When to Choose Hard or Soft Tread Casters for Your Desk Chair

When to Choose Hard or Soft Tread Casters for Your Desk Chair


The chairs we have in our offices aren’t something we think about often. Now, what about the casters and wheels for those chairs? We think of them even less. But there are two different types of casters typically sold and choosing the right one for you will make a big difference in the long term look of your office. So, how do you know which type to choose?

Office chair casters are available in hard or soft tread. The tread is considered the outside of the wheel itself and it’s the contact point between your floor or chair mat. So you’ll want to choose casters based on the type of flooring in your office.

That’s why in this article we’re covering three main points: 

  • Difference between soft tread and hard tread casters
  • Important chair caster measurements
  • Different types of casters

But first, we’re starting with the basics and by the end of this guide, you’ll feel comfortable making the right buying decision for your specific office space.

What is a chair caster?

A caster is a type of device that attaches to the bottom of a chair and allows it to roll fluidly; essentially, a caster houses a wheel. They’re found on desk chairs, but also on hospital beds, portable tables, and inside shipyards and automotive factories. They can be small or large – some industrial casters are designed to hold weights of 100,000 pounds.

The type of caster you need depends on the material you’re planning to place it on. For this article, we’ll focus on two types of common office flooring: hardwood and carpet. The standard for soft-surface carpeted floors is hard casters made of rigid nylon, while hard-surface casters are made of soft rubber or polyurethane. The soft material enables easy rolling because of the grip on the wheel and doesn’t scratch the floor or office mat.

Casters are made of a variety of materials. These include cast iron, polyurethane, steel, aluminum, plastic, and rubber.

Difference between soft casters and hard casters

Hard tread casters made of metal or nylon are less expensive because they’re the most commonly used caster on office chairs and designed to be used on carpet. The hard plastic or heavy-duty metal design makes it easier to push against the thickest pile of office carpeting.

Soft tread casters, however, are specifically designed for hard floor surfaces such as hardwood, tile, marble, laminate, etc. because they’re made from polyurethane to prevent scratching and ruining hard surfaces. And since most offices have chairs that come standard with hard, plastic, nylon wheels it’s typical that in a short period of time your wheels will ruin your hardwood floors since they weren’t designed for that surface. 

Best caster type for chair mats

There’s also something else to consider, most desk chairs don’t sit directly on the floor; rather, they sit on top of desk chair mats. If you have a typical plastic chair mat or one of the more upscale glass chair mats, a soft wheel caster is a better choice. Hard tread casters will grind against another hard surface, making a little extra noise that can irritate some users. Moreover, soft wheel casters grip a hard surface and provide easy rolling on a glass or plastic chair mat while providing better ergonomics. 

Important chair caster measurements

Now, before making any purchasing decision you want to make sure you know exactly what you’re looking for. Although office chair casters are not necessarily universal, there are standard sizes and quantities that you need to be aware of. Otherwise, you risk buying the wrong product.

Here are 3 office chair fundamentals you should know:

  • Most modern office chairs come ready to accept a 7/16” diameter grip ring stem – this is almost universal, but be sure to check. 
  • Occasionally a chair will have a thinner 3/8” grip ring stem. Be ready to tell your supplier which one you need.
  • Almost all modern work chairs have 5 casters - not 4 - look down to check!

And here’s a bit about industry lingo – very often the soft, urethane tread casters are called ‘soft casters’ i.e. they’re for rolling on hard surfaces. As you probably guessed, a good set of American-made urethane tread casters will be a small extra investment, but, for many, the added quality is well worth it.

Different types of desk chair casters

Most people who buy office chairs do so with little regard to the caster wheel. But, as mentioned above, different casters are used for different purposes. Therefore, before you purchase an office chair, consider the following three things: 

  • How the chair will be utilized (and how often)
  • The type of flooring in your office
  • The chair’s weight limit.

The answers to these questions will help you determine the type you’ll need. In a nutshell, the most common types include:

Standard carpet casters (hard tread): Considered standard casters, most chairs used in offices come with these; they roll easily across carpeted floors. They’re generally made of plastic, which helps the wheel roll and swivel fluidly even on a thick carpet.

Top plate casters: Top plate casters aren’t often found on office chairs, but they may be required if you’re going to use your chair on a frequent basis in a manner that involves frequent rolling.

Reverse locking casters: Reverse locking casters come with a built-in safety measure. These casters lock in place when weight is applied. They’re not useful if you want to swivel around your office while sitting down, but they may be appropriate if you work from home and don’t want your children using your chair as a go-kart.

Hard surface casters (soft tread): Of all the casters, these are becoming increasingly prevalent. A large reason for this is the rise in popularity of glass office chair mats used to protect hard floor surfaces like hardwood, tile, marble, laminate, etc. These casters not only protect your office mat but are specifically designed to leave them unblemished.

In Closing

If you’re trying to extend the life of your hardwood floors then adequate casters paired with a great floor mat needs to be something to consider. It might not be noticeable at first but months of rolling around while you’re working can completely ruin your floor so take note of your flooring material. And don’t forget, changing your casters is not a difficult task, you can pull them out or use a flat-head screwdriver at the base of the chair as leverage.

Ideally, you now have the best information available to pick the right type of caster for your chair. And if you’re in the market for an office chair caster consider our Vitrazza Quiet Comfort Office Chair Casters currently in stock, specifically made for hard floor surfaces and pairs perfectly well with our Vitrazza Glass Chair Mats.