Non Toxic Flooring Options: The process of replacing your floors

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One of the things I truly believe is that replacing flooring in a home is one of the BIGGEST and most impactful changes you can make when it comes to creating a non toxic and healthy home. And what’s wonderful is that this is a project most of us will tackle at some point within our homes.  Choosing the best flooring doesn’t have to be difficult or overwhelming.

Nope, you just need to know where to start.  Flooring options can feel endless, but I’m about to help you cut out some of that noise and help you hone in on the most non toxic flooring options for your home.

Imagine taking out toxic flooring and replacing it with a non toxic or even low toxin option.  Just the sheer surface area of this project will leave your space healthier in big ways.

Whether you’ve stumbled upon this post because you’re about to start a flooring project or you are a weekly visitor here, you can save this post for future reference.  I’m coving not only the best flooring material, but also how to remove old flooring, install this new non toxic flooring option AND take care of it so it lasts for years to come.

STEP 1: DECIDE ON A MATERIAL

The first step to ANY project is to decide on a material.  The healthiest options for flooring are smooth surface flooring as they don’t hold onto additional toxins that are brought into the home. 

That being said, there may be some rooms you just really want to have plush flooring or carpeting in, and that’s okay because I have options for you there too.

You’ll also want to take into consideration the area you plan to install your flooring in.  The best flooring option for lower levels or moisture prone areas is some sort of smooth surface flooring that won’t absorb moisture. You can also consider adding an underlayment that is specific to reduce potential moisture damage if you have very humid conditions.

Hardwood is usually one of the best and safest flooring options when it comes to a non toxic flooring. You definitely have the most control over non toxic finishes when it comes to hardwood.  Often times you can purchase unfinished hardwood and have your flooring contractor stain and seal the flooring with the product of your choice.  Vermont Natural Coatings and ECOS are my two favorite options for the best flooring finishes that are also non toxic.  

Keep in mind that hardwood is not a great option for moisture prone areas such as bathrooms, laundry rooms or basement.

Cork is an excellent toxin free flooring option as it is a natural material.  Generally cork flooring is waterproof and is an excellent insulator, making it a great option for lower levels. Cork flooring is great for sound as it dampens the echo and absorbs sounds in a room.  It is also hypoallergenic and easy to clean.  Cork is a low-static surface that is resilient to dust.  Cork doesn’t release toxic gas and is actually fire-resistant, meaning it won’t spread a flame if it did catch fire. I love Cork Wise by Amorim for a non toxic flooring option.

Natural Linoleum was developed in the 1830s and contains no synthetic chemicals.    It is made of linseed oil, pine resins, wood powder and jute. Because of the fatty acids from the linseed oil, it can take months for the strong odor to dissipate, which can be a negative side to natural linoleum.  However, on the plus side, it is actually naturally resistant to bacteria and is another low-static surface that is resilient to dust.  You’ll want to make sure you use a natural linoleum glue when installing it to avoid dangerous solvents or off-gassing chemicals.

Natural Tile or Stone can be another great option for some areas of your home. Typically these materials are added to bathrooms and kitchens, but in some parts of the country tile is not uncommon throughout a home.  Of course not all stone or tile is created equal, and so you’ll want to make sure you follow these guidelines when picking out your materials:

  • Made in the USA (other countries may not have the same lead regulations as we currently have in the US)
  • Look for full ingredient lists (everything from glazes to pigments should have ingredients available to you)
  • Opt for abrasion ratings of 4 or higher (this will minimize the potential release of toxins from either the glaze or the coating)
  • Avoid antimicrobial coatings (these are harmful biocides that really are not beneficial to our health)

This post is a definite must as it gives a more in depth look at the best flooring options for tile materials. 

Toxin Free Luxury Plank Vinyl can be confusing to look at — and you may even wonder if it’s truly toxin free.  The truth is there are SOME great options and there are some really non great flooring options. 

What you need to be on the look out for is a product that is manufactured in the United States or in Europe.  It’s also important to find a flooring option that does not contain any phthalates or formaldehyde in the product.  Another thing to watch for is to make sure the flooring you choose is not using recycled products.  Recycled products can contain toxins that will off gas in your home. 

The best flooring option for luxury plank vinyl is Cali Flooring.  They have the highest quality products and have the lowest toxins in their products.

Plush Flooring might be something you still really want, and the good news is there are plenty of non toxic flooring options for carpet. 

Natural wool is an excellent option for non toxic carpet, and probably has the most options in terms of colors and textures.  Wool carpet doesn’t show dirt and daily wear quite as much as synthetic carpet.  It keeps its shape very well and doesn’t get matted down easily.  

Wool can also be a good insulator for homes with concrete slab floors.  Another bonus is that wool is naturally fire resistant.  You will want to be cautious, however, as most wool absorbs water and moisture instead of repelling it.

This post will walk you through even more plush flooring materials that you can choose from.

STEP 2: REMOVE OLD FLOORING

Whether you’re installing flooring yourself or you’re having a professional do the work for you, it’s important to know that there are healthier ways of doing your project.  You can ask your contractor about these methods or follow them yourself.

Be careful of tile demolition: If you’ll be removing flooring  such as tile, PLEASE be aware that some tile can have lead in the glaze or in the interior of the product.  What this means for the health of your body, is that you want to have your skin fully covered.  This means using gloves, eye protection, a hat and a respiratory mask.  Lead exposure can happen when dust particles are inhaled or ingested.  You want to keep as much of the dust off your body as possible.  

And what it means for the health of your home is that you want to avoid getting the dust anywhere it doesn’t need to be.  Block off the room you’ll be working in and make sure that vents are covered to protect them from the dust getting into your HVAC system and pushing it around.  

And finally, make sure the dust is cleaned up thoroughly to ensure that any potential lead is out of your home.

Wear a mask during demolition: No matter what type of flooring you’re removing, chances are there are toxins of some kind.  Carpet can be one of the worst as the fibers become airborne quite quickly and you can inhale them.  

Keep your lungs protected by wearing a mask of some kind to protect yourself from inhaling toxins and toxic particles while you’re removing the toxic flooring.

STEP 3: SEAL ANY SUBFLOOR PARTICLE BOARD

If at any point during your project you have your subflooring exposed, this is a GREAT time to seal in any toxins and VOCs with a VOC blocker. 

AFM has created a line of products that seal in VOCs to plywood and other pressed woods.  This can help reduce formaldehyde and VOC exposure in your home.  Just make sure you allow enough time for the product to dry. You can purchase AFM SafeCoat Safeseal from the Green Design Center.

STEP 4: INSTALL FLOORING

Dustless Install Method: One of the BEST things you can do for your home during a project is ask your contractor (or do this yourself) about a dustless install method.  This means that all materials are cut outside prior to bringing them inside.  This will reduce the risk of any sort of dust or toxic dust from entering your space.  

The key steps to a dustless install method are to block off your space so that dust is contained to one area.  You will also want to block any venting and turn off the HVAC (if possible) during the installation of the flooring.   This will prevent dust from getting into areas of your home that are difficult to clean or where it can get spread around more. 

And then finally, cut all materials outside and bring them inside only for the installation. 

Use an underlayment in wet areas:  Most LVP does not REQUIRE underlayment.  However, if you’ll be adding it to a basement or lower level that can have potential moisture issues, it is important to consider underlayment as a way to prevent the flooring from becoming damaged by moisture. 

Check with your flooring to see what the best underlayment option is or talk to someone at your hardware store to determine what is best for your product and home.

STEP 5: ADD A RUG TO SMOOTH SURFACE FLOORING

Don’t just throw anything down when it comes to adding a rug.  Be just as careful about choosing this material as you did your flooring. 

These few tactics that I’m going to share are really going to help you as you shop for a toxin free rug and natural rug pad.  

  1. Find a Trusted Brand or Store:  There are some REALLY great small businesses and green brands out there that I 100% trust.  I found very quickly that sellers can write just about anything in their Amazon listing, and what I needed to do was find a brand or store I connect with.  Even better is finding a store or brand that has a real person behind it that you want to support.  (Sandy at Rugs By Roo is EXACTLY the example I’m thinking of here)
  2. Look for Transparency:  A product listing that lists out materials completely is like striking gold.  For example, even some of the product listings on Rugs by Roo list that they use synthetic dyes.  For some, this isn’t a deal breaker, and so they still opt for a low toxin option instead of a totally toxin free option. This is another example of why I got so frustrated with Amazon listings: I could never find the material disclosure.
  3. Third Party Certifications:  Knowing that a third party gave the green light to the company and their product gives me a feeling of confidence.  Look for the GOTS Certification (Global Organic Textile Standard).  The GOTS certification ensures the non toxic rug is certified organic and that it prohibits the use of most chemicals like flame retardants and pesticides. This ensures that  the second best certification is the Oeko-Tex Standard 100.  This will ensure that there are less toxins (like pesticide residue, phthalates and harmful dyes).
  4. Backing & Treatments:  Make sure you look at the backing material to ensure that it is free from toxic adhesives and that it doesn’t contain toxic materials.  This is often omitted from rug listings, which can make a rug LOOK like a healthy option because the fibers are natural, when it’s really not.  Secondly, take a look to make sure there are no added treatments to the fibers.  Waterproof and Stainproof treatments will often times add PFOAs and Formaldehyde to your rug.   These will both off gas over the life of the rug and introduce VOCs to your home space.

By far, my favorite rug shop is Rugs By Roo. Sandy Wong, the creator and curator of Rugs by Roo is also a mom, which means she cares deeply about the quality of the products she offers.  Not only does she choose the most sustainable brands, but she strives to find the most ethical solutions in her industry.  I LOVE her perfectly curated site.  (Use coupon code HEALTHYHOUSE15 for 15% off)

STEP 6: KEEP IT CLEAN

And once you’ve got your beautiful, non toxic flooring done, make sure you keep it clean in the healthiest way possible to ensure that you’re not adding toxins to your space.  

No Shoe Policy: A super simple change you can make in your home is to STOP wearing your shoes in the house.  Not only do shoes bring in dirt and bacteria, but most shoes bring in pesticides and cleaning chemicals from public spaces.  Once these things are inside your home, they begin to move from one space to another as our dust moves. Keep a matt at your door and leave your shoes there rather than bringing them through your space.

Vacuum with a HEPA filter Vacuum: Most vacuums nowadays have a HEPA filter on them.  Using a HEPA filter means you will trap more of the tiny particles that are in the dust instead of pushing them back up into the air.  

The Shark Navigator Lift Away is my Healthy House Approved vacuum of choice. We’ve been using this vacuum for YEARS.  It is such a versatile vacuum that works on all sorts of surfaces.  I use the liftaway feature when I’m cleaning those baseboards I mentioned before.  I also love that this is an incredibly easy vacuum to clean out.  Definitely worth the investment here. (This post has more on vacuums and their filters).

Wet Mop with a Plant Based Cleaner: We use a refillable wet mop at our house and clean smooth surface flooring just about every day.  It helps to spray the floor (not too much!) as opposed to dry mopping because the liquid traps the dust and dirt instead of pushing it back up into the air again.  And my Favorite Floor Cleaner? Aspen Clean Floor Cleaner because they are EWG Verified to be completely toxin free.

When it comes time to invest in the best flooring option for your home, make sure it’s a non toxic option and you’ll be DRASTICALLY doing your house and your health a favor.  There’s almost no better way to reduce toxins than to replace your flooring.

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