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Floors and Spores: Pick the Right Allergy-Free Flooring

Posted: Wednesday, October 06, 2010
Floors & Spores

Choosing the right carpet and vinyl for the living spaces of your home should be a no-brainer, right? Cozy carpet in the living room, family room, durable vinyl linoleum in the kitchen, laundry and bathrooms...

But don't let allergens cloud your brain! Traditional carpet and vinyl have been standard installations for decades, but both products are far from being the only choices on the market, and could be health concerns for people with severe allergies. There are a growing number of excellent flooring options out there, including tile, stone, even bamboo and cork. They are all worth considering.

Carpets and rugs, whether wall-to-wall, or an area cover, can create quite a cozy environment. Carpeting is always associated with warmth and comfort. But unfortunately, with all of that fiber and surface area, carpet is also the champion when it comes to harboring dust and dust mites. And carpet that gets wet can quickly develop fungus and mildew. Both of these are of great concern to allergy sufferers.

Carpet and vinyl flooring materials can also be the source of noxious chemical fumes and emissions, which can be potentially dangerous to people with chemical sensitivities. In addition to the adhesives used to secure it to the substrate below, vinyl can include some additives that are emitted when cleaned, or even just over time. Phthalates and other chemicals in vinyl floors create the potential for respiratory issues. Carpeting can also come laced with a variety of chemicals added to resist stains, mold, and pests. These could exacerbate allergies, asthma, and other breathing problems.

Stone and ceramic tile are two popular flooring options that greatly reduce dust accumulation due to their smooth, non-porous surfaces, emit no toxic chemicals, and are highly resistant to biological growth traits that allergy sufferers could learn to love. Though neither is forgiving when you drop a glass or plate, stone and tile are easy to clean and very durable. In hot weather, both products stay cool, though in the cold months, slippers might be in order.

Wood represents another popular flooring option. Hardwood flooring provides a beautiful look and offers the allergy sufferer many of the advantages over carpet and vinyl that stone and ceramics do, but there is always the concern about preserving forest resources around the world. So if you take the hardwood route, make sure to use FSC- or SFI-certified wood.

Bamboo and cork, however, are excellent alternatives. Bamboo grows quickly and is a self-replacing resource; it doesn't need to be replanted by people. As a hardwood flooring option, it produces an attractive and durable surface. Cork oaks re-grow their outer bark that is used for making things like floors, so cork floors are an environmentally friendly option, as well. Cork wood has the added advantage of an internal resin that resists insects and other biological growth, so it is a natural choice for health and allergy concerns.

Carpet and vinyl aren't the only options for you homes floors anymore. Stone, ceramic tile, and eco-conscious woods like cork and bamboo might be just what you were looking for. But they also might just prove to be better for your family's health.