The most common home gym flooring type is rubber. This is unfortunately one of the highest offgassing flooring types out there. Another popular option, vinyl sheet, is also up there as one of the highest VOC floorings.
Rubber is very durable and can take a lot of weight, impact, and abuse, so it may be needed in some gyms.
But for most home gyms, healthier and less toxic choices can be used. Rubber mats can be used only in high impact areas, if necessary.
Let’s look through all the options for a healthy low-VOC home gym floor.
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Marmoleum, a natural linoleum sheet, can be used as gym flooring.
Marmoleum is made from linseed oil, binders, wood flour, limestone, and dry pigments with a jute or polyester backing. It’s got a UV cured sealer on top.
It has a light linseed odor, but it is otherwise a very safe and healthy flooring.
The product itself is soft like vinyl sheet, and like vinyl, it’s rather thin on its own. Andy from Green Design Center advises using the Forbo cork underlayment under the Marmoleum sheet to give it more cushioning and shock absorption in a home gym.
2. Rubber Flooring
Synthetic rubber floors come in various types and thicknesses. They all have what I would consider fairly strong to very strong offgassing levels.
I’ve tried looking at many different kinds of rubber flooring types and I will go over which ones are the healthiest.
Because rubber can sometimes be the only option under heavy weights and equipment, it could be used in some areas of the gym, but it should be minimized as much as possible.
Recycled rubber might be marketed as eco-friendly because it’s recycled, but otherwise recycled rubber flooring is not what I would consider healthy. There are better rubber floors.
Synthetic Versus Natural Rubber Flooring
Synthetic rubber is more durable than natural rubber latex.
In theory, you can make rubber flooring out of natural latex. I have seen brands that are part natural rubber and part synthetic, like Mondo Sport. I don’t believe any brands are 100% natural rubber.
What is Rubber Flooring Made of?
Rubber flooring can be made with recycled SBR rubber (most often tires), new rubber (synthetic or a synthetic/natural mix), and EPDM virgin rubber color chips.
Tarkett makes a rubber flooring where almost all ingredients are on the Declare label.
Rebonded Versus Vulcanized
Anything labeled rebonded rubber uses a polyurethane adhesive to hold the flooring together. Polyurethane glue does have noticeable offgassing.
Vulcanized and virgin rubber are usually heat pressed. Vulcanized is preferable from a toxicity and offgassing standpoint over polyurethane bonded rubber.
Some manufacturers use sulfur in their binding agents. And some rubber gym floors are mixed with vinyl, like the brand Roppe, which I do not consider an improvement at all.
A rubber and cork mix like those from Ecore can be quite good.
All of these components contribute to the offgassing. The odor does go down, but may never fully go away.
The Lowest VOC Rubber Flooring
Look for these attributes when choosing a healthier rubber floor:
- Virgin rubber, not post-consumer recycled (especially not tires)
- Vulcanized rubber, not rebonded
- No PVC added
- Calendared rubber as the top layer (on top of vulcanized) reduces offgassing somewhat. This is the best out of all the rubber floors I have seen (Ecore Aurora)
- Thinner rubber sheets are preferable to thicker rubber (less to offgas)
- A mix with cork can be fine (like Ecore brand), it is similar to the pure vulcanized rubber
- A mix with natural latex can reduce offgassing
- Turf on top of rubber can reduce the offgassing of the rubber layer (Ecore FIT turf)
- Time does help rubber to offgas. If you can air this out for a few weeks or a few months before installation that is a great help
- Greenguard Gold certification can be reached by some brands
Seal in the Offgassing and Contaminants of Rubber Flooring with Paint!
You can seal in most of the offgassing (and possible contaminant leaching) of rubber floors with paints that have high sealing abilities.
This is of course taking a highly durable material and coating it with a far less durable material. But it could be well worth it if you need or can’t get rid of your rubber floors.
There are a number of combinations you could use, depending on your tolerance level for paints and sealants. The general combination needed is a shellac (that is to seal in the offgassing), a primer that will stick to shellac (or a shellac and primer in one), and then a flexible floor paint.
Example: Zinsser Sanding Sealer (then scuff and wipe that down), ECOS Universal Primer, ECOS Interior Floor Paint.
Although shellac sticks to just about everything, I didn’t think the finish was satisfactory on the rough rubber floor, but it can work on a smooth rubber.
VOCs/Offgassing of Rubber Flooring
A study by California’s Public Health Institute revealed offgassing of xylene, butylated hydroxytoluene, ethylbenzene, toluene, formaldehyde, and acetaldehyde from recycled rubber flooring.
Benzene and carbon disulfide were above the health threshold in one or two samples.
Some brands do meet GreenGuard Gold VOC levels (like Mondo) which is a fairly low level of offgassing and in my view makes it suitable for those who do not have existing health conditions.
I would not consider rubber flooring appropriate for folks with chemical sensitivities.
Metals and Other Contaminants in Rubber Flooring
Toxic contaminants can be used in the manufacturing process and can be found in the final product. Hazardous flame retardants, metals, VOCs including styrene, nano carbon black, and polyaromatic hydrocarbons are just a few (Source).
If you do go with a rubber flooring you can ask to see testing of heavy metals as well as PAH’s (polyaromatic hydrocarbons). However, the Healthy Building Network does not find this testing to be comprehensive enough.
By 1990, mercury-containing rubber was discontinued, but you could still find it in older homes. Recycled rubber can still be contaminated with metals including lead.
Recycled rubber flooring may contain more contaminants than virgin rubber. Many chemicals in the rubber, such as vulcanizing agents, accelerators, plasticizers, remain in recycled rubber, as well as contaminants it picked up in its life as vehicle tires.
The Healthy Building Network does not recommend the use of recycled tire
flooring in interior applications, especially where children may come
into direct contact with the flooring.
3. EVA Foam
High-density EVA foam is soft, cushiony, and provides good shock resistance. It works well for those doing floor-based workouts.
But it’s not ideal for heavy weights or equipment, as those can leave dents over time. And it’s not glued down, so it may not work for intense workouts.
But it is cheap, easy and fast to install. You can easily add a workout area to a room that has wood, vinyl, or another hard surface.
EVA is generally a safer plastic. After some airing out the levels will be extremely low in most brands. Some brands now claim to be formamide-free but Flooringinc mats are the only ones I know of that are tested to show no formamide.
Well-liked brands on Amazon include BalanceFrom (1-inch mats), but these are not claiming formamide-free.
4. Artificial Turf
Artificial turf is usually used outside but it could also be used for interior work out rooms
Types of Artificial Turf for Gyms
Some turf comes without a backing, some types have a polyurethane foam backing, some have an EVA foam backing (see the EVA foam section), and the most robust types have a rubber backing which takes us back to the rubber section of this article.
The top grass layer is made from either polypropylene, nylon or polyethylene. I consider these all safe plastics, though nylon often has chemical treatments added to it.
The combination of nylon on top and polyurethane underneath is essentially a regular carpet made to look like turf.
The simplest form has a plastic backing that is polyethylene and or polypropylene and is very safe.
You can find these at floorings at Rubber Flooring inc. Their Performance Turf, Launch Turf (and others) are of this composition, though the samples I got have picked up the odor of rubber, probably from nearby inventory.
EVA Foam Tile Backing
Sorbus Mats are EVA foam tiles. They are durable enough to withstand foot traffic and are considered waterproof (though the seams of EVA foam are not waterproof!)
This type of turf is like the EVA tiles in the section above. EVA foam is the base, which provides cushioning, and polyethylene turf makes up the top layer. Both are considered safe plastics. (The EVA should be listed as formamide free).
If you are using this for traction and resistance, the foam tiles are not suitable. Glue down turf would be used instead.
Polyurethane Foam Backing
Shock Turf X by Rubber Flooring Inc is made of polypropylene (the grass layer) and polyurethane foam as the backing. The sample I bought was very low in offgassing.
Some types of artificial turf are made for very intense workouts. Consult with a gym flooring vender to choose the right kind of turf for your needs.
5. Wood Flooring
Real solid wood is used in many professional workout spaces as well as home gyms. Maple is typically used because it’s both dense and has some shock absorbency.
To add more shock absorption without the flex, cork underlayment might be specified under solid wood flooring. Extra dense grades of foam can work under wood floors, but they are not as durable as cork, says Rubber Flooring inc.
Rubber is also used as an underlayment under wood gym floors in professional settings. Consult with a gym flooring expert for commercial and professional spaces.
The downsides of using wood are that it can scratch and splinter if heavy weights are dropped and the durable water-resistant coatings can make it slippery when wet.
Wood can be ideal for aerobic exercise, kickboxing, and dance.
6. Cork Tile
Cork is known as an eco-friendly flooring because it’s made of a renewable bark.
It’s a relatively healthy option. Cork is usually pressed with a polyurethane glue which does offgas VOCs. It may not work for those with moderate to severe chemical sensitivities.
It’s healthier than rubber and vinyl, not as good as Marmoleum or real wood.
It’s natural shock-resistant and cushiony characteristics mean it works well for high-intensity workouts and weight training.
Gym flooring experts recommend glue-down cork tiles over floating cork flooring to provide support for heavy loads.
However, cork is not a super durable material. Dragging equipment on either type can tear or scratch the surface and heavy equipment will leave dents.
You can use carpet in a home gym. I like low-VOC brands. A low pile commercial grade is recommended in gyms for traction and stability.
Not many low-VOC carpet brands fit this requirement.
FLOR carpet tiles are low-VOC and could work in some home gyms. This brand does have a backing that provides a little bit of cushioning, but not as much as the typical carpet pad.
Carpet tiles are taped down and may or may not provide enough stability.
Wool carpet, which is discussed in more detail in the carpet post, holds up very well to foot traffic but not to objects dragged across it. A low pile wool may work for a home gym, depending on which types of workouts you do.
The alternative is something more conventional (which would be higher in offgassing than FLOR) with a polyurethane or rubber pad underneath to provide shock absorption.
Of course for some people, carpet will not fit the requirement of being easily cleanable and super hygienic, but it can work in some types of home gyms.
8. Vinyl Plank
Luxury vinyl plank (LVP) is a very popular flooring in residential construction right now. It’s easy to install and relatively inexpensive. It’s also fairly low in offgassing.
Brands like CoreTec Plus have a cork backing attached, giving it some shock absorption that most vinyl is lacking. Though the vinyl top layer of LVP is not as soft as the vinyl in vinyl sheet.
It’s not repairable when it’s scratched or dented, but it could work for some gym types.
Vinyl offgasses very low levels of VOCs, gives off some plasticizers (phthalate-free is preferable), and can contain metals (virgin vinyl is preferable).
My general flooring post goes more into depth on LVP, what’s in it, and which brands I like best.
9. Non-Vinyl Sheet Flooring
Sheet flooring is also called resilient flooring. The most common type of resilient flooring is vinyl sheet. Vinyl sheet is high in offgassing – one of the highest offgassing flooring types.
The following brands give the same look, feel, and performance of conventional sheet vinyl floors without the high VOCs.
UPO by Kahrs makes three really great healthy options. Xpression and Zero Tile are made of safe plastics – TPE and polyolefin (polyethylene and/or polypropylene). It contains no plasticizers and no PVC.
Quartz tile, their stiffer flooring has a base of the mineral quartz and PVC, with no phthalates and no DHEP. It’s virtually odorless, even lower odor than LVP. But it is a rather hard flooring, too hard for most gyms.
Another new option in the commercial category is Shaw Contract’s bio-based polyurethane. It’s made of 90% natural oils (but not linseed) and minerals. It’s almost odorless. The backing contains polyethylene and fiberglass. Another very similar brand is Wineo Purline Organic Flooring.
These floors are all glue down. Underlayment might be added in gyms, consult with your contractor and the companies for technical advice.
10. Portable Mats
If you use a hard surface floor like wood or LVP you can always add exercise mats as area mats.
You may also want to put mats down under equipment if you go with a carpet or cork flooring to protect the floor in those areas.
They claim it is odorless and free of phthalates, latex, silicone, and toxins.
Note that it’s made of natural rubber and claims to be latex-free but natural rubber is latex. I don’t find natural latex to be odorless, some others in the Amazon reviews did think it was and others did not.
The least toxic yoga mats are the ones made of TPE, which is close to odorless. That is certainly my top choice. TPE can mean EVA, if it has an odor something is off.
My second choice is NBR rubber mats, I have one and they are low odor. They can be very low cost but are not the most durable choice.
Corinne Segura is a Building Biologist Practitioner with 6 years of experience helping others create healthy homes.
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