Zero VOC Flooring

This post is organised into three categories, those that are the most tolerable, those that would be OK for most sensitive people, and those that might work for those who are not extremely sensitive. 

1. The Most Tolerable

Wood 

Source zege.gr
Wood flooring will always be my number one choice. However,  wood (and many natural aromatic oils) contain terpenes which are problematic for many people.! For those sensitive to the smell of wood this is not a good option. Aromatic woods like pine have much higher VOCs than oak for example. Wood also has a higher possibility of harbouring mould than less porous materials. To prevent mould you should make sure your wood has been kiln-dried and kept dry until you have a roof on it. Wood may also contain anti-sapstain chemicals which could explain why some people react to wood used in building and not wood in the forest. 

There are plenty of acceptable options for finishing wood. I used Hemp Oil on my floors. AFM is another great non-toxic finish. More about wood sealers in my post on sealers.

Most people should be fine with softwood plywood which rapidly offgasses. For subfloor adhesive AFM Almighty Adhesive is super tolerable. Another option is Liquid Nails Subfloor Adhesive it is less than 20g/l (lower than AFM Almighty Adhesive, but I find AFM more tolerable).



Polished Concrete

If polished concrete flooring makes you think IKEA warehouse, think again, polished concrete can look beautiful.

The Retroplate system is completely non-toxic/VOC-free but is not as cheap as I had hoped. It is available across Canada and the US, you just have to find someone who specializes in that system.

You can do acid stains, add natural pigments, use white cement, or add white sand to Portland Cement to get the look in this gorgeous photo.


Tiles

Source sacramentostreet.com
Glass tiles are inert and super-MCS friendly.

Marble is good in theory but most of it has a resin put on it at the factory to fill in tiny holes and fissures, and it might have a (chemical) sealant on it as well. Though a pure slab, or tile, can be sealed with Tung Oil. (Tung oil has a smell and might not be tolerable) or AFM Mexeseal.

Slate is also good in theory, as long as it doesn't have a chemical sealer on it. Seal with 
AFM Mexeseal.

Concrete tiles are my preference because of the beautiful designs. Look for Eco tiles or ask what additives are in the concrete. I sealed mine with AFM Safecoat Penetrating Water Stop.

Porcelain and ceramic are safe if lead-free and do not contain radioactive substances.

Imported glazed tiles should be tested for lead and radioactivity. A client just tested American made tiles that stated they were lead-free, but when tested they showed high levels of lead. So it might be wise to test any glazed tile regardless of origin. And be extra careful when removing them as the lead dust is particularly harmful. Tile over if possible instead of removing.

Wood look tiles claim to be 0 VOC even though there is a printed image on them. The glaze seems to block this. I have tested them and they do not smell any different than other tiles.

Air Cleaning Flooring

Crossville Tiles have a coating option called Hydrotect. This uses the PCO process to clean the air. A layer of non-toxic titanium dioxide is used to coat the tiles. This reacts with UV light, and just like the PCO air purifiers I reviewed, creates a reaction that can break down some bacteria, moulds, VOCs and viruses.

I don't know how impactful this tile coating that uses natural UV light will be to the overall air quality in a room. The company does have some reports that show reduction in bacteria, which may be worth while to some folks.

If you read my article on PCO air filters you will remember that some people have a bad reaction to this process. It's possible that in a high VOC area it creates formaldehyde. I would try out a PCO air purifier before installing this tile to make sure it works well for you.

This technology is also used on wood floors.

Natural Carpet 


Source bloomsburgcarpet.com
For natural, non-toxic carpet look for chemical-free fibers (normally wool), no flame retardants, no mothproofing, no stain repellant, natural padding and either no adhesive or a non-toxic adhesive. I have reservations about natural latex and would not use that product in my house because of how mould-prone it is.

Nature's Carpet is made with wool, no mothproofing, natural latex, natural dyes and a non-toxic padding. Either tack down the carpet or use a non-toxic glue. 

Other good companies are Earthweave (wool - contains natural latex), Natural Home Products (wool) and Hibernia. I have sniffed Hibernia and it does have a wooly smell (as you would expect) but not a chemical smell in my opinion. 

If you have conventional carpet in your house seal in the VOCs with Carpet Seal.


Commercial grade carpet is a lot harder to find in low VOC. I have reviewed and sniffed a few of the ones that claim the lowest VOC levels. I could not find any that were 0 VOC.

Flor: Most of their carpets are commercial grade. They claim they have the lowest VOC levels in the industry as of 2017 though when probed for information on their VOC levels or any evidence to substantiate that claim they did not have any. They have Green Lable Plus which you can find almost anywhere now and is in no way a low level of VOC. However, when testing their carpet it did not have that tell-tale new carpet smell. The initial smell was as strong as other regular brands but it seemed less offensive (I know everyone is different here though.) But what did impress me was that the sample offgassed way faster than other brands that have the tell-tale new carpet smell.  A few weeks outside and it is fairly tolerable for a conventional carpet. 

The other good option for commercial grade is wool. Though companies are more reluctant to use wool because it is more expensive. The Godfrey Hirst wool commercial carpets can show test results of very low VOC levels. Though they do have that classic carpet smell still. 

Woolshire wool is also rated for commercial, I found it much more tolerable than Godfrey, it smells wooly but not like chemicals that I can pick up. It does have moth proofing in it. It smells similar to Hibernia brand. 

So if I was picking a commercial brand I would consider Woolshire first and then Flor. 


2. Good for Most Sensitive People

Pre-finished Hardwood - Usually finished with aluminum-oxide-infused polyurethane and cured under UV lights, these are usually very well tolerated once cured. I consider this to be safe product for the chemically sensitive. Test it first. 

Terrazzo - Terrazzo is a little complex as there are different materials, resins and sealers involved. But there are systems that are 0 VOC and low VOC. 

Natural linoleum - Marmoleum is made from linseed, rosin binders, wood flour, limestone and dry pigments which are mixed and then calendared onto a natural jute backing. It's got a UV cured sealer on top and this is the glue used to install it. I found that after one month the smell all but disappeared from the product. I am using this in my trailer. I was surprised and impressed since I don't normally do well with linseed.

Fiberglass Floors - Tarkett FiberFloor is a flooring made of fiberglass, foam and coatings. It may have a mildewcide in it. It is extremely low-VOC at 10μg/m3. This would be tolerable for most people. 

3. May Work for Those Less Sensitive 

Engineered Woods - Junkers, Kahrs, and Wood Flooring International all meet EU emission standards. The substrates can still be problematic. There are some engineered woods that are formaldehyde free (Kahrs) or use only phenol formaldehyde which offgasses quickly (Cali Bamboo). 

Cork, like wood, has a natural odour (terpenes). A resin is used to bind all the small pieces of cork together into flat pieces (I have seen polyurethane binders). In theory, you can make tiles or rolls without resin (they heat press them) but this is not how cork flooring is made. An adhesive is required either to glue it down (and there are 0 VOC glues for this) or in the floating floors it is usually glued to a fiberboard or substrate which tends to be problematic. It is finished with urethanes/acrylic which may be tolerable once cured. I have tested Cali Bamboo cork which I found to be the best one. US Floors was the second best. NOVA and Cancork smelled very strong to me. 

Bamboo requires resin or adhesives and a finish. However, there are many that are GreenGuard certified for low emissions. This wood is problematic and is known to shrink. I put it in the same category as laminate and engineered. Not good usually good enough for the chemically sensitive. 

Laminate does give off chemicals, but there are some low-VOC options. You might want to check out the brands that have GreenGuard certification. It doesn't require adhesive which is a bonus. Generally this is not low-VOC enough for a healthy home. I have seen better options in the engineered category. 

Hard Vinyl - the kind usually seen in schools and commercial buildings tends to be well tolerated. It would be an unusual choice for a home. 


4, Toxic! soft vinyl, conventional carpet and conventional linoleum all give off major VOCs.

Disclosure: Some of the links to products and supplies on this page go through my affiliate partners. This post uses Amazon Affiliate links. Whether a product has an affiliate program or not does not influence my choice of recommendations. Buying through these links helps support this blog and does not affect the price for the consumer. 
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23 comments:

  1. Simply we know that some using this techniques is good. But I think this is not possible without using different types of flooring. So I really appreciated for the posting. Kindly provide these types of article in future.

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  2. Gorgeous Green Home! Absolutely love the natural look and feel. Very impressed with your knowledge and expertise.

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  3. Thank you for the info. I found this interesting document which talks more about the Retroplate process from a chemical standpoint and compares it to 2 other concrete flooring types.
    http://www.absolutepolishing.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/02/A-brief-overview-of-Concrete-and-Chemical-Hardeners.pdf

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  4. Wonderful blog, I like this type of chemical free natural homes, And i need to make such a home with special flooring works and all other works.

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  5. Hello is laminate flooring from home depot toxic the one you just lay like a puzzle? Thanks in advance!

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    1. I don't know their brands. Look for low VOC brands such as ones with GreenGaurd certification.

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  6. Get an engineered hardwood floor rather than laminate. Less glue in the assembly because engineered hardwood uses a plywood backer and laminate uses a pressboard backer. Pick a product that has low or no added formaldhyde. Eddie Bauer Floors and some other good US manufactures offer this kind of product with no added formaldehyde and a UV cured acrylic matte finish which does not contain solvents and so does not emit VOCs.

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  7. Nice article. I'm thinking about going with cork flooring, but I can't seem to find a natural one (not finished at all) and try to finish it myself with natural options. The only brand that sells natural cork is Thermacork and that is only for insulation.

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    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  8. Much obliged to you for another extraordinary article. Where else would anyone be able to get that sort of data in such a flawless method for composing? I have a presentation one week from now, and I am on the search for such data. Branden Goodfellow

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  9. According to M. Pretorius, the flooring specialist in Johannesburg, laminate flooring is the best flooring option for my home, as per the weather conditions, and I agree with his opinion, so we are going to lay laminate floors in our newly constructed home.

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  10. So I finally had my husband on board to install the click together bamboo flooring from our local green store. It's pretty affordable for us at $4.50/sq ft but now I'm thinking that it might be more toxic then they are leading me to believe. I then started looking at kiln dried hardwood available here in Oregon but I can' imagine him installing that. What do you recommend? we have about 1200 sq ft. Right now, we have wool carpeting but I am allergic to wool so I can never be barefooted and I'm sure it's affecting me in other ways. Thanks for any suggestions.

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    1. There isn't a bamboo I would use. It depends on your level of sensitivity.

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    2. Due to your sensitivities or concerns over emissions?

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    3. Yes. Bamboo is problematic for other reasons but I was thinking offgassing.

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  11. I am looking for a low toxicity option for my living room, dining room, and hallway. I have a dog, so need something that will be easy to clean and not likely to stain when he throws up, etc. I have old carpet now that I want to get rid of. I need something affordable, preferable $2.5 to $4 per square foot. What do you suggest? I like the fake wood look of some of the laminates and luxury vinyl, but I am concerned about toxicity. Not sure if engineered wood is affordable or practical with a dog. I don't have allergies or sensitivities. I am worried about long-term risks of exposure to chemicals.

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  12. How about vocs in porcelain tiles that look like hardwood? A printer digitally scans a photo onto the tile

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  13. looks great! Was interesting to read about different materials for flooring. I want to renovate my old house in Auckland, NZ and I've already found one reliable SO Renovate company for that. I also want to make wood flooring, I think it looks very stylish.

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  14. Hi Corinne - your site is incredible! Just bought my first home, 130 years old and needs some work. Pretty overwhelming to try and make good choices, thanks for making it a lot easier! Saw your carpet recommendations above... We are not the biggest fans of wall to wall carpeting. Do you have any recommendations on safe rug providers?

    Thanks!

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  15. Your site is truly cool and this is an incredible rousing article. www.website.com

    ReplyDelete