No matter how comfortable, office chairs are not stationary pieces of office furniture; we move them much more than we think we do. Each movement rubs the surface beneath the chair until we're left with scratches on the wooden floor or bald spots in our carpets.
Chair mats are a solution to that problem, as they protect the surface beneath from friction and scratching. Additionally, they make the surface smoother, making it easier to maneuver the chair over.
How to choose a chair mat?
During an average 8-hour workday, a typical office worker moves his or her office chair more than 300 times. During those 8 hours, an average office chair travels approximately 100 feet, made up of hundreds of sharp, short movements.
These sharp, short movements, repeated daily, have a detrimental effect on both your health and your office surrounding. Moving a chair over an uneven floor causes repetitive stress on your knee joints and triggers fatigue. Moreover, the chair's caster wheels continuously move over the office floor at your desk, wearing it down over time.
Chair mats help reduce both repetitive stress and fatigue while protecting the surface of your office floor. But for that, you need to choose the correct product. Here's what you should consider when purchasing a chair mat:
- What type of floor you have?
- What is the size of your work area?
- How is your furniture arranged?
These questions will give you an answer to what kind of floor mat you’re looking for. For starters, let’s answer the first one.
Floor-type and mat thickness
The floor type best determines the thickness of the chair mat in your office. If your office has hard floors, a thin mat will do the trick. But if you're using a thin chair mat on a carpet, it is more likely to crack and break. So, let's go over floor types and corresponding chair mat thickness:
Floors covered with wood, tiles, or concrete floors usually cause more friction with the office chair caster wheels. This can damage both the chair's wheels and the floor over time. So, a chair mat for hard floors provides a smooth and consistent surface your chair rolls on.
And since they reduce friction, they effectively reduce the amount of force you require to move the chair while using it. In turn, this significantly reduces repetitive stress injuries to your knee and ankle joints, benefiting your overall health.
Chair mats for hard floors are typically made of vinyl, though other materials might be used. They're usually transparent and provide a great rolling surface without obstructing the aesthetics of your office.
Of course, vinyl mats can also come in different colors. These are great for covering previous damage your chair caused to the office floor. And they can fit nicely with the decorum of your office.
The thickness of chair mats for carpeted floors corresponds to the thickness of the carpet in your office. The main idea behind this is to have your chair firmly on the mat, without sinking into the carpet. A mismatch between the carpet depth and mat thickness can cause the chair to sink into the carpet. This will result in the loss of traction and support for the user.
While you shouldn't pair a thin chair mat with a thick carpet, you can always select a thicker mat for a thinner carpet. This will provide a sturdier surface for the chair to roll on and more support for the user. Here are some general guidelines:
- Low pile carpets are ¼-inch thick, or less, and can be paired with a ⅛-inch chair mat.
- Medium pile carpets are ¾-inch thick, and pair with ⅕-inch thick chair mats.
- Plush pile carpets are thicker than ½ of an inch and pair with ¼-inch thick chair mats.
The thickness of chair mats isn't a standardized measurement across the industry. Always refer to the product description for guidelines. If you're unsure and in doubt, size up.
Another distinct feature present on chair mats for carpet floors are the cleats. These grip the carpet and prevent the chair mat from sliding, slipping, bending, or moving during use. Grip-cleats aren't present on the mats designed for hard floors, as they can scratch the floor surface, but they're an absolute necessity for carpet floors.
Chair mat size
The size of your work area strictly determines the size of your chair mat. This is best determined by measuring your "roll area" or how far your chair travels from your desk. A chair mat is designed to cover your chair's travel area and support nothing else but you and your chair.
Measure the area to determine a size that will fit your space comfortably, accounting for your chair's maneuverability and your chair alone. Purchasing an oversized mat might seem like a good idea, but unfortunately, it's not. Placing furniture on the mat other than the chair will most likely cause it to deform, crack, and wear down faster
Furniture arrangement and chair mat shape
Once you determine the required size and the maneuverability area of your chair, you should consider the shape. The chair mat's shape needs to correspond to the furniture arrangement to avoid putting the furniture on the mat. There are three basic shapes:
- The lip
- The lightbulb
Rectangular chair mats are the most versatile and sit well with almost all office layouts and desk configurations. Lightbulb mats are the right solution for corner and L-shaped desks, while lip-shaped mats work well for U-desk arrangements and U-workstations.
The Dos and Don'ts
Purchasing a chair mat seems like a simple task, yet people tend to overlook some crucial aspects. Here are some dos and don'ts of purchasing a chair mat:
Why are chair mats an important part of your office?
Like we said at the beginning of our article, an average office chair travels up to 8 miles per year. So much mileage, segmented into short and sharp movements, is bound to damage your office floor. However, the office floor is not the only thing that suffers; your knee and ankle joints suffer too.
You can prevent the damage by investing in an office chair mat. This way, the damage to the chair caster wheels, the floor, and yourself is significantly reduced. Think of chair mats as an ergonomic tool that helps reduce repetitive stress from rolling your chair.
Equipped with the information from this article, how to choose a chair mat should be pretty straightforward. Just unroll it at your desk, and give the curled edges a day to flatten themselves out. Or you can place some books over them to speed up the process.