Looking for advice on how to find non-toxic flooring


I need to re-floor a room that flooded.  This is the first time I've been faced with installing flooring as I've just lived with what was here when I moved in.  I'm mainly interested in carpet but might be interested in other types of flooring.  My primary goal is something non-toxic.  I don't have any particular sensitivities or health conditions; it just seems like a good idea to not surround myself with toxic chemicals.  I haven't found the flooring stores to be very easy to navigate with this purpose in mind.  Living in the Bay Area, I would have thought many would have gone down this road before me but I haven't found any advice givers on the topic.  There are many blogs and websites out there leading to websites without prices and broken links.  I really would like some actionable advice- like store x has many options for that, talk to person y, look for a, b, c labels, x backing is as good as you are going to get, don't bother with y because its astronomically expensive.  It seems like there are two extremes- the uber pure, uber expensive option and everything else.  I was hoping to make a wise choice between these extremes based on what a mere mortal can do.  But it's tricky.  You can have the idea that something is really bad for you and then end up buying something that is actually worse because you weren't aware of the details.  I was hoping there was knowledgeable people out there.  Thanks in advance for any advice!

Parent Replies

New responses are no longer being accepted.

I'd recommend taking a look at some of the resources provided by independent organizations like USGBC (US Green Building Council), Green Building Institute or Well Building Institute. Both those organizations manage certification processes for buildings, which means that they have developed standards for non-toxic and/or recyclable material for both flooring and other finishes. You can also look for products that advertise some of these certifications.Typically you want to look for natural fibers/materials and low-VOC adhesives.  For carpets, specifically, the Carpet & Rug institute has a Green Label Plus certification for products that meet its non-toxic standards. It may be easier to get an outside sense of important criteria before browsing what's actually available at the local flooring stores. (Another note is that many of these requirements have been codified into the Building Code these days, so the typical materials now available usually meet pretty high non-toxic standards already. Very different than 20 or even 10 years ago...)

One thing that will also affect your flooring choices is the type of subfloor you are installing it over, and the potential moisture content. You don't say if the flooding was a one-time event, but if you're dealing with an onging dampness issue, you may want to consider some sort of resilient flooring over a water/air barrier, as it will be more durable than carpet in the long term.

I don't have a specific recommendation but I've been just starting to do a little research myself for a home remodel. Have you checked out the EWG website (Environmental Working Group)? They are a great resource and have a section on healthier carpets and do's and dont's. In terms of other non-carpet flooring the best options are solid wood with a low-VOC finish, natural linoleum like marmoleum (personally I'm a big fan of this stuff), cork, and tile flooring are all good options.

Have you tried Eco Home Improvement in Berkeley? They may be able to help. 

The healthy carpet is generally very expensive. You may want to try putting rugs on top of another floor. As long as you can see the pattern on the back, the rug is generally pretty clean. If it is coated in glue (like carpet) or has a separate backing, steer clear, that is usually an indication of formaldehyde. 

You can probably get a healthy floor in wood, linoleum, or cork. With wood, be careful of the finish, low voc only. With linoleum, true linoleum only, which is made of wood fiber. 

Good luck. I hope you find the perfect solution. 

We really love our Marmoleum kitchen floor by Forbo. It can be used anywhere, has great colors and designs, and is easy to clean and care for. It is also environnentally friendly and pretty simple in it's makeup.


Yours is a great question and i applaud you for considering safe alternatives. I am a retired architect with environmental sensitivities. With flooring, as with most finishes, you get what you pay for. I had a limited budget. Here's what I put in my house:

Bedrooms: natural wool carpet (lots of color and texture options) on a natural rubber pad. Yes, costly, but very little maintenance, naturally stain and odor resistant, and very durable. I put it in 15 years ago and it still looks great, despite raising two kids who eat and do art projects in their rooms. Clean only with water, or a tiny bit of Woolite if necessary - seriously, this gets out even cat and human vomit; however, orange Gatorade is a nightmare. Many more natural wool offerings are available now than 15 years ago.  Check out www.abbeycarpet.com. For the pad, avoid standard rebond padding at all costs—highly toxic, out gasses more as it ages, and supports mold growth. Go with natural rubber, it's stable and hygienic.

Living Areas: 5/8" thick vertical grain bamboo (look for 5/8" solid bamboo with no VOC adhesives) with a water-based finish and wool area rugs (Dolma in Palo Alto and Menlo Park has a wide selection of quality rugs at great prices, when on sale). Again, costly, but little maintenance, very durable, still going strong. Caution: most bamboo on the market is bamboo laminate on a substrate and cannot be refinished. I purchased a www.teragren.com and www.bonakemi.com products. Search the sites for local dealers and installers.

Good luck with you decision.

I recommend that you go to Straus Carpets in Oakland. They have all kinds of flooring, not just carpets. I also had to replace flooring after a flood, and the salesperson who helped me (sorry, can't remember his name) was *very* knowledgeable about toxicity. We ended up going with what they call a "luxury vinyl plank" that met the high standards for being installed in schools. We're very happy with the floor and the service we received. In fact, a contractor I know had them install flooring in his own home. He could have done it himself, but wanted the excellent guarantee that came along with installation. You really can't go wrong with Straus. And if you don't go there, please avoid Lumber Liquidators at all costs -- toxic products and pushy salespeople.