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Everything you've been told about mesh vs foam office chairs is probably a lie

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When you’re buying an office chair, pretty soon you’re going to have to choose between mesh and foam models. We’ve tested a massive range of the best office chairs, and as a rule of thumb, we recommend a mesh chair for breathability and a foam chair for extra comfort. But does that make mesh the better option for workers?

Not necessarily, according to a report by researchers at the University of California, in partnership with Secretlab, the company behind our pick for the best gaming chair. In their study, the researchers compared a high-end mesh model against the foam-covered Secretlab Titan Evo.

The results suggest that mesh office chairs might not be the best for ergonomics after all, as you may have been led to believe. 

Foam office chairs vs. mesh office chairs 

In a wide-ranging, eight-hour blind test, researchers found that both chairs exhibited no differences when it came to comfort, pains, and general fatigue - common complaints for chairs that aren’t ergonomically designed or made from unsuitable materials. 

However, it appears foam-covered office chairs may have the edge when it comes to general computing tasks in the office or home office. According to trends identified in the study, the foam office chair from Secretlab showed greater signs of support and more positive results when sat on for extended periods. 

“The rise of hybrid work has prompted everyday workers to invest in their home office furniture. The search for a good chair often leads to a choice between mesh and foam chairs. People are often drawn to mesh chairs, but our findings suggest that foam seats shouldn’t categorically be underestimated as a seat material suitable for long bouts of sitting,” said Melissa Afterman MS, CPE of the UC Human Factors Ergonomics Lab at University of California, Berkeley & San Francisco.

Meanwhile, Dr. Stuart McGill, Distinguished Professor Emeritus at the University of Waterloo and an ergonomics expert, warned office chairs that are too soft “lack sufficient support to allow the stress migrations and distributions critical to achieving comfort and injury resilience.” In other words, with the chair not supporting and distributing weight properly, greater pressure and stress is applied to the body. 

In a stress migration study, Dr. McGill noted: “Tissue loads must be migrated from tissue to tissue to minimize the risk of any single tissue accumulating microtrauma. Secretlab Titan Evo’s foam seat base helps to distribute pressure to the parts of the body designed for bearing weight.” 

But the mesh versus foam issue might not be quite so clear-cut. After all, Secretlab has spent a lot of R&D time creating more comfortable and supportive high-density foam for office chairs - a process that goes well beyond dynamic lumbar support and pebbled seat design, with recognition from leading industry bodies like United States Ergonomics (and you can see what we thought of those efforts in our Secretlab Titan review).

Ultimately, then, it comes down to the type of office chair that best fits your workspace and workflow - and for that, mesh might not always be a better choice than foam.

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