What is the best upholstery fabric for office chairs?

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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 usually covered with a breathable fabric. There are many upholstery fabrics available, and some are more suitable for office chairs than others. What is the best option?

Fabric options for office chairs

Wool is the most common natural fabric used for office chairs. However, due to the high cost of wool, most upholstery fabrics are synthetic, and are either acrylic or polyester, or are a blended combination of the two.

At Karo, we use polyester fabrics as a standard for our seating 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.

upholstery fabric

In most cases where we upholster our office chair seats and/or backrests, 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 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, 100% polyester snaps 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.
  • Heat resistant
    Polyester fabric has high flame resistance, which means it takes a lot to make it burst into flame.
  • Mildew and chemical resistant
    The synthetic fibers of polyester give it natural mildew and chemical resistance that add to its durability.
  • 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 its 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 manufactured from recycled plastic costs less than manufacturing cotton or wool fabric. This results in a lower cost for the consumer.

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, polyester 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 will actually fuse to your skin and will require medical treatment.
  • Holds odours
    Polyester may hold onto odours which can be unpleasant.
  • Comfort and static electricity
    Polyester can hold a static charge, causing mild electric shocks. Although these are not dangerous, they can be annoying.
  • Pilling
    Cheaper polyester blends are prone to pilling.
  • Susceptible to oil stains
    Grease and oil stains are very difficult to remove from polyester fabric.

Conclusion

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

Published: 9 September 2021

Author: George Mashinini

Office Ergonomics Risk Facilitator at Karo Manufacturing (Pty) Ltd

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