What is Laminate Flooring
Laminate flooring is a click together floor made of a fiberboard base and a printed image on top.
It is distinct from:
- Engineered wood, which has a real solid wood layer on top of a plywood or fiberboard substrate
- Luxury vinyl plank (LVP), which is a mix of PVC, limestone and plasticizers with a vinyl top layer
- and Hybrid floors, which have a PVC/limestone base and a real wood top layer
People often mix up laminate flooring and LVP. You will often hear LVP mistakingly referred to as laminate.
Laminate flooring does not contain any vinyl or solid wood layers.
If you are interested in engineered wood, LVP, or hybrid floors, see my main flooring post.
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Chemical Composition of Laminate Floors – Are Laminate Floors Toxic
HDF (High Density Fibreboard) Core:
- Softwood and hardwood fibers – around 75-85%
- Urea-formaldehyde, or melamine urea-formaldehyde as the binder – around 11-13%
- Paraffin – is added as water repellant – around 4% or less
- Ammonia – sometimes added as a formaldehyde scavenger (to reduce formaldehyde levels)
(There used to be brands using MDF as the core, but now I only see HDF versions).
- Printed image that usually looks like wood
- A top coat typically made up of several coats of melamine-urethane impregnated paper with aluminum oxide, though some have a lacquer finish
- Sometimes there is another melamine thin layer as the backing or an integrated foam underlayment made of high-density polyethylene (HDPE). I don’t find that there is any offgassing in that underlayment.
What about Isocyanates and Cyanuric acid?
There are other websites that seem to just be copying and pasting information from each other, these blogs list isocyanates and cyanuric acid as components of laminate flooring.
There is no company, as far as I know, using MDI based glues which can offgas isocyanates.
Cyanuric acid may be found as an impurity of melamine but is not a component in melamine and I would not expect to find this leaching from floors. This is a chemical used in swimming pools and is harmful if swallowed. (Source)
Is Aluminum Oxide Toxic?
You would have to breathe in or ingest aluminum oxide for it to be toxic. I take an extreme approach personally to metal avoidance, but I am not worried about metals that are in solid form and won’t find their way into your body.
The finish on laminate (which usually includes aluminum oxide) is very durable and this is not a floor that you will be re-sanding (you can’t re-sand laminate). If the flooring is getting worn down that is time to replace it anyway. But that will take quite a while.
Some lines are “waterproof” – they have an extra component of wax on the tongue and groove parts. I did not find these to be higher in offgassing.
Level of Formaldehyde Offgassing From Laminate
The only real chemical of concern here is formaldehyde.
Formaldehyde levels in laminate flooring are very low now. I don’t believe any brands are formaldehyde-free (or no added formaldehyde). Melamine formaldehyde offgasses less formaldehyde than urea-formaldehyde (Source).
Laminate Flooring Brands that are Certified GreenGuard Gold Include:
- Swiss Krono USA
- Home Decorators Collection
- Traffic Master
- Pergo used to have Greenguard Gold certification before they were bought out by Mohawk. I don’t think the glues have likely changed, Mohawk simply doesn’t use Greenguard. Judging from the samples I received, this uses the same glue the others.
(If it meets GreenGuard Gold then it certainly exceeds E-0 limits of 0.07 ppm formaldehyde and E-1 limits, which are even higher).
In terms of Home Depot Brands: Home Decorators Collection seemed lower in offgassing straight out of the box, but Traffic Master offgassed quicker – to me it seemed to almost fully offgassed in about a month. Whereas, HDC did not seem to have made much progress at all in a month.
How Long Does it Take Laminate Flooring to Fully Offgas
Lynn Baker, an air pollution specialist with the California Air Resources Board (CARB) says “you’ll get a fairly large amount that off-gasses early on, and then it starts to become less over a period ranging from months to a couple of years depending on the amounts contained in the product” Source.
Years ago high formaldehyde products like MDF made with urea-formaldehyde could take 7+ years to offgas but products with lower levels of formaldehyde and products made from phenol or melamine-formaldehyde offgas less and take much less time.
In my observation, laminate flooring is mostly offgassed in the first few months and is usually fully offgassed within a couple of years.
Other Chemicals Used in Installing Laminate Flooring
While you can glue down laminate flooring, it’s not done that often. There is no situation in which it would be necessary to glue down laminate flooring. I definitely would not glue this down.
I like the brands that include an attached polyethylene foam underlayment. But if you don’t start with one of those brands you can check out the options in my post on underlayment.
Other Flooring with an HDF Core
Other floorings with the same basic HDF core include Marmoleum Click (the top flooring sample in the stack in the above photo), and cork flooring with an HDF core – (second sample from the bottom, in the pic).
The product Hardboard is also HDF but the chemical composition is a little bit different. It’s got more wood fiber and less binder. The binder is listed as phenol-formaldehyde and not urea (source). This is used in furniture, often as the backing (like the backing of many dressers).
Hollow-core doors like Masonite doors also have an HDF skin. Pegboard is HDF as well.
Corinne Segura is a Building Biologist Practitioner with 7 years of experience helping others create healthy homes.
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