According to a 2019 study, the average American spends about 6.5 hours sitting every single day. If you work in an office setting and sit most of the time, you need a chair that’s comfortable and helps you stay productive.
When it’s time to buy an office chair, the material you choose can determine how comfortable it’ll be. It can also dictate how long your chair will last, which is why it’s important to consider all the different materials for a chair.
Here at Egyptian Workspace Partners, we have 140 years of industry experience in helping clients find everything they need for their office, including the best materials for their office chairs.
In this article, we'll examine the pros and cons of popular chair materials, including fabric, mesh, vinyl and leather, to help you determine which one is best for your office task chair.
Fabric is one of the most popular materials for office chairs. While these chairs are less breathable than other options, they’re still comfortable, attractive, and affordable.
Steelcase offers multiple fabric collections, including Buzz2, Cogent: Connect, Billard, Bo Peep, and Remix.
The comfortability of a fabric chair is determined by how tightly the material is stretched over the cushion its covers. Fabric chairs with a thick, durable cushion can provide more users with extra comfort.
Design and Customization
When it comes to fabric, the design possibilities are endless. It's available in a wide variety of colors, styles, and patterns, so you can design a chair that matches the look and feel of your organization.
Out of all the materials on this list, fabric is typically the most cost-effective option.
Lack of Air Flow
Fabric chairs are unable to let air pass as freely as mesh chairs do. They’re more likely to hold in moisture and odors, and can lead to a sweaty, cramped feeling.
Harder to Clean
Most employees eat or drink at their desks. Unfortunately, this can be an issue with fabric since it’s more susceptible to spills than other chair materials are.
Depending on the fabric, annoying spills can quickly lead to permanent stains and odors. To avoid this, you’ll have to treat the fabric with a stain-resistant cleaner before you use it for the first time.
Mesh office chairs are the most breathable option on this list. Although mesh chairs can be difficult to clean, they have a modern look that fits every design style.
Steelcase offers a 3D knit mesh material for ergonomic, breathable back support that’s available in several different color options.
High-quality mesh chairs are designed with ergonomics in mind. They have a breathable seat and backrest to encourage airflow and provide cooling comfort, which is beneficial in the summer months.
There are also different levels of comfort depending on how tightly the mesh is stretched. The higher the quality of the mesh, the better it will conform to the body for a more personalized fit.
Mesh chairs have an open, modern look that’s perfect for any office setting. Mesh can also vary in texture and color for a variety of unique design options.
Mesh may be slightly more expensive than fabric, but it’s still an affordable option.
Harder to Clean
Mesh can be difficult to clean because it’s made up of tiny grooves that attract and hold onto dust.
The inability to keep mesh clean can also change its elasticity, making it prone to stretching faster if not properly cleaned and cared for.
Uncomfortable Sitting Experience
Although mesh is very breathable, some mesh materials can irritate the skin or damage clothing. For example, nylon mesh is durable, but it can also be abrasive.
Additionally, mesh chairs unable to distribute body weight as well as fabric chairs. As a result, they can become less comfortable over time.
To avoid these issues, you should invest in a high-quality mesh that reduces irritation and increases comfort.
Vinyl is a type of plastic material that’s made of ethylene and chlorine. Even though vinyl chairs aren’t very breathable, the overall texture and softness is similar to leather.
Steelcase sells more than 100 vinyl options in various colors and patterns.
Vinyl has a rich look that’s similar to leather. However, it’s less expensive and doesn’t crack or fade under direct sunlight.
If you love the look of leather but want something that’s easier to maintain, vinyl is a great alternative.
Easy to Clean
Resistant to fire and water, vinyl is one of the best chair materials to clean. It doesn’t require a specific cleaner and isn’t vulnerable to abrasions or damage from chemicals.
To clean a vinyl chair, you can simply wipe it down with a damp cloth. For this reason, vinyl chairs are primarily used in healthcare, industrial, and education environments.
Design and Customization
Vinyl is available in several different colors and textures so you can design a chair that matches the existing décor in your office.
Lack of Breathability
Vinyl is non-absorbent and doesn’t allow the skin to ventilate easily. Vinyl chairs can get hot and make employees feel sweaty and uncomfortable, particularly in the warmer months.
When vinyl is torn or damaged, it isn’t easy to repair. In case of any rips or tears, the patches will be easy to see and affect the overall appearance of your vinyl office chair.
Leather is the epitome of elegance. These chairs may be more expensive, but they offer a professional appearance and just as much comfort.
Steelcase carries leather in colors such as ebony (black), white, gunmetal (gray), and chamois (light brown).
Leather office chairs have an upscale, professional look that enhances the aesthetic of any office space. As it ages, leather will become softer, change color, and even more beautiful than before.
Leather chairs are perfect for long days at the office. They provide extra cushion and retain your body heat in the colder months for excellent comfort.
Easy to Clean
Compared to other materials, leather is easy to clean.
If you spill coffee or coffee on a leather chair, you can usually wipe it off with a damp washcloth. You can also buy cleaners that are specifically formulated to clean leather, in case you need it.
Lack of Breathability
Leather isn’t as breathable as other materials. It doesn’t allow for much airflow and can be uncomfortably hot in the summer, especially for employees who sweat a lot.
Difficult to Maintain
Leather may be beautiful and easy to clean, but it can also dry and crack over time, and lead to scratches where the tears dig in.
To keep your leather chair in top shape, you need apply a leather protectant before you use it the first time. You should also clean it regularly and keep it out of direct sunlight so it doesn’t fade.
Unfortunately, luxury comes with a price. While leather is beautiful and comfortable, it’s considerably more expensive than fabric, mesh, or vinyl.
Which Type of Material is Right for Your Office Task Chair?
The material you choose for your office chair may seem like a minor detail, but it can be just as important as the chair you buy.
Ultimately, the material you choose for your chair will depend on your personal preference and how you intend to use it.
If you’re looking for a more prestigious look, leather or vinyl will be the best option. If you want more function out of your chair, you should opt for fabric or mesh.
By choosing the right material, you’ll have a high-quality office chair that withstands consistent use and serves you and your employees for years to come.
Want to learn more about office seating? Download our comprehensive guide below for an in-depth look at some of the best office task chairs available!