Laminate flooring is made using adhesives and so it releases formaldehyde gas, this is a substance that could be toxic to you, your children, and your pets.
Most laminate products let off formaldehyde gas for about ten years, but some makes may have a low-level of toxicity that is considered safest for at-home flooring.
There are symptoms that you may get as a result of exposure to formaldehyde gas, the DCD and Agency of Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, state that the most common symptoms of formaldehyde gas exposure are eye, nose, and throat problems, but they can be more severe in extreme cases.
If you show symptoms of this, a doctor may do tests to check this, although this is usually only done in cases that are severe or dangerous.
PS. If your office has wooden floors, you will want to check out our newest article here: What can I put under my desk chair to protect the floor?
- Is Laminate Toxic?
- How is Laminate Flooring Made?
- The Chemicals
- How Long Does Laminate Flooring Emit Gas?
- Can You Reduce Toxicity Levels?
- Should you Remove Your Laminate Flooring?
- Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC’s)
- Laminate Flooring with and without Formaldehyde
Is Laminate Toxic?
The short answer is, yes. Laminate flooring is toxic. Laminate flooring is made through wood bonding with adhesives that can be very toxic to humans and animals.
It consists of a melamine resin formaldehyde, which is often close to the surface of the laminate. It also contains cyanuric acid, isocyanates, and aluminum oxide.
There is no escapism formaldehyde as it is a base component of having laminate flooring, so having laminate flooring immediately puts you at risk of this chemical. However, buying smart can reduce your vulnerability and chances of encountering dangerous levels of this component.
Standard laminate, manufactured by industrial regulations is not at dangerous levels and is as safe as any normal flooring can be.
You should be wary of companies that seek to make short cuts in their productions, it is generally known that there are some Asian companies that may do this, who may mass-produce laminate flooring without being mindful of these levels, a bit like buying your floor off of craigslist, so to speak.
These are flooring companies you should be wary of. When looking for laminate flooring you should also take a few other measures and be mindful of flooring production so you can make the healthiest decision.
Selling points aren’t always just fictitious peacocking. Sometimes the brags about customer care are more than just a selling point, as is often the truth with companies that produce laminate flooring.
In options that make mention of customer health, for example, these supplier options that mention customer health as a selling point usually make this point because they are doing everything they can, within regulations, to avoid toxins.
Much like when cleaning companies for in-house cleaning, will preach the use of organic materials in their service.
Fact checking is not always bad and in this instance, it can do you a lot of good. Asking them for a fact sheet can be useful.
If a company is willing to hand over and show you their fact sheet, which will include complaints and other various information that could point to high formaldehyde levels, then they are trustworthy.
Handing over a fact sheet is their way of showing they have nothing to hide from you and that they produce their flooring with consistencies of formaldehyde that are not harmful or dangerously toxic.
How is Laminate Flooring Made?
Laminate flooring is made up of four separate layers with the main component being HDF (high-density wood fiber). It is made from compressed wood fibers extracted from wood chips.
Depending on the quality of the floor, the HDF core will vary in resistance, density, thickness, and its ability to withstand moisture. Having the extra moisture resistance is very useful for environments such as bathrooms and kitchens, or other wetrooms.
The thicker the HDF core the more robust the fiber will be, so if you are seeking a resistant and robust laminate flooring for your kitchen or bathroom then you will want a thick HDF core at the center of your flooring.
If you also seek protection against chips and breaks, a higher density HDF core will also provide this.
Underneath this HDF core is a balancing paper, this base layer is a protection layer, it prevents the laminate from warping or swelling if you see laminate warping it has probably not had an adequate or no balancing paper added to its base.
The balancing paper does this by adding protection from moisture. Cheap and more hastily made laminates will not have this feature on occasion, so if you want a long-lasting and strong laminate ensure that it has the balancing paper at its base.
Then on the top side of the laminate flooring, the HDF floor panel is finished off with a decorative paper, this is actually the feature that makes it look like a real slab of wood.
It is very rarely actually fresh wood and instead is a decorative sheet. These are actually paper-based sheets that display a range of colors, styles, and patterns, which gives your laminate its final aesthetic.
At the overall surface, you have the reason for its name, the lamination sheet. These vary in strength, and these are commonly rated by their abrasive class or ‘AC’ as you may see it referred to at your local hardware store.
These ratings range from 1-6 and the highest often offers the highest surface resistance. Those with a harder surface can be used in heavy commercial use environments.
The Core Layer
Laminate flooring is built from several layers of materials. The core layer is made from HDF, which we mentioned earlier.
Manufacturers use a wood bonding adhesive for this layer which keeps the wood fibers held together.
There is a vast option of adhesives they can use for this. These can be; urea-formaldehyde, phenol-formaldehyde, melamine-formaldehyde, polyvinyl acetate, or soy flour adhesive (otherwise known as polymeric diphenylmethane diisocyanate.)
These substances will emit variations of toxic chemical gases which can affect both your indoor air quality and your health if they are at high enough levels
This layer often looks like wood, but sadly isn’t wood. It is simply decorative.
This isn’t confirmed to have a lot of chemicals in it but dye companies, which are often used for these decorative images, are known for an aversion to toxic chemicals in their production processes.
Now we look to the top surface, which is probably the most troublesome of the whole item in its chemical compounds.
This part of the laminate flooring is made from a hard durable material made from resin. In the product description, they will often list this as ‘melamine resin’.
Companies won’t like to admit it out loud and tell you exactly what this melamine is. This melamine is simply ‘melamine-formaldehyde, which we already know is a toxin, and is seen as the most toxic of them all that can cause health problems and a reduction in at-home air quality. This is then hardened with an aluminum-oxide, yet another toxin.
And of course, do not forget the adhesive that all these pieces must be stuck together will.
Making the overall toxic composition up with adhesives, aluminum-oxide, and formaldehyde, it is no wonder that we are asking if laminated floorings are toxic, and if they are, how toxic are they? Are they safe enough to live amongst?
Adhesives and Formaldehyde
There are three main adhesives used in the laminate flooring industry that contains formaldehyde. These are; urea-formaldehyde, phenol-formaldehyde, and melamine-formaldehyde.
If you are scouting the internet to find yourself a laminate flooring but you want to know which type of adhesive contains the least amount of formaldehyde, then your best bet is to look at phenol-formaldehyde.
This does, however, have a downside. This is that it is very dark in color and it requires high processing so it is expensive.
The color may not be a problem if you want your laminate dark or with a dark based wooden effect but it depends if you are willing to pay the extra costs.
On the other side of the spectrum is urea-formaldehyde, this is like a manufacturer’s dream, but it emits the most amount of formaldehyde toxins, and therefore does not meet legal safety requirements in the USA and is no longer allowed to be used.
Finally, we have the middle man, melamine-formaldehyde, this type is compliant with emissions testing requirements, unlike urea-formaldehyde. It emits more than phenol-formaldehyde but less than urea-formaldehyde.
So it is the most common to be used. In the production of this, the melamine is added to the formaldehyde resin to reduce the emission rates.
However, when the bond between these two breaks, the melamine is released, which although is not classified as a carcinogen, is toxic, and enough so to cause irreversible kidney damage, in certain situations.
How Long Does Laminate Flooring Emit Gas?
Laminate flooring will emit gas for about 10 years in total. But, keep in mind that formaldehyde emissions decrease over time, which reduces the toxicity levels over the years.
The level of gas released is affected by temperature, humidity, space available for adequate air flow, and the amount of ventilation that the area and the flooring gets.
High temperatures will increase the formaldehyde emission levels and can make them expand, bend, and warp.
So, if you live in a hot climate or get extremely hot summers, you may want to invest in a heavy-duty air cooling system, or if you have not yet chosen your flooring type, tile or other flooring options with lower toxicity levels are available and are probably a better choice for you.
Can You Reduce Toxicity Levels?
If you already have laminate flooring in your home you can reduce the toxicity levels through a few ways, these include;
- Opening windows for a few minutes a day to increase ventilation and clean the air in your home.
- Installing exhaust fans or a strong air conditioning system in your home to ensure thorough clean air circulation.
- Stop smoking or only smoke outside to make your home smoke free. Tobacco smoke contains formaldehyde which may exacerbate the level of toxicity inside your home if it is combined with the formaldehyde toxicity levels from your laminate flooring.
- Ensure that your home temperature and humidity remain low, keep air cooling systems, open windows, and so on to ensure that your home is adequately ventilated and cooled, this can also prevent warping and bending of your laminate floorboards as well which is also a benefit aesthetically as well as for your health.
Should you Remove Your Laminate Flooring?
If your laminate was installed some time ago then the toxicity levels will already have decreased and you will not be at such a risk, so removing them may be uncalled for, if you have had them for over ten years then they will no longer be toxic or releasing fumes and there is no health-based need to replace them.
However, if you are concerned about formaldehyde exposure then you can call in a professional to come and test your air for any excessive levels, especially if it is affecting your health.
If you do get this tested, then once the professional has tested your environment, you can discuss any further steps you should take with them.
If you remove laminate flooring that is new or recently installed, then the levels of formaldehyde will be increased, consult a professional if you are considering doing this as it could be more detrimental to your health or safety than leaving them in place, do not try to do this without consulting an expert first.
You should get your home tested if you smell any strong chemical odors or if you are starting to find that you have breathing problems or irritations that come into effect primarily upon entering your home. Note, also, that formaldehyde has a smell similar to that of pickles.
Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC’s)
Noting harmful gases and substances related to laminate flooring, we must not forget VOCs. These are toxic materials that are sometimes off-gassing from certain chemical flooring adhesives. Different laminate flooring is available and each different type will vary with levels of VOCs.
VOCs determine the levels of toxicity in different laminate floors. When laminate outgasses, it releases many different toxic fumes, including the obvious formaldehyde, as well as carcinogens and VOCs.
Laminate Flooring with and without Formaldehyde
While you may be looking at your laminate flooring in disgust and fear, it is notable that not all laminate flooring uses formaldehyde. It also uses other chemicals, such as the ones we listed earlier, so sometimes formaldehyde may not be used.
However, there is no laminate flooring that is totally chemical free and all chemicals that are included in the manufacturing process have health consequences if used in substantial quantities.
All laminate requires very strong adhesives that will bond the fibers together. Therefore there is no laminate in existence that is VOC-free or non-toxic. Aside from the minor to major effects caused by formaldehyde there are also health risks of other chemicals as well.
Melamine and cyanuric acid can cause irreversible liver damage.
Aluminum oxide can cause asthma and a reduction in intelligence by affecting the cerebral vessels.
Isocyanates and formaldehyde are potential carcinogens ( a carcinogen is any substance, radionuclide, or radiation that promotes carcinogenesis, a formulation of cancer).
Formaldehyde is a colorless invisible gas that smells much like pickles. It has been used in the production of many products for decades such as flooring, fabrics, wallpapers, and paints.
There are some laminates that contain formaldehyde to look out for; plywood, medium density fiberwood, and particle wood are some of the most common.
Whatever your flooring type, always pursue longevity, durability, and health and safety for you and your family.