Sunday, March 29, 2015

Formaldehyde Free Flooring?

By Crystal Hosking, Hosking Hardwood Flooring

You’ve exchanged your gas guzzler for a more environmentally friendly smart car. You’ve taken the steps to quit smoking in order to reduce the over 4000 chemicals ingested with each puff. You’ve reduced your carbon footprint and pesticide intake by shopping the local farmer markets. These are all simple steps for a healthier home for you and your family! But could your own house be poisoning you?

How safe are the materials in your home?

How safe are the building materials in your home?

The hardwood flooring industry has always been pretty candid regarding formaldehyde levels of certain engineered flooring products. It was never a secret that formaldehyde was a major part of physically keeping some subfloors and engineered flooring together. Engineered flooring is a layer of real wood fused to either cross layers of plywood or a birch or pine core. You can read more about engineered flooring construction here. Formaldehyde is significant in this process. Or, at least, it was.

So, what IS formaldehyde anyways?

Composed of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen, formaldehyde is a chemical that occurs naturally in our atmosphere. We are constantly exposed to this organic compound in small doses. These small amounts of formaldehyde floating around in our atmosphere are naturally disposed of, breaking down in sunlight and in water and therefore not causing any harm to you.

If formaldehyde is a natural gas of the Earth, then what’s the problem?

Well, problems with formaldehyde arise when levels of the gas form are increased, especially in enclosed areas with low ventilation. Typically, when one thinks of toxic gases, automobile exhaust and cigarette smoke come to mind. However, there is a wide array of products that consumers come in contact with on a daily basis which contain formaldehyde, including:

Car Parts

Copiers and Printers

Facial Tissue, Napkins and Paper Towels

Fungicides, Germicides and Disinfectants


Glues and Adhesives

Insulation Materials

Laminates, Compressed Hardwoods and Carpet


Particleboard, Plywood and Fiberboard (popular subfloors)

Shampoos and Cosmetics

Perhaps the biggest shocker is the realization that formaldehyde is one of the main chemicals used for the embalming process in mortuaries. It’s used for temporarily preserving dead bodies. And manufacturers are putting these chemicals in your lipsticks and shampoos?!!

What makes formaldehyde dangerous to the living is that it is classified as a VOC, which stands for Volatile Organic Compound. When VOCs reach room temperature, they convert to a gas form and “off gas” into the air. If a high enough concentration of these formaldehyde gases are ingested, it can cause significant damage and, in some cases, death.

Severity of the side effect of formaldehyde exposure can vary from person to person and obviously is dependent on formaldehyde levels in the air. As mentioned earlier, formaldehyde is constantly present as a naturally occurring gas in our atmosphere; it’s really just high concentrations that should be avoided. Symptoms of high formaldehyde intake are: irritation of the eyes, ears and throat, coughing, wheezing, skin irritation, headaches, dizzy spells and nausea. Long term exposure is thought to cause nose and throat cancer.

No wonder the “green” movement is making strides. As “green” living has become more widespread, consumers are beginning to take more interest in what they are actually putting into their homes – everything from food products to personal hygiene products to the construction materials used to build homes and renovate. In fact, in recent years (when formaldehyde was labeled a human carcinogen) major engineered flooring manufacturers have started taking a more in depth approach to lessening the amount of formaldehyde present in their final consumer products.

Obviously, nobody wants to experience the short term or long term symptoms of high formaldehyde exposure. So, how does a consumer guard their home and family against this dangerous chemical when it seems to be present in everything?

As government and environmental agencies started discovering just how dangerous formaldehyde really is, regulations on the chemical became more stringent and all encompassing. Perhaps one of the first huge steps in regulating formaldehyde came from the California Air Resources Board, commonly referred to as CARB (also as ARB). The CARB was established in the late 1960’s and their mission statement is: “To promote and protect public health, welfare and ecological resources through the effective and efficient reduction of air pollutants, while recognizing and considering the effects on the state’s economy.” (You can find this and more information about CARB at The CARB basically regulates the amount of formaldehyde found in products marketed to the U.S. consumer and many states have absorbed the CARB standards into their own state policies. Most of the top hardwood flooring manufacturers are now CARB compliant; meaning the formaldehyde off gassing from their engineered products is below the limit allowed by CARB and recognized a safe level. Along with the CARB, the U.S. government has taken a stance against unhealthy off gassing with The Clean Air Act and, most recently, President Obama signed the Formaldehyde Standards for Composite Wood Products Act, establishing specific limits for formaldehyde emissions, specifically from composite wood products.

With all of the actions taken by government agencies and private environmental groups, alternatives to products with high formaldehyde levels are becoming increasingly available. The hardwood flooring industry has taken many steps since the first CARB VOC policies were introduced, and now makes cleaner, greener flooring products with lower formaldehyde emissions.

Specifically, engineered flooring manufacturers originally used Urea Formaldehyde adhesives during the pressing process, offering the lowest cost but, at the same time, the highest levels of formaldehyde off gassing. An example of the industry’s changing standards is the introduction of Phenol Formaldehyde Adhesive (PF), as well as No Added Formaldehyde Adhesives (NAF). Some of the major brands of engineered flooring that boast of their little to no formaldehyde emissions are Award, Harris Wood, Mannington, Kahrs and Teragren Bamboo. You can learn more about specific manufacturers by visiting their own website, as virtually every brand of hardwood flooring these days has their own site listing the company’s history, technical specifications, environmental stance, product lines and more.

So, if low-to-no formaldehyde processes are readily available, then why are some manufacturers still not complying with the CARB standards?? The answer is simple: low cost processes are high in toxins = cheaper products. If you search for the least expensive engineered flooring, you’ll probably find that the cheapest products are made outside of the U.S. by foreign owned flooring companies. These cheap engineered products, usually coming straight from China, may seem like a great and affordable way to put hardwood flooring in your home, but they also contain the high toxin levels and formaldehyde emissions. Most hardwood flooring manufacturers in North America and Europe are fully compliant with the CARB emission rate policies.

Ultimately, you’re never going to be completely rid of formaldehyde emissions. However, there are steps that you can take to greatly reduce the level of off gassing happening in your own home:

  1. Recognize older building materials already in use in your home which may be out of code in terms of formaldehyde emissions and make a plan to replace these materials in the future.
  2. Prior to deciding on building materials for your home, do your research and find out the specifics on the particular products you’d like to use.
  3. Make smarter choices when it comes to remodeling your home by using low-to-no formaldehyde products.

Tags: buying hardwood, CARB, Engineered Hardwood Flooring, Formaldehyde, Green Flooring

Comments: 29

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  • Arlene

    I am happy to learn here that there are companies offering low-to-no formaldehyde products as I have MCS (Multiple Chemical Sensitivity). Is there a publication available that lists all low or no VOCs. We just finished a great deal of painting using Sherwin Williams no VOC’s paint and it was wonderful/

  • Hi Arlene,

    Unfortunately, to my knowledge there’s no specific publication dealing with individual products that feature low/no VOCs. As manufacturers are becoming more and more aware of their presence on the internet, though, manufacturer websites are becoming a wealth of information when researching technical information. In the future, I would definitely recommend visiting a particular manufacturer’s website when researching a purchase in order to help you decide on the “greenest” product for your home.

  • Kyle

    I am planning on installing a virginia mills hardwood flooring called castle park oak. It is not a laminate or enigineered, per se, but is a “butcher block” style with multiple smaller strips of wood glued together to make up individual boards. Virginia Mills is not on the carb compliant list. How do I find out if this product contains significant amounts of formaldehyde?

  • Many manufacturers these days have very detailed websites where they post a lot of the technical information regarding their flooring. I would recommend checking there first and if you can’t find the formaldehyde content via their website, contact them directly. Reputable companies always have contact information available on their site to keep a good line of communication open with their customers.

  • kathy

    I’m getting hardwood floors but cannot find a subfloor that doesnt contain formaldehyde. Any ideas?

  • If you’re looking for a formaldehyde free plywood subfloor, you might want to look into a product called PureBond Plywood. It’s available in many Home Depot stores. With PureBond, the plywood is compressed using a soy based adhesive, which contains no hazardous formaldehyde-emitting chemicals.

  • Daisy Pooh

    Hi Jeff – I just ordered Invincible Titanium Laminate flooring for my Living room. Obviously I have not done my homework, after reading your article, I am now thinking about changing it to hard wood. Other that oak, are the rest of the hard woods formaldehye free?

  • Hi Daisy,

    Any wood species can be formed into a formaldehyde free hardwood floor, it’s really based on the manufacturer. We would recommend taking a look at Kahrs Hardwood Flooring, as they have the best record for low emission hardwood flooring products and have a great range of styles and colors to choose from. Click here.

  • Hi Daisy,

    Any wood species can be formed into a formaldehyde free hardwood floor, it’s really based on the manufacturer. We would recommend taking a look at Kahrs Hardwood Flooring, as they have the best record for low emission hardwood flooring products and have a great range of styles and colors to choose from.

  • Daisy Pooh

    Thank you. I will be sharing your website with my family and friends!

  • Linda Feiges

    We bought a new Condo in Maryland. The builder is Beazer. For 3 years we have noticed a peculiar odor . It is from the Armstrong engineered floors. We are so scared we will get cancer from breathing in the fumes for this long. Please help as soon as possible. Can you find out anything and let us know.

  • Lara

    What are your thoughts on Millstead clic lock flooring. Purchased 1340 sq feet for basement remodel then saw the notice in the box regarding formaldehyde! Using it in an office, living/kitchen, and playroom. States it meets and exceeds CARB standard (phase II). Still concerned, but will have to pay a huge fee for restocking. Help! Need an expert opinion. May return and purchase Mohawk?

  • carol Schuett

    Can you tell me if the Mirage brand of engineered wood contains large amounts of formaldehyde?

  • Hi Carol,

    Unfortunately, we don’t sell Mirage hardwood flooring. Usually the easiest way to find the level of VOCs in a hardwood floor is to go directly to the manufacturer’s website. There should be a link with “Technical” information where they list all of their certifications. If not, you should be able to get the information from a sales rep for the brand. Usually contact information is easy to find on the specific brand’s website.

  • Angie Weheliye

    We had purchased Mohawk 12mm laminate, which was CARB compliant, but I still got a sore throat & headache as soon as removing a few from the packaging. So we have returned it and are looking for something with no chemicals. The label on the box said this product has materials which the state of California has determined to cause cancer and/or reproductive harm. I don’t understand how this stuff can still be used, we have to get away from so many chemicals!

  • sue valenti

    I just had 23 boxes of somerset engineered floors delivered on Friday. I just finished watching 2020 and I think I’m going to be sick. How do I determine if it has over a carb 2 level of formaldehyde? the floors are going in 10 days from now. Thanks,

  • marieb

    We have just installed Armstrong engineered wood flooring. We still have a box of the planks in the garage. Is there a laboratory we can take a sample just to have the formaldehyde level checked. Even though box says levels are compliant, we would like to check ourselves.

    Thank you.

  • Nancy Gentile

    Many thanks for this article. Just saw the “60 Minutes” segment last night on Chinese made laminate flooring coming from Lumber Liquidators. I got right on the phone with my apt. landlord (I’m in a new building with laminate flooring” and our flooring comes from Mohawk. I am hoping that upon further research i will discover that, since this is likely American made, it is following the CARB regs.

  • Charlotte

    We are considering vinyl plank flooring. Should we be concerned about
    formaldehyde content or does it depend on the manufacturer. We originally saw this product at Lumber Liquidators and they have recently been in the news. Really concerned as to the product safety as we also have pets.

  • I had a laminated floor installed just last year and after hearing that 60 minutes was investigating what was in the process Lumber liquidators had in their product I removed it and sent an e-mail to the company only to get a reply that everything has the chemical and they admit to having the spec. required by law. That is not what 60 minutes found in their tests. I have purchased Invincible Titanium and hope it is okay< The Carpet -One company rep. said it is one of the best is this true. Thank-you

  • Paul Battisti

    Having already installed my flooring, is there somewhere that I can get a piece of it tested in California ?

  • Although we’re not sure where to go to get a specific product tested in CA, click here for a notice from the Air Resources Board.

  • One of the benefits of working with Somerset flooring is that it’s all made in the USA, so tracking from birth to end consumer is easy. Somerset is in charge every step of the way and makes sure of compliance throughout the entire process. You can find more information right on their site, including certifications: Somerset Hardwood Flooring

  • Some older styles of vinyl flooring may have formaldehyde present, but most of the top brands these days are formaldehyde free. Ultimately, though, it will depend on the specific manufacturer. Always check the certifications on the brand’s website prior to making a decision.

  • Oksana

    I had Morning Glory strand carbonized bamboo installed in my house 2 years ago. It was praised by HGTV and installed in one of their 2 million dollar house at Kiawah Island. I didn’t do my homework well. I opened a case with Lumber Liquidators. I found the following info under FLOORING 101, BAMBOO MSDA on LL website regarding this product. Would you please help me to understand if it is unsafe. Thank you.

    3. Composition / Information on Ingredients
    Name CAS Number Percentage Agency Exposure Limits Comments
    Bamboo1 None 93-97 OSHA PEL-TWA 15 mg/m3 Total dust
    OSHA PEL-TWA 5 mg/m3 Respiratory dust fraction
    ACGIH TLV-TWA 3 mg/m3 Respiratory dust fraction
    ACGIH TLV-TWA 10 mg/m3 Inhalable particles
    cured adhesive2 50-00-0 3-7 OSHA PEL-TWA 0.75 ppm Free gaseous
    OSHA PEL-STEL 2.0 ppm Free gaseous
    ACGIH TLV-Ceiling 0.3 ppm Free gaseous
    Photo polymerized
    coating- finish None less than 0.5 OSHA None May contain plastic and aluminum oxide ACGIH None May contain plastic and aluminum oxide
    1. Bamboo is a part of flowering perennial evergreen plants in the grass family (poaceae). Bamboo is regulated as an organic dust in a category otherwise known as PNOR (Particulates Not Otherwise Regulated) or nuisance dust by OSHA. The ACGIH classifies dust or particulate in this category as ”Particulates Not Otherwise Specified”.
    2. Contains less than 0.01% free formaldehyde.

  • If Lumber Liquidators has been found to be mislabeling their products as CARB compliant, the technical information that they supply might not really help you. Your best bet would be to get a sample of the material tested. You can find more information at: California Environmental Protection Agency.

  • kathleen n

    2 years ago I bought quite a bit of laminate from Costco and had it installed. After the 60 minutes program, I had the air checked in both rooms and it comes in with Elevated levels of Formaldehyde. 51 and 57 ppb. this is above the 20 ppb that is considered safe. I’ve contacted Costco by phone (message) and by email. I hope to get a return on those messages soon. My questions are: 1. Should Costco be scrutinized like Lumber Liquidators? 2. should I replace all this flooring (I’m getting an air filter machine specific for formaldehyde? 3. Is it only in California that I would have a case against the manufacturer or is it now country-wide that this is a problem that must be addressed by the manufacturer?
    thank you.

  • Hi Kathleen,

    If the flooring that you got from Costco had different formaldehyde levels listed on the description, it is definitely something to complain to Costco about since it’s a mislabeling issue. Unfortunately, since you’ve had it down so long, unless you’ve kept a box or the paperwork that came with it, it’ll be difficult to prove what the label said at the time.

    When you are able to speak to someone at Costco, see what your options are in terms of having them replace your flooring or offer you some sort of compensation for the deception. If there was a brand name (other than Costco) on the packaging, you would probably be better off directing your questions towards the specific manufacturer as well. I would recommend holding off on replacing the entire floor until you see how the formaldehyde levels react to the air filter machine. However, usually formaldehyde in household products dissipates gradually over time (never fully outgases but will lessen). It’s concerning that there are still such high levels after two years. Also, check your rooms for any other possible sources of formaldehyde. Keep in mind that formaldehyde will volatilize faster when the source is heated (even if it’s just the sun from a nearby window).

    Different states have different policies in place for emissions levels. I would recommend checking with your specific state’s laws and go from there. Many states these days use the California specifications as their own, so if this is the case with yours, you may be able to take legal action against Costco/the flooring brand.

  • kathleen n

    Thank you for that info, I do have an unopened box of the same flooring bought at the same time. Costco has contacted me and we are going to figure out if it is indeed the flooring or some other source, but the flooring seems to be the obvious problem since I rarely use the fireplace, the heat is set in the 60s, the room is regularly aired out, and the paint on the walls is low VOC.

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