There are three types of bamboo flooring that can be extremely low in VOCs – strand woven solid, bamboo with a plywood core, and bamboo with a stone polymer composite (SPC) core.
I will also list out the best brands making the lowest VOC/lowest formaldehyde bamboo flooring on the market. Some of them have formaldehyde levels that are non-detectable against background levels. The ultra-low-VOC brands would certainly meet my definition of non-toxic.
Temperature and Humidity Limits
Bamboo is more finicky than wood when it comes to temperature and humidity. High humidity in the air can cause the floor planks to swell and buckle. Low humidity can cause bamboo planks can shrink. With extremely high or extremely low humidity, bamboo flooring is more likely to crack than hardwood flooring.
Be sure to check the warranty to see what temperature and humidity the floor must be kept at during installation and for the life of the product. Some companies say 60°F to 80°F others are a little more limited to 65°F to 75°F. Relative humidity should be between 35% and 55% for some brands. One brand says between 40% and 60%, and another calls for 40% – 55%.
Other facts to know about bamboo
- Bamboo is slightly harder than many hardwoods, making it somewhat more resistant to scratches and dents.
- However, carbonized bamboo is softer than uncarbonized bamboo flooring and more susceptible to scratching.
- Too much direct sunlight can discolor bamboo flooring.
1. Solid Strand Bamboo
Different types of solid strand bamboo flooring is pictured above. The most typical kind is on the far right – it looks like a solid wood floor but in reality, it’s many strands of bamboo pressed together with glue. The glue tends to be formaldehyde for this type of flooring but it’s usually very low in formaldehyde. (More on those levels in the section on brands).
The topcoat is usually a water-based UV-cure polyurethane, which does not offgas.
Stand-woven bamboo flooring is harder and more durable than other types of bamboo flooring. Strand-woven solid bamboo can be used in above-grade applications if your indoor air is relatively dry. It can be used in living rooms, hallways, and bedrooms. It should not be used in the bathroom or basement, and it’s not ideal in the kitchen either since it doesn’t take spills or high humidity well.
This type can be refinished.
2. Engineered Bamboo with Plywood Core
Engineered bamboo with plywood core (pictured left, above) is also very low in offgassing. The plywood has some glue, usually formaldehyde, but is usually very fast to offgas. The topcoat is usually a UV-cure water-based polyurethane which does not have any offgassing. See the best brands below with ultra-low formaldehyde levels.
This type can handle moisture a little better than solid strand, it’s also more stable dimensionally. There is very little expansion and shrinkage due to seasonal climate changes (often a problem with bamboo).
When properly installed and maintained, engineered bamboo can be used both above- and below-grade. It’s click together and can be floating or glued down.
3. Engineered Bamboo with HDF/MDF Core
This would be the type of bamboo flooring on the list that I would personally not go with. The high-density or medium-density fiberboard (HDF/MDF) is usually made with formaldehyde. And the formaldehyde levels are significantly higher than what is used in a solid strand or plywood base flooring.
The only company I know of making fiberboard core flooring with no formaldehyde is Mohawk (but they don’t offer bamboo flooring at the time of writing).
This type is also a lot less resistant to moisture, even drips on the floor can cause it to swell up, and it won’t return to its original size. Though right now the trend is to add wax or plastic to help the HDF or MDF core be more water-resistant. You would have to evaluate each brand to see what it has added and if that’s working.
This is a click-together floor that is usually floating.
4. Bamboo with SPC Core
Bamboo flooring with a stone polymer composite (SPC) core can also be called a hybrid floor because it’s wood + plastic. The SPC core is made from limestone, vinyl and DOTP plasticizer. The top coat is likely to be a UV-cured polyurethane, which doesn’t offgas. This type can be virtually VOC-free.
It’s click-together and floating.
The main benefit of this flooring structure is that it’s waterproof, if water leaks between the seams it will not damage the core at all. Also, if it’s thick enough and the locking mechanism is good then water won’t get through it.
The layer of bamboo on top is very thin. I would expect this wood layer to essentially block the migration of plasticizers.
5. Low-VOC, Non-Toxic Bamboo Brands
1. Plyboo: They used to use a soy-based glue but they don’t anymore. They use non-urea-formaldehyde-based adhesives in both their bamboo and palm production lines. Their products are manufactured by using ultra-low emitting formaldehyde (ULEF) resins, which typically offgas at levels significantly lower than CARB Phase 2 standards. VOCs are 0.004 ppm. (This brand is available in the UK as well as North America).
2. Cali Floors: Originally called Cali Bamboo, they specialize in bamboo flooring. They offer many types including solid bamboo and engineered bamboo, and a wide variety of designs. They said in an email “all our floors have a concentration value of less than 0.005 ppm formaldehyde.”
3. Teragren: Teragren has been making high-quality bamboo floors with a focus on sustainable farming and fair labor practices for 24 years. They use formaldehyde glues and their formaldehyde emission levels are as follows:
- Teragren 4′ x 8′ x 3/4″ Panel (Gen 3) 0.03 parts per million (ppm)
- Teragren Studio Flooring 0.03 ppm
- Teragren Craftsman II Flooring 0.03 ppm
- Teragren Synergy® (solid) Flooring 0.01 ppm
- Teragren Signature Naturals Flooring 0.01 ppm
4. Ambient Bamboo Floors: Ambient bamboo flooring is made with phenol-formaldehyde and it has no added urea formaldehyde (NAUF). Formaldehyde levels in their solid strand and engineered strand bamboo floorings are <0.005 ppm, which means not detectable against background levels.
5. Home Depot Brands of Bamboo: You can find some Cali Floors lines through Home Depot. Opti-wood and Lifeproof with the SPC core are both great hybrids (bamboo top, SPC core) that have practically no-VOCs, except for possibly some in the stain. We don’t have exact VOC levels for Home Decorators Collection or other Home Depot lines.
6. Bamboo Family Flooring (UK): They say many of their floors have undetectable levels of formaldehyde.
Non-Toxic Bamboo Floor Cleaners
You would use the same cleaners that are used for hardwood floors but be sure to check with the flooring company to see which cleaners are approved. These are gentle non-toxic ph neutral cleaners:
- AFM Safechoice Super Clean is a highly concentrated, all-purpose cleaner and degreaser formulated for the chemically sensitive. Use with proper dilution to make it pH neutral.
- ECOS Dishmate is a good natural dish soap. Dish soaps make great all-purpose cleaners for floors when highly diluted.
- Branch Basics is an all-purpose concentrated cleaner with a very pure formula. Many chemically sensitive folks like this brand.
Don’t use on bamboo floors:
- Ammonia-based cleaners
- Oil soap
- Wax-based products
- Acidic cleaners like vinegar or lemon juice
Corinne Segura is a Building Biologist Practitioner with 8 years of experience helping others create healthy homes.