaned easily as they are not as absorbent as other fabrics, resulting in most stains being able to be removed with just a damp cloth. Most cleaning agents which are not abrasive, and which will not cause the vinyl to dry up can be used as well if you wish to perform a more thorough cleaning.
Inherently flame-resistant, invulnerable to abrasions and damage by chemicals, vinyl upholstery boasts a long life. In fact, some upholstery made of other materials may also have vinyl protective finishes which not only mitigate fading from exposure to the sun, but also help to prevent staining.
Vinyl upholstery also often comes in a wide variety of colours and textures, which makes vinyl office chairs a very flexible choice when it comes to design. No matter the décor of your room, you would be able to find a colour that complements it.
Compared to other materials, vinyl tends to rip or tear with greater ease. When vinyl gets damaged, the repair process is not only extremely tedious, but also affects the appearance of the chair as it cannot be 100% restored to its original state. Just like leather, vinyl can also crack.
- Feel of vinyl
Even though vinyl is meant to be a synthetic replacement for leather, the feel of vinyl is very different compared to it. On the contrary, sitting on vinyl gives off the impression of sitting on a hard piece of plastic, rather than a more supple leather. Because of this, seating comfort is compromised as the upholstery would not be able to conform to body contours.
- Cheap appearance
Some brands of vinyl that are of lower quality actually cheapen the overall look of the office chair, which makes it appear much less elegant compared to real leather office chairs.
- Hot and Sticky
Vinyl, which possesses non-absorbent attributes, does not allow the skin to ventilate easily. This, on top of vinyl’s ability to conduct heat, adds to a sweaty feeling that makes vinyl office chairs extremely uncomfortable to sit on during warm weather.
Mesh, which is made from polyester or nylon, is woven from fibres into a flexible, net-like fabric. It is known for its modern appearance and its thinner profile, making it a hit when it comes to office chairs in recent times.
Compared to their counterparts, mesh office chairs are much more affordable.
Due to the nature of mesh, which is that it has a net-like structure, it allows for better ventilation. Between the chair and the user, air can effectively circulate which provides a cooling effect, especially when sitting on it for extended periods of time in warm climates.
As a result, your neck and back feel way less sweaty and cramped as well.
- Minimal maintenance
Not only can mesh office chairs be easily cleaned with a damp cloth, the minimalistic design and overall construction of these chairs make them extremely easy to maintain as well.
- Durability of high-end mesh
Weaved in with elastomeric materials that give the mesh high elasticity, it provides you with optimal support, as well as durability, allowing you to use the same chair for many years to come.
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 mesh 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.
- Mesh might feel uncomfortable for some
The drawback of mesh is that due to its structure, it can also be abrasive and even damage clothes after prolonged use. As mesh is man-made, it might also be an irritant in very specific cases.
However, this only occurs with low-end mesh which is not manufactured optimally.
Also, due to the minimalistic design of such chairs, it might be difficult to find a design style that is aesthetically pleasing to you. In terms of design, the only thing that usually varies between mesh office chairs from the same brand is colour, which leads to a lack of customizability when it comes to design choices.
Over time, mesh may start to lose its elasticity and begin to sag. This could potentially lead to a loss in support and durability, which could affect the ergonomics of your chair.
More commonly recognized as cloth, this material is produced by weaving together cotton, nylon, silk, wool or other threads.
- High durability for high-end fabric
The highest tier of fabric chairs, which can last up to 10 years or more, have a double rub count of over a million. To put things into perspective, a double rub simulates someone sitting down and up.
In other words, it takes 1 million sits or more on the chair during its lifetime for it to see any observable wear and tear, which is very impressive when it comes to durability.
- Design Options
Compared to other upholstery, fabric is much more versatile when it comes to its design options. This is largely due to the ease of dying and designing fabric, which provides a very flexible canvas for chair designers.
Compared to other materials, fabric is generally a more comfortable material as it feels cool to the touch and does not have that sticky feel which many dread when sitting down.
Unlike its counterparts such as leather, which can cost up to thousands of dollars, the average fabric office chair costs only a fraction of the cost and at most would cost you a couple of hundred dollars.
On the flip side, fabric office chairs can also be hard to clean. Being prone to stains, cleaning your fabric office chair would require much more work and resources to clean compared to other materials. Additionally, fabric office chairs also absorb odours easily, which might be problematic in the long run.
Fabric does not allow air to flow as freely compared to other materials such as mesh, which compromises the breathability of a fabric office chair. Not only does this result in retaining odours, it also results in the chair being prone to absorbing moisture.
In the market, plastic chairs are often manufactured by a process known as “rotational molding”. A hollow mold, often made of metal, is first heated and filled with plastic polymer powder. After which, the mold is then rotated bi-axially until it cools down and the plastic chair takes its shape.
One of the main advantages of plastic office chairs is that it is lightweight, which enables it to be moved around easily without much hassle. Thus, cleaning your room becomes much easier and shifting your chair to redesign your workspace in the case of doing so is no longer difficult anymore.
- Low maintenance
Compared to both leather and wood chairs, plastic furniture requires less maintenance as there is no need to varnish them or apply a coat of paint every once in a while to protect them.
- Not susceptible to environmental conditions
Unlike leather which tends to peel in hot weather, plastic never cracks even when exposed to environmental changes like sunlight and the cold.
- Environmentally unfriendly
Plastic is not only non-biodegradable, it also releases harmful fuels when processed. As a result, plastic office chairs, when disposed of, are extremely dangerous in terms of affecting the ecosystem and air pollution.
- Lacks in design options
As plastic office chairs are normally massively produced, manufacturers would normally only stick to a limited number of designs since there is no incentive to innovate new ones. As a result, this heavily limits your choices when it comes to finding the perfect chair that fits you, which is rather important when it comes to ergonomics.
- Only lasts a few years
Compared to other materials, the lifespan of plastic office chairs is much less and thus has to be replaced only after a few years.
Once a long-time popular choice in many professional settings, wood office chairs now face stiff competition compared to other upholstery due to the change in people’s tastes and preferences for more modern and sleek options.
- Strength and Durability
Being a long-lasting material, wood is a material that can maintain its strength, even for decades! No matter the environment, wood is able to stand the test of time and is the reason why wood furniture, in general, are normally passed on as heirlooms.
Thanks to its grain and tones, which bring warmth and character to any room, a wooden office chair would always suit the style of your home. Whether your home is traditional, modern, or even minimalist, wood office chairs will always suit it.
- Value For Money
Even though the upfront cost for wood office chairs is generally pricey, the longevity of the material more than compensates for that. Not only does hardwood deepen as it ages, giving it a rustic look that ages well, but wood office chairs can also usually last a lifetime and are a bang for your buck if they fit you well.
- Susceptible to water
Wood, when exposed to water, can start to weaken, fall apart or even discolour! This causes your wood office chair to be quite unsightly.
- Easily damaged by sharp objects
While wood is a sturdy material that can endure the test of time, it is very susceptible to scratches. A simple action such as accidentally dropping your fork on your chair while eating or tossing your keys onto your chair can easily leave marks behind.
- Might not be the most comfortable
Unlike its counterparts, wood can be quite uncomfortable to sit on because of how hard it naturally is. If you are someone who likes to lay back and relax during periods of work, a wooden office chair might not be the most suitable for you.
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 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, fabric-mesh hybrids sit right up there with ordinary mesh.
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.
- Low maintenance
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.
Mesh chair vs leather vs fabric, choosing the best one for you
At the end of the day, there are many types of office chairs available in the market - it all boils down to the use of the chair and where it might be placed.
However, when it comes down to choosing which material you want for your office chair, you would have to decide which is a priority for you:
1) How does the material feel on my skin
2) How easy is it to maintain
3) How long does it last
Given that most of us would be WFH most of the time during the pandemic, taking the time to consider every tradeoff and make an informed decision about which chair to buy is paramount.
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.
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.
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, a lumbar support, 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.
Need a chair that gives you that all-day comfort? Get the top rated ergonomic chair today!