Don’t Settle For Typical Chair Mats – These Alternatives Actually Work

We all want a nice and controlled surface to roll our office chairs on. Most people look for chair mats for this purpose. However, these are not the best solution for a number of reasons. 

We’re going to talk about why these mats are much worse for your workspace than you think. It’s not all doom and gloom though! We’re also going to give you a few game-changing alternatives that make that ugly chair mat obsolete and unnecessary. 

Key Takeaways

  • Casters (chair wheels) are typically the root cause of poor travel. 
  • Standard casters with plastic wheels can damage hard floors and make it difficult to roll on carpet floors. 
  • Larger casters have less rolling resistance, and the specific types we discuss won’t damage your floors. 
Chair Casters on carpet

The Problem With Traditional Chair Mats

Turns out there is a long list of negatives when it comes to chair mats. The worst part is that a lot of these issues don’t turn up until a few months or over a year into ownership. That’s beyond most return policies and warranties. 

Once you feel the sting of the office chair mat’s disadvantages, it’s usually too late to do anything about your investment. 

Here are the main reasons why you should stay away from traditional chair mats. 

Not Aesthetically Pleasing

This website is all about making our workspaces an attractive and inviting place to work (or hang out). Chair mats work against this, they just don’t look good. 

I don’t think anyone likes a huge sheet of opaque plastic on the floor in front of their desk. 

OFM Office Chair Mat for Carpet – Computer Desk Chair Mat for Carpeted Floors – Easy Glide Rolling Plastic Floor Mat for Office Chair on Carpet for Work, Home, Gaming with Extended Lip (36” x 48...

And if you are getting a mat made for carpets, you get all the little spikes. Those just look like dots all over your mat from above. 

Nobody adds this to their office for looks, it’s always for function. That alone speaks to the aesthetic value chair mats bring…zero!

Prone To Deforming

This might be the worst part of chair mats. I’ve experienced this with every single chair mat I’ve ever owned. 

When you sit in your chair for hours, day after day, week after week, year after year, you will be able to see the result on your chair mat. You will always get divots or mat depressions where your chair wheels sit. This is because you are adding pressure to these locations every day. 

Think about it, when you sit on your chair your entire weight is being distributed to five small points on the chair mat right under the wheels. It’s not an evenly distributed weight. Your chair mat has no choice but to deform at those locations with constant force. 

This results in a lot of deformation. First of all, the divots make it so your chair can’t easily roll across the mat anymore. They want to just roll into those little divots. Right when you get divots, the entire purpose of the chair mat is compromised. 

What’s worse is that the divots encourage the edges of your mat to rise up. This is where your feet can actually crash into the hard plastic, or worse, crash into the spikes underneath the chair mat. 

Can Crack And Fail

Chair mat manufacturers have a tough job. If they use plastic that is too flexible, you get divots and deformation as we talked about above. 

If they use a material that is harder (to avoid divots and deformation), it tends to crack. You have to pick your poison with chair mats: divots & deformation or cracks.

Cracks can be super dangerous because plastic can create really sharp points. If it happens at the edge of your mat, your foot can crash into these and give you a really bad time. 

Once you get a crack, it can propagate quickly so it’s pretty much time to throw it away. 

Shape Does Not Conform To All Desks

A lot of chair mats come with a front lip to give your feet and chair some room while tucking under your desk. Like this:

The thing is, this is a shot in the dark from the manufacturers. Desks come in all shapes and sizes. Chances are, this lip does not mesh well with your desk setup. 

It’s pretty funny that chair mat manufacturers illustrate how this doesn’t mesh with desks in their advertisement images. The amazon listing below has images showing that the mat could have been just a rectangle instead of a lip. 

Gorilla Grip Desk Chair Mat, No Divots, Rolling Chairs Glide Easy, Heavy Duty Studded, Protects Carpeted Floor Under Desks, Transparent Mats for Office, Home and Gaming Floors, with Lip 47x29, Clear

Compresses Carpet

Let’s just pretend that a chair mat works exactly as intended. This means you compress your high-pile carpet with the weight of yourself and your chair, constantly. 

As you would expect, this will compress that carpet very dramatically. Especially high pile carpet. 

If you were to use a chair with wheels straight on carpet, regular vacuuming and such would help brush that carpet and keep it looking great. A chair mat on the other hand doesn’t give your carpet a chance. 

Size Limited

Most of us only use our chairs in the small area in front of our desk. But if you do want to go beyond, you are pretty much out of luck. 

Getting a chair mat gives your chair boundaries on where you can use it. You should be able to use that chair anywhere you want! 

High Long Term Cost

If you try and go for a high quality chair mat to avoid issues, you will end up spending $40-$70. However, because of all the reasons we talked about above, they can still fail or experience deformation in the long run. 

Replacing a $70 mat every few years adds up. Basically a chair mat subscription – no thanks! 

The alternatives we will get into below on the other hand solve the root cause and won’t need the constant replacement of a chair mat. 

The Best Chair Mat Alternatives

Hopefully, we’ve convinced you that you deserve better than a plastic chair mat. Let’s start talking about some solutions that will actually work. We’ll first talk about chair mat alternatives for carpeted floors, and then hard floors. 

You will notice that our solutions solve the problem with your chair wheels themselves, less so your surface. Chair wheels are called casters, the Wikipedia page on casters gives you a pretty good definition. 

The casters are the root of the problem.

For Carpeted Floors

Larger Casters

Carpet creates a lot of resistance for normal office chair wheels. This is why people like to go with a chair mat. However, the fix with carpet floors is larger wheels. 

Small wheels can just get buried in a carpet and that creates a ton of resistance to rolling. A larger wheel is not nearly as buried in the carpet, which makes it much easier to move around. 

You know how a small rock can stop a skateboard in its tracks, but the same small rock does nothing to a bicycle? The size of the wheel matters! 

Carpet vs caster size graphic

Going for a larger chair wheel will significantly reduce the resistance felt in an office chair rolling on carpet. 

Most office chair wheels are around 2 inches in height. This is okay for hard floors, but even those can be improved. 

Roller Blade vs Normal Caster

The sweet spot for carpet floors is casters that are 3 inches or larger in diameter. If you have an especially high pile carpet, you might need something greater than 3 inches in diameter. 

Changing your casters is actually very easy. We have a dedicated article on how to remove and install office chair wheels.

In this video, standard casters are swapped with

on carpet. There is a noticeable difference and he is able to roll around much more freely with the larger wheels! 

Larger wheels solve the root problem with carpet floors. Unlike the chair mates which introduce a ton of other problems.

Side note: if you have a shaky desk on your carpet floors, check out this article on how to stabilize desks on carpet.

For Wood & Tile Floors

What about hard surface floors like wood or tile? People typically like to add a chair mat to protect those precious floors. 

Standard office chair wheels are usually made of hard plastic. Those hard plastic wheels can trap dirt and rocks on the surface of the wheels. The next thing you know, you are scraping all that debris all around your workspace. 

This was starting to damage the hardwood floors in my apartment, so I had to make a change. (I need my security deposit back…)

“RollerBlade” Wheel Casters

Rollerblade casters have been gaining huge popularity for good reason. These are a fantastic alternative to those hard plastic chair wheels. 

roller blade chair caster on Woood

They are called rollerblade wheels for the obvious reason that they are the same wheels used in actual rollerblades. They are designed to be softer for a comfortable ride experience, yet robust enough to smoothly roll under your weight.  

Adjustable Inline Skates for Adults, Safe and Durable Blades Roller Skates with Giant Wheels, High Performance Professional Skates for Men Women Black Size 5 6 7 8

Notice the similarities? 

Most of these rollerblade wheels are larger in diameter, which make them great for carpet as well.

3" Office Chair Caster Wheels

These chair wheels are made with soft, polyurethane material to protect floors and heavy-duty steel construction for durability. They roll smoothly and quietly on any surface and solve the problem of traditional wheels getting tangled with carpet or hair. They support up to 650 lbs and won't scratch floors.

Check Price on Amazon

The soft surface of these wheels doesn’t damage the floors, and it doesn’t even trap dirt on the wheel surface. Not trapping dirt on the wheel surface is crucial. Once small little rocks and dirt get trapped on your wheel, no floor is safe. 

Consider a Thin Carpet or Rug

I use the roller blade wheels on my Herman Miller Sayl chair, and sometimes the rolling motion is almost too smooth. 

Once in a while, I’ll get out of my chair to leave the room, and when I come back the chair is far from where I left it. It rolls so smoothly that even the slightest push can send it pretty far. 

If that level of smoothness would bother you, consider a thin carpet or rug to act as your “chair mat”. This will give those wheels a little more resistance, and give you a comfortable place to put your feet. 

If you have tile floors that are always cold, a thin carpet with rollerblade casters will work wonders and keep your workspace a bit warmer. 

55" x 35" Anti-Slip Office Chair Rug

This chair mat is non-slip and moves steadily on hard floors, preventing wear and tear on wheels or floors. It's easy to use and clean, and looks great in any office or desk setting. Note that this thin rug is designed for hard floors only and should not be used on carpets.

Check Price on Amazon

How To Change Your Casters

Most casters have a stem with a small ring that allows you to pull them in and out without any tools. If a caster is stuck pretty hard, you can use a flathead screwdriver to pry the caster out of your office chair. 

Here is an in-depth video on how to swap out those casters

Before You Go

We have many more chair-related resources for you!

If you have other comfort-related issues with your office chair, check out our article on making your chair more comfortable.

You can also check out our guide on office chair costs to see what’s out there and within your budget.

Photo of author

Dasun

I'm a big time workspace enthusiast who is constantly experimenting with my setup. Sharing along the way to help people make their own desk setups more functional and inviting, whether it be for productivity or play!

Leave a Comment