Office chairs are available with seats and back rests constructed from a large variety of materials, including leather, faux leather, mesh, vinyl, wood, fabric, and plastic. An important part of selecting the right office chair is selecting one constructed of a material with which you can feel comfortable. You must ask yourself a few important questions: How will it feel on my skin? Will it offer any support? How easy will it be to clean? How long will it last?
As we look at different types of desk chair materials, you will see that it is often necessary to sacrifice one of those qualities for another. For example, the easiest materials to clean are not always the most comfortable. Therefore, before reading any further in this article, you may want to stop and prioritize how important each of those considerations is for you.
First, let’s go through and answer each of the questions I posed above. After that, I will go through and summarize these points by material and add any other important information about each material which may have been missed in answering these questions.
How Will It Feel On My Skin?
Obviously, different types of materials will feel different on your skin. The two major questions we will discuss here are: Will I stick to it? Will it irritate or scratch my skin? Let’s deal with the stickiness factor first. Of all the materials listed here, the ones you are most likely to stick to are leather, faux leather, vinyl, wood, and plastic. That being said, these types of materials are also the ones which are least likely to scratch or irritate your skin.
Materials such as mesh and fabric are more likely to scratch your skin, because the tiny fibers of which they are made may break free and poke up at your skin. Some types of fabrics and meshes are known to be scratchier than others. You may want to take some time to research particular types of fabrics and meshes or try them out in person.
Another reason mesh and fabric may irritate your skin is because they are often sprayed with chemical compounds designed to make them last longer and/or make them fire retardant. If you are worried about these types of irritants, you may want to directly contact the manufacturer for definitive information.
Will It Offer Any Support?
The answer to this question depends highly on which type of support you are looking for. Leather, faux leather, mesh, vinyl, and fabric are often used to cover cushions. The type of support you receive from that cushion will depend on the type of foam or fluff used to create the cushion. Generally speaking, this type of seat or back rest will be softer, but may flatten out over time and begin to place stress on important pressure points.
Although mesh may be used to cover cushions, it can also be stretched around plastic or metal frames and used alone as a back rest or a suspension seat. This type of back rest or seat will form to your body, giving you support exactly where you need it most. You will want to make sure that it is very high quality mesh – low quality mesh will stretch out and render itself useless.
Wooden and plastic back rests and seats may not be the softest options in the world, but they are often the most comfortable. This type of back rest or seat can be contoured to fit the curves of your back or buttock, reducing stress on pressure points. The hardness of wooden and plastic seats promotes a properly aligned spine. Also, unlike cushions and low-quality mesh, these back rests and seats will never lose their shapes. The best wooden and plastic chairs are those which have been custom built to fit your particular body, much like a great pair of clogs.
How Easy Will It Be To Clean?
Wood and plastic are usually the easiest materials to clean. More often than not, you can simply wipe away spills with a wet cloth. Paint and pen markings can be scrubbed off of these durable surfaces with ease.
Leather, faux leather, and vinyl are also rather easy to clean. ; for the most part, spills will wipe away easily. I would be more careful with scrubbing these materials than I would be with wood or plastic, since they are thin and may wear down. Leather and faux leather have little grooves which may collect spills, so more attention should be paid to cleaning these materials. Leather, faux leather, and vinyl coverings often feature visible seams so that they may show off intricate stitch work. These seams can collect liquid spills and be quite difficult to clean.
Fabric can be difficult to clean as well, especially if it is atop a thick cushion. You will want to be very sure that you sop up all moisture to prevent the growth of mold. You may also want to consider purchasing a dark color of fabric or rub-on stain remover, since most chairs are not built to allow you to remove the fabric for cleaning purposes.
Mesh has many of the same problems as fabric when it comes to cleaning, with one added problem – it has many more little grooves for things to get stuck inside. Especially when mesh is placed atop a cushion, consumers complain that it is next to impossible to keep it completely clean.
How Long Will It Last?
It should be rather obvious that wood will last the longest of all these material options. Plastic comes in at a close second, but can crack if you accidentally knock your chair over. Fabric will last a while as long as you treat it well. One of the main reasons people tend to ditch their fabric-covered chairs is difficult-to-remove stains. Consider not eating of drinking in your fabric chair, or purchase dark-colored fabric.
As has already been mentioned, when it is pulled over a plastic or metal frame, mesh gets stretched out over time. This is true of all mesh, but lower quality mesh will stretch itself out much quicker than higher quality mesh. Do your research first to ensure that the chair you purchase has been made with high-quality mesh.
Leather, faux leather, and vinyl are all known to wear and crack over time. Actual leather can be treated and oiled to lengthen its lifespan, making it a superior choice. Faux leather and vinyl are, essentially, the same as each other when it comes to wear and tear. Like mesh, there are different qualities of faux leather and vinyl. The harder the material is, the drier it is. The drier it is, the more easily it will crack. Try to select soft, malleable faux leather or vinyl.
Traditional and often embellished with details such as buttons and fancy stitch-work, leather has long been tied to an image of prestige when it comes to office furniture. Unlike fabric and mesh coverings, your skin is unlikely to be aggravated by a leather chair and leather is rather easy to clean – just be careful not to spill anything on the stitched seams.
Despite all of its benefits, leather is one of the most expensive office chair coverings available and requires a certain level of care to prevent it from drying out and cracking.
Faux Leather
If you are worried about the cost associated with leather or are conscious about using animal products, faux leather is a great alternative. Like leather, it is easy to clean, but you will still want to be careful not to spill anything into its stitched seams. Like real leather, faux leather offers an air of distinction to your office space. Once upon a time, faux leather was incredibly easy to spot. These days, companies are able to create faux leather which will fool even the most trained eye.
The major differences between faux leather and actual leather are texture and durability. Real leather tends to be softer and more durable. You can oil real leather to keep it moist and prevent it from cracking; you cannot do the same with faux leather. You will want to find faux leather which is soft and flexible, as hard faux leathers are dry and will crack more easily.
Vinyl is, more or less, a thin plastic/rubber-type material used to cover cushions on some chairs. I realize that is not the most eloquent description I have ever written, but it is accurate. Most people are unaware of what vinyl is, and I feel that plastic/rubber-type material is an accurate way to describe its composition and texture.
Oftentimes, this is material from which faux leather is created. Like faux leather, you will want to find vinyl which is soft and flexible since hard vinyl is more likely to crack. That being said, neither faux leather nor vinyl will last as long as real leather, and both are prone to cracking.
A major advantage to vinyl is that, unlike leather and faux leather, it often comes in a large variety of colors. It doesn’t matter how your office is designed – you will be able to find a color of vinyl to match your space.
Mesh is a very interesting type of material. Like vinyl, mesh is available in a large variety of colors, from muted and demure to bright and bold.
It is similar to fabric in that it is often soft, rarely sticky, and very difficult to clean. Especially when it is stretched over a cushion, it can be difficult to clean inside of each and every nook and cranny. Mesh can be either high quality or low quality; the quality of mesh will determine how well it maintains its form.
Mesh is a breathable material, which means that it allows air to pass through it. Do not be fooled, though, it will do very little to actually keep you cool if it is placed on top of a cushion – the cushion will act as insulation. When mesh is stretched around a plastic or metal frame and itself makes up the back and/or seat of your chair, you will find that its breathable quality keeps you comfortable in warm temperatures and reduces sweating.
Mesh can often be irritating to your skin. It is made up of plastic-like fibers which can poke at your skin. You may want to read consumer reviews about a particular chair’s mesh or try it out in person before purchasing. Another major concern about mesh is that it is often sprayed with chemicals to make it fire retardant. If you are concerned about how these chemicals may affect your skin or your health, take some time to contact the chair’s manufacturer.
Fabric, often pulled over a firm or plush cushion, is usually chosen for its softness and color/pattern varieties. Depending upon which type you choose, fabric can be the softest and most gentle material on this list. You can choose fabrics made from many different resources, such as cotton, spandex, or hemp. Regardless of the type you choose, fabric brings you into a world of endless style possibilities. Not only is it available in any color you can imagine, it can also be printed with any design or pattern you can dream of.
Like mesh, fabric can be difficult to clean and is sometimes sprayed with chemical solutions. When it comes to cleaning, you may want to select dark colors, purchase stain remover, or commit yourself to never eating or drinking in this chair. In order to know the health implications of any fire retardant chemicals sprayed on the fabric of your chair, I suggest contact the manufacturer before purchasing.
Plastic chairs can be made with a hard seat, or a soft seat with a bit of a bounce. Often contoured to the shape of the average rear end, plastic seats can reduce stress on pressure points if they are properly contoured. However, if they are not you may find yourself in pain by the end of the day.
Plastic chairs are available in a wide variety of colors and color patterns; they are easy to clean and rather durable. Unfortunately, low-quality plastic chairs may crack if they are dropped.
Wooden chairs offer a traditional old-world charm to any office space. Wood is hard and unforgiving, but that does not mean it is always uncomfortable. So long as it is properly contoured to the shape of your bottom, a wooden seat can actually provide much better support than any of the materials previously mentioned. It is one of the easiest desk chair materials to clean and will not break easily (unlike plastic).
There are two major downsides to purchasing a wooden chair. First, if you do not get one made to fit your particular rear end, you could find yourself in significant pain. Second, like plastic, leather, faux leather, and vinyl chairs, wooden chairs can become quite sticky in the summer months.

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