Choosing an Office Chair
Anyone who has logged hours upon hours behind a desk knows the importance of finding the right office chair. According to the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration, a good office chair should support your back, shoulders, and neck; help prevent carpal tunnel problems in the hands and wrists; support your legs and buttocks; improve leg circulation; reduce workplace fatigue; and make it easy to reach whatever you need. The best cheap office chairs accomplish this for less than $150.
Pricey vs. Cheap Office Chairs.High-end office chairs can cost as much as $1,200. The celebrated Aeron chair by Herman Miller (starting at more than $500) comes in three different sizes, and every piece adjusts to give users the precise position they need. It's also guaranteed for 12 years. While cheap office chairs don't come with the Aeron's warranty and pinpoint adjustability, not to mention its brand name and design pedigree, many aren't lacking in comfort and offer more than a nod to ergonomics.
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Features Comparison Buying Guide continues below table
Office Star Space 5500 Review
Adjustability Seat height, armrest height, tilt
Seat Pan Dimensions 21 inches wide, 20 inches deep
Armrests Padded and adjustable
Material Mesh back, padded seat
|150||Seat height, armrest height, tilt||21 inches wide, 20 inches deep||Padded and adjustable||Mesh back, padded seat|
Staples Vocazo Review
Adjustability Seat height, tilt
Seat Pan Dimensions 20.5 inches wide, 19.75 inches deep
Armrests Padded but not adjustable
Material Mesh back, microsuede seat
|105||Seat height, tilt||20.5 inches wide, 19.75 inches deep||Padded but not adjustable||Mesh back, microsuede seat|
Alera Nico Mid-Back Chair Review
Adjustability Seat height, tilt
Seat Pan Dimensions 21 inches wide, 21 inches deep
Armrests Padded but not adjustable
Material Caresoft upholstery (imitation leather)
|134||Seat height, tilt||21 inches wide, 21 inches deep||Padded but not adjustable||Caresoft upholstery (imitation leather)|
Office Chair Reviews: What We Considered
We based our evaluations of office chairs' performance in large part on a close reading of user reviews. Certain models are sold by only one or two retailers and therefore only reviewed in one or two places. Office chair reviews are somewhat harsh and no cheap office chair escapes criticism.
There are lots of elements to look for in an office chair. Ergonomic office chairs are designed to increase comfort and productivity and decrease discomfort, fatigue, and even injury in the workplace. An office chair should adjust to accommodate the user and provide proper lumbar support. Other features to consider are the seat pan, armrests, materials, and base. Office chair reviews also address mobility and durability.
Comfort.Comfort seems to be the No. 1 priority among consumers posting office chair reviews. After all, who wants to spend money on a chair that isn't comfortable? Users expect even a budget office chair to be comfortable enough to sit on for long periods of time and to properly support the back, legs, buttocks, shoulders, and arms.
Adjustability is key. We looked for ergonomic office chairs that provide a customized fit with adjustable components. This includes the seat height, tilt, and armrests. According to OSHA, the seat is at the proper height when your feet rest fully on the ground and the backs of your knees are slightly higher than the seat of the chair. The ideal sitting position is with your back completely against the seat back at a slight backward tilt. Adjustable armrests ease the tension in your shoulders and arms.
Lumbar Support.Good lumbar support is an especially important aspect of a comfortable office chair. To avoid back injury and fatigue, look for a curved seat back that lets you sit with a slight arch in your back instead of hunching forward. Test out the chair and make sure it can be adjusted so the curve of the seat back aligns with the natural curve of your lower back.
Seat.The seat pan needs to be wide enough and deep enough to properly support your legs and allow you to sit comfortably for many hours at a time. There are no ideal measurements, because people come in all different sizes. Larger users need a wider seat and taller users need a deeper seat to make sure their thighs are fully supported. Shorter users need a shallower seat and possibly a footrest so they can rest the bottoms of their feet on flat ground without having to scoot forward and lose the lumbar support provided by the backrest. The edge of the seat should be rounded -- a design known as a "waterfall" seat -- to avoid cutting off circulation to the lower legs.
Armrests.Some consumers might choose an office chair without armrests for budget or aesthetic reasons, but armrests are an important ergonomic feature, because they take strain off your shoulders, neck, and arms. The armrests should be slightly padded and lack any sharp edges for added comfort. You don't want armrests that are too high, low, wide, or close. The goal is to sit in a relaxed position with your shoulders back and down and your arms resting lightly on the armrests at your sides. If the armrests are not adjustable, test out the height to make sure it isn't too high or low for you. If proper positioning is not possible, look for a different chair with armrests that are adjustable or fit your proportions better.
Materials.Cloth, mesh, and leather upholstery seem to be the most popular fabric choices for office chairs. Cloth is the cheapest and breathes well, and mesh office chairs are ventilated and durable. Leather upholstery is easiest to wipe clean, although it tends to be on the expensive side. More common in the budget price range is upholstery designed to look, feel, and wipe clean like real leather.
Base.The base is what supports the chair and keeps it from tipping over. According to OSHA, a chair base with less than five legs is a tipping hazard. All the low-cost office chairs we reviewed have a five-leg base.
Many office workers swivel around to reach and file materials and wheel from one spot to another. Casters and swivel mechanisms make it possible to get into position easily. There are different casters for different floor surfaces; the most common are for carpet. The swivel mechanism allows you to rotate your seat without moving the entire chair. A 360-degree swivel is very common in inexpensive office chairs.