What is the best upholstery fabric for office chairs?

Some fabrics are more suitable for office chairs than others, so what is the best option?

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Office chairs often have an upholstered foam seat cushion and either a mesh or upholstered backrest. To reduce perspiring commonly associated with leather and vinyl upholstery, office chair seats are often covered with a breathable fabric. There are many upholstery fabrics available, and some are more suitable for ergonomic office chairs than others. What is the best option?

Fabric options for office chairs

Woolen fabrics used to be common for office chair upholstery. However, due to the high cost of wool, most upholstery fabrics are synthetic, and are either acrylic or polyester, or a blended combination of the two.

At Karo, we use polyester fabrics as a standard for our ergonomic, home and orthopedic office chair ranges.

Polyester fabric

Polyester (polyethylene terephthalate or PET) was discovered in a DuPont laboratory in the late 1930s. In 1941, a group of British scientists further developed this discovery and created the first commercial polyester fiber. Today, most polyester fabrics are made from recycled plastics.

fabric for office chairs

When we upholster our office chair seats and/or backrests, unless otherwise specified, we use the Vulcan range of fabric available from Weavers World.

Vulcan is a 100% polyester fabric that is manufactured in South Africa entirely from recycled plastic bottles.

Polyester is perhaps the most common upholstery fabric for office chairs. It’s low cost, strength, flexibility, and stain resistance, are among it’s most significant advantages. Below are the important pros and cons.

Advantages of using polyester fabric for office chair upholstery

  • Durability
    Polyester’s long, stable polymers make it strong and resilient. It is a flexible, lightweight fabric that works well for many styles of upholstery.
  • Elasticity
    Unlike wool, polyester fabrics 'snap' back into shape after being stretched. This prevents the upholstery from sagging and wrinkling.
  • Moisture-Wicking
    Like many synthetic fabrics, polyester has moisture-wicking abilities. What is moisture-wicking?
  • Heat resistant
    Polyester fabric has high flame resistance, which means it doesn't easily burst into flame.
  • Mildew and chemical resistant
    The synthetic fibers of polyester give it natural mildew and chemical resistance.
  • UV light resistant
    Polyester fabric provides high UV protection and doesn’t fade easily.
  • Easy care and stain resistance
    Aside from its low cost, the best quality of polyester is it's easy maintenance and quick drying. A damp cloth will often remove dirt and debris that collects on the material. How to take care of your ergonomic office chair.
  • Comfort
    Polyester upholstery provides a soft and comfortable seat. On the spectrum of fabric softness, polyester ranks somewhere between cotton and cashmere.
  • Fewer allergens
    Because of it’s tight weave, polyester fabric may contain fewer allergens like pollen, dust and even pet hair. This reduces the incidences of allergic reactions like hay-fever.
  • Low cost
    Polyester is usually manufactured from recycled plastic, and costs less than manufacturing cotton or wool fabrics.

Disadvantages of using polyester fabric for office chair upholstery

  • Breathability
    Modern polyester fabrics are more breathable than their original counterparts. However, because polyester fibers are essentially plastic, they do not facilitate airflow as well as loosely woven fabrics like cotton.
  • Lack of moisture absorption
    While polyester does wick moisture away, its lack of breathability means that it does not absorb the sweat from a person’s skin. In an office without air conditioning, chairs upholstered with a polyester fabric may become uncomfortable.
  • Environmental concerns
    The polyester production process involves a lot of energy. On top of that, any product made from fossil fuels, even recycled ones, is not sustainable. Polyester is not biodegradable.
  • Flammability
    While polyester has a high burn point, it melts more easily than you might think. If polyester melts onto your skin, it can fuse to your skin which may require medical treatment.
  • Holds odours
    Polyester can retain odours which can be unpleasant to others.
  • Comfort and static electricity
    Polyester can hold a static charge that causes mild electric shocks. Although these are not dangerous, they can be annoying.
  • Pilling
    Cheaper polyester blends are prone to pilling.
  • Susceptible to oil stains
    Like many other upholstery fabrics, grease and oil stains are very difficult to remove from polyester.

Conclusion

Polyester is arguably the most common upholstery fabric for office chairs. The cost, durability, and ease of cleaning gives it the edge over natural fabrics like wool.

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