Choosing the Right Flooring to Minimize Allergies
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.
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.
The worrisome version of formaldehyde is urea formaldehyde . It can irritate the ear, eye, nose and throat areas; also the respiratory system and one’s skin; it can lead to fatigue and cancer, and is, for our purposes, a bad, bad allergen. Bee-ay-dee: Bad.
At Floors To Your Home, we make sure that all of our flooring is free of harmful formaldehyde, and meets the VOC safety standards of the United States, not just those of the countries where the material is produced.
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.
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.
MAKE SURE you keep a click together 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.
Also, 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.
Porcelain (and Ceramic) Tile is easily one of the best options for allergen management. It’s rock, in some form or another. 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.
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.
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.
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.
NOT THE BEST
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 stone can be porous, and its surface can have much rougher edges than the previously listed floors. These can hang onto allergens, 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.
Hardwood Floors have a nice, hard surface to prevent material from collecting and hanging about, and should already have been installed with low moisture in mind. They tend to clean easily, and can foster a dust free environment.
MAKE SURE to keep any gaps between boards clean, and to take care of spills very quickly. 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. 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.
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.
If you have carpet, 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.
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. That would make carpet a benefit rather than a hazzard.
If it’s true.
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David is 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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