Office chairs are easily the most important part of your work setup. After all, it is no joke when your back gets sore from no support, or when the seat cuts off your circulation.
However, finding the perfect office chair can be tricky. Is it better to choose a firm office chair that maintains a certain shape for support or a soft office chair that will mold to your body?
If you’re on the fence, look no further! We have all of the nitty-gritty details on both firm and soft office chairs right here in this article.
No matter what your personal preference is, our guide will help you make the choice for what’s best for your back!
Table of Contents
What is a soft office chair? (definition, how it works)
A soft office chair is one with soft, cushiony padding. This padding is typically made out of polyurethane foam.
Because of the polyurethane foam, soft office chairs have more give to them. Instead of sticking to one shape, they typically mold to the shape of your body, making you feel like you’re sitting on a cloud.
Polyurethane foam typically has a density of 20-50 kg/m3. In general, the higher the density of your soft office chair, the better support it provides.
Because of their padding density, soft office chairs are best for short periods of continuous usage (especially for those who like to get work done fast and then stand up). This way, you get just enough support for each use, and you get a comfortable, luxurious sitting experience.
Soft office chairs are often very affordable as well, with well-reviewed products fitting in cheap to affordable price ranges. Considering how often you’ll sit down to work, this makes soft office chairs a good option!
However, when it comes to ergonomics, soft office chairs do come with some disadvantages.
Because of their softness, they tend to cause your spine to resemble the letter C, making you slouch – or slouch more if your posture already isn’t great.
This raises the question:
Are soft office chairs bad for your back?
The answer is: …not necessarily.
Admittedly, soft office chairs do encourage slouching, and repeated slouching can cause your spine to become painful and increase the risk of damaging your spinal discs.
The soft cushions are also an unstable surface that we sink into, rather than get propped up by. This causes our muscles to automatically tense up, even though we might feel more relaxed, and our shoulders and neck can become sore from constant use.
However, if you really want a soft office chair, there are ways you can prevent your back from hurting.
First, make sure you sit on the front edge of the chair. This is typically the hardest, least cushioned part and will provide more support.
Next, make sure your knees are below your hips. Contrary to popular belief, it’s more ergonomic and comfortable to have your knees at around 120 degrees from your hips.
Finally, make sure your feet are flat on the ground. By grounding your body, you gain more support and make slouching less likely.
So if you need that cushiony feel or if you need something more affordable, soft office chairs won’t ruin your back as long as you take the necessary precautions.
What is a firm office chair?
A firm office chair is one with firm padding. Its padding is typically made out of cold-cured foam.
Cold-cured foam has great compressive strength and high durability. It does have enough softness for comfortable sitting, but if you’re used to polyurethane foam, it can take a while to adjust.
Cold-cured foam also has high density in the range of 50-70 kg/m3, which helps it maintain its shape even after years of use. The air pockets distributed throughout the foam allow it to maintain its shape and properly support your body.
Because of this, firm office chairs are very ergonomic for long periods of continuous usage. By getting enough support for your body, you prevent yourself from developing issues like a sore back, tight neck, or compressed spine.
Firm office chairs are on the expensive side, with prices ranging from affordable to high costs. But if you need support for those long shifts, it’s definitely worth the investment!
However, firm office chairs aren’t very appealing to most people, especially those who are used to soft office chairs. The switch from polyurethane foam to cold-cured foam can be a shock, and cold-cured foam might even feel like rock!
This leads people to wonder:
Should an office chair be firm?
In short: yes.
Experts agree that firmer padding is more ergonomic because it provides us with more support.
By providing a stable surface, firm padding lets us relax into naturally ergonomic positions because it does all the supporting for us. This prevents our muscles from tensing up, becoming sore, and developing knots.
So, unless you are extremely sensitive, any firm office chair that gives you proper support is good!
How do firm and soft office chairs compare to each other?
We’ve read up on firm and soft office chairs, but now it’s time to summarize everything and compare them.
To make judging easier, let’s break this down into five categories: material and density, function, usage, affordability, and ergonomic rating.
Material and Density
The polyurethane foam of the soft office chair has a cushiony feel, but it wears out easily and has a density of 20-50 kg/m3.
The cold-cured foam of a firm office chair has a harder feel, but it lasts for years and has a density of 50-70 kg/m3.
In terms of density and durability, the cold-cured foam of the firm office chair wins this round.
Soft office chairs function to provide a luxurious sitting experience that feels like sitting on a cloud.
Meanwhile, firm office chairs function to provide solid support for your body as you work.
In terms of practicality, firm office chairs win. However, in terms of experience, soft office chairs win.
Soft office chairs are best for short periods of sitting. Otherwise, they flatten out due to their lower padding density.
On the other hand, firm office chairs are best for long periods of sitting, which they can withstand due to their higher padding density.
So, in terms of continuous usability, firm office chairs win another point.
Soft office chairs are affordable, with most ranging from cheap to affordable prices.
Firm office chairs, however, are quite costly, ranging from affordable to expensive prices.
In terms of upfront affordability, soft office chairs win. However, in terms of long-run affordability, firm office chairs could win due to their durability.
Soft office chairs cause your spine to curve into a C, which could cause serious health issues if you sit in them continually.
Firm office chairs support your body and let it rest in natural positions that reduce tension on your back and neck, preventing health issues.
So, in terms of ergonomics, firm office chairs win with no question.
|Criteria||Soft Office Chairs||Firm Office Chairs|
(cushiony, wears out easily)
(firm, lasts a long time)
|Density||20-50 kg/m3||50-70 kg/m3|
|Function||Comfortable, luxurious experience||Strong support for body, especially the back|
|Usage||Good for short periods||Good for long shifts|
|Affordability||Cheap to affordable||Affordable to expensive|
|Ergonomic Rating||Not great, but can be decent with proper sitting techniques||Amazing, as long as you don’t do anything outrageous|
So should an office chair be firm or soft?
In general, we recommend that an office chair be firm. This will provide you with enough support for your whole body, especially your back and neck, and will prevent sore muscles.
The downside to this is that firm office chairs can be quite expensive. However, if you work every day, buying a firm office chair is a good investment since it saves you from health problems and maintains its quality for years on end.
Not all of us are willing to give up the cushiony seat, and not all of us have large budgets.
If you’re in a similar situation, you might have to stick to soft office chairs. Just make sure to practice good posture when sitting, and choose one with a density that’s close to 50 kg/m3 so it still supports you well.
The downside to this is that, if you’re not careful, soft office chairs could hurt your spine. Soft office chairs also tend to wear out faster, so you may end up spending more in the long run.
At the end of the day, firm office chairs tend to be what is best for your back.
Yes, they do burn a bit of a hole in your wallet, but they are also definitely worth the investment! And if you do your research, you could find a firm office chair that will last for a long time, making it worth the money.
Whatever chair you end up choosing, just be sure it has high density for good support.
We wish you luck, and we hope this guide helps you find the office chair that’s right for you!
My name is Vance, and I am the owner of To Ergonomics. Our mission is to improve your workflow by helping you create a supportive and welcoming environment. We hope that you’ll find what you’re looking for while you’re here.