House & Home

Find Laminate Flooring with Low VOCs

Posted April 16, 2015

Dangerous volatile organic compounds, aka VOCs, are not something you want in your home. Because these chemical compounds have a very low boiling point, large numbers of their molecules will evaporate at normal room temperature. The resulting vapor mingles with the air of your rooms. While the majority of VOCs are harmless, there are some, such as formaldehyde, which can be hazardous to human health, especially to people with severe allergies and other respiratory problems. Awareness of VOCs within the home construction and decor industry is growing, and consumers are increasingly selecting materials with low to no VOCs. Laminate flooring has had a bad rep for VOC emissions in the past but that's changing now.

What Exactly is Laminate Flooring?

Laminate flooring has the handsome look of sought-after hardwood yet is much more affordable. This type of floor material comes in planks, similar to hardwood. However, each plank contains a core made out of high density fiberboard (manufactured from inexpensive woods), topped by a layer of paper which has been printed with a "photograph" that resembles maple, oak, cherry, and other kinds of hardwood.

Desirable due to its attractive appearance, easy maintenance, and low price, laminate flooring developed a poor reputation for green performance in the past. Notably, it tended to give off toxic VOCs (volatile organic compounds) due to chemical components of the fiberboard, the printing ink, or the adhesive used to install the laminate floor. However, in recent years manufacturers have responded to consumer demand and are offering laminate that is much more environmentally friendly.

Low to No VOCs

Choose laminates printed with water-based ink, which contains low- to no-VOCs. The glue used for your laminate flooring installation should also be low in VOCs and isocyanine-free. Alternatively, opt for floating laminate that doesn't require adhesive at all -- the interlocking planks simply "float" above the underfloor.

Beware of flooring that contains high levels (more than .01 ppm) of urea formaldehyde, an inexpensive but toxic resin, which is often used as a binder. Look for one of the following designations to minimize off-gassing of formaldehyde into the air of your home: NAF (indicates no added formaldehyde), NAUF (no added urea formaldehyde), or ULEF (ultra low-emitting formaldehyde).

Investigate whether the manufacturer typically off-gasses its laminate flooring products at the factory, prior to shipping them to suppliers. Purchasing this type of material will help protect your home's air quality.

Find out about maintenance as well. Your laminate flooring should not require harsh chemicals for either sealing or cleanup. I have laminate floors installed in my home, which are easy to keep looking good with just a sponge mop and warm water (add a few drops of vinegar if desired). No waxing or other treatment is necessary.

How to Find Out

Browse the websites of various reputable flooring manufacturers to check out the green scorecard of their products. Contact them directly if you have questions you'd like answered. Try to get definite facts and figures rather than vague description of their products as environmentally sound.

See what reliable investigative sources, such as Consumer Reports, have to say about the best laminate flooring materials.

Check with the GREENGUARD certification program, an offshoot of UL Environment. GREENGUARD is charged specifically with the protection of indoor air quality through overseeing the levels of VOCs off-gassed by building products. It offers a list of various products which meet allowable emission limits, including approved laminate flooring and adhesives.

If you are visiting the showroom, you can try the "smell test." Take a whiff of the floor material you are considering purchasing, to see whether it has a readily detectable chemical odor.

Ask your flooring professional for recommendations based on his or her experience in the field.

Laura Firszt writes for

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