Best (& Worst) Flooring for Allergies & Asthma
Your home is your castle. Your safe harbor from the pressures and threats of the day-to-day outside world. But for allergy sufferers, even the home can be a minefield of triggers and health concerns on a daily basis.
According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of American (AAFA), as well as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 50 million people in the United States experience allergies each year. And allergies are the 6th leading cause of chronic illness in the United States. Allergies are an incurable condition that adults and children alike are faced with every single day.
With numbers like those, it’s easy to see why you would want to prevent allergy triggers as much as possible. Especially in the home. And while many people go to a lot of trouble to “allergy-proof” their home, they often overlook one of the largest producers of allergy triggers in the home: the floor.
Let’s examine what options are available underfoot for allergen-sensitive households. Is there even such a thing as an allergy-proof floor? Which flooring is the best option for combating allergy triggers? Hang on to your antihistamines, this piece will give you everything you’ve ever wanted to know about selecting the best allergy-friendly flooring.
Allergies: What is it?
Before we get to the options, it can be helpful to understand the condition. You may get a cold a few times a year, but those are not allergies. Every time your nose runs, it may not be due to allergies.
So just what exactly are allergies?
According to the AAFA, an allergy is a reaction within your immune system to a foreign substance in or in contact with your body. These substances are broadly called allergens.
An allergen can be eaten, inhaled into your lungs, injected into your body or simply something you touched. The reaction can cause coughing, sneezing, itchy eyes, a runny nose, and a scratchy throat. In severe cases, rashes, hives, low blood pressure, breathing trouble, asthma attacks, and even death have occurred. As stated above, there is no cure for allergies. But you can manage allergies with prevention and treatment.
What are common allergens? Bad news: your house is typically full of them. Mold, mildew, dust, dust mites, pet dander, pollen, dirt, grass, leaves, and even chemicals.
Allergens can live in any number of places throughout the home, including oft-overlooked flooring. However, they’re also found in indoor plants, bedding, and pillows, mattresses, stuffed toys, soft furniture, on pets, and in damp areas such as basements, kitchens and bathrooms.
So how can you possibly avoid something as prolific as an allergen from entering your home? That’s a tall order, as you can imagine, so let’s start on the ground level.
What To Look For In A Floor
Rather than burn the place to the ground after reading those horrifying lists of allergens and where they’re found, we’re going to look at some options on which flooring is best for allergies, and honestly, which one is the worst.
It helps to have some general guidelines as to what makes a good, hypo-allergenic flooring and what might not be so great. In the case of allergies, this is a short list, however, we’ll get into more detail as we go through each option.
Generally speaking, soft surfaces are not going to be your best option, so stick with harder surface floor products and avoid rugs. That opens you up to a wider variety of flooring options than many other project considerations (water-resistant flooring is considerably more restrictive). Stay toward natural products, rather than man-made, to avoid chemicals.
All that said, if you’re not confident or unsure of where to start, reach out to your flooring experts at The Good Guys. They’re here to help with all your questions from allergy-friendly product selection, to installation and maintenance.
Least Allergy-friendly Flooring
Ok, let’s start with the bad news first. As mentioned earlier, there is one flooring option considered less effective than others when dealing with allergens. Spoiler Alert: Carpet is the worst.
Now that’s not to say carpet is bad. Carpet is a beautiful, soft, cost-effective flooring option for many homes. However, if you’re looking at allergy-friendly floors, it’s best to steer clear of the soft surface products, and carpet in particular.
But why? Many of the microscopic allergens we discussed are trapped and even furthered with carpet. Dust mites, dirt, and moisture (MOLD!!!) are held more in the carpet than in any other flooring material. Even with frequent vacuuming, with a HEPA filter, you can never completely eliminate all allergens from the carpet. Remember – if you’re just dealing with the carpet – you’re missing 50% of the area in which allergens hide. These “hidden dangers” listed above can seep through the carpet material into the padding beneath where it is harder, if not impossible, to remove.
Many carpet manufacturers are now offering hypoallergenic carpet, and moisture-resistant padding is available (very useful in basements, for example), and natural fiber or renewable “green” carpeting is better on allergies than the standard products. However, they’re all still carpet and pad and can trap, store, and even attract allergens.
Better Options for Allergy-Friendly Flooring
Laminate & Vinyl Flooring
Laminate and vinyl flooring meets the criteria of hard surface vs. soft, moving you away from some of the pitfalls of carpet. However, they’re not completely impervious to allergens either. Laminate and vinyl plank flooring don’t trap allergens like carpet and they’re generally much easier to clean.
Luxury vinyl plank and vinyl tile flooring are one of the hottest new trends in flooring in recent years. It’s durable, easy to clean and comes in a variety of trendsetting colors, patterns, and looks.
Vinyl is a good allergy-friendly alternative as its hard surface qualities make it easy to clean of dust and debris and don’t lend towards trapping allergens. Be sure to check the VOC content of both the flooring (due largely to its petroleum base) and (for glue-down options) the adhesive used to install it, as these can be potent sources of allergy-inducing fumes. Higher-end vinyl products typically are the better option for both durability and VOC content. Truly a “you-get-what-you-pay-for” situation.
Laminate is a manufactured product and contains limited natural materials. The majority of laminate plank and rigid-core vinyl flooring products require click-lock and floating installation, eliminating the need for adhesives.
Engineered Hardwood contains several layers of actual wood, bonded to a base layer for strength. That base layer is often man-made materials bonded together with a chemical adhesive. Engineered hardwoods are most frequently glued down using adhesives.
All those adhesives and man-made materials are potential sources of allergens. As they’re chemical-based, they have the potential for immediate and timed-release of Volatile Organic Compounds (or VOCs). If you’re looking at engineered wood as an option for your floors, pay special attention to the amount of VOCs in each product and select products with the least amount possible. You can request copies of the manufacturer’s Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) for each product to determine the VOC content. Be sure to check the levels and presence of one particular VOC: Formaldehyde. This is a common allergen in flooring, as it’s used in both the construction of the floors as well as in the adhesives. Be aware this may exist in the plywood subfloors or even some engineered wood products used in the construction of your home.
Tile and Stone
As with any potential new flooring job, our search for allergy-friendly floors brings us to tile and stone. Long popular for their durability, style, high-end appearance and variety, tile and stone are good allergy-friendly options for flooring if attention is paid to the selection, style, and installation.
Any smooth finish tile or stone is a good hypoallergenic option. Natural stone or porous tiles, or tiles with roughly finished edges can trap dirt, dust, mold and other allergens in the “holes” in the tile. Polished marble and granite look great and are allergy-friendly options, but they can be slick underfoot, so factor that into any decision.
No matter what tile or stone you select, pay attention to the adhesive and the grout for VOC content and select one with lower quantities. Additionally, it’s critically important to properly seal the tile and grout, and regularly clean and reseal it at the manufacturer’s recommendations. Sealing prevents dirt, dust and other allergens from penetrating the porous surface of the tile or grout.
Hardwood floors have been a consistent, popular flooring choice for literally hundreds of years. They’re durable, can be refinished, versatile for use throughout the home, and for our purposes, they’re allergy-friendly.
Hardwood floors are consistently rated as one of the most allergy-friendly choices on the market. When properly installed and sealed with an allergy-friendly polyurethane-style clearcoat, hardwood floors do not harbor microorganisms like dust mites or trap dirt, dust, or other tracked in allergens. Dust, mold, animal dander and hair, are all easily addressed with a dust mop and regular cleaning with an appropriate hardwood floor cleaner.
Hardwood floors can be refinished, and with care can last a lifetime or more. They are natural, renewable resources, that like anything in nature omits some VOCs, however, they pale in comparison to those contained in (brace for a surprise!) the adhesive and the finish coat. Not to sound like a broken record but be sure to watch the VOCs on those products. Your partners at The Good Guys can help with navigating some of these tricky allergy-free products.
Natural flooring options, championed by products like cork and bamboo, are also a great allergy-friendly option. They are natural, which limits the VOCs, eco-friendly, and easy to maintain for an allergy-free floor for years.
When properly finished, even a porous product like cork can be great for allergy sufferers. It naturally resists mold, mildew, and bacteria and is easily maintained, like hardwood floors, with a dust mop and appropriate cleaner.
Bamboo is another renewable, eco-friendly option that is durable and resistant to allergens. One note of warning on bamboo: it is technically a member of the grass family, rather than a tree product, so if you are looking for flooring friendly to grass allergies, this may not be the best choice. Like wood, tile, and cork, when properly sealed, bamboo flooring resists the growth of mold and mildew and doesn’t trap dirt and dust.
As with any of these products be careful to note the VOCs on the sealant and the adhesives used during install and adjust your product selections accordingly.
Concrete? The stuff that soaks up water, and by that logic could soak up mold, mildew, dirt and other allergens? That’s allergy-friendly?
Actually, yes. In addition to being a design and flooring option increasing in popularity, when treated properly and decoratively finished, concrete is a very allergy-friendly flooring option. You can get near-infinite color and finish combinations and maintenance is very simple with a dust mop and finish-friendly floor cleaner.
While concrete does emit VOCs, the emissions are significantly lower than that of most other building products, as reported by the Portland Cement Association, a policy, research, education, and market intelligence organization serving America’s cement manufacturers.
Make sure the concrete is prepared with low VOC products prior to staining/finishing, and have it properly sealed with a low-VOC or VOC-free sealer for extra life and worry-free maintenance.
What To Remember
As you can see, there are significantly more allergy-friendly flooring options than one might initially think. However, selection can come with some considerations. Your flooring and remodeling professionals at The Good Guys can help you with all aspects of the flooring process from selection, to purchase, to installation.
If you’re researching this on your own, remember to steer clear of soft surfaces like carpet and consider more natural products like hardwood, or cork, or general hard surfaces like concrete, tile or stone.
Always check your VOC contents on all the products involved in the installation and look for low- or VOC-free options for adhesives and sealants.
Taking all those into account, your floors should look great, and provide worry- and more importantly, allergy-free surfaces for years.
READY TO TALK ABOUT YOUR PROJECT?
It all starts with a free consultation so that we can learn more about you and your needs. Complete this simple form to get started.