For someone who sits the majority of the workday, I've never thought much about office chairs. Before quarantine started back in March, I spent most of my work hours at the CNET Smart Home, an actual house where we test security cameras, smart speakers and other products. I filed stories from upright dining room chairs, cushioned sofas and butt-numbing patio furniture.
I've mainly stuck with my Smart Home method for the four-plus months I've been working from my own home. Some days, I write from a sofa; other days, I sit in a rocking chair on the front porch. No two days are the same and I'm slowly realizing it's terrible for my back and my posture. My husband's been working from home too, at a desk we rarely used before the pandemic. As it turns out, the no-seat-cushion, no-back-support office chair we use with that desk isn't working out particularly well for him, either.
It was time to make a change. So I tested out nine office chairs, ranging in price from $32 to $1,515, knowing we'd be buying a couple of the favorites for our own home when I finished.
I also spoke with an ergonomics expert for general tips on how to improve work setups, whether that's at home or in a more traditional office setting. Factors like seat height, backrest, adjustable arms, adjustable lumbar support, tilt tension and seat depth all factor in to getting the most from your desk chair.
For the purposes of this list, I only tested traditional office chairs, so if you're looking for something like a gaming chair or drafting chair, or something more out there, like a kneeling chair, this might not be the right place for you.
Note: Product pricing tends to vary on third-party sites, so the prices I quote as of writing this may change slightly over time. I'll do my best to update the list often to reflect the most accurate prices at the time of publishing.
I also plan to test out the Steelcase Gesture Chair at some point to add to this list, but its shipping was delayed, so check back for updates on that higher-end model.
An awesome chair alone isn't enough
Ergonomics is the "science of work," explains Gary Allread, the program director for the ergonomics division at Ohio State University's Spine Research Institute. That definition doesn't just apply to our jobs, though; ergonomic principles can be used for pretty much any activity (that means an ergonomic chair isn't going to immediately fix your lower back pain). Allread and his team offer consultation services for a variety of workplaces, from manufacturing plants to the auto industry and more. They even occasionally provide input on product design to help companies better understand how to create products "to make sure they can interact with people as well as possible," Allread says.
A less-than-ideal work setup might cause pain in your back, arms, hands or wrists. You might also find yourself fidgeting, making more mistakes or taking more breaks -- all because you're uncomfortable -- says Allread. Long-term, you might end up with tendonitis or carpal tunnel syndrome.
Allread makes two main suggestions anyone can try to improve how they work:
- Sit with your back against your chair. ("You want the chair to do the work and not your back," he explains.)
- Support your feet. Either plant your feet on the floor or, if they don't reach, use a box or other foot rest to support your feet.
If your chair lacks lumbar support, Allread adds, you can roll up a towel, secure it with tape or rubber bands and place it at your lower back to "keep the back in its natural curve." Allread also notes that companies are beginning to introduce different chair sizes that support a wider range of body sizes, which is an important consideration if you're shopping for a new chair.
"One mistake people make, is they say, 'Well if I get a great chair, then I'm not going to be sore anymore,' and that's not really looking at the big picture of what it takes to keep people comfortable and productive at their jobs," explains Allread. There are a lot of factors, and a new chair is just one of many things that can make your work environment more comfortable.
So, let's keep that all in mind as we weigh our options for the best office chair. I have a handful of good options here, including a leather chair, a mesh office chair and more, and I'll update the list periodically.
The best office chairs
The Hbada Office Task Desk Chair wins as my favorite office chair of the bunch. It has a streamlined design that doesn't take up too much space. It also has good lumbar support and a supportive, breathable backrest. At $130, it's pretty affordable too.
After trying out all of the models, I found myself reaching for this chair most often. It does lack the cushioned comfort of my second favorite chair (scroll down to see the runner-up winner), but it's the most well-rounded model I tested that ticks nearly every box.
- Price (Amazon): $130
- Finish: Black upholstery and mesh
- Weight limit: 250 pounds
It isn't the most sleek-looking chair around, but what the Serta Arlington lacks in style it more than makes up for with comfort and customizability. Serta is a mattress maker, and that tracks with the supremely comfortable Arlington chair. It is by far the most cushioned model I tried out, with layers of soft cushioning on the headrest, the backrest and the seat.
Despite its comfort, it also provides decent support thanks to an adjustable lumbar lever under the seat.
It currently costs $220 on Office Depot, down from the $300 list price. If you're looking for a comfortable office chair with customizable lumbar support, this is a great option.
- Price (Office Depot): $220
- Finish: Black leather
- Weight limit: 275 pounds
I liked the AmazonBasics Leather-Padded Swivel Office Chair right away. It was easy to assemble, the leather design looks nice and the seat and back are both cushioned and comfortable. At about $92, this AmazonBasics chair isn't cheap, but it's a great option that's relatively affordable without sacrificing much, with one exception -- lumbar support.
If lumbar support is a must for you, consider one of my other favorites.
Overall, though, the AmazonBasics Leather-Padded Swivel Office Chair is a comfortable, reasonably priced chair that's easy to put together and easy on the eyes.
- Price (Amazon): $93
- Finish: Black leather
- Weight capacity: 275 pounds
OK, I know. This chair is very expensive, but it also has a lot going for it -- a great design, lots of adjustability, lumbar support and, bonus, it comes in three sizes. I got size B, which fit within the height and weight range of both me and my husband.
The one issue is its price, which is why it didn't win for best chair overall. Nearly $1,400 for a single chair, even one you use for hours daily, just isn't a reasonable price for most people, us included. I will be sad to see this one go.
- Price (Amazon): $1,395
- Finish: Multiple color options, mesh
- Weight capacity: Varies based on chair size
Testing office chairs
Here's a complete list of the office chairs I tested:
How did I pick my favorites? First, I assembled each chair and noted any issues with the process, with the exception of the Herman Miller Aeron Chair, since it arrived fully assembled (bonus points there). Then, I spent one work day, or about eight hours, sitting in each chair, noting the level of comfort, adjustability and any issues I had. I also asked my husband to try out each chair. For reference, I'm 5 foot 7 inches, he's 6 foot 2 and we're both average weight.
Of course, what might work for me or for him may not work for you, but I kept in mind all of the tips Gary Allread from the Spine Research Institute had mentioned as I sat and asked Kevin to do the same:
- Was the chair designed so I could rest comfortably against the back of the chair?
- Did my feet touch the floor with my back against the back of the chair?
- Did I find myself fidgeting or standing up a lot?
- Did I experience any pain or discomfort while using a particular chair?
I had to immediately cut the Hodedah Armless Task Chair from the running, after noticing a label inside the box that read "NOT FOR ADULT USE." Apparently this chair, which regularly appears on lists of adult office chairs, has a 100-pound weight limit. I wasn't alone, either -- a number of customers have written reviews online expressing frustration that this chair (which at first appears to be marketed to adults, on Home Depot's website if not Amazon) broke while they were using it. If you are an adult under 100 pounds, this chair could potentially work for you, but its limited features, including no armrests, completely ruled it out for me regardless.
So we were down to eight chairs. Despite looking pretty nice and cushioned, we both found the OFM Essentials Collection Executive Office Chair a little stiff and uncomfortable. It also lacks lumbar support. The HON Exposure Mesh Task Computer Chair also lacks lumbar support and leans back too far for both of us, making it uncomfortable to sit with our backs against the backrest as Allread suggests. The BestOffice Mid-Back Ergonomic Desk Chair leans back too far as well, although it did have a bit more lumbar support than the HON Exposure chair.
The Humanscale Freedom Chair arrived mostly assembled; I just had to connect the top half and the wheelbase. Despite the simplicity of putting it together, I struggled to adjust this chair without consulting the instructions. Even after figuring it out, my husband and I both found the backrest and headrest oddly proportioned and extremely uncomfortable on our backs and necks.
The other four chairs I included in the best list above kept us comfortable all day and offered degrees of adjustability that set them apart from the pack.
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