Half of our waking hours each day are spent sitting in an office chair. The average workday is 8 hours and so many of us spend it sitting in front of a computer.
This is very well known and the reason why office chairs are built for comfort and can be very expensive. Many major office chair brands spend a lot of resources engineering and designing the perfectly ergonomic chair for these long work days.
But how much thought is put into the wheels that these chairs roll on?
The short answer is...not much.
It’s not something that consumers consider regularly and it’s clear that chair companies do not either. Some of the standard, basic wheels that come equipped on office chairs can cause major headaches.
Even the best, most expensive brands of chairs use cheap, plastic caster wheels. (See for yourself. Check out the casters on the top brands like Herman Miller, Steelcase, and Humanscale.)
These low quality wheels roll poorly, are noisy, break or fall apart, and worst of all - cause damage to floors.
Installing the right chair wheels have a major impact in improving mobility, reducing noise, increasing weight capacity and wheel life, and preserving floors.
So you may want to consider upgrading or replacing the wheels that came on your office chair.
You can replace your office chair wheels?
Office chair wheels come standard on chairs, but many people don't realize these can be easily changed without the use of any tools. And even better…the attachments on almost all chair wheels are the same size, making replacing or upgrading a simple process. Check out this guide on How To Replace Your Office Chair Wheels.
In this article, we’ll break down the caster wheel types, attachment types, flooring considerations, weight capacity & durability, mobility, and overall recommendations.
There are three basic types of office chair wheels available: Twin Wheel, Ball Casters, & the newer Single Wheel (Rollerblade Style) Casters.
The industry standard in office chair wheels. These are what you’ll see on almost every office chair on the market. (These wheels are the entire reason for this article)
Around 95% of all office chairs use one type of chair wheel fitting, and will sometimes be considered the universal standard size.
This fitting is a 7/16” (11mm) diameter by 7/8" length grip ring stem.
The remaining types have either a smaller/larger size grip ring stem, threaded stem, or stemless fit. There are also grip neck stems which are used exclusively on wood furniture, and plate mount casters which can be used on furniture or industrial/commercial applications.
Compatible with approximately 95% of all office chairs. The stem has a metal ring on the end to help “lock” the wheel in the chair base. These are typically 7/16” diameter x 7/8" length, however they can occasionally be found in 3/8" diameter x 1” length or 7/16” diameter x 1-7/16” length.
This stem has a thread, very similar to a screw or bolt. Not very common, but can be found on some models. They come in a large range of thread sizes and lengths.
This type of caster fitting has a socket where the stem typically is located. These will fit chairs with a stem/stud built into the chair. These are considered the least common fitting types.
(Chart on Stem Types)
For help measuring what size wheel stems you need for your chair click here.
Okay, now that we got the wheel and stem types/sizes out of the way let’s check out what to look for when upgrading or replacing your chair wheels.
“I just installed new hardwood floors in my office, how do keep them from getting damaged or scratched?”
This is a common questions and a major concern of many people that want to preserve their home or work office. Whether it is hardwood, laminate, tile, carpet, vinyl, or stone, no one wants to see damage or scratching on their floors.
When referring to office chairs, the best way to preserve your floors is to consider the material of your office chair wheels. More specifically, the part of the wheel that is in direct contact with the floor. (Some will look into plastic floor mats - however these floor mats can actually do more harm than good in most cases)
Hard Nylon - Nylon is used on the traditional twin wheel casters. This material is very common because of its low cost. It is usually black in color and hard to the touch. Hard nylon offers no grip and these wheels will tend to slide in addition to roll. The sliding motion of this causes scratches on hard flooring and can be noisy.
Soft Rubber - This is a less common material on chair wheels. It is typically dark (gray or black) in color and soft to the touch. Rubber offers great grip to prevent sliding, however may cause scuff marks. Due to the soft structure of rubber, it can have limitations with its weight capacity. Overall rubber chair wheels will be okay on most hard floors but not ideal on carpet or area rugs.
Polyurethane - Used on roller blade wheels, Polyurethane is by far the most superior material for your office chair wheels. The only downside is it comes with a slightly larger price tag. Polyurethane has great grip to prevent sliding, and is an anti-scuff material. It can come in a variety of colors, but is mostly found in clear for chair wheels. Polyurethane is different from rubber because it allows for a larger weight capacity and will not leave scuff marks on hard surfaces.
It is best to look for chair casters with a thick wheel made from polyurethane. Some twin wheel casters will have a thin coating of polyurethane over nylon, however this coating may wear down and leave just the nylon in contact with your floor.
So what material are my current chair wheels?
If you have the standard twin wheel casters on your office chair, chances are they are made of a hard nylon plastic. If you want to keep your floors damage-free these should not be used on hard flooring. This material should only be used on low pile or thick pile carpet and area rugs.
Another major consideration in chair caster selection is weight capacity or weight limit. Most office chairs are built to withstand heavy weight or overweight persons. However, the chair casters are often the “weak link” in the office chair design and can easily be overloaded. Overloaded chair wheels will have issues rolling, won’t last as long, and will break.
The basic wheels that come standard with office chairs (even if the chair is high weight rated) may be overloaded and can fail with just a couple hundred pounds. This is due to the thin plastic support structure.
Some well-built chair wheels can withstand up to 650lbs as a full set. High weight limit casters are made of steel and have a high durability wheel material like polyurethane.
You sit in a rolling office chair for a reason - you want to be able to move around with ease right? The quality of your office chair wheels are directly responsible for ease of movement.
Chair casters have two different degrees of motion. The first is the swivel movement, which allows the casters to turn and change direction. The second is the rolling movement. Cheaper chair casters will use a plastic bushing for the swivel and rolling motion. This “bushing” is just a plastic rubbing against plastic and causes friction. Higher quality chair casters will use steel ball bearings for both the swivel and rolling motion, and has almost zero friction.
For maximum mobility it is best to look for chair wheels that have ball bearings in the swivel portion of the caster (top part near the stem), and ball bearings in the wheel axle. Ball bearings will ensure the casters move with ease and last for years.
All of the above factors that are important when selecting chair wheels have an impact on price. A new set of office chair wheels can range anywhere from $10 to $40.
$35-$40 will get you a set of chair wheels with the best mobility, have the highest weight rating, are smooth and quiet, and safe on all floors.
$10 will get you chair wheels that you can toss in few years, may cause some frustration with rolling and noise, and might cause some damage to your floors.
So, should I keep my current wheels or upgrade?
In almost all cases we recommend upgrading your chair wheels to a rollerblade style caster. This style has the polyurethane material wheel, steel frame and ball bearings. These higher quality casters will show a huge difference in movement, noise level, and smoothness. They will also give you the peace of mind knowing your hard surface floors are safe from any damage.
Hard floors (hardwood, tile, laminate, etc.) in your office - upgrade your wheels. Polyurethane wheels will ensure your floors are safe from damage and scratching.
Hard floors with plastic floor mat in your office - upgrade your wheels and toss the floor mat. The mat restricts your rolling movement to a very small area. The plastic mat can actually even damage the hard surface.
Low pile carpet in your office - upgrade your wheels. Polyurethane wheels will keep your carpeting in good shape and a larger diameter wheel will allow you to roll easier.
Thick carpet in your office - you will be okay with the standard plastic casters that come with your chair. Just try not to use it too often on any hard surfaces in the future.
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