Best Floors for Allergy Sufferers

Best Floors for Allergy Sufferers
It's a picture of a spiky, irritating looking pollen molecule.

The infinitely dreaded . . . pollen.

You can be allergic to your floor. Did you know that? It’s a very big thing in a home, the floor, and we’re constantly agitating it with our feet, and compressing it with all of our weight, giving it every opportunity to poof out whatever allergens it might contain. These irritants can either be gathered and held by the floor, or they can be a part of its very make up. In this article we hope to help you make the best choice of flooring, specifically with allergy prevention in mind.

Allergies and Your Floors, Checking with experts

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.


First, what are the enemies we hope to eliminate?

Mold can grow on any surface which is damp. This is different from mildew, which can only grow on plant and animal material, like clothing, or towels which have not quite dried well enough. Mildew is a form of mold, but mold is regarded as being more pernicious. With most floors, your main mold concern comes from moisture getting around or underneath it, with a floating hardwood, for instance.

Animals will release skin flakes and hair (dander), of course, but even their saliva, urine or other releases can be problems for allergy sufferers. They can also drag in material like pollen, dirt, dust, leaves, twigs, bugs or other dead things. We want our floors to be easy to clean, and as unlikely to hold onto these things as possible, something slick, not bumpy or made of fabric. Even if you don’t have pets, we must consider the ubiquitous dust mites, the microscopic bugs we all try not to remember are crawling all over us and all of our stuff, all of the time, just like the air. These are little allergen generating machines. Everything they leave behind, their droppings, bodies and body parts, all of this can inflame an allergic reaction.

Volatile organic compounds, known as VOCs in flooring lingo, are our primary concern when considering the material and manufacture of our flooring itself. Some floors do contain VOCs such as formaldehyde. It’s organic, and one of its two forms is volatile. The more innocuous variety of formaldehyde is almost as pervasive as the dust mite: it's virtually everywhere and mostly harmless. Products which emit this can still be called “formaldehyde free.” They may also be termed LOW-VOC, which is technically correct, but as far as our concerns go, may actually be needlessly alarming. 

Inside the home, the most common allergens and asthma triggers are dust mites & their stuff; mold and mildew; animal dander 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. So

Two things we want from our floor

1. Eliminate or reduce places where allergens will get caught or can settle.

2. Contain, and installed with, no VOCs.

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

Here are types of flooring listed best to worst for their allergen prevention qualities. It’s a very general list, of course, and if you have questions about anything specific to the floor your considering, or even just more specific than this document covers, feel free to contact us, or be sure to speak with the dealer with whom you are shopping.


Vinyl Flooring, whether sheet, tile or plank, can offer all of the benefits of a smooth, hard surface where particulates, moisture, mold and dust mites cannot hide, collect or flourish. It is easy to clean and care for, and is usually manufactured with antibacterial agents right in the material.  Always verify that your particular flooring is actually free of VOCs. Some cheaper vinyl floors are manufactured with them.

Phthalates (pronounced “thal-ate”). This is the latest vinyl danger watchword. How do you know your floor is phthalates free? Look for virgin vinyl. Recycled vinyl, popular due to our intents to be environmentally good, could contain phthalates simply because the recycled vinyl could come from anywhere. No pedigree! It opens the door to a big, dastardly switcheroo on the green front.

MAKE SURE you keep a plank floor spill free, and if something does spill, it might be worth taking the planks up to allow the subfloor underneath to fully dry. This will keep mold from showing up. The planks themselves will probably be waterproof, and therefore easily dried off. The best type of vinyl plank for this is Loose Lay. These planks can be taken up, allowing the flooring underneath to be completely dried and cleaned before putting the same planks back down. 

For allergy sufferers, vinyl is the Mayo Clinic's highest recommendation for bathrooms, and on their list as great for living areas, including basements.

  Porcelain (and Ceramic) Tile is easily one of the best options for allergen management. It’s rock, in some form or another. The hard surface of tile resists accumulation, and is easy to care for.  If the surface is smooth, there will be nowhere for allergens to accumulate. Even more textured surfaces, because of the material itself, are not much of a problem to keep clean and free of the offending agents. 

MAKE SURE it is installed with VOC free chemicals. Also, keep an eye on your grout, so that moisture doesn’t seep through and create a mold inviting environment on your subfloor.

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.

CERAMIC OR PORCELAIN TILE is another top recommendation for bathrooms by the Mayo Clinic. 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. 



Laminate Flooring is usually manufactured using heat and pressure, not glues and chemicals. The hard surface, even if it is textured, will be easy to clean, and won’t harbor allergy causing agents. Most laminates are click together floors, so

MAKE SURE to take the same precautions you would with click together vinyl.

The issue rating this one lower is that there are, at present, no waterproof laminate planks. This means that liquid from a spill could soak into the core of the board through the seams. Now, in most cases where this happens, you will need to replace the plank anyway due to its expanding and no longer fitting in place, but if it can be reused, be sure to let it dry out. Let’s say it should spend 48 hours propped up in a dry room, similar to the acclimation process we do before installing. I’m guessing there, but it’s a very good guess.

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 Floors, having a nice, flat, hard surface shouldn’t be able to hold onto dirt, dander, dust mites or any other allergens. The material comprising bamboo is naturally water-resistant (they often grow in it, you see), so it is less likely to retain moisture than a traditional hardwood or even a laminate plank. 

MAKE SURE your choice of bamboo floors is low in VOCs, and that any installation adhesives are also free of VOCs. Unfortunately, bamboo is the kind of flooring most likely to exceed the VOC standards under which we want to stay.

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.  

Cork Floors are naturally antimicrobial because of a natural chemical in the make up of cork called suberin. "Suberin."  Say it aloud.  Sounds like a brain pharmaceutical, or a mid-range car, doesn't it.  It retards the growth of bacterial agents – the mold, mildew and bacteria themselves – to a degree helpful with allergy sufferers. It’s surface is relatively hard, though it can have lots of little areas where microscopic things could gather en masse. 

MAKE SURE your cork floor is treated with a finish that can fill in the little pockets. This will make it very easy to clean with just a dust mop.


HARDWOOD FLOORING has the hard surface we're looking for to keep away the little particulates, and it can be easy to keep clean, but 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.  

MAKE SURE to install with low moisture in mind. If your floor is nailed or glued to the subfloor, you will not be able to pull up boards to dry out underneath, so you must be extra careful with liquids and general humidity. Keep any gaps between boards clean, and take care of spills very quickly.  Coming wholly from the inside of a big tree, the material itself will not have any VOCs, but as we keep saying, make sure of your adhesives.

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 – The super smooth and highly polished choices like marble are excellent, but your more natural looking varieties may not all be allergy friendly because, unlike the ceramic tiles mentioned above, stone can be porous, and its surface can have much rougher edges than the previously listed floors. The uneven surfaces can collect the allergens we are trying to eliminate, trapping them in the room for later release. Even mold can be an issue as some of these pores hang onto moisture. 

MAKE SURE you go for a smoother surface type, and consider using cork as your underlayment to help prevent mold from developing.

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.

  While it doesn’t have to be, carpet can be a living horror for allergy sufferers. Even if it’s made with synthetic materials, carpet can hold onto moisture such that mold can form right in the carpet itself, the padding underneath or the nearby walls. It can be a great, fun environment for dust mites, and left alone it will hold onto very large amounts of dander and dirt. 

So CARPET is definitely 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. 

Can carpet be good? Sure. Maybe. The word on the street is that if you vacuum daily, and clean with a water extraction device at least monthly, and maybe even weekly(!), this could effectively turn a really tufty carpet into a helpful air filter. It would gather a lot of particles out of your air, and then you would remove them before they became dense enough to puff back out and become a bother.

MAKE SURE you clean it very frequently with a HEPA filterable vacuum, the kind designed to capture the smallest of particulates. If the carpet does get wet, immediately get the water out of it, preferably with the extraction device on the wand of a carpet cleaner. Then keep the room, or at least the floor, as cold as possible until it is dry so that mold and mildew will not have the opportunity to grow. If you are buying carpet new, make sure to get a kind which is resistant to mold and mildew and VOC free, and make sure that the carpet padding has the same qualities.  That would make carpet a benefit rather than a hazard.

If it’s true.

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 just 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.

Close-up picture of dense, kind of ugly carpeting

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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