Vinyl Plank, Luxury Vinyl Plank (LVP), and Luxury Vinyl Tile (LVT) are very low in volatile organic chemicals (VOCs) and offgassing (and one brand is even 0-VOC).
Most people find it odorless, but those like me with a high sense of smell can pick up a little bit of offgassing in most brands.
But the bigger concern is about plasticizers (which all brands contain) and small amounts of metals, explained further in the article.
All luxury vinyl plank is phthalate-free now – though phthalates were replaced with alternate plasticizers. The most common plasticizer used now is Dioctyl Terephthalate (DOTP).
If you are looking at glue down vinyl plank (with no rigid core) then you may still want to ask about phthalates.
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.
I’m not covering the environmental impact of vinyl flooring in this post, though this is one of the most toxic products to produce, and the effects on the workers and environment are massive.
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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-low 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.
“Some phthalates are harmful to reproduction, suspected of disrupting hormones in humans. Children’s exposure often surpasses adults’, exceeding safe intake levels significantly, sometimes up to 20-fold. Even at low levels, phthalates can disrupt vital bodily functions, especially in vulnerable groups like young children and fetuses. Early exposure is linked to asthma, allergies, cognitive issues, and reproductive problems in boys. In men, phthalates may reduce fertility. Evidence suggests they disrupt estrogenic activity, reproductive and liver function in animals and possibly in humans.” says Dr Manjunath, Toxicologist.
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’s “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)
Let’s start with some definitions so we are on the same page.
Luxury Vinyl Plank is thicker than vinyl plank, 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.
Engineered Vinyl Plank – This multilayer rigid core vinyl that we now call Luxury Vinyl Plank 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 rarely used anymore. LL Flooring used to use the term EVP but has changed it to “Rigid Vinyl Plank“. The Rigid Vinyl Plank by LL Flooring is the only brand that uses that term to refer to the SPC core high-quality vinyl plank that we would usually call Luxury Vinyl Plank. LL Flooring Luxury Vinyl Plank actually does not have a SPC or WPC core, just a straight vinyl core, and it’s not quite as strong as the version with an SPC core.
Luxury Vinyl Tile – 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 or wood-like plasticizers.
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 (and the difference seems very minor).
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, like Coretec, 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, and transportation and comes up through the cracks and edges.
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 contains natural antimicrobials – copper and zinc.
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 chemically sensitive folks.
Plasticizers are also less of a concern for older folks than those more susceptible to hormone-disrupting chemicals, according to Arlene Bloom. However, DOTP plasticizers are for me still an “unknown” factor in terms of safety and health.
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 extremely low, with one brand (Proximity Mills) carrying a 0-VOC line.
Please also consider that vinyl has a very high environmental cost. And even though my website focuses only on indoor air quality and the effects on the final user, with vinyl flooring I feel the environmental effect has to be mentioned.
All LVP (and LVT) brands are very similar, there are only five main differences outlined below:
FOUR Things to Ask (when choosing LVP floors)
- Double-check to make sure it’s virgin (not recycled vinyl which contains contaminants)
- You might prefer the 0-VOC line over the extremely low-VOC lines
- Look for phthalate-free
- You might have a preference for SPC over WPC
- Check the underlayment, you may choose to avoid cork
Healthiest (Safer) Brands of Vinyl Plank
- Shaw In the Grain Luxury Vinyl Plank Starting at $3.49 /sqft
- Virgin vinyl
- Made in America
- Mohawk Dodford 7.5″ Luxury Vinyl Planks $4.79 /sqft
- Mohawk Thatcher 7.5″ Rigid Core Vinyl Planks $6.79 /sqft
- Mohawk Franklin 7.5″ Rigid Core Vinyl Planks $6.79 /sqft
- Virgin vinyl
- Thatcher and Franklin are SPC core
- Made in America
- Cali Bamboo Builders Choice $3.99/sqft
- Cali Bamboo Vinyl PRO $4.79 /sqft
- Cali Bamboo Vinyl PRO Mutestep $5.59 /sqft
- Cali Bamboo Longboard $6.29 /sqft
- Virgin vinyl
- Phthalate-free, they use DOTP
- SPC core
- Proximity Mills
- Some lines are 0-VOC (this is the only 0-VOC LVP that I know of)
- SPC core
Home Depot Brands
Out of the Home Depot brands, they all have low offgassing as well, but are not all high 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 all brands should be 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, Lowes, and Lumber Liquidators (LL Flooring) are phthalate-free. I have not seen any brand using phthalates in luxury vinyl plank for years. Vinyl plank (the thinner kind) is more likely to have phthalates.
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 it’s not as much as phthalates and they caution against replacement chemicals like DOTP that are of similar chemical composition. We usually find that in time with similar chemicals, and more studies, we find more additional health impacts. The Ecology Center concludes 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 plasticizers like DOTP, and therefore LVP floors as a whole, are non-toxic.
Other Plasticizers Used
Some may contain benzoate ester (in the Artistek LVT by Metroflor), I have seen tributyl citrate listed in a past Declare Label.
Three bio-based plasticizers could be used in PVC flooring: Isosorbide diesters produced from fatty acids of vegetable origin and isosorbide derived from glucose (Polysorb ID 37); Acetylated monoglyceride derived from hydrogenated castor oil bio-based plasticizer aka, COMGHA, (Grindsted Soft-n-Safe); Dow’s Ecolibrium plasticizer.
I don’t know any brands that use these.
DOTP is not a bio-based plasticizer, despite Cali Bamboo making this claim.
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).
Lumber Liquidators (LL Flooring) 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 as well.
Though LL Flooring lists Prop 65 warnings on many of their vinyl plank and luxury vinyl plank floorings for Lead, Cadmium and/or Antimony.
Lead, cadmium, chromium, and mercury can be present and are only officially limited (not banned), as far as I have seen, by Floor & Decor.
Though antimony, bromine, and lead have been mostly 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, though we don’t have exact numbers from any brand except for Proximity Mills which has a 0-VOC line.
The offgassing is extremely low in the majority of brands, and less of a concern to me than plasticizers (semi-VOCs) which are longer-lasting and more of a concerning class of chemicals.
0-VOC Luxury Vinyl Plank
The only brand I have seen that claims to be 0-VOC is Proximity Mills (just some of their lines). The 0-VOC line has an SPC core, thin wear layer (which is probably necessary for this to be no VOC). I did detect a chemical odor on their 0-VOC line that isn’t on their low-VOC line and I’m not sure what the is. You should get samples because maybe it’s a cross-contamination.
Their low-VOC line has a slightly different core and the same wear layer.
How long does most LVP/LVT take to Offgas?
In the absence of studies that indicate when the low-VOC vinyl flooring brands are completely offgassed, we can judge based on the senses of chemically sensitive folks. 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 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 as far as I know. 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 to me.
Floorscore is not very useful to me in any situation, but it definitely doesn’t help differentiate between vinyl plank brands because none come close to that limit.
None of the certifications include the 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 can be 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 we recommend a breathable floor covering as the best option on slab foundations and in basements.
What is light LVP? I got a sample of Valinge Liteback LVP and the SPC core is scalloped to reduce the amount of product and to reduce the weight for shipping. This is a good thing for the environment.
The Healthiest Alternatives to Vinyl Plank Flooring
Hybrid flooring has an SPC core and a real hardwood wear layer on top.
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).
Vinyl with a Concrete Based Core
Another twist on vinyl floors is X-core Connect by Mats Inc. This flooring has a vinyl top layer but the center is a concrete-based material. I have seen samples of this and in terms of health and offgassing, I definitely thought it was an improvement over regular vinyl floors.
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).
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