Installing a New Floor? Here's How to Pick a Healthier Option
Everything you need to know to tackle that DIY floor project like a pro
12 June 2020
You and your floors spend a great deal of time together. But what happens when you're ready for an upgrade? Goodbye old floors, helloooo shiny new ones! With seemingly endless flooring options, choosing the right material might seem a little overwhelming. One aspect of flooring that you may or may not have thought about is how it affects your health. Turns out that some materials are better for your health than others, and it really depends on the various components that go into flooring products. To help you choose the healthiest flooring for you, we've got a guide that will help you on your shopping journey.
Floors we love:
- Linoleum: This flooring material should be at the top of your list. Linoleum is typically made from bio-based, non-hazardous ingredients like linseed oil and cork dust (1). It's also budget friendly.
- Solid wood floors, pre-finished: Not only are solid wood floors beautiful, they are also one of the healthiest flooring choices out there (1). You'll want to make sure that these floors are marked as "pre-finished", meaning that the stain and topcoat were applied during the manufacturing process (and with proper safety gear) so you won't have to (1).
- Ceramic tiles, made in the USA: Ceramic tiles come in an endless array of patterns and are a safe flooring option as well. However, make sure that the ceramic tiles you're purchasing were made in the USA (1). Ceramic tiles made in the USA are tightly regulated and do not contain heavy metals like lead and mercury among other hazardous chemicals (1).
Floors we like:
- Engineered wood floors, pre-finished: Engineered wood floors are not as safe a choice as solid wood floors, as they require glues to help hold the sheets of wood together. Formaldehyde, which can cause cancer, is a frequent chemical used in the glues to hold engineered wood floors together (4). Make sure to look for pre-finished engineered wood, as that will ensure you do not have to expose yourself to the variety of harmful chemicals necessary to finish the wood floors.
- Laminate: Laminate flooring is made by gluing a sheet of decorative paper over wood. This makes laminate a versatile choice, because there are so many different types of decorative paper you can choose from (1). However, glue is again used to hold the layers together. If you're dead set on laminate floors, look for laminate floors that do not contain formaldehyde in the glue (1).
Steer clear of these materials:
- Traditional vinyl floors: Stay away from anything made of vinyl, especially vinyl floors! These are the number one unhealthiest flooring choice to choose because vinyl products contain lead, arsenic, toxic PCBs and all sorts of hasty chemicals (1). Linoleum is a great alternative that is comparable in price and look.
- Carpet containing polyurethane backing and PFAS: You've probably heard of PFAS (it's that stuff that makes your jacket waterproof) and know it can cause developmental and reproductive problems, but what about polyurethane (1)? Polyurethane, which is found in the backing of some carpets, also contain hazardous chemicals such as phthalates (1). Another yucky chemical to keep an eye out for in carpet backing is recycled foam, which can contain flame retardants (2). Look for backings that are made from hemp, cotton, or natural latex, instead of polyurethane (3).
- Rubber floors: Rubber used in floors comes from recycled tire scrap and can include some crazy chemicals (1). Lead, hydrocarbon processing oils, and other hazardous materials have been found in rubber flooring (1). Definitely stay away from installing rubber floors.
If you want to read more about flooring options, the Healthy Building Network has a variety of additional resources on its HomeFree site.
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