A very important aspect of air quality that many people overlook is flooring. Flooring has a bigger impact on your indoor air quality than you realize. Consequently, for your wellbeing and health, whether you are in your home or in any public indoor space you have to be very mindful of what flooring materials you using.
The discussion on floorings and air quality is lengthy but for those of you who are just want to know which flooring are best, briefly put, which floorings are best for air quality? In summary, the top five best floorings for indoor air include,
- Wooden Floors
- Natural Linoleum
- Polished Concrete
- Rubber Floors
I discuss each of these flooring options in more detail in the rest of this post and I also point out which floorings you should avoid if you wanna maintain good indoor air quality. However, before looking at the various flooring options, I start by sharing some important info on how floors worsen your air quality.
Read through this entire post and by the end of it you should know exactly which flooring to go for to get the best air quality in your home or workspace.
How Does Your Floor Make Your Indoor Air Quality Bad?
I am a strong believer in understanding why things are the way they are before trying to improve or fix them. Accordingly, I think it's important to first explain how your flooring makes your air quality bad before showing you the best flooring for your air so you can better appreciate which type of flooring is best for your indoor air quality.
So, how does your floor make the air in your work or living space bad?
I managed to find only four distinct ways in which floors can cause your indoor air quality to deteriorate.
1. Floors Make Air Quality Bad By Off-Gassing Chemicals
To begin with, your floor makes your indoor air quality terrible mainly by off-gassing toxic chemicals into your air from the materials it is made of.
Just from this statement, you can see that if your floor is made of non-toxic materials then it's better for your air quality. The key here is in the materials used to make your floor.
The materials include not just the floor itself but the stuff used to adhere your flooring to the ground. All the glues, plastics, grouts, protective finishes used on various flooring types including wooden, ceramic, vinyl, and carpet, among others, also off-gas and contribute to making your indoor air quality bad.
The various floorings and materials used to hold them together that worsen your air quality all do so largely by off-gassing Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) into your air.
2. Floors Worsen Your Air Quality Through Microorganism Growth
Besides off-gassing chemicals, the other way your floor makes your air dirty is by serving as a conducive environment for fungicide and biocide growth. If your floor was not properly installed and it has air pockets and gaps, eventually filth and moisture can accumulate in these places and create the right conditions for bacteria and fungi to develop.
Furthermore, some floors like wooden floors start to rot and smell if they get wet. Other floor materials like carpeting are just really good at retaining moisture making them a haven for air-polluting microorganisms. This is totally not good for you.
Some of these microorganisms eventually develop spores and as part of their reproduction some of these spores eventually disperse into your air and mess up your air quality. For some people, airborne fungal or bacterial spores can be harmless but for others, they trigger all sorts of allergies.
3. Floors Mess Up Your Air Quality With Particulate Matter
Another way I found floors ruin your air quality is by amassing particulate air pollutants and dispersing them back into your indoor air. The type of flooring on which this mainly happens is carpets. I can’t think of any other flooring where airborne particulates can get trapped but my gut tells me it is not just carpets. For now, just hold the thought that it’s not carpets alone.
Carpets have fibrous surfaces that are really good at trapping things including dirt. They will collect dust, pet dander, and pollen and release them back in your air when tampered with. Even with proper care of your carpets, at some point they get dirty, and simply walking across them gets the filth into your air.
4. Floors Cause Bad Air Quality By Perpetuating Bad Odors
The final way I know from personal experience that floors mess up your air quality is by absorbing all the smells lingering in your home or workspace or smells from chemicals you used to clean them and perpetuating these smells in your air.
Not all smells result in poor air quality but most smells coming from your floor do. You can get headaches and sick building syndrome, especially if the smell is overpowering and smells are certainly not good for people with multiple chemical sensitivities.
The biggest culprit for me when it comes to strange odors from floors is carpets. Carpets not only make your air smell by absorbing lingering odors but if they are not well taken care of, they produce bad odors of their own.
Wooden floors are next on the list, especially if you live in a humid area. If carpeted and wooden floors are exposed to excessive moisture they eventually start to smell. The smell is caused by mold, mildew, or fungi thriving under moist conditions.
Moisture linked odors on your floor usually smell musty and earthy can really cause a lot of discomforts. Besides moisture caused odors in floors, you also have odors caused by pet or human excretions like urine, feces, sweat, or vomit. Some floors are resistant to holding such odors but some easily retain and release them into your air for a while.
So these are all the key ways I know from experience and I found through research that your floor makes your air quality bad. For a quick overview of how your flooring negatively affects your air quality, in the table below, I list some common types of pollutants found in flooring and their detrimental health effects.
List Of Common Pollutants That Floors Release Into Indoor Air
Linked to asthma, birth defects, learning disabilities, reproductive problems, liver toxicity, and cancer
Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)
By-product of petroleum-based materials, adhesive
Eye, nose, and throat irritation; headaches, loss of coordination, nausea; damage to liver, kidney, and central nervous system
Used in many types of floor manufacturing processes
Can cause respiratory problems and skin irritation; it may cause exacerbation of asthma or cause allergic contact dermatitis
Biocide and Fungicide
Chemicals used to protect floors against chemicals to kill bacteria and fungi
Sensitizing, contact dermatitis, respiratory irritation
Antifouling agent, heat stabilization of PVC
Toxic to immune system, reproductive toxicity, aquatic contamination
Dust, pollen, pet dander and hair, and other solid ultrafine particles trapped in fibrous flooring.
Respiratory problems and skin irritations
Fungi and Bacteria
Mold, mildew, and bacterial growth in excessively moist flooring
Respiratory irritations, infections, and various respiratory and skin allergies
Odor causing bacteria and mold due to excessive moisture. Retained, animal and human excretions, lingering household odors, household
Eye, discomfort, nausea, and nose, throat, or lung irritation
On this note, I think I can wrap up my discussion on the best floors for air quality. The only other thing I would add to get good indoor air quality in addition to getting the best flooring is an air purifier. I write extensively about .
Alright, now that I have shown you how floors contribute to poor air quality in your home or workspace, we can now look at which floors are best for indoor air quality. Besides that, I will also show you which floors are the worst, so you know exactly what to avoid if you want good air quality in any indoor space.
5 Best Flooring Options For Indoor Air Quality
Many floor types are a good choice for indoor air quality. I am however only going to touch on the best five I found through in-depth research on this issue and also from my personal experience living in homes with different floor types.
When it comes to flooring, there are many specific brands of floors that are great for air quality but I will approach our discussion here from a floor-type perspective rather than brand. As I discuss each floor type I will then point out some branded products that stand out for good air quality under each best floor category.
You will find even the worst floor types actually have eco-friendly varieties. Nonetheless, for optimal air quality, you are safer sticking to the floor types with the least emissions and that are the least polluting. When it comes to flooring and air quality, I also strongly push people to go for GREENGUARD certified flooring.
The GREENGUARD certification program is one of the best guides you can use to make sure the type of floor you are getting is safe for your indoor air. Based on their low emission and polluting levels, here is my list of the best types of flooring for Indoor air quality.
Whether you go for ceramic, porcelain, glass, stone, or marble tiles these are all great choices for your air quality in and of themselves. What makes tiles dangerous is the grout and materials used to lay them down on your subfloor.
Some people complain about lead in ceramic tiles but even if you have lead-containing ceramic tiles your air is pretty much safe. This is because, in ceramic glazes, lead is contained within the hardened surface of the glaze and not a risk to users.
Lead becomes a problem if you ever decide to remove your tile floor. The dust that gets into your air from breaking your tiles will contain lead and pretty much poison your air. To be on the safe side if you are concerned about lead, rather go for stone or marble tiles.
It's quite difficult to find ceramic and porcelain tiles that do not contain any lead. The other thing with tiles is that some factory sealed tiles, be it stone, marble, or porcelain are sealed using toxic sealers.
The consequence is that when you are buying tiles, you have to look for Greenguard certified tiles. Fortunately, you are spoilt for choice when it comes to Greenguard certified tiles. With Greenguard certified tiles, you can rest assured you are getting air quality safe tiles.
The other thing people do is go for tiles that have not been sealed and they seal their tiles themselves using natural 0 VOC sealers. All said and done, if you use non-toxic sealers and grout most types of tiles are well placed not to worsen your air quality.
Tiles are easy to clean, resistant to most odors, and do not trap pollutants to later release them into your air. In fact, in recent years, a company called Crossville developed air cleaning tiles for those of you who are OCD about your air quality.
2. Wooden Floors
When it comes to air quality, wooden floors are one of those floor types that fall into both the good and the bad camp. Some wooden floors are absolutely terrible for air quality while others are tailored to improve your air. We will touch on the good wood here and discuss the bad stuff in the next section.
The best type of wooden floor for good air quality is hardwood floors. They are quite easy to maintain and unlike carpets, they do not trap contaminants that can later get into your air. However, the challenge with them is that they are prone to water damage and if you expose them to excessive moisture they are likely to rot and subsequently contaminate your air.
Some hardwood floors are also finished with harsh chemicals which off-gas and this is not good for your air quality but fortunately, there are safe alternative finishes for hardwood floors that are excellent for air quality. You really have to be careful about what you are selecting when choosing a hardwood floor.
For good air quality, you have to stick to certified hardwood floors. There are various reputable floor certification bodies. I recommend Greenguard, FSC, Green Seal, and low-VOC certified floors for any floor including hardwood floors.
Uncertified hardwood floors are likely to contain formaldehyde which is very bad for your air quality. If you can keep your wooden floor moist and consequently keep it mold-free the only other thing you need to worry about for good air quality is what wood finish and glue is used for your wooden floor.
There are many zero VOC and green options for finishing wood. A good example is AFM Poly BP. Some people also use Hemp oil. For nontoxic glue, you can try AFM Almighty Adhesive. However, the ultimate hardwood floor I have seen for good air quality has got to be the Pure Genius smart hardwood floor made by Lauzon.
The Pure Genius floor is a hardwood floor with a zero-emission finish made of titanium dioxide that actually cleans your air using natural sunlight. Lauzon claims that their hardwood floor leaves your air up to 85% cleaner.
3. Natural Linoleum
Another great floor for air quality is natural linoleum. This is a rare product and at the moment I only know of one brand called Marmoleum that's available in North America and Europe and it's made by Forbo Floor Systems.
Unlike normal linoleum, natural linoleum is made of some natural pigments, limestone, linseed oil, some binders, jute, pine flour, and it's covered with a UV cured sealer on top. What's more the glue used to adhere it to the floor is 0 VOC. Marmoleum is also Greenguard Certified.
Natural linoleum will off-gas some odor for about a month though but thereafter this floor is clean. Natural linoleum contains no dangerous off-gassing PVC or phthalates and it repels dirt and dust because it is anti-static and it also has antibacterial properties.
This makes it an excellent choice for indoor air quality. You can learn more about Marmoleum here at Amazon.
4. Polished Concrete
Most polished concrete floors are non-toxic. They are made of potassium silicate or sodium silicate which are safe and do not off-gas. A lot of people think this flooring type is boring but you can actually get quite a lot of amazing flooring designs with polished concrete without hurting your air quality.
In addition to being 0 VOC, it is very easy to clean and does not harbor dust mites, fungi, and other allergens and it is quite odor resistant. Concrete flooring comes highly recommended for you if you have multiple chemical sensitivities.
The main thing to avoid with polished concrete flooring is toxic sealers like epoxy. Yes, there are some 0 VOC epoxy sealers out there but apparently even zero VOC epoxy still off-gasses slightly.
Epoxy on your polished concrete floor is, therefore, best avoided if you need the best air quality possible. You can learn more about non-toxic concrete sealers here.
Last on my list of good floors for air quality is rubber floors. First off with a rubber floor, you might think they are only for gyms and factories but you actually get really great designs for home use as well.
Rubber flooring will initially have a new smell when you first install it but this quickly wears off and it is not dangerous. The beauty of rubber flooring is you need minimal chemical-based cleaners to keep it clean and it does not trap dust and all sorts of air pollution.
You can literally keep it clean with water only. It's moisture-resistant and it does not allow for air-polluting mold and fungi build up. The thing you have to make sure though is to go for 0 VOC adhesives when installing your rubber floor.
Furthermore, not all rubber floors are made equal and there are some you will want to avoid. As I highlighted previously for floors in general, avoid any rubber floor that's not Greenguard certified.
Lastly, stay away from anything made of recycled tires. The best brands for air quality safe rubber floors include Mondo, Artigo, and Nora. Rubber floors have a long service life and they are a great choice for creating healthy working and living spaces.
In a home setting, I would personally go for rubber flooring in my kitchen, bathroom, and home gym but the designs I have seen available are suitable enough for an entire home. As for indoor public spaces, that’s what rubber floors were made for.
So these are my top five best floorings for indoor air quality and with these out of the way, now we can look at the worst floors.
5 Worst Flooring Options For Indoor Air Quality
Like the good types of flooring for air quality, there are plenty of bad types of flooring for air quality but I will focus on the worst five. I kind of already alluded to carpets and wooden floors as being bad for air quality earlier on, so I will start with them.
1. Carpet Flooring
Carpets can be comfortable and very pleasing to the eye in a home or office but don’t waste your time with carpets if you want pristine indoor air quality. As much as they have soundproofing and insulation benefits, carpets are one of the worst types of flooring for air quality because they release mold, odors, and Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) into your air and trap air pollutants.
Not all carpets release VOCs into your air but many do. Usually, they emit VOCs just after being unwrapped and installed but they can also emit VOCs after being cleaned with toxic household chemicals or if you accidentally spill VOC emitting chemicals on them. Carpets will absorb such chemicals and slowly off-gas them in your air over time.
You also want to avoid carpets because of mold and odors. When a carpet gets wet, with water or human or animal excretions, no matter how eco-friendly or emissions-free it is, it becomes an environment where mold can easily thrive and this mold, in turn, grows spores that disperse into your air and can cause various health issues.
Also, the mold and human excretions produce all sorts of odors through your carpet. At times these odors continue to be released from your carpet even after cleaning it.
Furthermore, you also have particulate pollutants like dust, pollen, and dander that get stuck in your carpet and eventually become airborne. These trapped particulate pollutants then become airborne through day to day activities like walking on your carpet or cleaning.
Looking at all the ways carpets can pollute your air that I have just pointed out, I have just touched the tip of the iceberg. There are various other ways carpets mess up the quality of your air and we would be here all day if I had to list them all. Accordingly, you can clearly see carpets are not the ideal type of flooring if you want good quality air indoors.
2. Wooden Flooring
Earlier on I showed you the good side of wooden floors. No, for the bad side, I think the first concern I have with wood is its weakness when exposed to moisture. If you live in a high humidity area, for the sake of your indoor air quality, wood is best avoided.
The other thing is if you have a concrete subfloor, putting wood on top can trap a lot of moisture below your wood floor because concrete retains a lot of moisture. The end result is mold growth between your wooden floor and concrete subfloor with obvious negative consequences for your air quality.
Then there are specific woods you want to avoid and these are largely softwoods. These include woods like pine and cedar. Such aromatic woods have higher levels of natural VOCs than less aromatic woods. As for hardwoods, you want to avoid bamboo. Contrary to popular belief bamboo floors are for the most part not good for air quality.
Bamboo floors are known to release carcinogenic isocyanates and also formaldehyde into indoor air. There are several chemicals involved in making bamboo flooring and some of these can off-gas for a while in your home or workspace.
Based on this, my take is you would rather leave bamboo floors alone if you are concerned about your air quality. If you have moisture issues, stay away from wood altogether and lastly to keep VOCs at a minimum in your air, avoid softwoods, especially the aromatic ones.
Vinyl has many good qualities as flooring but unfortunately, it does more harm than good for indoor air quality. When installing vinyl, usually there are harmful off-gassing solvents involved.
This flooring is also prone to water damage especially if water gets beneath it. You cannot remove the water and eventually air polluting mold develops under it. Most vinyl contains dangerous chemicals like Phthalates and plasticizers.
Some vinyl flooring also contains cadmium. Some Vinyl manufacturers have tried to come up with safer versions of this flooring for improved air quality but in my opinion, Vinyl is certainly not the go-to flooring if you need good air quality in your home or workspace.
In the spotlight in recent years for emitting formaldehyde, laminate is now largely shunned upon as a bad floor type for air quality. Besides formaldehyde, some Laminate floors contain aluminum oxide which is not good for asthma sufferers, and isocyanate which is carcinogenic.
Laminate flooring also off-gases some VOCs. You will find some laminate floors that are Greenguard Certified. However, in all the laminate flooring, very strong adhesives are used to bond the fibers together to form laminate boards.
Accordingly, no zero VOC or 100% non-toxic laminate floorings exist currently. Simply put, laminate flooring means trouble for your air quality. Laminate is, therefore, best avoided if you are looking for a floor that will not worsen your air quality.
The trouble with cork floors is that their composition can vary widely and some may contain harmful binders. A lot of cork floors are made using polyurethane glues which off-gas quite strongly. Furthermore, off-gassing adhesives are also usually used to glue down your cork floor on your subfloor. Similar to other types of flooring, you will get environmentally friendly varieties of cork flooring.
However, knowing that cork floors are widely off-gassing, why go for cork when you have plenty of other cleaner flooring options for your indoor air. So, because cork is known for off-gassing, personally I would avoid this type of flooring if I was concerned about the quality of my indoor.
On this note, I think I can wrap up my discussion on the best floors for air quality. The other main thing I would do to get good indoor air quality after installing the right flooring is invest in an effective air purifier like the Enviroklenz Mobile Air System. I write extensively about how air purifiers can help improve your indoor air quality here.