Skip to main content

If you have kids in the house, you know there’s more to your floor than just a pretty surface to walk on—it’s a primary play space for kids. Certain types of flooring can put children at risk for toxic exposures, so when it’s time to remodel, choosing a flooring material that won’t jeopardize indoor air quality and is easily cleaned is important to maintaining a healthy home. Here are some selection tips to help you shop.

Choose hard, smooth surface floors

Healthier flooring options include solid wood, natural linoleum, cork, bamboo, tile and stone. A key feature of all of these is that they are easily cleaned of dust and dirt. To protect air quality, many of these products have been developed to minimize harmful volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in adhesives and finishes. Look for products that meet low-emissions criteria established by third party certifications such as GreenGuard Select, or that meet residential VOC standards in California’s new Special Environmental Requirements. Choose FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) certified wood, bamboo, and cork flooring which guarantees that the product has been made from sustainably managed forests.

Avoid wall-to-wall carpet

On the surface, carpet might seem comfy for the kids, but consider this: carpet traps pollutants and potential allergens, and is often a source of harmful VOCs. If you decide a soft surface is a must, choose area rugs that are easier to clean, and natural fiber carpets such as wool or jute. Low-pile carpet is preferable to plush styles for ease of cleaning. Look for carpets that do not contain toxic flame retardants (they can be found in recycled foam pads), PVC, mothproofing chemicals, or stain-resistance treatments. GreenLabel Plus certification from the Carpet and Rug Institute is the most rigorous certification of low-emitting carpets, pads, and adhesives. Before installing carpet, see if the distributer will air it out before it is delivered, or provide good ventilation during installation and for 24-48 hours following.

Avoid vinyl (PVC) flooring

Vinyl offgases, contains phthalate chemicals that can migrate into dust, and produces toxic chemicals when burned. If you like the features of vinyl flooring, consider linoleum instead.  If you are replacing vinyl flooring in your home, and it was manufactured before the mid-1980s it may contain high levels of asbestos in the backing material. If you suspect you have asbestos-containing flooring, visit the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency web site to learn about safe handling and removal.

Assess moisture issues

It’s important to assess any moisture issues that may exist in your home where you plan to install a new floor, so you don’t end up with hidden mold or damaged floors. Ask a professional for recommendations on which types of floors withstand moisture.

Evaluate any finishes, sealers, and adhesives for VOC emissions and toxicity

When shopping, keep in mind installation and finishing requirements in addition to maintenance needs. Many types of flooring are available prefinished, so you avoid exposure to finishes in your home during installation. Look for adhesives with soy-based glues or no added formaldehyde. If the floor needs finishing or sealing, popular choices are water-based or plant-based/natural oil products. Both contain chemicals of concern, and should be used with caution. Many water-based finishes emit lower amounts of VOCs than the natural oils. However, water-based finishes often contain phthalate chemicals and perfluorocarbons (PFAS), and natural oil finishes can contain high amounts of carcinogenic petroleum distillates. Some premium natural oil products may be devoid of hazardous content, such as this hard wax oil. In all cases, make sure the professional you hire understands best practices such as containment and ventilation. Be sure to thoroughly air out your home before reoccupying. Again, look for products that meet low-emissions criteria established by California’s Special Environmental Requirements.

Additional resources:

U.S. Green Building Council’s Green Home Guide

Flooring retailers: Green Home Solutions and Green Depot

King County, WA: Green Tools Residential Remodel Guides

Find a sustainable building professional: Northwest EcoBuilding Guild’s Green Pages