Anti-fatigue matting is a great way to enhance the comfort and safety of your employees, customers, and loved ones. While some materials are better suited for anti-fatigue mats than others, in general, a rubber padded floor is an option applicable in most environments—be it residential, commercial, or industrial. Of course, not all ergo mats (short for ‘ergonomic matting’) are created equal. Depending on the material, some antifatigue mats are better for heavy-duty applications while others work better as a standing mat or for making flooring soft. Thus, depending on what you’re looking for, there’s a certain type of soft flooring for you. In this article, we’ll discuss the different materials for cushioned flooring and help you decide which one is best for you.
What is Anti-Fatigue Matting?
Anti-fatigue matting is a type of flooring that’s mainly oriented toward reducing the rate at which a person becomes fatigued while standing. Anti-fatigue matting enhances cushion, a quality which greatly decreases the bodily strain caused from prolonged standing. Now that you know what is anti-fatigue matting, how do you know if you need a cushioned mat? If you spend prolonged periods of time on your feet and have begun to notice pain in your feet, ankles, legs, knees, or back, then—chances are—you’re not giving your body the support it needs. Going without proper bodily support can result in swollen feet and legs, knee problems, and even restricted blood flow—which can ultimately cause varicose veins. Realizing that you’re facing a problem is the first step toward a solution. Once you’ve identified the problem, you can begin your search for the best mat to fit your needs. This is where you’ll need a more thorough understanding of the different types of materials that go into cushioned mats. With this knowledge, you’re more likely going to make the best choice. Below is a comprehensive guide to some of the most commonly used anti-fatigue matting materials.
Carpet or Cloth
Let’s get one thing straight. Carpet and cloth are not good anti-fatigue matting options. It’s a common misconception that the soft surface of carpet or cloth mats reduce fatigue. While these materials are great for other purposes—like keeping feet warm—the material itself doesn’t support the body well. Unlike the surface of a rubber cushioned mat, carpet and cloth options aren’t elastic. Elasticity is a material quality that combats fatigue. Carpet and cloth immediately flatten under the weight of your body, thereby failing to afford you the same support that something like a rubber cushion pad would.
Foam, as a material for matting, has a structure which contains many, many pockets of air. These pockets of air give the material a springy texture, lending you some of the support that your body needs. Foam, when it comes to a padded floor, is available in two different variations.
Open-Celled (Also Known as Reticulated Foam)
The pores within open-celled foam are connected, thus being a network of air pockets that creates a supportive surface. These cells are open to their environments—which means that they will fill with whatever is around them. This might include air or water. Because of this open structure, reticulated foam is noticeably softer than its closed counterpart.
Closed-cell foams feature air pockets that are not interconnected. Because its air pockets are not networked, closed-cell foam is impervious to penetration from its external elements. In general, this makes a closed-cell foam mat much denser. But by being less permeable, closed-cell foam is much stronger than open-celled foam.
To varying degrees, open- and closed-cell foam structures provide surfaces that feel soft and light. Foam is a commonly used material for mats when it comes to residential applications. Thus, anti-fatigue matting often features foam. According to Chris Adams from About.com, “[foam padded floors] offer moderate support and moderate anti-fatigue [advantages]. [A] denser foam (closed-cell) is better than a cushy foam (open-cell-structure), but even a thin, cushy mat can make a world of difference when standing on porcelain tile or concrete.”
Gel mats are made of a normally-dense, gel-like material encased in a shell. Gel mats offer great pain relief, but they tend to be a little softer and, therefore, less supportive to the body. Also, gel-filled ergo mats are usually more expensive, although some enthusiasts argue that they are worth the extra cost. Nonetheless, they’re ill-suited for industrial environments, where one sharp edge or one dropped tool could pierce the mat.
According to the Ullmann’s Encyclopedia of Industrial Chemistry, polyvinyl chloride (or PVC) is the world’s third most widely produced plastic. When used for anti-fatigue matting, PVC is considered an inexpensive and highly durable flooring option. Malleable, flexible, and supportive, closed-cell PVC foam mats possess great anti-fatiguing properties while being well suited to withstand harsh environments. Some PVC options are even grease and oil resistant, making them great anti-fatigue kitchen mats.
Rubber is a highly functional option for ergo mats. Naturally, the material is incredibly elastic and shock-absorbing, making it the perfect surface for anti-fatigue matting. Craig Freudenrich, PhD., explains that rubber “is a specific type of polymer called an elastomer: a large molecule that can be stretched to at least twice its original length and return to its original shape.” In other words, rubber is the soft, flexible, and springy surface ideal for anti-fatigue floor mats. Also, because of a process called vulcanization—where virgin rubber is strengthened, or synthetic options are fabricated—rubber matting can be made into either softer or harder surfaces. This is an important attribute, especially when considering that the optimal degree of hardness of a rubber floor pad depends on how it’s being used. A softer cushioned mat is ideal for someone who remains stationary while standing. And a harder padded floor is better suited for someone who stands but also moves around.
What are the Best Fatigue Mats?
The best fatigue mats are rubber anti-fatigue mats. Rubber’s degree of elasticity and shock-absorption make it the ideal material for anti-fatigue matting. Plus, rubber highly affordable, considering the level of functionality it boasts. Thus, although there are a number of available materials to use in anti-fatigue applications, rubber ergo mats seem to be a clear contender for the most versatile matting option available. Available in the forms of individual mats, tiles, and runners, creating a padded floor will not be difficult if you choose rubber. Armed with the knowledge of what are the best fatigue mats, you’re sure to make the best choice when deciding on your next anti-fatigue mat. You’ll be just fine!