Ever since the Aeron chair burst onto the scene many years ago, mesh office chairs have been extremely popular. Mesh chairs are very unique; from their original styling, to the way the user feels when they sit. Because of their popularity, almost all office chair manufacturers now have their own version of a mesh chair. This means that the market is now flooded with mesh chairs ranging from cheap import chairs to very high end ergonomic chairs that are made to order in the USA. The mesh office chair topic is very polarizing as can be expected with any popular item. People seem to either love mesh chairs or hate them. In this article, we will share with you the downsides to mesh office chairs and the reasons why they are not a fit for every customer.
Before getting started it is important to understand that there are three distinct types of mesh office chairs. The first type is a mesh seat and back with no padding. Mesh is simply stretched across a chair frame on the seat and back. The second type is a mesh back with a padded mesh seat. This chair will have a seat that feels like a typical padded office chair but the backrest will have mesh stretched across the frame. The third type is a padded mesh seat with a padded mesh back. These models use the mesh upholstery for looks, which creates a feel very similar to traditional office chairs.
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1. Mesh seats with no padding can sag or be too stiff
One of the biggest problems with a mesh chair is that it is very difficult to design a mesh seat that is both comfortable and supportive. A mesh office chair will almost always be too soft or too hard. Most higher-end mesh chairs will be upholstered with a soft mesh while lower-end chairs will typical have a hard mesh. A softer mesh will be more comfortable initially for the user. It will feel smoother and will expand further which can create a more comfortable sit. The mesh will sink down a bit more and give the user the feeling of floating; this is something that many mesh chair users rave about. But, mesh that is allowed to stretch and contract a substantial amount over and over will eventually sag; this can lead to the customer having to replace the seat or whole chair. The other major problem with soft mesh is that expands and contracts more than hard mesh so it will not properly disperse your weight over the entirety of the seat. Instead, the mesh will create an uneven flex point that causes the majority of the pressure to be placed on the tailbone. This can cause pain, numbing or discomfort after using the chair for an extended period of time.
Example of soft mesh seat: Ergohuman ME7ERG
A hard mesh will be much more consistent in its performance over time but the comfort level is very low to begin with compared to soft mesh. The flex point described above will not be nearly as pronounced but there will be no chance that the user experiences a feeling of floating. The seat will be much too hard not to notice the seat. A hard mesh seat will feel similar to sitting on a surface like wood than a typical office chair constructed of foam and fabric.
Example of hard mesh seat: Office Star 5560
Suggestion: Some products with soft mesh seats like the Aeron or the Ergohuman, linked above, have become incredibly popular. The Ergohuman is one of our most popular products and we have received far more praise than complaints. We recommend only using these types of chairs for less than eight hours per day with multiple rest intervals throughout the day to get out of the chair and walk around; this will help to reduce the tension caused to the tailbone as described above. We do not recommend chairs that feature a hard mesh seat. There are many alternatives out there that allow a user to pair a mesh back with a padded fabric, leather or vinyl seat; this will result in a more comfortable sit as well as a more cost effective option. Here are a few examples of mesh back chairs with padded seats:
2. Mesh can be abrasive to skin and clothing
Mesh upholstery is much coarser than leather or fabric upholstery so there is a higher chance for the coarse material to cause abrasions to the skin or damage to clothing, such as dress pants. It is important to understand that there is a wide range in the quality of mesh used on office seating. Better quality mesh will be soft and smooth compared to lower quality mesh. This helps to reduce the likelihood of skin irritation or clothing damage. Mesh is an upholstery made completely out of man-made materials, unlike leather. In some instances, the polypropylene, polyethylene, nylon, PVC or PTFE can cause skin irritation to the user.
Suggestion: Our first recommendation is that users with any type of allergy to polypropylene, polyethylene, nylon, PVC or PTFE should avoid mesh office chairs because of the discomfort it may cause to skin. We also recommend periodically checking your clothing for any wear being caused by the mesh. This is especially important on items such as dress pants, dress shirts or clothing made from soft materials like silk. Our final recommendation is to avoid having bulky or bulging items like a wallet or cell phone in your back pants pocket. Extra wear can often be found in areas where bulky objects are present.
3. Mesh is difficult to clean
Cleaning options with mesh are going to be more limited than other chair upholsteries. Non-padded mesh can easily be dusted with a vacuum; however, cleaning the chair with paper products like napkins, paper towels or toilet paper will be more of a nuisance than a help. The mesh upholstery will shred the paper products and add to the mess. Using a cloth towel and water can also be a bit risky because the friction caused by scrubbing with a towel combined with getting the mesh wet may make the mesh fray or split apart. Padded mesh will be even more difficult to clean. Along with the problems of using paper products or a cloth towel and water, padded mesh will also be very difficult to vacuum since many of the dust, dirt and food particles will be in-between the mesh and seat foam.
Suggestion: Prevention is going to be the best method to keep your mesh chair clean. Avoid things that will add to the potential of the chair becoming dirty, such as: eating at your desk or wearing dirty clothes/uniform in the chair. Try to keep the area around the chair as clean as possible to reduce dust and dirt that can become present on the mesh. If you do need to clean the mesh, first try a vacuum. Make sure to be very gentle and avoid pressing down on the mesh. Let the vacuum hover just over the mesh. If a towel and solution is necessary, then gently rub the dirtied spot with a soft cloth and soapy water and allow to air dry.
4. Mesh is not versatile
Mesh isn’t usually the preferred choice of designers because it limits their ability to customize a space to their taste. There are many different mesh chairs on the market but most of them have very similar looks with a very limited color selection. Mesh is mesh and there isn’t really a way to dress it up. Some manufacturers offer different color options but the ability to choose between different patterns in order to create a unique office design isn’t going to be as easy as it is with fabric chairs.
Mesh is not a good option for industrial, manufacturing and warehousing applications because the mesh will act as a net, trapping small materials that will be very difficult to remove. Things like metal shavings, sawdust and chunks of plastic can damage the mesh or cause injury when someone unknowingly uses a mesh chair with an object lodged into it. Workers in these environments often carry tools that can be sharp or strong enough to puncture or rip the mesh when the user sits down. This is another hazard for a mesh chair in an industrial environment.
Chairs with mesh seats are not ideal for call centers or 24/7 work areas, like dispatch rooms. Mesh seats are not built to withstand the constant wear and tear of a round-the-clock application and are also not comfortable for 8-12 hours shifts due to the challenges mentioned above.
Suggestion: We recommend that mesh chairs be limited to applications like offices, schools and conference rooms. Mesh chairs fit better in these areas because the user is often sitting in the chair for a couple hours at a time and the environment will not be destructive to the chair. If a designer has a customer that is insisting on mesh seating, then we recommend brands like Neutral Posture and Nightingale because of the fabric selection available on the seat. This will allow for some customizability.
5. Mesh creates a cooler office environment
The biggest selling point for mesh office chairs is always the breathability. Airflow and keeping you cool is touted as the biggest positive by almost every mesh chair manufacturer. This selling point is only a positive for limited applications and users. If you live in a place like Florida or Arizona and your office has the windows open, then the breathability of mesh seems like the only way to go. For someone living in a cooler climate like Minneapolis or in a work area that has the air conditioning on high, then the breathability of mesh seems like a moot point and can be a disadvantage. Unless your office environment is warmer than a typical office environment, which is usually around 68-74 degrees, then the “cooling effect” of mesh is no longer an overall positive.
The breathability and “keeping you cool” selling point is also rarely a positive for half of the people using a mesh chair, which is women. Studies have shown that women feel cooler on average compared to their male counterparts.[i] Women are more likely to be chilly when men are comfortable, and more likely to feel comfortable when men are warm. Mesh chairs only exacerbate this problem and will often cause women to be uncomfortable due to being too cold.
Suggestion: We do not recommend purchasing mesh chairs solely due to their ability to keep the user cool unless the environment is abnormally warm compared to a typical office. If you decide to use a mesh chair it’s important to keep in mind that you may require warmer clothing to stay comfortable.
6. Frame can be uncomfortable
Since most mesh chairs are designed with little to no padding, the frame can often become more pronounced to the user. On a padded office chair upholstered in leather or fabric, the user will not come into contact with the chair frame because the foam padding will spill over the frame making for an even sit over the whole seat. Mesh chairs will be constructed by stretching the mesh over the chair frame and since there isn’t padding, the user’s legs, butt, back or shoulders may come into direct contact with the chair frame which can be uncomfortable. Another problem that may occur is reduced blood flow to the lower legs due to the front of the chair seat frame cutting off circulation. Some chair models do a better job than others to help alleviate this problem. A waterfall seat shape is a design that has a seat front that drops off dramatically which helps to reduce poor circulation. Other chair models may place a small piece of foam on the chair front only, in an effort to help reduce this problem.
Suggestion: Look very closely at the chair frame with respect to the mesh around it. If there is a thick plastic frame that is visible outside of the mesh, then there is a strong chance that the problems described above will be present. Try avoiding these types of chairs. If you have already purchased a chair with these problems and are looking for relief, then try placing a folded piece of clothing or small piece of foam over the portion of plastic that is causing discomfort.
While there are many positive aspects to mesh office seating, the negative aspects can often be too overwhelming to justify going with a mesh chair over a standard office chair. It is important to consider many factors in the work environment if mesh is going to be the ideal choice. Who is going to be sitting in the chair? What length of time will the chair be used per day and per sitting session? What is the average temperature in the work environment? Is the customer okay with limited colors and designs? For specific applications and users, mesh can work out great but it may not be the best fit for everyone.
For questions about mesh seating or help finding an alternative style chair, please visit btod.com or contact a sales rep at 866-733-0698 option 1.