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Non-Toxic Laminate Flooring 101

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October 7, 2020

If you’re reading up on non-toxic laminate flooring, you’ve clearly done your homework. 

Many people know that laminate is a durable, budget-friendly, and beautiful flooring option. But unfortunately, some types of laminate flooring can pose issues when it comes to chemicals and toxins. 

And when you’re shopping for floors to install in the most important place in your life—your home—you simply can’t be too careful. That’s why below, we’re going to explain everything you need to know about buying non-toxic laminate flooring.

We’re going to explain what chemicals you need to be on the lookout for, why laminate flooring can sometimes be toxic, how to identify eco-friendly flooring, and where to find the most non-toxic laminate floors for your home. We’ll even show you how laminate compares to other environmentally-friendly flooring options!

The world of non-toxic laminate flooring can be super overwhelming, so let’s cut to the chase and get you the tools you need.

First of All: What is Laminate Flooring, Exactly?

Before anything else, let’s talk basics. You probably know this stuff already, but since we’re going to use some of these terms later on, we want to make sure everything’s crystal-clear.

So: what is laminate flooring, exactly? Laminate is a multi-layer composite product that’s perhaps the most popular type of fake wood flooring on the market today. 

Non-toxic laminate flooring (well, all laminate flooring, really) is most often composed of three layers. From the bottom they are: 

  • An HDF or plywood base layer
  • A photo-realistic image layer that can mimic just about anything
  • A hard, durable plasticate wear layer

Some laminate floors might come with a built-in underlayment too—it just depends on the product.

What are the advantages of laminate flooring?

Dog sleeping on shiny laminate floor

Laminate is traditionally more budget-friendly than most types of wood flooring. Plus, laminate’s durable wear layer makes it one of the best scratch-resistant flooring options for high traffic areas of the home (we’re talking hallways, living rooms, and kitchens here). Seriously—when it comes to scratch resistance, laminate can stack up against the most durable wood flooring options on the market. 

Plus, while laminate isn’t a waterproof floor, there are specialty laminate products like Mohawk’s RevWood that offer totally waterproof qualities. Laminate as mudroom flooring? You’re darn right. It’s 2020, friend—anything is possible.

And of course, laminate can be absolutely beautiful. While some early products tended to look—ahem—”not great” (laminate was once known as fake wood flooring for a reason), modern printing and embossing techniques have made today’s laminate look and feel just like real wood.

Is Laminate Flooring Non-Toxic?

While it’s difficult to find completely non-toxic laminate flooring, there are some options that are much safer for your home than others. 

Why is totally non-toxic laminate flooring difficult to find? It’s simple—because this hardwood floor alternative is made of multiple layers, it contains a fair amount of industrial-strength adhesive. And nearly all adhesives emit VOCs (we’ll talk about those later). 

However: in recent years, changes to the flooring industry have put more and more focus on consumer protection. And that means that more and more laminate surfaces are now low-VOC and non-toxic.

How to Shop for Non-Toxic Laminate Flooring

Once you’ve made the decision to move forward with a safe flooring option, it’s time to shop. So let’s review the things to know in order to pick out the best non-toxic laminate flooring for you. 

What does “VOC” mean?

You’ve probably seen the phrase “VOC” thrown around a lot if you’ve been looking into sustainable flooring. VOCs stands for Volatile Organic Compounds. These are toxic chemicals that can get into homes via a process called “off-gassing”. That new-car smell? Off-gassing. Tragic, we know.

What does VOC mean in flooring?

In flooring, you will find VOCs in a few different products and at varying levels—so it’s important to be aware. As we mentioned before, adhesives can be the biggest culprit! That’s why products like peel-and-stick carpet tiles can have an edge over glue-down carpet (if you’re on the market for low-VOC carpet). 

Some examples of VOCs present in our daily lives include:

  • benzene
  • ethylene glycol
  • formaldehyde
  • tetracholoroethylene
  • toluene
  • xylene

Does laminate flooring give off VOCs?

As we mentioned, laminate flooring does contain adhesives. And generally, adhesives do contain VOCs. The good news is that you can find non-toxic laminate flooring by purchasing products that are GreenGuard Certified and that contain less than a certain amount of VOCs. Again, we’ll get into that in more detail below.

Is there formaldehyde in laminate?

Most people have heard of formaldehyde, and it can be a little scary. Formaldehyde is a colorless, flammable gas with a strong odor. It can have negative health effects if there’s extended exposure. Laminate flooring can contain some formaldehyde, but it differs by product. Knowing the VOC numbers of the products you are thinking about will help you choose the one that’s healthiest for your household. 

What are the other chemicals to look out for?

Other VOCs that you may find in laminate flooring products include perchloroethylene, benzene, and methylene chloride. These are chemicals that aren’t as common in flooring, but you may find them in the varnish used to finish woods like pine flooring, Douglas fir flooring, ash flooring, or even ebony flooring.

For how long does laminate flooring give off gas (off-gas)?

As we mentioned, once flooring is installed, it goes through a process called off-gassing in which chemicals are released into the air. This can go on for years depending on the level of VOCs in the product. Higher temperatures and higher humidity may expedite this process. It’s always best practice to keep windows open for circulation after installing any flooring and to consider using an air purifier as well.

How to Buy Non-Toxic Laminate Floors (& How to Identify Them)

Now that we’ve dumped a ton of information on you about chemicals and toxins, we can help you find products that don’t pose a health risk. Let’s talk about what to look for at a flooring store near you.

Because laminate is one of the best fake wood flooring choices, most stores carry a ton of options. Whether you’re looking for laminates that can mimic different wood floor colors or complicated wood floor patterns, you’ll have a lot of products to choose from. So how do you know which laminate floors are non-toxic? 

Look for products with a low formaldehyde content (<.03 PPM)

PPM stands for Parts Per Million. Basically, it’s a way we measure formaldehyde off-gassing in a given product. According to the EPA, non-toxic laminate flooring is defined as a product that with a formaldehyde content below .03 ppm. 

Only buy products that have a GreenGuard (or GreenGuard Gold) certification 

We mentioned this briefly above, but buying GreenGuard-certified products will help you make sure you’re getting non-toxic laminate flooring. 

In order to become GreenGuard-certified, a product has to be tested for thousands of chemical emissions. Products that hold “GreenGuard Gold” certifications are even more strictly tested. These products are usually ones that will go in spaces used by children, who are more susceptible to VOCs. 

GreenGuard is a division of Underwriter Laboratories, a trusted third-party certification company that’s been protecting consumers for over 100 years.

Opt for a click-together floating floor rather than a glue-down product

Avoiding adhesives is one of the easiest ways to cut out chemicals from your flooring installation. When it comes to non-toxic laminate flooring, this is especially significant because many laminates can be installed as click-together floating floors. And while there are some disadvantages of floating floors, they do allow you to avoid using adhesives.

Click-together floors being installed

What are click-together floating floors? They’re basically…well, exactly what they sound like: planks that snap and lock together rather than being glued to a subfloor (and what is subflooring, you ask?) They’re some of the easiest types of flooring to install, and they’re becoming more common than ever. How common? Let’s put it this way: you can even find snap-together tile flooring. That common.

And avoid cheaply made products from overseas (Lumber Liquidators, we’re looking at you)

In 2015, a 60 Minutes investigation into flooring juggernaut Lumber Liquidators (who have since rebranded as “LL Flooring”), revealed that the company had been selling Chinese-made laminate floors packed with VOCs. 

Worse, Lumber Liquidators had been falsely claiming that these surfaces complied with the California Air Resource Board’s maximum limit for formaldehyde emissions. Spoiler: they hadn’t. 

People were getting sick after installing these toxic laminate floors in their homes, and the investigation led to millions of dollars of fines and a full-on federal investigation. The good news, however, is that this to-do brought a lot of awareness to the danger of VOCs in the home.

All of that to say: if you want non-toxic laminate flooring, it’s better to be safe than sorry. Avoid buying cheaply made products. Avoid buying your floors at box stores (since the employees there have zero idea where their multi-billion-dollar corporate employer is sourcing its materials). 

Basically, just buy your laminate flooring from a local flooring retailer in your area. They know exactly where their products are from, who makes them, and what’s in them.

Why Should You Purchase Non-Toxic Laminate Flooring?

Aside from the fact that inhaling VOCs is not a great move health-wise?

Well, eco-friendly flooring is becoming more and more popular as homeowners look to reduce negative impacts on the planet. And the flooring industry is taking note! From new environmentally friendly products like hemp flooring to improved sustainables like cork planks (seriously, the disadvantages of cork flooring are becoming few and far between), there are tons of products for the green consumer. Here’s why. 

Improved indoor air quality

Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) refers to the quality of air inside buildings. Poor IAQ can have serious health effects like headaches, nausea, dizziness, and so on. A simple monitor can test the IAQ of your home, and using filters and improving ventilation can help improve your air quality immediately. The EPA has an entire guide on IAQ on their website if you want to dive in deeper. 

Reduced health issues for families

Keeping your family safe is obviously a top priority. But as you probably remember, until recently, people weren’t super widely aware of the chemicals used in the products they purchased for their homes. To reduce the health hazards in your home, it’s important to prioritize non-toxic options for all materials. And yes—that includes non-toxic laminate flooring!

Supporting brands that support the planet

From eco-friendly types of tile to concrete flooring that looks like wood, there are tons of green options for home surfaces. We think it’s important to support companies who make these products—they’re helping to keep our planet healthy and livable!

Improving the resale value of your home

Child's room with laminate floor

Installing non-toxic, environmentally friendly flooring can help increase the value of your home as well as the speed at which it will sell. These floors ensure that fewer items will be flagged during home inspections—and who wouldn’t want to use “healthy and sustainable” as a selling point? 

If you look into the pros and cons of engineered bamboo flooring, you’ll find that resale value with sustainable surfaces like these is a big plus. And given that the cost to install them is about the same as the cost to install engineered hardwood floors, there are very few reasons not to. 

How Does Laminate Flooring Compare to Other Eco-Friendly Flooring Options?

If you are still stuck in the carpet vs. laminate or tile vs. laminate debate, let’s talk about where laminate ranks in terms of eco-friendly flooring options

Because of laminate’s makeup, there will always be some chemicals in the product. But at the end of the day, if you know what you’re looking for (and by now, we hope we’ve shown you that) it’s easy to find super non-toxic laminate floors. Here’s how it stacks up to some other rigid surfaces.

Solid hardwood is always a good choice

Because it’s only made of wood, solid hardwood is one of the best options for non-toxic flooring. Just remember to use a low-VOC finish and a low-VOC installation method. Some solid wood surfaces—like teak flooring—actually do better with a natural finish, since they’re packed with natural resins (one reason teak is a top option for boats, decks, and wood floor bathrooms).

Of course, solid wood doesn’t come in click-together configurations quite as often, which can make things a bit more complicated if you’re looking for DIY wood floors. Pros and cons, you know?

Engineered hardwood is also a great option, but it does contain adhesives

Engineered wood is absolutely amazing. But when it comes to low-VOC flooring, you will find a couple of engineered wood disadvantages. Namely, because it’s composed of multiple layers, even the best engineered wood flooring does contain adhesives. And when adhesives are involved, you have to be on the lookout for VOCs. 

Luckily, many of the best hardwood floor brands sell engineered products as well as solid. And when you’re buying from a top brand, you know you’re going to be getting a better (and healthier) product.

Vinyl plank is amazing, but again—do your research

Vinyl plank is easily one of the best types of vinyl flooring on the market. It’s affordable, it’s durable, it’s beautiful, and you can use it for just about anything—as sunroom flooring, as a replacement for water-resistant wood flooring, you name it. 

But remember: vinyl plank is made of vinyl—aka plastic—so you need to do your research before you purchase it. Plastic can be a big VOC off-gasser if you buy a low-quality product! 

Conclusion: It’s Possible to Find Non-Toxic Laminate Flooring—If You Know What to Look For!

Did we fulfill our promise to explain everything you need to know about non-toxic laminate flooring? Are you ready to move forward with some clean, safe non-toxic flooring for your home?

If you’re ready to start your floor buying journey, our final piece of advice is this: buy your flooring from an independent flooring retailer

Unlike the clueless clerks at the box stores (no shame, we know they’re doing their best) flooring retailers are flooring experts. They know exactly what every product they sell is made from, and by whom. Basically, they’re the resource you have to ensure that you’re getting the most non-toxic laminate flooring possible. Click here to find a flooring store near you!

And for more information on all types of flooring, check out:

About The Author

Steph Gregerson

Steph is a book nerd, rule follower, and pizza lover who can't get enough of playing outside. She was raised on the ice rinks of MN and currently resides in sunny San Diego. As a freelance writer, she loves research, producing content, and organizing information for a wide variety of clients. She currently has at least 10 browser windows open at all times.

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