Best Floors for Allergy Sufferers

Best Floors for Allergy Sufferers

Allergies and Your Floors, Checking with experts

Spring weather is hitting the U.S. a little sooner than usual, so I thought I would address the topic of air quality with regard to your flooring. Rather than consulting flooring specialists, who have an interest in selling all floors, I decided to use as my sources The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA), The American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology (AAAAI), UK based group The Healthy Flooring Network (HFN), and The Mayo Clinic. Their interests are in your breathing well, and all of them have recommendations worth considering.

Inside the home, the most common allergens and asthma triggers are dust mites & their droppings, body parts, and husks; mold and mildew; animal dander (the skin flakes and hair that come off of them); and volatile organic compounds, or VOCs. These chemicals can be found in some flooring materials and their adhesives, as well as in the chemicals used to clean floors.


A lot of manufacturers of flooring products now work to avoid using materials that emit these VOCs. For instance most laminate flooring is made using high pressure and heat rather than adhesive chemicals. Floors To Your Home specializes in discount flooring, which we get from local manufacturers and other retailers, and we sometimes import. All of our flooring is free of formaldehyde, and meets the VOC safety standards of the United States, not just those of the countries where the material is produced.

The two things you can do to reduce the respiratory offenders in your home are to replace flooring with more hypo-allergenic options, or to take special care of the flooring you have with this issue in mind. This week I'll focus on the first one. We're looking for hard surfaces to eliminate trapping the allergens, for flooring that won't hold onto moisture and grow molds, and for no VOCs.

The floor you might most consider replacing is carpeting. Some dispute the negative relationship of carpeting to allergies (more below), but there is no doubt that it holds more dust, dirt and particulates than any other kind of flooring, making it an ideal environment for dust mites. A single square meter (close enough to our "yard") of carpet can provide a good home for 100'000 of them. Carpeting can also hang onto moisture, fostering mold and mildew. The AAFA, AAAAI and the Mayo Clinic all recommend against wall to wall carpet for sufferers of respiratory ailments. In the UK, where by the year 2000 almost all homes used carpet as their main flooring, the average lifespan of the carpet was about six years, so the opportunity to replace it may come up naturally anyway.

Best Flooring for Allergy and Asthma Sufferers

VINYL FLOORING has a slick, smooth surface, leaving no places for particles to get trapped. It is easy to keep clean, and with the new click together waterproof vinyl plank flooring, major events like large spills and flooding are handleable. These planks can be taken up, allowing the flooring underneath to be completely dried and cleaned before putting the same planks back down. These days most vinyl is manufactured with an antibacterial agent right in the material. For allergy sufferers, vinyl is the Mayo Clinic's highest recommendation for bathrooms, and on their list as great for living areas, including basements.
CERAMIC OR PORCELAIN TILE is another of the best options, and another top recommendation for bathrooms by the Mayo Clinic. The hard surface of tile resists accumulation, and is easy to care for. The installation method generally creates a sealed surface, preventing moisture from getting beneath the flooring so long as the grout between tiles is in good shape. Where vinyl can be a glue free, click together floor, these tiles will require grout and adhesives, so you'll want to check on those chemicals for potential emissions.
LAMINATE FLOORING is not cited by the Mayo Clinic at all, for or against, so they may have considered it a type of hardwood, but we placed it higher for a few reasons. It has the benefits of a smooth, hard surface, and most have a click together type of installation, eliminating adhesives, and making it possible to pull up the flooring in the event of a major spill or flood. Unlike the waterproof vinyl planks, some flooded laminate planks might not be able to be replaced, as they might soak in water and expand.
BAMBOO is lumped in with hardwood by just about everyone outside the flooring industry, but it's make up puts it slightly above hardwood for the hypoallergenic home. Bamboo is not made of wood, but grass. This gives it the benefit of not harboring moisture the way wood can. It's much more water resistant, so while both have a nice, hard surface to chase away dander and dust mites, bamboo is less likely to allow mold and mildew to form underneath. We rank it below laminates because bamboo is produced using adhesive chemicals, so you will need to verify that your particular selection is VOC and formaldehyde free.
HARDWOOD FLOORING has the hard surface we're looking for to keep away the little particulates, and it can be easy to keep clean. It is not recommended in high moisture areas, places like a bathroom or anywhere steam has a frequent presence. Usually hardwood is attached to the subfloor beneath it, via nails or glue, so you can't pull it up after a spill or flood, and the wood itself can hold in moisture. Trapped underneath, this can foster mold growth. The Mayo people have it as their top recommendation for living rooms, but we would put it below laminate and bamboo on that list.
STONE TILE, if it's a highly polished marble or granite, can be a great choice. Some stone can be porous though, especially the more natural looking styles, and the uneven surfaces can collect the allergens we are trying to eliminate. Moisture beneath can become an issue, but underlayment with moisture barrier qualities, such as a foam rubber or cork, can help prevent mold and mildew from growing.

CARPET is at the bottom because of the wealth of recommendations against using it if you have allergies, but as I mentioned, there is a counter argument. There is no contention over whether carpet traps pollen and dander, and provides good housing for dust mites. The difference is that some see that as carpet acting like a filter for your air, and allude to tests showing that rooms with carpet had fewer airborne allergens than those with the above items. The theory is that well kept, frequently cleaned carpet actually improves the air quality in a room. Below I've linked to a study frequently quoted on flooring sites that attests to this idea, and whose author seems to be credible.

If you must have carpet, all of the sources I checked suggest using what is called a low pile carpet. Think thinner rather than thicker. Also make sure it has been manufactured to be free of VOCs and to resist mold & mildew, and be as selective with the padding underneath the carpet. You would also need to vacuum it frequently, no less than weekly, using a machine with a HEPA filter, a good small particle filter.    

On this topic, places to see:

The American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology

Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (general advice on allergy-proofing a home)

The Mayo Clinic (their page on allergy proofing your house)

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David has written and made videos about flooring products and installation since 2011 at Floors To Your Home (.com), where he is also the PPC Manager, a Researcher, a Website & Marketing Strategy Team member, Videographer, Social Strategist, Photographer and all around Resource Jito. In my spare time I shoot and edit video, put together a podcast, explore film history, and mix music (as in ‘play with Beatles multi-tracks’). Connect with  W. David Lichty


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