Last Updated on June 7, 2022 by The Filtery Staff
When it comes to home office setup, everyone wants and needs something a little different. Some like a standard sitting desk, others prefer to stand, and some like to switch it up throughout their day. Some need more cushioning for their bodies, while others are good with a plain and simple wooden chair.
When choosing the best office chair for you, there are a lot of things to consider. Materials, ergonomics, aesthetics, working habits and preferences, type of desk, and more. While you shop, keep in mind that you may have to make a sacrifice in one area or another. For example, it’s practically impossible to find a non-toxic office chair that’s made from completely natural materials and that also provides an optimal ergonomic experience.
As you weigh out all of your options, just try to make the best decision for you (even if it’s not the absolute perfect one!).
P.S. If you’re looking for more eco-friendly and non-toxic office supplies, check out our full guide to creating a sustainable home office right here!
This post contains affiliate links, which means we may earn a small commission if you choose to make a purchase. We only make recommendations that are genuine and meet our standards.
Featured Image Credit: Knoll
Materials to Consider in an Office Desk Chair
Foam Or No Foam?
This is one of the biggest questions you’ll have to answer for yourself as you shop for desk chairs. Polyurethane (PU) foam is VERY commonly used in the cushions of most desk chairs on the market.
PU is derived from petroleum (it’s a kind of plastic), so right off the bat you know it’s not exactly eco-friendly. PU foam often contains volatile organic compounds (VOCs) like benzene, toluene, and formaldehyde. Many of these VOCs are known carcinogens and when you have them in your home, they slowly leak out into your air over time, contributing to indoor air pollution (this is commonly referred to as “off-gassing”).
Not only that, but PU foam also contains isocyanates with long names like toluene diisocyanate (TDI) and methylene diphenyl diisocyanate (MDI), which are powerful irritants and sensitizers.
BUT, some types of PU are more stable and less toxic than others… The problem is that it’s almost impossible to know just HOW safe or unsafe the PU foam chair you’re buying actually is.
All that being said, I totally get that many people need cushions in their office chair in order to keep the aches and pains away. If that’s you, you may want to check out the cushion recommendations at the bottom of the article.
Or… an office chair might just be a specific product that you choose to go with not-perfect option in order to get the best cushion for you (even if it’s synthetic). At the end of the day, getting a chair with a PU foam seat is not going to be the end of the world. Opening your office windows and getting an air purifier can help get rid of any of the VOCs that might off-gas from the chair.
Another option for foam cushions is to look for better alternatives like natural latex. You can also look out for synthetic foam that is Certi-PUR and/or GREENGUARD Certified (these certifications aren’t perfect, but they’re better than nothing).
Solid wood is, of course, a great option for a classic, eco-friendly desk chair. As we’ve talked about before with other wooden furniture like desks, bed frames, and dressers, solid wood is a much better option than engineered wood (plywood, MDF, etc.).
Engineered wood is actually just made out of pieces of wood (like sawdust and wood chips), which are glued together to look like real wood. That requires quite a lot of glue, which usually contains volatile organic compounds (VOCs) such as formaldehyde. These VOCs can off-gas into your home over time, contributing to indoor air pollution just like the PU foam.
This is why if you’re going to go with wood, choose solid wood if possible. And be sure to choose from a brand that uses non-toxic and water-based finishes as opposed to harsh lacquers.
Of course, wooden chairs have their downsides when it comes to ergonomics. They can be hard on the body and many don’t have a built-in cushion. If you go with a wooden chair, you may want to consider purchasing one of the recommended chair cushions at the bottom of this article.
Metal is usually another good option, especially if it doesn’t have to be finished (since it won’t off-gas into your air.)
If you’re going to go with synthetics, mesh is generally a safer option. It’s thinner, which means there is generally just less material to off-gas. Mesh is also usually (though not always) made from nylon, which is one of the safer synthetic materials available, while also being strong and durable.
Hard Plastic / Acrylic
Since it’s a petroleum-product, we don’t love plastic. However, hard plastics and acrylics tend to be safer than softer, more malleable plastics (you know, like the ones used for to-go food containers, backpacks, and inflatable kiddie pools).
Part of the reason for this is because endocrine-disrupting phthalates (like BPA and related chemicals) are often added to plastics in order to make them more flexible.
Plastic chairs tend to be more affordable and budget-friendly as well. We looked for recycled plastic whenever possible since it’s more eco-friendly.
How to Choose an Ergonomic Office Chair / Desk Setup
Choosing an ergonomic office chair can help prevent pain all throughout your body as you spend your days at your desk.
Here are a few pointers to consider when choosing the overall positioning of your desk, chair, and body for the healthiest and more ergonomic setup:
- Your feet should sit flat on the floor
- Your knees should be slightly below or level with your hips
- You should have good lumbar support (we have recommendations for lumbar cushions below)
- Wrists should be even with the keyboard
- Elbows should be bend at a 90 degree angle (or more) at your side
- Your computer monitor should be at eye level and about an arm’s length away from you
- Your neck and head should be straight
Our Favorite Brands for Non-Toxic (or LESS Toxic) Desk Chairs for Your Office
Now, let’s get to it! Here are our favorite brands for non-toxic office chairs to finish off your eco-friendly office setup. (And don’t forget to check out the chair cushions at the bottom as well!)
Materials: Aluminum, Cotton, Leather, Wool, Wood
Our Pick: Officer Swivel Chair
Emeco carries a really wide variety of chair (and stool) options when it comes to styles, colors, etc. Many of these sustainable chairs are made with recycled or upcycled materials, and a lot of them come with certifications such as GREENGUARD, Cradle to Cradle Gold, and FSC. They’re handcrafted in Pennsylvania, too!
Knoll (Best for Executive-Style Desk Chairs)
Materials: Aluminum, Polyester, Nylon, Polyurethane, Polypropylene
Our Pick: Generation Office Chair
If you’re looking for an ergonomic chair, Knoll has lots of options for you — they have various types of adjustable desk chairs, office chairs with lumbar support, and more. They also have lots of choices in terms of styles and colors as well.
Knoll does use quite a bit of synthetic material (although a lot of it is recycled), so if you’re looking for mostly natural materials, Knoll might not be the best fit for you. But many of their chairs come with certifications such as GREENGUARD Gold, Indoor Air Quality Certified, and SMaRT Sustainable Gold certified.
Materials: Solid wood, Polyester
Price: $560 – $695
Our Pick: Boaco Arm Chair
We love Masaya & Co. — their gorgeous furniture is on several of our furniture guides, including non-toxic bed frames and dressers. Everything they carry is handmade out of sustainably harvested hardwood and finished with a low-VOC natural oil finish. Some of the chairs also use woven cord, which is made from polyester.
Each piece is handmade by a team of architects, furniture designers, and artisan craftspeople in Nacaragua using Teak, Rosita Walnut, and Royal Mahogany wood and dried in their on-site solar kilns. Plus, 100 trees are planted with each purchase!
They also make stools, rocking chairs, benches, and lounge chairs!
noho (Best Affordable Option)
Materials: Regenerated Nylon
Price: $375.00 (without topper) – $520 (with topper)
Our Pick: White noho chair with Fern colored topper
There’s a lot to like about noho’s chairs. These aren’t your standard plastic chairs… They’re designed to be ergonomic and flexible enough to move with your body, but they’re much lighter weight compared to most other ergonomic office chairs and have a cleaner, more minimalistic aesthetic.
Even though they’re not made from natural materials, these chairs are made from ECONYL, which comes from recycled fishing nets. (Plus, it’s nylon, which is one of the safest synthetics.)
The chair itself is available in white or black, and then you can choose a swappable chair topper, which is made from natural wool and comes in various colors.
noho is a certified B Corp company that’s based in New Zealand, where all of their products are manufactured. And 82 percent of their production is powered by renewable energy!
WFH Desks also offers noho chairs as a part of some of their modular desk bundles, too.
Materials: Solid wood, Synthetic fabric
Price: $462 – $1,670
Our Pick: Iso Arm Chair
Copeland’s chairs are made in the USA out of solid wood. They do use synthetic fabrics on their upholstered chairs, but many of them are GREENGUARD certified.
Materials: Nylon, Aluminum, Polystyrene resin
Price: $250 – $2,500
Our Pick: Sayl Basic Work Chair
Herman Miller is a good option for you if you want the ergonomic benefits of an executive-style office chair, but without all the extra foam. These desk chairs are made in the USA using partially recycled materials and many of them come with certifications such as GREENGUARD and Cradle to Cradle.
They’re also very customizable in terms of adjustability, level of tilt, type of arm rests, colors, and more. And they come with a 12-year warranty!
Taylor (Most Fun Designs!)
Price: $494 – $546
Our Pick: Frolic Citrus
If you like a pop of fun in your office, these swivel chairs come in really fun patterns (animal print! floral! rainbow!). They’re made in the USA and the fabric used is 100% natural cotton.
The only downside to these chairs is that they’re not clear about what the padding underneath the fabric is made out of. We’ve reached out to ask and will update this when we hear back!
The Best Organic, Natural, & Non-Toxic Chair Cushions
Depending on what kind of chair you decide on, you may or may not want a cushion (or two!) to sit on as well.
The good news is that there are a few brands that make non-toxic (or almost non-toxic) and eco-friendly chair cushions that will help keep your aches and pains at bay.
Here are our picks:
Materials: Organic latex, organic cotton, and recycled polyester
These cushions come with a whole handful of certifications, including GOLS (organic latex), GOTS (organic cotton), GREENGUARD, certiPUR, and Climate Neutral. If you’re looking or a more natural and non-toxic alternative to memory foam, this is a good option for you!
Materials: Organic buckwheat hull, Cotton, Linen, Polyester
Price: $77 – $90
WELLB makes various kinds of cushions for working, meditating, practicing yoga, and relaxing. They’re filled with eco-friendly buckwheat, which is a durable natural material that can continue holding its shape even after a long time of being sat on.
Some of the covers are made with natural linen, while others are made with flame-retardant polyester (which we do not recommend), so make sure you check before purchasing.
Materials: Recycled polyester, Synthetic memory foam
The Cushion Lab is an “okay” brand when it comes to materials, but they’ve got some things going for them. First of all, this might be a good option for people who have chronic pain and really need that EXTRA ergonomic support. Their Pressure Relief Seat Cushion and Back Relief Lumbar Pillow really go that extra mile when it comes to helping to provide padding, optimal posture, and more.
These cushions are made from synthetic memory foam, but at the very least, they’re made from partially recycled materials, the foam is certiPUR certified, and the fabric covers are OEKO-TEX certified. (certiPUR is definitely not the best certification when it comes to non-toxic materials, but it’s better than nothing…) The Cushion Lab is a Climate Neutral company and they plant trees with each purchase, too. Oh, and it might be worth mentioning that these cushions come in lots of fun colors, too.
Again, you ultimately have to explore your options, weigh your priorities, and make the best decision for you!
Are Branch Furniture’s Ergonomic Desk Chairs Good?
Branch’s direct-to-consumer ergonomic office chairs have been taking the internet by storm, but are they the real deal? The best thing about Branch chairs is that they’re more affordable than a lot of other ergonomic options (at $249-339), and that is definitely an important factor to consider.
However, when it comes to the materials used, Branch is iffy. They use nylon, high-density foam, polymer, and aluminum. The foam is really the concerning part… Most forms are made with petroleum-based ingredients and contains VOCs which can offgas into your home as you work and live. The problem is that Branch does not disclose what kind of foam they use and there is no indication that this foam (or any other parts of the chair for that matter) have been verified to be low-VOC and/or eco-friendly in any way.
More Non-Toxic & Eco-Friendly Office Furniture & Accessories
If you’re looking to build a more sustainable and non-toxic office, we’ve got a whole guide right here on our favorite brands for tech accessories, writing utensils, furniture, and more.
Set up your work space to be functional and good for your health with any of these non-toxic ergonomic desk chairs and cushions.
Image credits: all photos belong to respective brands