You may already know that vinyl flooring chips are made of polyvinyl chloride (PVC). This main constituent compound is known to cause serious health and environmental concerns. But, when used on floors, does it make vinyl flooring toxic?
Vinyl flooring is made from phthalates mixed with additives; plasticizers, stabilizers, pigments, and fillers. Phthalates are known toxins, exposing both humans and pets to the risk of asthma, cancer, kidney, lung, and even reproductive health problems. Thus, Vinyl plank flooring is toxic and easily contaminates indoor air, water, and surfaces.
Vinyl floors are increasingly becoming popular in homes, due to their advantages: less noise, durability, inexpensive, and easy to install. However, there are serious concerns about whether or not this type of flooring releases toxins that may not be healthy for humans and the environment.
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Is vinyl flooring toxic?
The process of making vinyl plank flooring involves other compounds beyond the normal PVC material. For example, some chemicals are added to give the final flooring product its unique characteristics such as sheen, color, flexibility, and hardness. Due to the use of toxic ingredients, vinyl is associated with many serious health issues like skin inflammation neurological issues, cancer, and some respiratory issue. This makes vinyl flooring toxic.
Some of these compounds raise the toxicity concerns of vinyl plank flooring as elaborated below.
PVC Softeners (Phthalates) are Toxic
Studies show that “Phthalates, the organic chemicals used to make vinyl plastic flexible, make up a large portion (up to 60% by weight) of the final product.
Studies conducted on animals have also shown that PVC industrial softeners expose individuals to health risks such as liver, lung, and kidney damage. There’s also the risk of tempered reproductive function in animals.
Consumer Reports has raised concerns that the phthalates used to make plastic material more pliant “are also endocrine disruptors – and some are classified by the Environmental Protection Agency as possible or probable carcinogens.”
Flooring Toxins Contaminate Indoors
The plasticizers that are found in vinyl floors are not just bound to the planks themselves. That is the risk that most studies have attempted to unravel.
Phthalate plasticizers are not chemically bound to vinyl, they can leach, migrate or evaporate into indoor air and concentrate in household dust. This is why they pose a more serious risk to children, pets, the elderly and even pregnant women.
General contamination easily occurs through dermal exposure, inhalation, and ingestion. Kids that like crawling and picking things up the toxic vinyl plank flooring are therefore the most exposed to the risk of the toxic phthalates.
Phthalates and the Asthma Risk
Epidemiological studies have shown a relationship between phthalate exposure and asthma in recent decades. Research by the UFZ researchers in conjunction with scientists from the University of Leipzig and the German Cancer Research Center (DKFZ) found a relationship between phthalates and increased asthma and inflammation in children.
According to that study, kids born of mothers exposed to phthalates in vinyl floors and other products during pregnancy have a higher risk of developing allergic asthma. Breastfeeding is also another point of exposure.
How long does Vinyl Flooring off-gas?
What is off-gassing? Do you smell a product? That release of a chemical, a chemical in vapor form of smell from your vinyl flooring, is off-gassing. To know if the flooring project is safe you can carry out air-quality tests that involve chamber tests and on-site evaluations or sampling.
But how long does vinyl flooring off-gas? Off-gassing majorly is extreme in the first 2-4 weeks after installation. However, its also affected by various factors like ventilation, the number of various chemicals released (depending on chemicals used), and the area of installation. For indoor flooring, the rate and impact may last longer than when installed in an outdoor area. Off-gassing, however, does continue on small scale for up to months or years depending on the environmental conditions.
EPA studies estimate indoor pollutants to be five-time higher and even dangerous than in outdoor vinyl flooring. The use of VOC(volatile organic compounds) during the manufacturing process makes the vinyl flooring toxic and may fill your home with dangerous fumes and odor.
Which Vinyl Flooring Has Toxins?
Different brands of vinyl flooring material have different levels of toxins. Some companies have made it a point to phase out toxic flooring, while others are still stocking the risky product. The Home Depot, for example, made commitments to phase out toxic flooring material by the end of the year 2015.
According to a report by the CDC after testing various flooring brands, the following vinyl plank flooring brands were found to have some sort of the poisonous phthalates.
- 48% of Lowes’ products100 % of Lumber Liquidators and Ace Hardware
- 23% of Menards
- 25% of Build.com
The same studies noted that Armstrong and Designer’s Images on luxury vinyl plank flooring had zero levels in the surface layer.
Toxin Levels in Vinyl Vary
It is however important to note that the concentration levels of the toxic substances in modern vinyl plank flooring chips may not be high enough to cause the risk of exposure to toxic substances.
Studies by the Consumers Union involved taking wipe samples on vinyl flooring material to test for the presence of the feared toxic substances. Air and floor tests were also done. The study concluded that even though there’s evidence of phthalates, the levels did not prove alarming rates of exposure.
Is there Non-Toxic Vinyl Flooring?
Vinyl and linoleum are the most popular flooring. Both are versatile, durable, and cost-friendly options for people who delight in wood floors. Linoleum is resilient can last up to 40 years while vinyl goes up tp 20yrs. Vinyl and linoleum are mistakenly used interchangeably but are totally different types of flooring.
Linoleum flooring is made of all-natural biodegradable materials. these materials include cork dust, pine resin, linseed oil, and wood flour. Vinyl is made from petroleum-based synthetic products which include resin, PVC mixed with additives (plasticizers, stabilizers, pigments, and fillers). In conclusion, there is no toxic-free vinyl flooring. The best toxic-free eco-friendly options are real hardwood, tile, polished concrete, and specific brands of natural linoleum, carpet, and engineered wood.
Sources and References
- CDC: Indoor Air Pollutants and Toxic Materials.
- CDC: Sources of Formaldehyde.
- ntniehs.nihp: Toxicology Reports of Carcinogen.
- Living-future: Chlorinated Polymers: PVC, PVDC, CHLOROPRENE, AND CPVC.