The Most Toxic Flooring Types to Avoid

How Safe Are Your Floors?

Flooring experts at WFI have compiled their list of the most toxic flooring types found in our homes and have offered up some healthy alternatives.

“Unfortunately there are a number of flooring types found in homes across the country that people may not even realize are dangerous or are actively causing them harm.”

Zoe Dromgoole, Flooring Expert at WFI

Why Are These Floors So Dangerous?

It all comes down to chemicals – Certain types of flooring can contain various forms of reprocessed plastics and certain toxic chemicals, predominantly lead, cadmium and phthalates. Over time, these chemicals and other volatile organic compounds (VOCs) can be released into the air via a process called Off-Gassing.

Off-gassing occurs due to ongoing chemical reactions that take place in the materials, which can release compounds such as formaldehyde, benzene, and toluene. These compounds can have a strong odor, – think of of the smell of fresh paint, when you can get a whiff of that scent, it means that the chemicals within the paint have risen into the air – This can cause health problems such as eye, nose, and throat irritation, headaches, dizziness, and in some cases, long-term exposure may lead to more serious issues.

The Dangers of Vinyl Flooring

Nowadays, the vast majority of vinyl flooring comes from trustworthy manufacturers and have much lower VOC levels than before, however if you live in an older home with vinyl flooring present, you could be at risk –

“Vinyl flooring is quite common throughout the country mainly because it’s easy to acquire and is relatively cheap. However it can be dangerous as it could contain chemicals such as phthalates, which are added in order to make the flooring more flexible and durable. Phthalates have been linked to reproductive and developmental health problems, and can be particularly harmful to young children and pregnant women. Studies have found phthalates have been linked to issues like asthma, ADHD and even neurodevelopment issues.”

Zoe Dromgoole, WFI

The Dangers of Carpet

Although strides have been made when it comes to lessening the dangers associated with carpets, there are still significant issues –

As we all know at this stage, carpets are magnets for dirt, dust and allergens like pet hair which can cause issues for those with respiratory problems and just general allergies. However a lot of carpets are also treated with harsh chemicals during the manufacturing process, mainly flame retardants which in some cases can be toxic and off-gas over time. Harmful chemicals can also be found in the dye used to colour carpets and the treatments given to the carpets in order to prevent long term staining.

A lot of issues arise when you consider the adhesives used to install carpet, a lot of these adhesives contains toxins like formaldehyde and various other VOCs. These are released into the air over time, lowering the overall air quality in the home.

The Dangers of Laminate

Laminates are another popular option as they offer the same visual appeal as hardwood, but due to chemicals and toxins used in the bonding process, it’s not the safest option –

Again, some types of laminate flooring may contain adhesives that release formaldehyde and other VOCs – Formaldehyde is a known carcinogen, and exposure to high levels of the chemical can cause issues like dizziness, breathing problems, headaches and eye irritation.

The level of formaldehyde emissions from the flooring can vary depending on the specific product and manufacturer. In some cases, laminate flooring has been found to emit levels of formaldehyde that exceed recommended safety limits.

To minimize the potential health risks ventilate the space where the flooring is installed and clean regularly with a damp mop or cloth.

“Wood may have stains which include Formaldehyde tile may have metals added to make it look prettier depending on the manufacturing process.
If you want to use natural stones choose darker ones which absorb less materials from nature. If you are concerned about radioactivity opt for marble and travertine over granite. Linoleum is great, but it cuts easily. It’s made out of cork and oil.”

Dr Benjamin Gibson, PAHM, PharmD, Founder of Awesome We Can Do It Better

What Are The Healthiest Flooring Options?

  1. Hardwood Floors
  2. Stone Flooring
  3. Ceramic Tiles

If you’re concerned about your floors and are looking to replace or revamp your current flooring, it’s important to look for options that don’t contain any chemicals or VOCs ;

“It is also important to properly ventilate your home when installing new flooring materials, and to regularly clean and maintain your floors to improve indoor air quality”

Victoria Kanu, Head of Marketing, iwoolfelt

Hardwood Floors – Hardwood floors don’t trap dust and allergens which is great for those who may suffer with allergy issues or asthma. They’re also made from natural wood which means little to no chemicals or VOCs present.

Stone Flooring – Marble, granite, limestone – all totally natural, chemical free, VOC free, easy to clean and durable, a fantastic option.

Ceramic Tiles – These tiles are usually made from non-toxic materials, which make them an attractive option. The tiles themselves are free from chemicals and VOCs, however they will require mortar in order to be laid on the floor which may have some chemicals present, it’s also important to consider the grout used to fill the gaps between each tile – Do some digging on all of the materials used in the tiling process before committing.

No flooring option is perfect however and there can be dangers associated with ceramic tiles –

“Ceramic tiles are known for remaining cool throughout the year. But such a floor is also considered hazardous due to its slippery surface. This floor material contains toxic additives like frits and glazes. This makes it unsuitable for the elderly and children. Also, they’re not ideal for winter as they will keep your house cold, and the design can fade easily. Ceramic tiles come in both a matte and a gloss finish. I would not recommend installing ceramic tiles in your home.”

Perry Zheng, CEO & Founder, CashflowMarketplace

“Some types of ceramic tiles contain glazes that contain toxic heavy metals such as lead, cadmium, arsenic, and chromium. It is important to find tiles that are certified as non-toxic or low VOC.”

Chris McDermott, Advanced Practice Registered Nurse, ICLCP

How are Hardwood Floors Good For Your Health?

It all comes down to the natural element – Hardwood flooring is a natural and sustainable material that is free of harmful chemicals. Many other types of flooring like we’ve mentioned above contain volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that can off-gas and negatively impact indoor air quality. Avoiding those VOCs is absolutely imperative –

“Composite wood flooring can pose a health threat just like laminate, carpet, and vinyl options. Composite wood flooring, also known as engineered wood flooring, goes through many chemical processes. Those chemicals can be very toxic.

Composite wood is made by combining different types of materials. Those materials are often put together using glues that contain formaldehyde. Over time, the structure of that glue can break down and allow dangerous formaldehyde to escape into your home.

Long-term exposure to formaldehyde can cause serious health problems including irritation and rash, and large amounts of formaldehyde can cause lung cancer in some individuals. Unfortunately, different wood finishes used to protect wood flooring can have toxic chemicals too. While there are different combinations of chemicals used in hundreds of different wood finishes, a big issue is polyurethane. If used in the wood finish in your home, it can cause breathing and respiratory problems. Some may think that untreated wood is the solution, but unfinished wood can have toxic elements, too. Untreated wood is susceptible to different fungal issues, so many manufacturers treat unfinished wood with a chemical called biocides. Biocides destroy the harmful fungi, but it can become toxic to humans.”

Laura Gunn, Home Safety Expert, Clearsurance

As we’ve already mentioned, hardwood flooring is easy to clean and doesn’t trap dust, dirt, or other allergens. This is particularly important for people with allergies or respiratory issues, as these particles can exacerbate symptoms and cause health problems. With hardwood flooring, you can simply sweep or vacuum the floor regularly to keep it clean and free of dust and dirt. Additionally, hardwood flooring is less prone to staining and is less likely to harbor bacteria, which can be beneficial for overall health.

You also need to consider the fact that hardwood flooring can last for many years with proper maintenance, meaning that you won’t need to replace it as frequently as other types of flooring. This can help to reduce waste and its associated environmental impact, which can benefit both your health and the environment.

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