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.
This post contains affiliate links. Upon purchase, I earn a small commission at no extra cost to you.
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. Flocked Flooring
Similar to carpet but better, flocked flooring is something in between a resilient flooring and a carpet. It’s a fuzzy floor that is very durable and washable.
Flotex by Forbo (pictured) is one of these hybrids between a carpet and resilient flooring. This is a washable option that is ultra-low-VOC. It’s totally waterproof and very hygienic. It’s made of solid vinyl reinforced base (which is low in odor and offgassing, unlike vinyl sheet flooring) with a densely flocked surface of nylon 6.6. fibers.
It’s a really good option for a gym. It’s durable to cope with high-traffic areas and heavy gym equipment – it has a wear class of 33 for commercial heavy use according to EN-ISO 10874. It’s slip-resistant when wet and dry. Though it’s not a “safety flooring”, it provides a surefooted and comfortable surface to exercise on and is ideal for areas where there is a chance of moisture from drink spillages or sweat.
3. 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.
Though this is not a floor I would use myself or recommend to any of my chemically sensitive clients, I will go over which types 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 if you want to have the lowest possible VOC levels.
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 an 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.
A rubber and cork mix like those from Ecore can be quite good.
Flame retardants can be added. Tarkett lists their flame retardants as Huntitte, Hydromagnesite, and Aluminum Trihydrate.
The odor of rubber flooring does go down but slowly, and 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
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 makes it suitable for those who are not chemically sensitive.
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, and 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.
Seal in the Offgassing and Contaminants of Rubber Flooring with Paint?
It’s difficult to seal in rubber because most paints and sealers don’t stick well to it. Especially if it has a rough surface. I have had some success sealing rubber flooring with a smooth surface with Zinsser Sanding Sealer (then scuff and wipe that down), ECOS Universal Primer, ECOS Interior Floor Paint.
However, the shellac will pull away from many rubber flooring options so I would not count on sealing it.
Reduce the Offgassing in Rubber Flooring/Rubber Mats:
- Air + heat + time – rubber takes a long time to offgas in my experience. Even a year outside was not nearly enough for me. However, this is still the main way to offgas any material. Just don’t leave it in the sun too long, as rubber breaks down in the sun.
- Wash it down with a) a mix of water and vinegar, or b) lemon juice, or c) peppermint oil on a damp cloth, or soak it if possible (if it’s a smaller mat) in a mix of water and baking soda, or water and dish soap.
- If you need to do something immediately, encase it or put down charcoal, zeolite or cat litter on top of it.
4. 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 to be formamide-free.
7/8ths (like these Judo mats) or 1-inch foam tiles are usually used in gyms.
5. Artificial Turf
Artificial turf is usually used outside but it could also be used for interior workout rooms
Only some types of artificial turf are made for very intense workouts. Consult with a gym flooring vendor to choose the right kind of turf for your needs.
Types of Artificial Turf for Gyms
Some turf comes without a backing. It could be EVA foam (see the EVA foam section), polyethylene or polypropylene. These three I would consider safe. Some types have a polyurethane backing (which has some offgassing) and the most robust type is SBR rubber which takes us back to the rubber section of this article (and is my least favorite type).
The top grass layer is made from either polypropylene, nylon, or polyethylene. I consider these all safe plastics. However, lead can be added to the plastic, it can have added anti-microbials, and/or flame retardants which I would want to avoid. They can also contain PFAS as a byproduct of the manufacturing.
The infill layer is often crumb rubber which contains metals (including lead), VOCs, plasticizers, black carbon, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. Safe infill materials include sand, cork, zeolite, walnut shells, or coconut husks. (And some types don’t require infill).
Without a padding, the turf usually has a simple polyethylene or polypropylene backing like these floors from Rubber Flooring Inc – Performance Turf, Launch Turf (and others). (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 “grass” makes up the top layer. Both are considered safe plastics. (However, they don’t say if they are free of lead, biocides and flame retardants. And the best 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.
Brands that are free of chemicals of concern:
PolyTurf (makes Fitness & CrossFit Synthetic Turf) – Lead-free and they offer a polypropylene cushion.
Bella Turf, Canada (Indoor Gym Turf – durable enough for weighted sleds) – it has a polyurethane foam cushion and natural sand infill. Certified lead-free, it contains no detectable traces of lead and heavy metals. This line is also free of biocides, flame retardants, and PFAS.
More brands here in my dedicated article on artificial turf.
6. 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.
7. Cork Tile
Cork is known as an eco-friendly flooring because it’s made of a renewable bark.
It can be a healthy option. Cork is usually often pressed with a polyurethane or formaldehyde glue which do offgas VOCs. However, some brands are 0-VOC like Forna cork tiles.
Its 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 in some ways. 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 carpet 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 not provide enough stability for some workouts.
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.
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.
9. 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 very 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 plank 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.
10. 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 as 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.
Wineo also makes a thicker click-together floor (X-Core Connect) with a polyurethane top layer and a thick cushy EVA underlayment.
These polyurethane sheet floors are excellent in my opinion, with almost no offgassing and no plasticizers they are far superior health-wise to vinyl sheet.
These floors are all glue-down (apart from the Wineo click). Underlayment might be added in gyms, consult with your contractor and the companies for technical advice.
11. 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 to protect the floor in those areas.
I would avoid latex, synthetic SBR rubber, and PVC in equipment and exercise mats.
Non-Toxic Equipment Mats
A good non-toxic mat for under treadmills, ellipticals, and other exercise equipment is this one made of NBR rubber which is a material very low in odor and VOCs.
Be careful with products like Gorilla Mats that are made from high-density natural rubber and “PER foam” – PER foam is a non-specific term that likely means PVC. They might claim “odorless” but that term is very subjective. Neither PVC nor latex would be considered odorless to me.
I avoid PVC and SBR rubber.
Non-Toxic Yoga Mats
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 a strong odor something is off.
My second choice is NBR rubber mats, I have one and they are extremely low odor. They can be very low in cost but are not the most durable choice.
I avoid PVC and synthetic rubber.
Non-Toxic Gymnastics Mats
Most gymnastics mats have a PVC cover over a foam insert.
I avoid PVC and would opt for a polyurethane (PU) covered mat instead. PU material, often referred to as vegan leather, is extremely low in odor (and will be odorless with just a little bit of time). It is virtually VOC-free and is made without plasticizers including phthalates.
The Giantex Gymnastics Mat is also made of PU and non-toxic polyethylene and has mostly positive reviews.
This option from Amazon is made with PU on the outside and a non-toxic, non-offgassing polyethylene foam on the inside. It has very mixed reviews, however.
Corinne Segura is a Building Biologist Practitioner with 8 years of experience helping others create healthy homes.