The most waterproof flooring options are either plastic or a mix of plastic and an organic material. There is one plastic-free option on the list as well.
The other thing to consider is the seams, to be waterproof means water doesn’t make it through the seams nor damage the product when it gets in between.
There are different degrees of waterproof, however; there isn’t just one definition. Plastic sheet goods (called resilient flooring) can take lots of water including standing water. At the other end of the spectrum linoleum and “waterproof laminate” may only be able to take a little bit of water.
The options on this list are also zero VOC or very low VOC.
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1. Vinyl Plank
Vinyl plank and luxury vinyl plank (and tile) are the most obvious contenders for waterproof flooring and they set the standard for the others so let’s start here.
Vinyl plank is a thin flexible glue-down product which is waterproof but can become vulnerable at the seams (since there are many seams between planks). Though it’s certainly low-VOC, and generally odorless (unlike vinyl sheet flooring).
Luxury vinyl plank (LVP) and luxury vinyl tile (LVT) can both be waterproof flooring types if they are thick enough and have a good quality locking mechanism. Waterproof here means the water won’t make it past the locking mechanism to below the floor.
They are extremely low in offgassing (one brand, Proximity Mills even has 0-VOC options) and are often used by highly sensitive folks. The downside is that they do contain the plasticizer DOTP which has some big question marks hanging over it in terms of health/safety. Vinyl is also extremely hard on the environment.
Personally, even though this is waterproof through and through and would not be damaged even by a flood, I would not use this floor in a bathroom that has a shower or bath because I have seen the planks pull apart. This is partly because there needs to be a space left between the planks and the perimeter wall so this allows some planks to slide. It could also be because the locking mechanism isn’t good enough in some brands.
What I look for in a non-toxic LVP is:
- SPC core slightly preferred over wood composite core (WPC)
- Phthalate-free though I believe they all are now (vinyl plank may not be)
- No cork backing, as it adds offgassing and also is an organic layer that is not as immune to water
For brands see my article on vinyl flooring.
2. Hybrid Flooring (Vinyl/Wood)
A category of engineered wood that is actually a vinyl/wood hybrid has real wood on the top layer and vinyl-limestone mix as the core. This gives you that wood look and feel on top while still remaining waterproof at the core.
The locking mechanism still needs to be thick and high quality so that water will not get through. Water from below would also not affect it.
Keep in mind that a bamboo top layer is not as waterproof since bamboo is more susceptible to water damage than hardwoods.
- LL Flooring AquaSeal Bamboo, Oak (real wood top with SPC core)
- Geowood by Cali Bamboo
- Tesoro Lakewood Composite
- Shaw Floorté Waterproof Hardwood
- Opti-Wood from Home Depot
- AquaGuard from Floor&Decor
- LifeProof from Home Depot (bamboo with SPC core)
- Acqua from Home Depot (bamboo with SPC core)
- Home Legend (bamboo with SPC core)
- Wellmade (bamboo with SPC core)
3. Non-PVC Click-Together Flooring
The vast majority of rigid core click-together plastic flooring is luxury vinyl plank which is PVC-based.
1. Sono Eclipse is a PVC-free rigid core flooring made in Germany. It is made without phthalates or other plasticizers. That is huge, as plasticizers are the biggest chemical of concern in LVP floors. They also claim it’s made without chlorine or other additives.
The core is made of polypropylene (PP) and mineral powder. Like LVP, it is waterproof and non-organic. I’ve seen a sample and it looks and feels almost exactly like LVP.
2. Another company Hallmark Floors, makes a rigid glue-down plank made of polypropylene. I could not pick up any offgassing, and like other PP floors, it does not have any added plasticizer or chlorine and it does not contain recycled content.
3. Mohawk also has a new waterproof click-together flooring called PureTech. It’s made of minerals (including corundum) and plant fibers; it’s completely free of PVC and plastic (except for the underlayment which is a foam). It’s also free of formaldehyde and plasticizers. They don’t say what the binder is.
4. Bio-Based Polyurethane
Unlike vinyl sheet flooring, which has a very strong offgassing odor, bio-based polyurethane flooring has virtually no odor and no VOCs. It comes in solid waterproof sheet flooring (just like vinyl), glue-down planks, or click-together planks.
The polyurethane is made from natural oils like castor oil plus minerals. They do not contain plasticizers (which are used in all vinyl/PVC flooring) or any other major chemicals of concern.
One residential (non-commercial) brand is Wineo, their Purline Organic Flooring is pictured.
5. Waterproof Laminate
Laminate flooring is a click-together floor made of a high-density fiberboard base and a printed image on top. The fiberboard base is almost always made with formaldehyde but there are some formaldehyde-free options as well as brands that meet Greenguard Gold.
High-density fiberboard however is probably the least waterproof flooring out there. Just drops of water at the seams can cause it to swell up. But now there are brands that are adding waxes or plastic to make it waterproof. I would only consider the brands that have plastic mixed into the core to be significantly waterproof in real-life situations. But I would still not expect it to perform like luxury vinyl plank and I would not use it in areas that are expected to be very wet.
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.
One brand, Duravana from LL Floors, has polystyrene mixed into 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.
AquaGuard from Floor and Decor coats the sides and back with melamine to protect the fiberboard from water. The core is also green (pictured above), so there is something added there (as it normally is just wood colored), but we don’t know what.
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 there is a formaldehyde resin, but I don’t know what’s added to make it more waterproof.
6. Waterproof Cork
While cork is naturally quite waterproof since water doesn’t soak into it, there is a new innovation in cork flooring that is even more waterproof.
The WISE Waterproof Amorim Cork uses polyethylene as the main binder (it also contains some formaldehyde and BPA). It looks like they have not re-submitted their Declare label for 2023 because the new stock has changed but you can see the old label here that corresponds to the stock that Green Design Center still has. It is GreenGuard Gold.
The top coating is a BPA-free recycled PET (water bottles) coating Called HRT which is also very waterproof.
Using polyethylene as the main binder also allows it to be ultra-low in offgasssing. They don’t claim it’s 0-VOC but it seems close and many highly sensitive folks like this flooring. Cork is also a very eco-friendly material.
Amorim Woodwise which has a PET plastic engineered top layer falls into this category as well. I consider that topcoat very safe. This is similar to a laminate flooring in that the top layer is a plastic faux wood. The core is a cork/PET mix.
7. 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 looks like carpet from afar but is actually 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.
Natural linoleum is not quite as waterproof as other options on this list, especially if you compare it to bio-based polyurethane or Flotex, but it is more eco-friendly than those options. Natural linoleum is made of materials that are porous but the topcoat makes it quite durable to water and so it can be used in wet areas if standing water is not left for too long.
The Marmoleum brand is the only natural linoleum currently available for residential use in North America. It is made from linseed oil, pine resin, wood flour, limestone, and dry natural pigments. They are mixed and then calendared onto a backing.
This is an all-natural product except for the UV-cured synthetic sealer on top, the backing in the tile version, and the glue used to install it (which claims zero VOC).
- The roll-down flooring is the most typical kind of genuine linoleum. The sheet has a jute backing and is glue-down. You can use the sheets in wet areas like kitchens and bathrooms if it’s properly installed.
- The modular tiles are also glue-down, they have a polyester backing (not jute, and not fiberglass as some websites say) and are slightly more rigid.
- The “click” is the same sheet (roll down) material mounted onto a substrate of High-Density Fiberboard (HDF) and cork. The HDF is formaldehyde-free, though the binder is not disclosed. They claim the core is waterproof, though this is not as waterproof as the other types.
The TopShield2, a synthetic topcoat, is fairly new and is less permeable than the original TopShield, so water is less likely to soak through even if you do leave standing water. However, this is still a “breathable” material.
Marmoleum sheet is the only form of Marmoleum that should be installed on a bathroom or kitchen floor in my opinion, and it must be professionally installed. The seams should be heat welded.
You should also “flash cove” which means the Marmoleum is installed slightly up the wall, as a sort of molding, which makes the perimeter seam much less prone to water damage. Where it can’t be flash-coved, use a silicone caulk or synthetic cove molding.
Cheryl Ciecko recommends waterproofing the subfloor (with a product like WEDI) and waterproofing the seam between the subfloor and the tub before installing the Marmoleum (May 2023 Q&A Dwell Well).
The toilet should be removed for installation and be sure to caulk around the flange so that if the toilet leaks it leaks on top of the flooring and not under the flooring.
Corinne Segura is a Building Biologist Practitioner with 8 years of experience helping others create healthy homes.