The Problem with Plastic Desk Chair Mats

    So, you are setting up a home office and you want to protect your area rug or carpet from the desk chair that will be constantly rolling back and forth. That is a very good idea. Chair rollers can do significant damage to your rug or carpet backing, causing the latex bond to break down prematurely and within a relatively short period of time you will experience buckling, wrinkling or worse; You could end up with a whole in your expensive flooring that starts out small but soon grows in size proportional to the amount of chair rolling that has taken place. So to protect your investment, you decide to buy a plastic or rubber chair mat to put on top of that expensive rug or carpet. This seems to be a logical and economical solution, but if your house is built on a concrete foundation, you could be asking for more trouble than you anticipated.

    Even though you are protecting the surface of your rug, you may begin to see some other problems begin to surface. You may begin to notice water droplets under a clear plastic mat. This is only a sign of the damage to come. Even though it is not evident, most concrete slabs can have moisture or alkali (sometimes referred to as cleachie or cleechy) in the soil beneath that wicks up into the concrete over time. Most of the time we never know this is the case because air and gases can pass through carpets, pads and rugs. Therefore any moisture that creeps up through the slab is able to dry quickly and does not experience any appreciable damage until you put something on the floor that does not allow the air to pass through and dry out quickly. That something would be a plastic or rubber mat or runner. The plastic does not breathe, and in fact it causes condensation (by a type of solarization) (the plastic or rubber actually draws moisture or alkali (or cleechy) up through the slab more quickly). Sometimes you don’t even notice a problem until the damage has already been done. This type of damage can happen under the mat or runner and you will not even notice anything until it is time to remove or replace it. There have been many occasions in my career, where during the removal of a plastic mat, the carpet just falls to pieces and the smell of mildew wafts through the air as you try to lift it off the floor. Or a client will call me to consult about a hump under their rug or carpet that was not there when it was installed. Upon investigation it is almost always a mound of alkali that has eaten its way through the concrete slab, coming to rest as a mound of fine white powder under the rug. This alkali not only damages the rug but can also wreak havoc in your concrete slab, leaving craters or sunken ridges in the actual concrete after the alkali has been vacuumed away.

    This leaves us with the question: How do I protect my rugs against rolling chair damage? ((or even excess traffic damage)? Many people often like to use plastic or rubber runners in high traffic areas to protect their rugs). If you need to protect your rug and your house is built on a concrete slab, always use something that breathes (allows air and gases to dissipate). One of the best products for rolling desk chairs is a masonite (or any densely packed particle or veneer) desk mat. These are made of compressed wood and will allow your chair to roll easily across the floor without causing damage to your rugs and carpets. You could also kill two birds with one stone, by building a platform for your office area and cover it with whatever materials you desire (hardwood or laminate looks great). This way you can add to your home decor by defining the space that is used as your home office. Just make it large enough for the desk and chair to reside upon. This also allows for portability. If you decide to change your office area, you simply have to move your platform to a new location and "Bob’s your uncle". This also allows you to play with the shape of the platform. You could have a round, square or kidney shape office space. If a platform is outside your ability or budget, you may also use area rugs made of natural materials that are densely and tightly packed. These can also do the trick just fine. If your house is built on a concrete slab, stay away from mats, runners or even rugs that are made of plastic or rubber, or have a solid rubber or latex backing on them. These will only bring you heartache and eat away at your flooring investments.

    What if my house has a wood floor? If your house was built up off the ground with wood floors being the part that you walk on, you are relatively safe to use plastic or rubber mats. But if your house is an older home with hardwood floors already in place, why in the world do you have carpet, get rid of that carpet and pad and have your hardwood floors refinished. It will add great value to your home. But you may be using an area rug in the spot where your desk and rolling chair reside. If this is the case you would most often be safe in using any type of mat (unless you suspect any type of moisture or leaks under the wood flooring). If you have any doubts about moisture problems, it is easy to test for moisture in any type of sub-floor. Simply take a piece of plastic wrap, at least six inches square, and duct tape it (all around the edges) to the concrete or wood sub-floor in all suspected areas. If there is any moisture problem you will begin to see droplets of water forming under the plastic wrap within two to three days (or sooner).

    Any Desert Rat worth his salt knows how to use solarization to produce condensation. It can be your best friend if you are lost in the desert without water, as long as you have a piece of plastic. You just dig a small hole in the ground, drape the plastic over the hole so that it droops in the middle and have some kind of container underneath to catch the condensed liquid so that you can have some water to drink. However, this same process, is an enemy to your floors and should be avoided if you want to keep your flooring in good shape. Let your floors breathe and they will give you many years of quality service.

Charles Beason


About Charles Beason

Flooring Consultant/ Estimator, Bi-vocational Pastor of Oasis Missionary Baptist Church, Internet Business Owner, Webmaster.
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2 Responses to The Problem with Plastic Desk Chair Mats

  1. Chris says:

    What would you say about using the 12 mm padded underlay laminate to make a platform? I have some left over, but I want to make sure it breaths enough over my carpet. Thanks.

  2. Annie Watkins says:

    I rent an apartment and I just noticed the powder and lump on my carpet. I threw away the plastic mat, but is there a way to clean the carpet where the lump is or do I need to tell my landlord?

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