Non Toxic Flooring

Updated Summer 2019

Table of Contents:

1. The Greenest Healthiest Floors (the most tolerable)
     i. Solid Wood
     ii. Concrete
     iii. Tile
2. Next Best Floors (for the moderately sensitive)
     i. Natural Linoleum
     ii. Specialty Engineered Wood
     iii. Hard Vinyl
     iv. Carpet
     v. Terrazzo
3. Third Best Floors (for those less sensitive but still health conscious)
     i. Engineered Wood
     ii. Cork
     iii. Bamboo
     iv. Laminate
     v. Magnetic Tiles


If you need assistance choosing the best floor for your sensitivities, budget and area of the house, please contact me for a one on one consultation. 


I recommend all of the products here, some products have affiliate programs and some do not. Upon purchase, I earn a small commission though affiliate links at no extra cost to you.

1. Greenest Floors (The Most Tolerable)


i. Real Hard Wood 

Photo Zege Architects zege.gr
Wood flooring is usually my number one choice. However wood contain terpenes which are problematic for many people. For those sensitive to the odour of wood, this is usually 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 at the store and onsite. 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 Poly BP is another great non-toxic finish. I go into detail on the many options for wood sealers in my post on sealers.

For subfloor glues my top pick is definitely AFM Almighty Adhesive is highly tolerable. If that doesn't work for you, try Liquid Nails Subfloor Adhesive. There are no VOC/HAPs wood fillers by Mohawk and ECOs.

You can buy hardwood flooring from specialty flooring stores, as well as Home Depot, Lowes and Lumber Liquidators. The big box stores have networks of installers.

Pre-finished Hardwood - Usually finished with aluminum oxide infused polyurethane and cured under UV lights, these are typically very well tolerated once cured. I consider this to be safe product for the chemically sensitive. Test it first. It is close to 0 VOC. It has two main benefits, not having to finish it in the house, and the finish partially blocks the wood odour. I have looked over Mirage brand as well as Mono Serra from Home Depot.

ii. 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. 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.

iii. Tiles

Source sacramentostreet.com
Glass tiles are inert and healthy, many types are too slippery to use on the floor, but there are glass floor tiles.

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, that does not have a glossy finish can be sealed with a natural or low toxin sealer. Slate is also good, as long as it doesn't have a chemical sealer on it. Both can be sealed with AFM Mexeseal or Meta CreamTung oil can be used on slate.

Concrete tiles have beautiful designs. Look for "eco tiles" or ask what additives are in the concrete. I sealed mine with AFM Penetrating Water Stop. You can also use tung oil or Meta Cream.

Other natural stones like travertine, granite, soapstone and limestone can be great for floors. Always check if a resin or sealer is already applied and then check to see which natural options will work over the stone of your choosing. Honed stones (not glossy) are the easiest to seal with a natural pure option. Very dense stones like many granite types and some slate do not require a sealer at all.

Companies claim that walnut oil and hemp oil also can be used on natural stone and concrete. Though I have not seen hemp oil used in this application, it is a drying oil. Walnut is a semi drying oil so I would have some reservations in putting it over a large area. The post on sealers explains this further.

Porcelain and ceramic are safe if they are lead-free and do not contain radioactive substances. Ask for lead test results.

Imported glazed tiles should be tested for lead and possibly for 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 I do not detect anything that is different from regular tiles.

A Note on 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 will be to the overall air quality in a room. The company does have some reports that show a reduction in bacteria, which may be worthwhile 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, or in a clean environment it can create NOx. I would try out a PCO air purifier before installing this tile, to make sure it works well for you.

This air cleaning technology is also used on wood floors.

2. Next Best Floors (Good for Moderately Sensitive People)


i. Natural linoleum - Marmoleum is made from linseed, 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. This is the roll down flooring that I recommend that is glued down, the "click" is a little more difficult to tolerate but has the advantage of no glue. This is one of my top flooring choices, I recommend it often and it looks cool as well. I like many of the colours and the concrete look.

ii. 0 VOC Engineered Wood - While many engineered woods have significant offgassing (see section below), Kahrs brand has zero formaldehyde and claims 0 offgassing. I tested it and found it to be quite good. Here is my more detailed review of my testing of this floor. Though you need to look at each type and finish, as not all are 0 VOC. Kahrs is usually the first option I look at with clients unless they know this won't work for them. The next option I would look at is Cali Bamboo Geowood. I really like their limestone substrate, it is highly tolerable (most substrates are a wood and glue mixture which is why this category tends to be difficult). This one does claim formaldehyde free.

Lauzon engineered flooring that is made in Canada also claims 0 VOC and 0 formaldehyde, but like Kahrs, when digging into their fact sheets on specific flooring, this did not seem to be the case on each type. Check out Anderson and Whickham brands which have also made claims of 0 VOC. Use floating where possible, not glue down. The Kahrs underlayment is excellent.

iii. Hard Vinyl - Luxury vinyl plank (LVP) is much more tolerable than people generally think. This should be one of your first considerations for an RV, and can be considered alongside other engineered floors if you are in the mildly to moderately sensitive category. I tested Armstrong and Cali Bamboo brands, which both surprised me in how good they were. I prefer this one linked with the limstone backing, which is a backing I find to be excellent in terms of health and safety (much preferred over cork backing). Cali discloses their testing and the VOC levels are extremely low. Use a floating floor instead of glue down when possible. You don't always have to go with the branded underlayment for all floors, but the Cali underlayment is very good.

iv. Carpet
bloomsburgcarpet.com
For natural, non-toxic carpet look for non-toxic fibers, no flame retardants, no mothproofing, no stain repellent, natural padding and either no adhesive or a non-toxic adhesive. The most sensitive will want undyed natural carpet. Not all tolerate wool though and you might be surprised with some of the non-toxic synthetic options. I have reservations about natural latex outlined in this post on mattresses, and I'm not sure if the same precautions need to be taken with carpet. I personally have a slight preference for synthetic backing.

Natural Fibers

My top choice in wool carpets are:
1. Earth Weave - wool, no mothproofing, no other treatments, does contain latex. I always prefer undyed wool for the very sensitive.
2. Nature's Carpet  - wool - contains natural latex adhesive. The dark green line does not have moth proofing and uses undyed wool. The medium green line does not contain natural latex, which for me is a big plus, but it does contain mothproofing.
3. Natural Home Products - wool, contains natural latex, but checks all other boxes.

Hibernia wool. I have sniffed Hibernia and it does have a wooly smell (as you would expect) but not a chemical smell. The company has since changed ownership (2018). They do use moth proofing (typically permithrin is used).

Seagrass - I really like seagrass carpet because of how it feels underfoot. The DMI brand makes one I like that is not dyed or treated with insecticides or other chemicals. It does contain natural latex.

Synthetic

Top two pics for synthetic residential carpet are:

Home Fresh - carpet contains charcoal which absorbs some VOCs (up to a point). (It does not break them down). The carpet has Scotch Guard coating on it so I do not know how they can claim 0 VOC. I got a sample that was a few months old, but bagged up, and I found it to be very good. I did not pick up classic carpet offgassing, though it is not 100% odourless it is close, and did not seem like an offensive odour to me. This is my top pick for synthetic carpet. Available in the US, not Canada.

Flor Fedora which is made from recycled plastic, it was less of that telltale carpet chemical smell. It offgassed to "odourless" way faster than their standard type. You will need to test their "dots" that attach these to the floor as well. This Fedora line does not hold up well with pets and does not look super durable, though some might prefer this carpet because of how fast it offgasses.

If you have conventional carpet in your house that is still offgassing, seal in the VOCs with Carpet Seal.

Commercial Grade

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.

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 Label 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). 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 and it does contain moth proofing (permithrin). Woolshire wool is also rated for commercial, I found it much more tolerable than Godfrey, it smells wooly but not like chemicals. It does have moth proofing in it. It smells similar to Hibernia brand. If I was picking a commercial brand I would consider Woolshire first and then Flor.

Some of Earth Weave's lines can be used in light commercial applications and those do not contain mothproofing or other chemical treatments. In a light commercial setting this is the way to go.

Because carpet does collect dust, mould spores, pesticides, flame retardants and all types of contaminants and allergens that ride on dust, a HEPA vacuum like the Nilfisk is essential for cleaning.

Carpets with a conventional synthetic backing (but not Flor) can be glued down with AFM 3 in 1.

Area rugs are covered here.

v. 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. 

3. Third Best Floors (May Work for Those Less Sensitive but Still Health Conscious) 


i. Engineered Woods - Junkers, Wood Flooring International all meet EU emission standards. WD brand is one recommended by sensitive folks. The substrates can still be problematic. Many use phenol formaldehyde which offgasses relatively quickly. This may work for some but they are not in the same category as the formaldehyde free versions above.

ii. 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 which I find very strong). In theory, you can make tiles or rolls without resin (they heat press them for some insulation) 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. Here is my Facebook post about the testing of these brands.

iii. Bamboo requires resin or adhesives and a finish. However, there are many that are GreenGuard certified for low emissions. This wood is known to be problematic in that it can shrink and do poorly with spills. Cali Bamboo GeoCore is made on a limestone based core which I found tolerable. I think this is one of the best brands out there for bamboo.

iv. 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 but laminate flooring options are getting better.

v. Magnetic Ceramic Tiles - I tested Kablan's magnetic ceramic tiles and I found they did have a moderately strong smell (the magnetic backing components), though you may not be able to smell them once the floors is installed, as they are underneath. My video review of them here.



Corinne Segura is a Building Biologist with 5 years of experience helping others create healthy homes.

For individual help on choosing the best flooring for you and your project you can schedule a consultation with me here.

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48 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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  8. 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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    4. I am about to get untreated pure wool carpet in my bedroom, just been measured, but cannot wear wool clothing against my skin. I thought briefly walking on wool carpet should not be a problem but your comment worries me. Is this much of a problem?

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  9. 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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    1. What did you end up doing? I am in the same situation, aging dog, need easy flooring, but chemically sensitive so limited in what can get. Did you solve the flooring dilemma?

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

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  11. 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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    1. I am very sensitive (MCS) and I had great luck with Hook and Loom for chemical free Cotton & Wool rugs at a reasonable price. Great customer service as well. Best Wishes. https://hookandloom.com/browse/eco-cotton-rugs/

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  12. I am going to have a van built out for me. The flooring will need to have 2" furring strips glued to the floor of the cargo area. Since the cargo van is new, the floor of the cargo area has a shiny auto paint on it. What adhesive would you recommend? Will the AFM Safecoat Almighty Adhesive be strong enough to keep the furring strips attached to the floor of the van/paint and then subsequenty hold in place a 3/4" NAF PLYWOOD FLOORING on top of the furring strips? The plywood will be screwed into the furring strips.

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    1. Hi, this is complex and I don't have all the info that I need from that message. I would consult with an architect here this sounds like there's a very high chance of it going moldy if I'm understanding correctly.

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  13. Any ideas for a good moisture barrier?

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    1. Will add to sheathing/subfloor post soon

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  14. I am chemically sensitive but have to replace nasty old carpet in my mobile home. About to put pure wool carpet in the two bedrooms but worried if it can affect those who cannot wear wool clothing. I saw a comment above about this and am concerned as will be the bedroom. Do people react to pure, untreated wool carpet sometimes? Will the air in the bedroom be clear?

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    1. Yes people do react to wool.

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    2. I did! Put ig in den to test, had a bad time, so cancelled my master bedroom! Thanks.

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  15. I'm assuming radiant heating under laminate flooring is highly toxic? What is the best alternative for radiant floor heating?

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    1. Heating anyting that off gases from underneath is going to increase the off-gassing. I'm not sure what you mean by the alternative to in floor heating. There are many other types of heating systems and less toxic floor systems that would go better with in-floor heating.

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  16. How do you test porcelain tile for lead and radioactivity? Thanks!

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    1. You need to hire someone that has the tools for this. Someone will come out and do the testing. First you should ask the company if they have a certificate for lead testing.

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  17. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  18. How did your test of Armstrong's Luxury planks turn out?

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  19. Which Armstrong vinyl plank did you test. Do you know of any other LVT brands that are good?

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  20. Can you also explain how LVT can be a good lower toxic option. Even the newer phthalate free brands are still made with plastic aren’t they? I’m getting mixed opinions online. And manufacturers are vague. Thank you

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    1. I tested a few different types of the Armstrong brand that do not require glue. Good better and best I believe they are called. I also tested Cali bamboo. Cali bamboo discloses their V O C levels which are very low.

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  21. You are correct about the pre-finished floors with UV cured finishes and embedded aluminum oxide anti-scratch components. They are no-VOC and much tougher than the old solvent based finishes. Also look for engineered flooring made with No Added Formaldehyde glues (NAF or NAUF) Some manufacturers include Eddie Bauer HOME, Luzon, and Revel Woods. Use a floating install method or a nail down method. Direct glue to the subfloor introduces yet another set of chemicals into the environment. Also consider the construction of the cabinets and furniture you are using as these often include elements of particle board that contain formaldehyde based glues.

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    1. No added formaldehyde and no added urea formaldehyde are quite differnt. No added urea formaldehyde means it has phenol formaldehyde. I haven't seen flooring recently that is using urea formaldehyde. It might still exist.

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  22. Hi there, I am doing a renovation and am looking for a suitable subfloor to install underneath tiles. I am having challenges finding something that is both well tolerated and good in insolation - construction requirements demand good insolation and for instance Ardex is not good enough. Any ideas?

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    1. Ardex makes a self leveling cement to level out a concrete floor. I'm not totally sure what all the factors here and what you're trying to accomplish.

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  23. Hi! I’m better but still super sensitive. We just purchased a home and redoing most everything. I’m trying to stay as low toxic as possible being from a area that doesn’t understand or appreciate non toxic things.

    I went to a local floor place yesterday and they looked at me like I had 2 heads when I asked to be pointed towards the low toxicity flooring...lol!

    So, would you suggest looking at a 100% wood floor? Wouldn’t the stains on them be toxic? I looked at some beautiful hand scraped wood but they were finished. We’ve used the ceramic tile that looks like wood in the past. I’m curious what makes something like that toxic? Is it that you have to glue it down? Reason I ask is, is I’m super sensitive to smells and the tile has no smell but real wood does?

    Thanks for the great article and information!

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    1. Hi there, see the post on paints and sealers for finishing wood floors. Post on mortar and grout for non toxic tile installation.

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  24. What is the best organization for "green" floor certification?

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    1. Hi there, I don't currently find any of the certifications good enough for sensitive folks, they could work for healthy folks. I explain them here: https://www.mychemicalfreehouse.net/2016/06/what-green-certifications-mean-for.html

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  25. Is aluminum oxide safe on hardwood flooring?

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    1. Yes when it's in solid form, no if it wears off an becomes dust and you ingest or inhale it...

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