Whether you’re an office chair connoisseur or new to the world of office equipment, you’re likely landing on this page because you’re in desperate need for chair mat alternatives. We hear you. We are you.
Even the best office chairs can cause damage to floors or carpets after an extended period of use. So you may be considering specialized mats to help protect your floors. However, chair mats are not a magic bullet.
Some office floor mats will wear out over time, while others can actually exacerbate the damage to the floor (a problem related to poor mat design, or by purchasing the wrong mat, among other issues).
Below, we’ll explore a few keys ideas to help you understand why it may be time to ditch the chair mat, and what kind of chair mat alternatives you might want to explore.
Best Chair Mat Alternatives
If you’re looking for a replacement, the best chair mat alternatives include:
- New office chair wheels
- Standing desks
- Office chair bell glides for carpeted floors
There’s no one-size-fits-all solution to replacing your chair mat. Whether you need better office chair wheels for your open-plan office or you’re considering switching to a standing office, chair mats are not the end-all, be-all for protecting your floors. There’s a good chance you can make economical upgrades to your office to help protect your flooring and avoid office chair mats that could cause further damage to your office.
Your Office Chair Wheels Could Be the Problem
Most office chairs wheels are made of hard plastic. These wheels make it much easier to roll around the office, but they can also be the root cause for the damage you’re seeing on your floor.
Plastic office chair wheels help reduce the impact of friction on the floor. But when weighted down by someone sitting on the chair, friction increases, creating wear on the surface below. Hardwood floors are especially prone to wear and tear from office chairs. Many times these plastic chair wheels rub off the clear finish and scratch the wood surface below.
Additionally, the plastic wheels on office chairs can wear out. As the surface of the wheels wears out, the wheel will develop rough edges and may even pick up bits of rock and debris within the plastic. This can create even more wear and tear, an issue that can damage not just hard surfaces, but even degrade and rip out the fibers in carpets.
Best Solution: Quick, Easy and Inexpensive Wheel Upgrades
A good alternative to using office mats on hard surfaces is to upgrade to rollerblade-style wheels. These wheels cover less surface area than traditional office chair wheels and use a more durable polyurethane material (a type of rubber).
Switching from plastic to a tough rubber material for your wheels means you don’t have to worry about the material breaking with use or time. Additionally, a rollerblade caster design completely eliminates the wear-and-tear on hardwood, vinyl, laminate, and other types of hard floor surfaces.
Wheel upgrades are also a great idea if you’re purchasing used office equipment. Many new businesses purchase used equipment in the early stages. Purchasing used, good-quality chairs can be economically sound, but it may be necessary to upgrade to better wheels to help avoid damaging office floors. Upgrading the wheels is also surprisingly easy.
When to Upgrade Your Office Chair Wheels
Upgrading your office chair wheels is almost always useful, but every office is different. Here are a few examples of when you might want to ditch the chair mat for better wheels.
1. Your Office Has Hard Floors
Hard floors (hardwood, vinyl, laminate, to name a few) are the best use case for switching to caster style wheels over office mats. Traditional plastic office chair wheels can damage any hard floor type, while chair mats can cause further damage to hard floor materials if the wrong mat is used, if the mat is old, or if the mat is not properly managed.
2. Your Office Has Commercial or Industrial Carpet
Commercial/industrial office carpeting is often hard and flat instead of plush like you might find in a home office. This type of surface is designed protect the underlying surface instead of for comfort. As a result, it also means that an office mat is not particularly necessary to help protect the carpet. Rubber, rollerblade style wheels easily glide over this type of surface and significantly reduce the impact of the wheel.
3. Your Office Uses Plush (Thick) Carpeting
Thick, plush carpeting is far more common in home offices. It’s actually one of the few examples where an office mat can serve a good purpose. That said, you don’t need an office mat for plush carpeting. There are two alternatives you can incorporate in this case:
- You can switch to hard flooring instead
- You can use office chair bell glides
Switching to hard flooring may be a good option, and if you have a home office, it’s quite possible you already have hardwood flooring under your carpet. It may be a simple matter of ripping up the carpet and doing some finishing work on the flooring below. From there, you can also upgrade to rollerblade style wheels.
Changing to hardwood could actually increase productivity in your office. Some experts note that hardwood floors improve mood, while office chairs have far greater mobility on hard flooring than over carpet. If the upgrade is cost-effective, this is a switch that may offer a great return on investment.
If ripping up your carpet isn’t in the cards, however, you may want to consider office chair bell glides as other chair mat alternatives. These go under the wheels to increase the chair’s surface area, which reduces how much of an impact the chair has on the carpet. However, bell glides will eliminate the ability to roll your chairs. As the chairs will lose their primary function, they’ll be much less useful.
Standing Office Desks Offer Notable Benefits
A large body of research has gone into studying the ill health effects of the traditional style office. Spending hour upon hour sitting down can completely wreck your health in the long term. According to the Mayo Clinic, sitting for 8 hours or more per day imparts the same health risks as obesity and smoking.
To counteract this problem, some offices are moving toward a standing desk model. Standing desks come in all shapes are sizes, including desks which can adjust their height to switch from sitting to standing positions with the push of a button. Standing desks can help reduce back strain, reduce the risk of obesity, improve mood and digestion, and more.
Still, the cost of entry is high. Standing desks can cost hundreds of dollars, so it’s not an option for everyone. And if you’re just looking for chair mat alternatives, it may be far easier and wallet-friendly to upgrade the wheels instead.
Are Chair Mat Alternatives Cost-Effective?
You bet! As stated earlier, chair mats can be pretty cheap to purchase, but the lowest-costing mats are not going to be a good option. They’ll wear out quickly, are more likely to damage your floors, and you’ll have to replace them far sooner than if you went with a wheel replacement. But to give you some numbers:
- Rollerblade-style caster wheels cost $36 for a set of five
- The best-rated chair mat on Amazon costs between $29.99 and $73.00, is not designed for carpets, and based on customer reviews, collects dirt, slides on surfaces, and may leave lasting damage on wood flooring.
- Even the best-rated standing desk on Amazon costs over $130
If your main consideration is to replace your chair mat with a newer version, it may be better to opt for new chair wheels instead. A standing desk can also be a good alternative, but you’ll need a larger budget for it, and you may still find yourself using a rolling chair anyway for different purposes.
Here’s Why Your Chair Mat Could Be Causing Problems
Office chair mats can offer a quick, inexpensive fix to the problem of wear-and-tear on office flooring. Those working on a tight budget can easily purchase chair mats for under $20 from places like Walmart or Amazon.
Nevertheless, as with most office equipment, going cheap often means sacrificing quality over functionality. Cheap chair mats may solve the problem in the short term, but those mats are also more likely to break down faster and may have design flaws that actually cause more damage to the floor below.
Using the Wrong Chair Mat Can Damage Floors
Office chair mats are great at preventing damage to hardwood, carpet, laminate and other flooring types—unless you use the wrong kind of floor mat. If you purchase the wrong mat for the wrong type of flooring, you could end up causing more damage.
This is particularly the case if you use a chair mat designed for carpets on a hardwood, vinyl, or laminate floor. Chair mats designed for carpets often have a studded bottom (similar to soccer cleats) to keep the mat from moving around as you roll on it. If that floor mat comes into contact with hardwood or other hard-surface flooring materials, the floor underneath can be scratched.
Even the Right Chair Mats Can Damage Floors
Just how clean are your hardwood floors? If they’re not as clean as you think, putting a floor mat on top of them can result in more damage to the floor.
When rocks and other debris get underneath a floor mat (a common problem with all mats, and especially a glass chair mat), any type of pressure on top of the mat can cause damage to the hardwood floor beneath. Continuously rolling over the mat with an office chair can cause the debris to rub against the floor material, more quickly wearing out the finish and scratching the wood surface.
This is certainly a fair argument for why it’s important to clean under your floor mat before putting it down, and regularly after it’s placed. But it’s easy to forget about cleaning under mats, making this particular scenario a very real concern for both home and commercial offices.
Even using chair mats designed for carpets can cause problems. These mats can dig into the carpet and out the carpet beneath with repeated movement across the mat.
The Chair Mat Material Can Cause Damage to Floors
What are your chair mats made of? Depending on the material, the mat itself could be the cause of floor damage.
Plastic materials are popular for chair mats, but those materials will break down over time. Old plastic will crack and break off, and those broken plastic pieces can get stuck under the mat.
As stated above, any loose material under the mat can cause damage to the floor when pressure and friction is applied.
You’re Limited to the Size of the Chair Mat
Chair mats significantly limit just how far you can roll in your chair. Some are designed to cover only a small area, which means you’ll be limited to rolling toward and out of your desk, but not much further.
Larger (and more expensive) chair mats can cover larger office space, but you’ll still be limited to the size of the mat. Rolling your chair outside of the mat’s area means running the risk of damaging the office flooring.
This is an area where wheel upgrades offer a particularly notable advantage. Upgrading to rollerblade style caster wheels means the chair can cover more area. Better office chair wheels can be a boon for companies with open office floor plans.
Let’s Face It: Chair Mats Aren’t Attractive
Not every office worker will care about aesthetics, but you’ll be hard-pressed to find anyone who finds a standard chair mat to be an attractive feature.
Chair mats are almost always utilitarian at best and are rarely designed to be pleasing to the eye. Clear plastic chair mats can at least reduce the negative visual impact most chair mats create, but they’re not a perfect solution.
That said, some people do love chair mats, and one can easily find DIY chair mat designs on the web. There are also more attractive chair mats available for purchase, but they aren’t cheap. Some designer chair mats can cost well over $100.
Why Chair Mats are an Imperfect Solution
We’ve painted a pretty sour picture of chair mats, but they aren’t all bad. Chair mats serve a very valuable purpose in the office, but they’re an imperfect solution to protect home and commercial office flooring.
Flooring materials can vary from location to location. Most home offices are likely to either be carpeted or have hardwood, while commercial offices may have carpet (or carpet tile), ceramic tile, laminate, hardwood, vinyl, and more.
Even if your home or commercial office uses the most expensive flooring material, it’s not going to be impervious to damage. All types of traffic moving across the floors can cause damage over time. Rolling office chairs, in particular, can cause damage to any type of surface with repeated use.
Chair mats do offer a useful remedy to prevent the type of damage that traditional rolling chairs can cause. However, they’re a fix that best fits cubicle-style offices. Open plan offices are growing in popularity, and floor mats are ill-suited for this type of office as they significantly limit the area of mobility, reducing the effectiveness of collaboration.
For modern offices, rollerblade style caster wheels are considered the best chair mat alternatives. Standing desks can also provide help reduce the reliance on rolling chairs (and thereby reducing the impact of rolling over floors), but you’ll likely still need to supplement standing time with a rolling chair.
For those with plush carpeted surfaces, a good alternative is to either switch to hard floors and upgrade to rollerblade style wheels or to use (somewhat limiting) bell glides to ride the surface impact and mobility of the wheel.