Vinyl plank flooring is a popular option because it is attractive, stain-resistant, waterproof, durable, and easy to install. However, many homeowners do have an understandable concern about toxicity and the effects that the flooring can have on health and the environment. So, is vinyl flooring toxic or is that just a myth?
Vinyl flooring can be toxic because of the chemicals and additives used in the production of the planks. Harmful chemicals are sometimes used for the appearance, flexibility, and hardness of the flooring. Some of these chemicals can cause health issues and contaminate the air, water, and surfaces of your home.
In this article, you will learn about the chemicals that can make vinyl flooring toxic and the effects that these chemicals can have on the body. You will also learn how to tell if vinyl flooring is toxic, how to protect against toxicity and some potential alternatives to vinyl flooring.
Contents (Jump to Topic)
- Is Vinyl Plank Flooring Toxic?
- What are the Effects of Toxic Vinyl Flooring?
- How Long Does Vinyl Flooring Off-Gas?
- How to Tell if Vinyl Flooring is Toxic
- How to Protect Yourself from Toxic Vinyl Flooring
- Is There Non-Toxic Vinyl Flooring?
- Is Vinyl More Toxic than Laminate?
- What Flooring is the Least Toxic?
- What are the Alternatives to Vinyl Flooring?
Is Vinyl Plank Flooring Toxic?
Vinyl flooring contains several chemicals that can be toxic, including PVC, cadmium, and lead. Many of these substances are found in such small levels that it is unlikely to cause harm, but phthalates are used to make vinyl flooring and polyvinyl chloride, PVC. Phthalates are used to increase the flexibility and durability of the vinyl flooring but are poisonous that can cause some unwanted effects.
Studies show that vinyl flooring releases toxic chemicals and fumes that can harm kids. The reason phthalate plasticizers can evaporate or contaminate the air quality of your home is that they are not chemically bound to the vinyl molecules.
Many homeowners are understandably wary about using vinyl plank flooring, especially around children and pets. Pregnant women should also avoid prolonged exposure to toxic vinyl flooring. Contamination from these hazardous toxins can occur in several ways, including when they are touched directly to the skin, breathed into the lungs, and if they are somehow ingested. Ingestion can occur when children pick up toys and other objects and place them in their mouth or when a pet eats something off the floor.
Some manufacturers also use chemicals to create vinyl flooring features like sheen, color, or hardness. Some vinyl flooring also has an additive to create fire-retardant properties for the flooring. The number of phthalates and other VOCs can vary depending on the quality of materials and some vinyl flooring will be safer than other products. In addition, some products release dioxins, which are harmful pollutants with carcinogenic or cancer-causing qualities that can also negatively affect the environment.
In addition, for a short amount of time, after you install vinyl plank flooring, the material can release volatile organic compounds into the air. VOCs are toxic gases that can harm air quality in the room where you had the flooring installed.
What are the Effects of Toxic Vinyl Flooring?
Phthalates and other toxic chemicals used in the production of vinyl flooring can cause a variety of problems. Research shows a connection between these types of compounds and health conditions. Because of breathing rate, size, and other factors, children and pets are more susceptible to the harmful effects of toxic vinyl flooring.
Some of the health effects of phthalates are long-term, like increased cancer risk. Scientific researchers have even linked phthalates to obesity, diabetes, and male fertility issues. There are also some short-term effects like breathing problems and skin irritation.
For children, these toxins can contribute to developmental and behavioral problems and may also increase the risk of neurological issues. There is also evidence of a connection with asthma and other breathing problems and allergies. The risk is higher with children than with adults for these issues.
Finally, the production of vinyl flooring can leak chemicals into the environment and damage fragile ecosystems. These chemicals can poison animals and other wildlife and harm them. Even when placed into a landfill, there is a risk of leakage into the natural world if not taken care of properly.
How Long Does Vinyl Flooring Off-Gas?
Off-gassing is the release of a chemical into the air. The vapor chemical will usually emit a smell, especially immediately after installation. Because of this, after you have vinyl floor planks installed, it is important to keep the room well-ventilated for the first week to a month after installation. Some homeowners also prefer to avoid using the floor or room until the off-gassing ceases. If you are worried about the off-gassing, then you can also have air-quality tests completed.
Off-gassing is most extreme immediately after installation, but it can last longer than a day or two. The flooring may release these toxic gasses for the first 2 weeks to a month after the project is completed. While off-gassing can continue for months or years, the amount is marginal and the most extreme off-gassing should end in the first month.
It is important to consider the factors that can influence the amount of time that the flooring will still release gasses and vapors. The amount of chemical vapor from the flooring can change from product to product depending on the number of chemicals used. The area and ventilation of the installation can also play a role. For example, indoor flooring may have a longer period of off-gassing than exterior flooring.
How to Tell if Vinyl Flooring is Toxic
Vinyl floors can have toxins, but that doesn’t mean that all vinyl floors release toxins and some companies no longer produce any flooring using toxic substances. Some retailers have also banned toxic vinyl flooring from their stores. There are some things you can keep in mind to make sure that you purchase flooring that is not toxic if you plan on choosing vinyl planks.
In recent years, many flooring manufacturers have decided to make all products without phthalates and some go further and avoid other potentially harmful chemicals.
It is best to choose companies known for making quality products and you can also check the manufacturer’s website for more information about the safety of their products. Even if the company has not yet stopped making flooring with certain toxins and chemicals, some companies use more than others.
Of the chemicals that you should keep an eye out for in the flooring material, PVC softeners are the most important. If the company utilizes PVC softeners, then you will want to examine the number of phthalates that the producer uses in their vinyl planks. While they can add some beautiful features and durability, there are also plenty of gorgeous vinyl flooring products without using high amounts of harmful chemicals.
If you are unsure, you can use wiping materials to choose a wipe sample that can be sent off to a lab for testing. The lab will then report the substances found in the vinyl flooring material. Some retailers, including Home Depot and Lowe’s, do not use softeners in vinyl flooring products. Even if you plan on buying the flooring from somewhere else, you can check the Home Depot website and store for manufacturers that do not use phthalates.
In addition to phthalates, you can also keep an eye out for other volatile organic compounds or VOCs. These types of substances release poisonous concentrations into the air after installation. Sometimes you can tell if a product uses this before installation because of the chemical smell.
How to Protect Yourself from Toxic Vinyl Flooring
The easiest way to protect yourself from toxic vinyl flooring is to purchase non-toxic vinyl options or other types of flooring that do not pose any risk. Choosing a manufacturer that sells products through Home Depot or Lowe’s ensures that you will not get a product that contains phthalates. You can also check for a company that vows to never use potentially dangerous compounds if your preferred flooring is not sold by those retailers. This is the first thing to keep in mind when selecting the vinyl planks that you want to use.
However, if you do decide to use vinyl flooring from a manufacturer that still uses harmful chemicals, there are some other things that you can do to reduce the likelihood of health or environmental problems.
First, if there is a smell of VOCs, then it is best to wear a mask during installation. This can prevent excessive inhalation. You should also keep the room well-ventilated while working on the flooring. Use fans and windows wherever possible and you can even use an air purifier.
Second, after installation, you should try to avoid too much exposure during the first few weeks. Since it can take up to 4 weeks before the off-gassing starts to decrease and level off, it is a good idea to avoid the area whenever possible.
Finally, if you decide to use vinyl flooring, do not install it around children and pets. This is because kids and animals have a higher risk of exposure. You should also avoid exposure during pregnancy whenever possible.
Is There Non-Toxic Vinyl Flooring?
Some new innovative products are made without using PVC and other additives that are the closest to 100% non-toxic that you can get. However, in general, there is no non-toxic vinyl flooring. Though, there are options that are much less toxic and that are completely free from certain toxins.
Most vinyl flooring planks that advertise that they are non-toxic do still contain some chemicals that could potentially be harmful but are made without the use of phthalates. This is a great thing to keep in mind because phthalates are the primary chemical that homeowners are concerned with and buying products that do not use them can reduce the toxicity significantly. In addition, look for bio-based plasticizers that release the lowest amount of VOCs.
Keep in mind that vinyl plank typically has substantially lower off-gassing than sheet vinyl flooring. You may also want to avoid products that use cork underlayment that can emit higher levels of odd smells that signify higher amounts of volatile organic compounds. Also, pick products made out of virgin vinyl, meaning it is not recycled. This is because recycled vinyl options may have used products that still contained phthalates.
When choosing the vinyl plank flooring you want, most luxury vinyl plank (LVP) options have stone polymer composite core (SPC, made out of limestone, PVC, and plasticizer. Because of the use of limestone and the inclusion of no foaming agent, this type usually has low off-gassing. You may also be interested in wood plastic composite (WPC) flooring, but some of these options do contain formaldehyde as a foaming agent.
Is Vinyl More Toxic than Laminate?
There are many reasons a homeowner would choose vinyl over laminate or vice versa. One of the factors to consider when deciding is toxicity. While plenty of vinyl flooring planks do not contain phthalates and may have lower concentrations and amounts of some harmful chemicals, they can still emit VOCs.
On the other hand, laminate flooring does not contain the same harmful chemicals found in vinyl flooring. The chemicals that it does contain are mostly found in the core of the flooring so that the laminate does not release high amounts into the air. In this way, laminate flooring is less toxic than vinyl, but there is another issue to keep in mind.
Some laminate flooring choices contain formaldehyde (so do some vinyl flooring options). As long as you are aware of harmful chemicals, you can select a safer product for your home. If it is a major concern, a formaldehyde-free laminate product is generally less toxic than vinyl.
What Flooring is the Least Toxic?
Solid hardwood flooring is usually considered the safest and least toxic flooring option because it is 100% natural on its own. They are made from planks made from a single piece of natural lumber. However, sometimes solid hardwood flooring does contain an oil sealer or shellac that contains some harmful substances. If you are looking for the least toxic choice, then you may want to consider one that utilizes natural sealers and shellac that is non-toxic.
Some other types of flooring have considerably lower VOC levels than vinyl flooring. Polished concrete and tile are some of the most popular options with low toxicity. If you choose these types, just make sure that they are not treated with potentially unfavorable or damaging compounds.
What are the Alternatives to Vinyl Flooring?
There are a lot of alternatives that you can use instead of vinyl, depending on the aesthetic you are looking for and the features that you desire. Hardwood floors can give you a stylish floor and there are many different colors and grains to choose from, but it can be harder to install and cost more to buy. Still, it can be a great option instead of vinyl flooring.
Laminate is another popular option that can be durable and easy to clean. There are tons of attractive styles and a wide variety of shades. Bamboo is a type of flooring that has gained popularity in recent years that can look fantastic and last a long time.
Tile and concrete are other possible alternatives to keep in mind. While these options are rarely used throughout an entire house, they can be great choices for certain areas, specifically kitchens, bathrooms, and entryways.
Finally, another alternative option to vinyl flooring is carpet. While many homeowners prefer hard surfaces in their homes, carpet has its place and can be pretty, warm, and come in a large variety of different colors and thicknesses.
Vinyl flooring is toxic and even the non-toxic types are only free of certain chemicals. If you choose to use vinyl, just keep this in mind for safety reasons so that you can purchase from a manufacturer that does not use phthalates and other harmful compounds. If you do not want to use toxic materials, then there are also various alternatives that can be just as durable and charming.