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 vinyl/polyvinyl chloride (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 and LVP does not contain any wood.
If you are interested in those other flooring options 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)
- Polystyrene is added in one brand (Duravana) to the core
(There can be brands using medium density fibreboard – MDF as the core, but now generally see HDF versions. These fibreboards are both very similar in composition).
- 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 (and the sides in one brand)
- An integrated foam underlayment made of high-density polyethylene (HDPE).
- Or a polystyrene foam underlayment
- (I don’t find that there is any offgassing in those underlayments)
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.
Methylene diphenyl diisocyanate (MDI) based glues can offgas isocyanates. The vast majority of laminate is made with formaldehyde glues not MDI. The only ones that might be using MDI (not confirmed) is Mohawk RevWood and Pergo.
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” because they have an extra component of wax on the tongue and groove parts. This was the first generation of waterproof laminate.
Since then there have been new developments:
1. One brand, Duravana from LL Floors, has polystyrene mixed in to the HDF core, this provides a greater level of waterproofing compared to wax on the tongue and groove. (This is a big innovation and improvement in the laminate industry). (It also has the usual formaldehyde resin in the core).
2. AquaGuard from Floor and Decor coats the sides and back with melamine to protect the fiberboard from water.
Neither type of waterproofing adds more offgassing.
3. Evoke Surge claims to be waterproof but they don’t disclose how this is accomplished. They say the binder in the fiber core is organic (so not plastic), and they did confirm it’s formaldehyde, but I don’t know what’s added to make it more waterproof.
Level of Formaldehyde Offgassing From Laminate
The only real chemical of concern here is formaldehyde, and just about all laminate flooring, but one brand mentioned below, is made with formaldehyde.
Formaldehyde levels in laminate flooring are very low now. Melamine-formaldehyde offgasses less formaldehyde than urea-formaldehyde (Source).
Many laminate brands are GreenGuard Gold certified. This means they offgas no more than 0.0073 ppm formaldehyde.
The outdoor level of formaldehyde in urban areas is 0.0015 – 0.047 ppm (source).
CARB 2 and TSCA Title VI are legal limits (they are both the same), O.11 ppm is allowed in MDF.
Laminate Flooring Brands that are Certified GreenGuard Gold Include:
- Duravana from LL Floors looks like your typical laminate but the core seemed a little different to me so I asked the company about it. The core has polystyrene added to it (it also contains the usual wood fiber and melamine-urea-formaldehyde) which makes it more inherently waterproof than other brands. It does not have more offgassing than other brands.
- Swiss Krono USA
- Traffic Master from Home Depot
- A&A from Home Depot
- MSI laminate from Home Depot
- AquaGuard Laminate from Floor and Decor
- Evoke Surge
- Optimax from Floor and Decor
- Shaw Laminate is GreenGuard (not Greenguard Gold)
(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).
Home Depot Brands of Laminate
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.
IKEA Tundra Laminate Flooring
IKEA’s laminate flooring is only available in Europe. IKEA is always at the forefront of the industry in terms of lowering emissions like formaldehyde in pressed wood products. While IKEA doesn’t use certifications like GreenGuard Gold, I’m certain it would meet or exceed those limits.
Formaldehyde-Free Laminate Flooring
I have only seen two brands of laminate flooring that are formaldehyde-free (more accurately “no added formaldehyde” since wood natural contains formaldehyde).
The first is the RevWood line from Mohawk. They have stated in an email that it is no added formaldehyde. It does not say this on the website (which is strange to me, since this is so unique). But there is no formaldehyde on the SDS sheet (where it would have to be listed) and no Prop 65 warning for formaldehyde (only one for wood dust).
They do not say which glues is used, only that it’s water-based. It could be a Methylene diphenyl diisocyanate (MDI) glue, which also offgasses VOCs. The VOCs are listed on the SDS as <9 ng/m3, which is extremely low.
The second is all the Pergo lines, Pergo is also owned by Mohawk so this makes sense.
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.
One study for a high-emitting laminate floor product sample tested in small environmental chambers, found that the time needed for formaldehyde emission to reduce to 50% of the initial level was 216 days, and the worst case was 371 days (depending on the conditions).
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.
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.
Optimax by Floor and Decor is only 50% wood fibre in it’s core (as opposed to 75-85% like the standard laminate). They don’t say what the other 50% is other than an “amino resin” (which means urea or melamine-formaldehyde), it might also contain a plastic resin but the company will not say that (though it’s definitely not PVC so it’s not a LVP flooring). In my testing of it, the core is more waterproof than the usual laminate and it did not swell up. The other reason for suspecting a plastic resin in there is that they call it a hybrid, which insinuates wood + plastic. Unfortunately they used a fiberboard underlayment which does make it more prone to water damage at that layer (if water makes it past the locking mechanism or comes up from below).
Duravana is also a hybrid of sorts since they add polystyrene to the core.
Corinne Segura is a Building Biologist Practitioner with 8 years of experience helping others create healthy homes.
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