These days, our homes are full of toxic substances, chemicals, and allergens. According to the American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology (AAAAI) more than half of the population of the United States suffers from some form of allergies, and many of the most common allergens are found in the home. By carefully considering flooring choices, you may be able to eliminate one major source of problems, allowing your family to breathe much easier.
Common allergens and asthma triggers found inside almost any home include dust mites, mold, and pet dander. Reducing the places where allergens can settle and hide improves the air quality in your home and can reduce symptoms like watery, itchy eyes and many respiratory and sinus ailments.
- Dust mites droppings, body parts, and husks can be found in any kind of fabric in the home, including carpet. Dust mites are microscopic insects too small to be seen by the naked eye, but they are unavoidable…and everywhere.
- Mold can grow on any surface where there is moisture, including flooring in areas that are frequently damp, like bathrooms and kitchens.
- Warm-blooded pets shed animal dander (skin flakes and hair) and otherwise contribute to allergies by salivating, urinating, defecating, and dragging biological playthings in from the yard, like sticks and dead animals.
In addition to natural allergies like dust and mold, some flooring contains volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that can also trigger allergies in some people. Exposure to VOCs can trigger asthma attacks and is associated with symptoms including headaches, eye irritation, coughing, unexplained fatigue, and respiratory distress. Before choosing any kind of flooring for your homes, look for a manufacturer that deals in VOC-free products and discuss the use of VOC-free adhesives with your flooring contractor.
Cork flooring is an excellent choice on several levels. Cork is antimicrobial due to the presence of suberin, a naturally occurring substance that reduces growth of mold, mildew, bacteria, and other allergens. The hard surface makes it easy to clean with a dust mop, and even though it is a porous material, the finish prevents pockets where allergens can collect.
One of the most beautiful and desirable types of flooring, hardwood is a great choice for people sensitive to allergens. The hard surface leaves no room to hide for dust mites, and it cleans easily, leaving a dust and hair-free surface.
Laminate flooring may or may not be a good choice for allergen reduction, depending on manufacture. Laminates are typically manufactured by gluing together layers of wood composite. Adhesives used during the manufacturing process may be laden with formaldehyde and other potentially dangerous VOCs that can trigger allergies immediately or over time. Always check product documentation or ask a salesperson for the emissions rating of the product. Laminate floors that are CARB compliant or have a formaldehyde rating of E1 or E0 are generally the best choices. However, the hard surface, much like hardwoods, is easy to clean and does not harbor or hide dust and dander.
Bamboo is an excellent choice for people with allergies for several reasons. It offers all the surface properties of hard flooring and won’t provide a cozy home for dust mites or dander. It’s water-resistant, and is less likely to retain moisture than traditional hardwood. But like laminates, manufacturing is important. Make sure you check to be sure the manufacturing process is low VOC before purchasing bamboo flooring and verify that any installation adhesives are free of VOCs.
Not all stone flooring is allergy friendly. As a rule, smooth stone will be much less likely to harbor allergens than a stone that is porous in nature and has a rougher edge silhouette. Highly polished marble and granite are excellent choices, but natural-looking stone with a rough finish and uneven surface can provide pockets for mold and other allergens. Using an underlayment moisture barrier like cork or foam rubber will help stop mold from developing.
Porcelain and Ceramic Tile
Tile is one of the best choices for allergy prevention. It’s easy to care for and dust accumulation is easy to spot and clean. For most effective allergy reduction, make sure it is installed with VOC-fee adhesives. When using any tile, make sure the grouting is in good repair to prevent moisture from seeping beneath the floor into the subfloor where mold can flourish.
Much like cork flooring, some high-end vinyl floors offer all the benefits of a hard surface; easy cleaning and easy care and no pockets to collect moisture, mold, or mites and an antibacterial agent built into the manufacturing process. However, in the case of vinyl, you always get what you pay for. Lower end vinyl floorings are often manufactured with VOCs, making emissions from the material itself an allergen risk.
Carpeting can be a nightmare for allergy sufferers. It is the ultimate environment for dust mites and dander, and tends to retain a high level of moisture, making it a perfect situation to aid in the growth of mold and mildew in the carpet, the padding, or adjacent walls. If you must have carpet, clean frequently with a good quality HEPA filtered vacuum, and choose a carpeting manufactured to be mold and mildew resistant and VOC-free. Look for similar qualities in the carpet padding. If carpeting gets wet, extract the water immediately and keep the temperature cold until the carpet and pad are dry to inhibit the growth of mold and mildew.
Every floor covering has pros and cons when it comes to minimizing allergens in the home. Underlayment and padding should be considered along with the flooring itself, but the best way to inhibit the growth of allergens in hard flooring is to ensure that the floor is sealed against moisture by grouting or glue, and all floors should be kept clean and dust-free.