How to choose an office chair – a quick buyer’s guide


This cheat sheet provides in-depth information on how to choose an office chair. Whether you’re purchasing a desk chair online or in the store, use this guide to avoid overzealous sales reps and common pitfalls that people make when investing.

I previously had an executive office chair made from a leather material. I found it to be cold during the winter which made it a bit unappealing to sit on. This is why I have opted for a fabric ever since.

Not only that, but the chair pan was far too large, and the range of adjustability was limited. I couldn’t move the armrests, the seat pan wasn’t moveable; essentially, the only functions I could perform was height adjustment and a limited back tilt.

Ever since, I have learned my lesson to research before buying the first thing I see. I routed through the web for professional advice, and I asked multiple furniture assistants what desk chair should I buy? I learned a lot and hence why you are seeing this very article before you! Don’t make the same mistakes I did!

If I could give you one piece of advice, it would be that if you have the opportunity to do so, try the chair on for size! Test the suitability of the chair to you by sitting in it and verifying that the dimensions suit you by using the below recommendations as a guide.

However, in this day and age, it’s not always possible or convenient to test out your chair. Much of your research will need to be done based on the sales page of the chair. Fortunately, the below cheat sheet should guide you in the right direction to making a suitable investment that will keep you comfortable and productive while you sit.

How to choose an office chair

Look for an office chair with as much adjustability as possible, which also fits your budget. At a minimum, the chair height should allow you to sit with your feet flat on the floor while having a 90-degree angle on your arms at your desk. You should also feel comfortable when seated and the chair should not impede on your posture as you perform your daily tasks. Budget chairs cost around $300 or less but offer less functionality, tend to be less durable and have a limited warranty compared to a mid-range quality desk chair. However, they may be sufficient if you only sit on the chair of a couple of hours or a few days a week.

How to choose an office chair - Mesh black office chair at white standing desk

Seat height

One of the fundamental functions of a chair is to raise and lower the height to accommodate the user. Above anything else, this is probably the most common and important feature to pay attention to.

Pneumatically adjustable chairs are the norm and should offer the ability to make small adjustments to the height. Source

The height of a chair should be adjustable, and the range of adjustability can vary between 15 to 22 inches. With these heights, your feet should comfortably be able to reach the floor.

Also, your arms should be able to achieve a 90-degree angle. The height ranges of the chair should allow you to have your feet flat on the floor, your thighs almost parallel with the floor, and also your knees should be at approximately a 90-degree angle.

In addition, you should be able to fit your fist in behind your knee so that it fits between the knee and the end of the chair pan. 

Bear in mind the height of  the desk; if you’re working from a tall desk or counter, the chair should be able to accommodate this level.

Tip: As a rule of thumb, when standing beside the chair, the chair pan should be level with your knee.

How to choose an office chair - Mesh chair at standing desk

Seat width and depth

The seat pan should be approximately 1 inch / 3 cm wide on each side of your legs
when you are seated. The average width of a seat is around 17 to 20 inches wide. The front of the seat should offer approximately 2 -4 inches between the back of the knees and the seat pan.

The width and depth of the base of the seat obviously needs to be large enough to accommodate your body. Ideally, the size of the seat should offer adequate depth to fit all your body along with 3/4 of your thigh.

This generally is not an issue for people. However, having a chair pan that is too large or chair that is too short can result in the user not being able to properly sit into the back and lead to them slouching on their chair; it can also mean that the user has the back of their knees banging off the seat as they struggle to fit the chair.

When purchasing the chair, the user spec of the chair should provide the length and width of the seat. If not, contact the manufacturer or salesperson in the store to obtain this detail for you.

Tip: Some chairs are designed specifically for either shorter or taller individuals. To find one that suits you, check with the manufacturer to see which one ticks the box. You could also ask some colleagues or try out some chairs to see which one fits you best.

How to choose an office chair - Cool mesh pro office chair

Seat slider

Many adjustable chairs have a seat slider function which offers you the ability to move the base of the seat inwards and outwards. This helps achieve a better posture in relation to the back of the seat.

Tip: Seats with adjustable backs or seat pans are particularly useful if the chair is used by multiple people of varying heights.

Seat tilt

Some chairs come equipped with a tilt function for the seat pan. Consequently, you can adjust the tilt, usually by up to 30 degrees, so that your hips are slightly above your knees while you are seated.

Tip: If your chair does not come equipped with a tilt function, an angled cushion can be used instead. Ensure that it is wider than you, fills the entire seat pan and does not hit off the back of your legs.

Lumbar support

The lumbar region relates to the lower part of the spine and is most commonly associated with back pain and injuries. This is because it carries the majority of the weight of the body.

Fun fact: Did you know that the lumbar region of the spine carries approximately 60% of your body weight?

Consequently, this is why all 5 discs require support and, consequently, your chair should be designed to offer a curve to support your lumbar region. Often this will come in the form of a curved backrest which sits into the groove of your lower back.

Some chairs even offer a pump function which allows the user to increase or decrease the curve on the chair.

Tip: If your chair doesn’t offer lumbar support, there are lumbar support attachments which can be purchased separately to the chair and strapped on to the seat back.

How to choose an office chair - Executive office leather chair

Back rest

The back of the chair should offer a tilt function which allows you to recline or achieve a slight incline. Ideally, your chair should offer an angle of 135 degrees recline. Typically, most people prefer to be angled at 110 degrees.

Some chairs may even offer the opportunity for a locking mechanism on the tilt which means that when you lean back you can lock it at a certain position. In this case, the seat back won’t move if you apply pressure to lean back.

Alternatively, other chairs allow you to leave this unlocked so that when the mood strikes you, you can lean back and have a stretch for yourself.

Tip: Pay attention to the adjustability of the back. Some chairs allow the seat back to move inwards and outwards to ensure that the user has their back firmly against the back of the chair, regardless of the depth of the chair.

How to choose an office chair - Black mesh office chair

Arm rests

Most chairs come equipped with adjustable arms nowadays. However, if you are working from one of the older types of chairs, they may not be adjustable and could interfere with your posture or bang into your desk as you try to perform your day-to-day activities. You may not even have armrests!

Armrests have been shown to be an important source of support to the body, practically around the upper regions in the neck and the shoulders. When testing the armrests, they should have the ability to adjust so that you can customize their positioning to your needs and desires.

Armrests that cause your shoulders or arms to be too low or raised too high can be detrimental to your posture and comfort.

Look for adjustable armrests that have adequate depth to support the width of your forearm. The material of the armrest should be soft enough to be comfortable against your skin and offer support to the soft tissue.

They should also be easily moveable, and height adjustments should be possible in small increments. A high-quality arm rest can offer the below range of movements:

1. Height adjustment

2. Width adjustment

3. Depth adjustment

4. Pivot adjustment

Seat material

The fabric that is used on the chair should be breathable and prevent the chair from being hot or cold. There should also be additional adequate cushioning which provides comfort to the person. Some chairs even come with memory foam cushioning; this type of material tends to be more robust and less liable to flattening out compared to standard cushioning.

Breathable fabrics help to increase the air flow and keep you cool while you are seated. This is probably more of a consideration for those who work in hot climates or offices or even for people who tend to be warm individuals in general. Case and point – my elegant, but cold leather executive chair that I mentioned previously.

Padding is another important consideration which can help to minimize fatigue, discomfort and imbalance while you are seated. Remember that you may be sitting for long periods throughout the day and that the chair needs to be robust enough to tolerate this on a daily basis.

Plus, nobody wants to experience the painful, uncomfortable feeling of sitting on a bicycle or a hard chair all day.

How to choose an office chair - Mesh office chair

Cleaning

The most common types of material used in a chair include fabric, leather and mesh. Plastic, metal and wood tend to be used around the peripherals of the chair, e.g., on the castors or arm rests.

While a damp cloth will clear the majority of dust and dirt, persistent stains often require an extra ingredient to make them disappear. Caution with the likes of leather and wood is required as chemicals could scratch or stain the material.

The advantage of having a leather chair means that it is easier to wipe off any spills, crumbs or dust that starts to accumulate on it.

I have noticed with my fabric chair that it is liable to have stains from the likes of food or liquids being spilled on it. This does require a greater degree of effort to clean off those stains.

There have been occasions where I have had to wait till a Friday evening or a going on holidays before I could clean the chair because otherwise it would be wet while I sit on it the next day.

How to choose an office chair - Leather chair in office

Swivel

From purchasing an office chair, you may neglect to appreciate the degree of mobility that it offers you. It sounds obvious, but there should be a degree of swivel mobility built into the chair so that you can do a 360-degree swivel on your chair.

The swivel function should be smooth and should move without any restraint or difficulty. Making use of this function comes in particularly useful if you have an L-shaped desk, if you have items in different corners of your desk or even behind your desk for storage. It also prevents you from leaning and bending side to side.

Wheels

Following on from mobility, the chair itself should have had a good mobility to move around your office or area. The wheels should offer a smooth gliding motion and be durable enough to tolerate you when you were sitting on the chair and moving (or shuffling around as I do).

Some chairs even offer a locking mechanism on the wheels, which can come in useful, particularly if you are positioning the chair on a curved area or you have a tendency to shuffle in the chair while you are seated.

Tip: Some chairs have caster wheels which are premium quality and do not cause any damage to flooring.

How to choose an office chair - 5-star base caster wheels

Price

The price of the chair may be dictated by your own budget or that of your employer. Chairs with a higher cost associated with them tend to provide more customization are generally more aesthetically pleasing to the eye.

Executive chairs offer a professional look to your area. However, you may have to compromise on the ergonomic features as they tend to be more focused on aesthetics than functionality and comfort.

On the other hand, an ergonomic chair will have many of the bells and whistles in terms of adjustability. While they may lack the managerial or executive appearance, they are still rather stylish.

Often, the more you pay the more you get. This could go upwards of $500 – $1000 for a good quality chair. Budget chairs are generally under the $200 – $300 mark. Essentially, don’t expect the cheaper chairs to offer as much functionality as a more expensive one.

Tip: Look for a chair with a decent warranty (ideally 3 years or more) and a good return policy, such as the chair below on Office Furniture 2 Go 

Conclusion

Knowing how to choose an office chair online or in store should be a breeze with the above information. Remember that not all of those functions are essential, but the more choice you have, the greater range of comfort and better posture that you can achieve.

Buying a good-quality office chair is one thing; setting it up correctly is another piece in the puzzle. I recall asking people if they ever adjusted their chair during ergonomic assessments that I completed. In the majority of cases, people only ever altered the height of the chair.

Essentially, this meant that they were sitting uncomfortably, and it also caused them to deviate from their natural posture, which often resulted in pain and discomfort. Avoid these common pitfalls and don’t be one of those people by reading: How to adjust an office chair – must know guide

My goal with this website is to help you on all matters related your home office and your work area. With that in mind, if you have any queries or comments on the above, please drop them in the box below. I’d love to hear them.

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