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Chair Casters


Do you know that using the wrong casters on your chair will damage your tile floor?
Do you know there are different types of caster wheel material for office and lab chairs or stools?
Does it really matter which I use for my office or lab chair?
How can I select the correct caster for my office?

If you can correctly answer these three questions you get an “A” and a big “THANK YOU” from the folks at the Physical Plant. If not, we hope you will read on.

Our Physical Plant staff seem to be finding more and more instances of office or lab chairs with improper casters. Some people may not be aware that there are two major types of caster wheel material.

Selecting the correct caster material depends upon what type of floor the chair is intended to be used on. There are softer compound wheels which are intended to be used on tile floors and harder (generally plastic) wheels which are intended to be used on carpets. An easy way to remember this is that the caster material should be the opposite of the flooring material. Soft casters for hard floors (tile) and hard casters for soft (carpet) floors.

The harder wheels tend to roll a bit easier over carpet while the softer wheels are best for hard tile floors. We have not seen any damage to carpet caused by using soft caster wheels on carpet but we are seeing numerous tile floors which are being damaged by using the hard caster wheels on the hard tile floors.

There are dozens of different castors available but they can generally be divided into about 4 categories.

Small diameter single wheel (about 1 ˝ in.) soft casters for use on hard floors
Medium Diameter dual wheel (about 2in.) hard plastic caster for carpeted floors
Medium diameter dual wheel (about 2 in.) soft urethane coated caster for tile floors.
Large diameter dual wheel (about 2 ˝ in) soft urethane coated caster for soft and hard floors.

How can you tell if you have the wrong caster? Do you have a tile floor? Is the tile area where your chair rolls duller than the rest of the floor area? If so do you see white powdery substance on your shoes etc? One of the most obvious telltale signs of using the wrong caster is a white powdery material on the casters and your shoes etc right where your chair sits. That powder is actually the tile floor tile which is being ground up like flour from wheat. If the improper casters have been used for an extended period you will see a noticeable deterioration of the tile and in extreme cases one can actually see the wear pattern of the chair. Both hard and soft often appear the same, the main difference is usually that the wheels designed for tile have a thin soft rubber tread. From a distance it is impossible to tell one from the other.

What can you do?
When you are ordering a new chair ensure you take the time to specify which type of surface you wish to operate it on. Knowledgeable sales people will ask but it is clear that some have not. It seems apparent that most of the chairs come with hard wheels because a large number of offices in business and industry are carpeted.

What can you do if you already have the chair? If you are seeing signs of white powdery dust you can have the casters replaced. Proper casters are available for almost every chair. You may have your purchasing representatives purchase them from your local furniture dealer or you may contact Steve Heitz ( at the UW Custodial Department and he can order the proper casters and have them installed for you. The cost is generally about $30 per chair, unusual or special orders could be more. For obvious reasons we would most appreciate it if your department could consolidate your requests.

If you are not sure which type to buy we would highly recommend that you purchase the softer ones designed for tile floors so your chair does not irreparably damage the tiles. We have not seen any damage to carpets by using the softer wheels on carpet.