Vinyl Plank, Luxury Vinyl Plank (LVP), and Luxury Vinyl Tile (LVT) are very low in VOCs and offgassing.
Most people find it odorless, but those like me with a high sense of smell can certainly pick up the offgassing.
I pick up the chemical odor off every brand I have sampled (they are all very similar) and I do have concerns about plasticizers (which all brands contain) and small amounts of metals, explained further in the article.
Most of it is phthalate-free now – though phthalates were replaced with alternate plasticizers. The most common plasticizer used now is DOTP.
Whether vinyl plank should be considered toxic depends on your threshold for toxins in the home and our knowledge is also limited by the current research and understanding of the new plasticizers – which we will discuss.
There is a huge difference between vinyl plank and sheet vinyl flooring. Sheet vinyl, the very flexible kind that comes in large rolls is way higher in offgassing. It’s one of the top products to avoid in a healthy home in my opinion.
Vinyl plank comes in two main types: resilient vinyl plank and luxury vinyl plank.
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Vinyl Plank (as Opposed to Luxury Vinyl Plank)
Vinyl plank or resilient vinyl plank is a much thinner product than a luxury vinyl plank. It’s more flexible than luxury vinyl plank (but not as flexible as vinyl that comes in a roll) and is installed by a glue-down method.
This type of vinyl has less offgassing of VOCs compared to LVP in my estimation, this is only due to the fact that there is less of it! I would certainly consider this an ultra love VOC product. But you do have to consider the glues used as a source of offgassing (at least until it’s fully cured).
I have seen some vinyl plank that still has phthalates, so be sure to check to make sure it’s phthalate-free and made of virgin vinyl.
The ones pictured below are Shaw brand 6 mil Resilient Vinyl plank Flooring. It’s 5/64 inches thick. It’s free of phthalates.
I have also seen Armstrong “Good” line which is similar.
You will have to check which glues the brand recommends and will warranty it with but most of them are zero VOC when cured.
Luxury Vinyl Plank (LVP) (and Luxury Vinyl Tile)
This type of vinyl plank is thicker, more rigid, has multiple layers, and is click together.
It has a core (SPC or WPC), a vinyl wear layer, and often has an underlayment attached as well.
This multilayer rigid core vinyl used to be called EVP – engineered vinyl plank, (though most of the information online is incorrect regarding the definition of EVP). Don’t worry, because this term is almost never used anymore.
LVP and LVT (luxury vinyl tile) are the same product, the only difference is that LVP looks like wood and LVT looks like tile or stone.
Let’s look at the chemical composition of the materials.
SPC Core Vinyl Floors
Most of the luxury vinyl plank (LVP) click-together flooring has an SPC (stone polymer composite) core. This is a mix of limestone, PVC, and plasticizer.
It’s low in offgassing due to the high amount of limestone – it’s usually 60-80% limestone and the rest is PVC and plasticizer with no foaming agent. Look out for companies that call this a “limestone core” without mentioning the PVC/vinyl content (it’s still there).
It also contains some minor stabilizers and pigments (Pharos).
It is grey in color, very dense and rigid, and looks like the middle layer in these photos:
WPC Core Vinyl Floors
Only a few brands have WPC (wood plastic composite) – they were originally made with real wood or cork dust but now most of them don’t contain plant-based fibers.
The WPC core is usually made from PVC, limestone, plasticizers, a foaming agent (like formamide), and wood-like or wood materials such as wood flour. Wood-like plasticizers can be used instead of the wood fiber.
The primary difference between most WPC and SPC core floors is that WPC contains a lighter extruded or foamed plastic core, while SPC contains a solid denser core with more limestone.
The Cali Vinyl Plus pictured below has a true WPC core that they call BPC (bamboo plastic composite) which is made with bamboo fibers.
I generally find SPC to be a little bit lower in odor and offgassing than WPC, but it’s been variable.
Formamide comes with a Prop 65 label warning.
WPC is beige or yellow in color, less dense than SPC, and looks like this:
Underlayment of LVT
The underlayment is usually an integrated plastic layer, though some brands have cork attached.
The cork adds significant offgassing in my opinion, however, it is going to be almost entirely blocked by the click-together system. (But for those extremely sensitive the offgassing from the cork gets into the other layers during storage, production, transportation).
I personally avoid the brands with cork underlayment due to the unnecessary addition of VOCs, plus you are adding an organic material that is not mold proof in the way vinyl is.
The foam underlayments are usually made from IXPE or EVA foam, though some of them smell a lot more like rubber to me.
Many of the brands have such a thin attached underlayment that you still need to add one, so those don’t add much value. Check the warranty though, as some brands require an additional underlayment and for other brands adding an additional underlayment will void the warranty.
Brands like Cali Bamboo have a thick and cushiony underlayment (and you don’t have to add another one).
The underlayment often contains antimicrobials.
Wear Layer of Vinyl Floors
I have not found the thickness of the wear layer to affect the offgassing, though it’s possible that there is a minor difference there.
The wear layer is vinyl without the wood or limestone.
If you want the floor to last you want to go with the thicker wear layer. Some brands include the black layer (see photos above) that comes right after the top layer as part of the “wear layer”, but that will show as black marks if the top layer wears down! You want to look at the wear layer as the layer that has the integral wood or stone look color and design.
The top coating is a polyurethane with aluminum oxide cured under UV lights (so there is no offgassing there).
The wear layer can contain antimicrobials.
Should you Consider Vinyl as a Safe Flooring Choice?
These floors can be considered by anyone in the mild to moderately chemically sensitive category.
Plasticizers are also less of a concern for older folks than those more susceptible to hormone-disrupting chemicals.
Those who are super sensitive to wood odorants might consider LVP as the next choice after ruling out solid wood, engineered wood, tile, and polished concrete.
The VOCs are very low but it’s not zero-VOC or odor-free and the plasticizers are for me still an “unknown” factor in terms of safety and health.
All LVP (and LVT) brands are very similar, there are only four main differences outlined below:
FOUR Things to Ask (when choosing LVP floors)
- Double-check to make sure it’s virgin (not recycled vinyl)
- Look for phthalate-free (bio-based plasticizers are the best)
- You might have a preference for SPC over WPC
- Check the underlayment, you may choose to avoid cork
Healthiest (Safer) Brands of Vinyl Plank
- Virgin vinyl
- Made in America
- Starting at $2.81 /sqft
- Mohawk Dodford 7.5″ Luxury Vinyl Planks
- Mohawk Thatcher 7.5″ Rigid Core Vinyl Planks
- Mohawk Franklin 7.5″ Rigid Core Vinyl Planks
- Virgin vinyl
- Thatcher and Franklin are SPC core
- Made in America
- Dodford $2.75, Thatcher & Franklin $4.59 /sqft
- Virgin vinyl
- SPC core
- Made in America
- $5.87 /sqft
- Virgin vinyl
- Phthalate-free – uses bio-based plasticizers
- SPC core
- $2.69 /sqft for Builders Choice; $3.79 /sqft for Vinyl Pro; $3.99 /sqft for Mutestep; $4.99 /sqft for Longboard
Home Depot Brands
Out of the Home Depot brands they all have low offgassing as well but are not always good quality in terms of the thickness of the floor and thickness of the wear layer. Traffic Master, Lifeproof (underlayment odor was strong to me), Home Decorators are all very similar.
All of the Home Depot brands are phthalate-free.
Phthalate-Free Vinyl Flooring and Replacement Plasticizers
Phthalate-free brands are preferable – which most are now. Phthalates are known to be toxic, they have a host of known health problems and they leach quite a bit from floors.
All brands sold at Home Depot, Lowe’s, and Lumber Liquidators are phthalate-free. Almost all other brands are now too.
If phthalates (also known as ortho-phthalates) are not used, other plasticizers will be used instead.
Replacement plasticizers include DOTP (also called DEHT) which is the main one used right now, this is used in the vast majority of brands.
Based on what we know about DOTP it doesn’t have any known endocrine disruption effects like phthalates do. They also claim that it is more stable in the material and doesn’t leach as much as phthalates. DOTP makes up 8-23% of the product.
The Ecology Center cites concerns that plasticizers can still leach even if not as much as phthalates and they caution against replacement chemicals that are of similar chemical composition. We usually find that in time, with more studies, we find out more about the health impacts. They conclude that we do not yet know the full health effects of this plasticizer and have doubts that it is not in fact an endocrine disrupter.
I believe that it is currently difficult to say if the current platiciers like DOTP, and therefore LVP floors as a whole, are non-toxic.
Other Plasticizers Used
Companies like Cali Bamboo use bio-based plasticizers, which should mean it’s either Grindsted Soft-n-Safe (made by Danisco/DuPont) or Polysorb ID 37 (made by Roquette).
According to HBN these are well studied and are believed to be the least toxic of the six non-phthalate plasticizers. This is why Cali LVP is my top brand pick.
Toxic Metals in Vinyl Flooring
Organotins (a form of tin) can be used in the top layer. Antimicrobials can be used, usually in the underlayment. I have seen various types, including silver.
EHN found the heavy metal cadmium recently in vinyl floors (probably recycled ones, they say).
It’s important to avoid recycled vinyl.
Lumber Liquidators and Floor & Decor banned recycled vinyl to avoid the associated toxic contaminants like metals and halogenated flame retardants. Most other brands are virgin vinyl now.
Lead, cadmium, chromium, and mercury can be present and are only officially limited (not banned), as far as I have seen, by Floor and Decor.
Though antimony, bromine, and lead have been virtually eliminated according to the latest study.
Offgassing of VOCs in Vinyl Flooring
Sheet vinyl is higher offgassing than LVP. Sheet vinyl is in the 0.5 – 5 mg/m3 total VOC range, whereas vinyl click will be less than 0.5 mg/m3. (And it’s actually much less than 0.5mg/m3).
The offgassing is less of a concern to me than plasticizers (semi-VOCs) which are a longer-lasting and more of a concerning class of chemicals.
How long does LVP/LVT take to Offgas?
In absence of studies that indicate when the flooring product is completely offgassed, we have to judge based on our senses. A few months will get the product most of the way there. When I have seen LVP in buildings that are a couple of years old I cannot pick up any offgassing at all.
Sealing in the VOCs and Semi-VOCs in Vinyl Flooring
You can seal in any odors as well as most of the plasticizer leaching with shellac. I have tested shellac on various types of vinyl flooring. It has worked well on all the types that I have tried it on from sheet vinyl to a thick rigid LVP.
The downside is that shellac adds a shiny and less durable (to water) coating on the floor, which takes away from the more realistic wood/stone look and can show damage more easily.
You can remove the shellac later with alcohol (I used hand sanitizer), but the downside is that if you seal an LVP flooring that is click together it’s is difficult or nearly impossible to remove all of the shellac perfectly from within the grooves.
Formaldehyde-Free LVP Flooring
No brand of LVP/LVT or vinyl plank adds formaldehyde. Any brand advertising as formaldehyde-free is only stating the obvious which can in some cases be considered an inaccurate insinuation that other brands are adding formaldehyde.
Greenguard or Floorscore Brands of Vinyl Plank (LVP)
The VOCs are so low in vinyl plank that they are far below any threshold of the green certifications. No brand is going to be above Greenguard gold levels – therefore whether it’s certified or not does not matter.
Floorscore to me is a particularly useless certification but definitley doesn’t help differentiate between vinyl plank brands.
None of the certifications are including measurement of plasticizers, which is my main concern with vinyl plank flooring.
Is it Waterproof and Mold Preventative?
The Locking System
The thinner LVPs don’t have a very good locking mechanism, it’s more like “set together”. So that isn’t going to hold up well to water. If the product has a really good locking system and it’s installed in a way that it’s not pulling apart or separating then this can be quite waterproof. How waterproof it is also depends on how long the water is sitting on it.
Contractors recommend starting at 5 mm total thickness for a good locking system.
The Vapor Barrier
Another factor to consider is that most brands of luxury vinyl plank and tile require an additional underlayment that is also a vapor barrier under the vinyl. This means that if water gets between the two layers then it cannot dry out.
Is it Mold Preventative in a Bathroom?
This is often recommended as a floor for a bathroom and for a basement.
I have lived in a couple of apartments with vinyl in the bathroom, one was glue down vinyl plank and one had a floating luxury vinyl plank. Both had areas where the seams were not tight and so there is no way I believe this was waterproof. I also wondered about the edges, especially if the baseboard is not caulked to the floor.
Is it Mold Preventative in a Basement?
Though LVP is recommended for basement floors because it’s quite resistant to mold I have a different view on the topic.
Blocking moisture in the slab in my experience is a bad idea. The slab is always trying to dry to the inside as it’s the only way it can dry and it’s often getting wet from the outside/underneath. Any material that blocks moisture can and often does cause mold to grow under the area that is being blocked.
Cheryl Ciecko, mold preventative architect, has described this situation well. And as an extremely mold-sensitive person myself, I know that this is frequently a problem in slabs. Therefore I only recommend a breathable floor covering on slab foundations and in basements.
The Healthiest Alternatives to Vinyl Plank Flooring
Hybrid flooring has an SPC core and a real hardwood wear layer.
This has less offgassing in my estimation than LVP, it gives you the feel of real wood on top, and I would expect that the real wood would block all or most of the plasticizers from leaching out (it also avoids having plasticizer as the top layer).
Most engineered wood is no-VOC. Look for brands with a plywood or solid slat core. The UV cure polyurethane finishes are also zero-VOC.
Some brands have an oil-based finish and that is not bad either (ultra-low VOC).
Avoid brands with an HDF or MDF core. See the post on engineered wood floors to see the different types and brands.
Polyurethane Sheet Flooring
If you want glue-down planks or larger areas of sheet flooring, polyurethane is much safer than vinyl rolls. The brand picture is Wineo. It barely has any offgassing and doesn’t contain plasticizers.
I talk about it more in the post on RV flooring.
Cork flooring is not zero-VOC but it is another option to consider that is very low-VOC.
My top brand is definitely Amorim Wise as it’s far lower offgassing than any other brand I have seen (most of them are actually high in offgassing).
They claim it’s waterproof but I personally would not bank on that.
Corinne Segura is a Building Biologist Practitioner with 7 years of experience helping others create healthy homes.
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