There are many anti-fatigue mats on the market, some of which are designed for use in an industrial setting where workers stand for hours at the same workstation, while others have a lighter nature intended for light duty work in the home environment.
But many spend countless hours in the home kitchen, garage or workshop while baking, cooking or tinkering. And this can put the same undue stress on your feet and body, as it does for the industrial worker. If you have very hard surface floors like ceramic tile, even standing for one hour can be grueling.
The solution is a properly suited and well-designed anti-fatigue mat that can reduce foot stress and related back and knee problems. But with so many choices on the market, it can be difficult to find the right one for your particular needs. These tips will better equip you when it comes to buying an anti-fatigue mat.
Do You Need an Anti-Fatigue Mat?
Let's face it; it's always nice to step onto a soft and comfy mat when you rise from the bed, or you're standing at the bathroom sink. But while softness and light cushioning may seem comfortable, it may not be adequate to reduce the risk of stress and foot fatigue, when it comes to standing in the same spot for an hour or more. This cushioning is limited regarding shock-absorbing and stress-relieving qualities. When you need more than soft cushioning, it's time for an anti-fatigue mat. Anyone who suffers from foot, knee or back pain should consider some type of anti-fatigue mat, to reduce the stress on the body caused by standing for any length of time at the kitchen counter, bathroom sink or workbench.
The average cook or home chef can benefit greatly from an anti-fatigue mat to prevent foot stress problems. And for those who spend hours standing such as the car or hobby buffs, busy cooks, home-based caterers or professional cooks, an anti-fatigue mat is essential.
Regular Floor Mats vs Anti-Fatigue Mats
When a little cushioning is all that's needed, carpeted mats are probably the most economical and may be sufficient for light duty if they have a rubber backing for safety. But make sure that they are washable and will withstand many washings. There's also a good array of rubber or foam vinyl-covered mats for home use, but these may lack anti-fatigue properties and simply provide light cushioning. Rubber interlocking mats sold in hardware stores for workshops or play areas can also be very practical and economical for light duty, depending on use.
What About Gel Mats?
They're certainly worth considering for light duty. Many people love their gel-filled shoe insoles, so this concept can certainly be extended to the kitchen. It's really a matter of taste and how it feels for you. Gel-filled anti-fatigue mats tend to be much higher priced and this may be a constraint. Because kitchen mats may feel great for one person and not another, keep in mind that it may take trial and error to find the right one for you. Anti-fatigue mats generally have some stress relieving qualities, but not all are equal regarding materials, features, and benefits. Some are considered light duty, while others have industrial-grade properties that make them better suited for heavy-duty use. And for those who spend hours in the kitchen or home shop, this is the type of anti-fatigue mat you need.
An industrial-grade anti-fatigue mat should be at least 3/8 inch thick and constructed with special properties to alleviate foot stress. See below for more information on density. Look for a top pattern that is easy to wipe clean and suitable sizing for your area. Though a heavy duty anti-fatigue mat may not be as pretty as some kitchen mats, remember that it's the quality that counts, and that's a small trade-off when it comes to easing foot pain. Black is easiest to find; colors are more limited. Be prepared to pay for this grade of the mat; they're usually more expensive.
Sanitary & Safety Issues
Regardless of whether you choose a mat simply based on light cushioning or heavy-duty use, if the mat is for your kitchen or bath area, for sanitary reasons it must be washable. Kitchen mats can harbor food bacteria and bathroom mats are prone to germs and should be cleaned regularly.
An anti-fatigue mat with a grid or highly pebbled surface is great for industrial use where it can be hosed down but might be hard to keep clean in the kitchen. When a mat's top layer becomes cracked or peels, cleaning becomes ineffective, and the mat should be replaced. Read the product information and for health reasons, make sure you can wash or sanitize it.
To avoid tripping hazards, choose a mat with tapered edges that do not hinder the transition from floor to mat. And balancing on a soft foam mat can also pose a falling hazard to those with stability issues such as seniors.
Thickness, Density & Elements of Anti-Fatigue Mats
A dense rubber mat is less tiring than a soft mat and will provide better support. But there's more to consider when it comes to density, and a well-designed anti-fatigue mat will be engineered based on key elements that are known to alleviate foot fatigue. Adding a vinyl cover to a foam construction may be fine for a comfy feel, but when you want to reduce foot fatigue, it's just not enough.
A foam mat that is too soft may look and feel nice at first step, but you will constantly be balancing on the mat, similar to walking on sand. That can be extremely fatiguing in the long run. This balancing act also improperly shifts the weight, and that can lead to misalignment health issues. For chefs who spend hours cooking or baking, this type is too light to provide a good cushioning.
Mats that are at least 3/8 inch, 1/2 inch or closer to 1 inch thick would be best, but not too high to create a tripping hazard. The best mats will also have a tapered edge to prevent tripping hazards and the wider the taper, the better. According to SmartCells U.S.A., their "SmartCells anti-fatigue technology is based on valid, time-tested research, not emotional market-tested buzzwords."
The bottom line: If you've already experienced foot, knee or back pain and you stand for hours, a lightweight mat will probably be inadequate. Go for an industrial grade mat with essential features to reduce foot strain, such as a SmartCells mat.
Mat Size Considerations
For industrial use, a square mat or long runner may be great, but for counter use, look for a rectangular mat at least 2' x 3' long, or if you have a long counter a 6' - 8' longer mat would be ideal. The worst thing is constantly stepping on and off a mat when working in the kitchen, so choose the size carefully. You should also avoid positioning a mat where you are likely to be standing one foot on and one foot off, which would lead to posture issues. Measure the counter area where you are likely to spend most of your time and bring these measurements with you when you shop.
Where to Find Anti-Fatigue Mats
If you prefer to shop online, you'll find a good variety of types and prices of mats available. For personal shopping, carpeted and foam vinyl-covered mats can be found in most merchandise stores. Interlocking rubber mats are sold in packages or 4 or 6 at hardware or large merchandise stores.
Speed, Gosia, et al. The Effect of Cushioning Materials on Musculoskeletal Discomfort and Fatigue during Prolonged Standing at Work: a Systematic Review. Applied Ergonomics, vol. 70, 2018, pp. 300–314., doi:10.1016/j.apergo.2018.02.021
Cleaning and Disinfecting Your Facility. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Yamaguchi T, Higuchi H, Onodera H, Hokkirigawa K, Masani K (2016) Misalignment of the Desired and Measured Center of Pressure Describes Falls Caused by Slip during Turning. PLoS ONE 11(5): e0155418. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0155418
Anti-Fatigue Solutions. SmartCells USA.