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Non Toxic and Sustainable Flooring Suitable for Children

By: Chris Hogan MSc - Updated: 14 Apr 2017 | comments*Discuss
 
Flooring Sustainable Non-toxic

Finding suitable eco-friendly and non-toxic flooring materials for families with children can be a taxing affair. You want to be aware of the impact on the environment of the manufacture of the flooring and at the same time, sustainable and eco-friendly flooring options are often inherently non-toxic so it sounds like everyone wins.

But with small children running around you need the surface to be hard-wearing and that often means finding something less natural, which suddenly introduces the issue of toxic chemicals. There are more and more products coming on the market though and it's hard to keep up with all the new developments.

Healthy Flooring Choices

The two essential choices are between hard and soft flooring, and soft flooring generally comes second when it comes to flooring for children. Hard flooring is easier to keep clean and should last longer; soft flooring will be more comfortable for children but harbours germs and can stain easily. However, the comfort issue isn’t that important for children.

Although it might seem brutal to say so, it is true that young children are very resilient. Toddlers don't have so far to fall and are permanently doing it anyway, so they are more used to it. It might be better to focus on warmth, if solid floors make sense, going for products like wood or lino rather than stone or ceramic tiles.

If you do decide to go for stone or ceramic tiles you may need to enquire about radon emissions. Radon is naturally occurring but there are higher levels in some areas than others. Some ceramic tiles, particular those with intense red or green glazes, can emit radon as can granite or slate. There are commercial radon detectors available that can test your house if you already have a floor like this in your home.

Laminate and Vinyl Sheet Flooring

In the absence of any specific information, general rules are that laminate flooring, whether it's a wood finish or something else, has some problems. It resists wear well but once it is damaged it is virtually unrepairable and the whole floor has to be replaced. This is compounded by it's being unrecyclable too. From a health point of view there are concerns about levels of formaldehyde from the manufacturing process and being given off from the glue while it's in use.

Vinyl sheet flooring fares much worse and the fact that suspect chemicals being given off by the flooring increase with heat makes it a very bad candidate for underfloor heating too. Harmful gasses are given off in its manufacture and its disposal as well.

Natural Products

It really does come down to wood and lino as the best options for families with children although they are not the cheapest. Lino is longer-lasting than vinyl and both less energy intensive and more ecologically sound during the manufacturing stage. It's warmer than other sheet flooring, can be cut and shaped into unique designs, has a natural antibacterial effect from the linseed oil and is naturally anti-static too.

Cork is getting a lot of press as a natural and sustainable flooring material and the only issues are the finish and the glue. You should be able to fix cork tiles with a plant-based glue, or a low toxin water-based glue. One problem is that many manufacturers will not honour warranty claims if you don’t use the exact glue they state. Finish the cork off with a natural wax rather than a polyurethane sealant, this will need regular reapplication but it's a lot less harmful.

Wooden Flooring

Real wood can last for hundreds of years and although it can be damaged it can always be repaired rather than needing to be replaced. It is expensive but reclaimed timbers used for flooring will bring the cost down. It can be tricky with underfloor heating though, and for this reason many people go for engineered wood floors.

These have a wood veneer but the underneath layers are made of plywood. The issue here will be the glue used to hold all the layers together. As long as that's benign this option is a lot safer than laminate flooring.

Let the Internet Help

With growing concerns about sustainability, eco-friendliness and toxicity it's a good thing that the internet has evolved into a relatively easy tool to use for research. Most manufacturers now have statements on their websites as to the ecological awareness of their products, processes and operations as well as details of the chemicals compounds used in their manufacture.

If they don't, it's a fair bet that they do not make products that are suitable for you.

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My husband insisted on having carpets upstairs for 'luxury'. Hardly necessary for what little time we spend up there. However, my argument being that having pets, carpets seem dirty and unhygienic and therefore a non-toxic solid floor would has be been a better choice. What might you recommend for the upstairs of a house which is hard wearing and non-toxic and suitable for dogs and children? Many thanks.
Pet Owner - 14-Apr-17 @ 10:13 AM
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