There is ever-increasing awareness of the chemicals we come into contact with every day, particularly if you or a member of your family has asthma or allergies. We created the asthma & allergy friendly® Certification Program to help you improve your indoor air environment by identifying products and services that can help to reduce allergens and create a healthier home environment.
But what is it that makes some flooring better for the indoor environment than others, and where do we draw the line to decide to certify flooring as asthma & allergy friendly®? We hope that the questions below will clarify this. Let us know if you have more questions!
Why do we certify flooring?
Our goal in the asthma & allergy friendly® Certification Program is to create a healthier indoor environment for you and your family, and so we look at all elements of the indoor air environment. Some types of flooring can release chemicals when they are applied, particularly if they are designed to be installed using adhesive. And it is easier for allergens to get trapped on some types of flooring.
We take a balanced approach in certifying products. We want to identify flooring that do not contain materials that are unnecessarily harmful. And we want to make sure that any necessary chemicals that can sometimes cause an allergic reaction are present at as low a level as is needed for them to function as intended.
What type of flooring do we certify?
We certify resilient flooring, including luxury vinyl flooring, sheet vinyl flooring, vinyl tile, linoleum, and sports flooring. We do not currently certify carpet, but we are always open to exploring new types of flooring.
What do we look for in flooring?
We look at two areas when we test flooring.
1. Allergen Removal
The first is allergen removal. We install flooring in an environmentally-controlled chamber. We introduce allergen dust into the room and allow it to settle. We take some samples from the flooring to see how much allergen has settled on it. We then vacuum and mop the flooring according to defined instructions. We take samples again after cleaning, and compare the two results to make sure that the allergen levels on the floor have reduced by over 90%. We also take allergen measurements in the air during cleaning, and we check that allergen levels in the air do not increase by more than 10% during cleaning.
What allergens do we use?
Different allergens can vary a lot in terms of their size, how they act when they are floating in the air, and how sticky they are on surfaces. To test flooring we use dust mite allergen and cat allergen. These are both common in many homes, and are common causes of allergic responses.
Does cleaning not remove allergens from all types of flooring?
There are a few factors that can affect how well allergen can be removed from flooring. The size of the pieces and tiles can mean that there are more joins in which allergen can accumulate. The joins between pieces of flooring can be different shapes – square, bevelled, etc. – and this can also make it easier or harder to remove allergens. And the surface of the flooring can be made of a material which attracts the allergens and allows them to stick to it. We want to make sure that despite these factors, you can be confident that when you vacuum and mop, you are removing most of the accumulated allergen.
The second is how many VOCs are emitted when the flooring is installed. VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds) are chemical compounds that easily become vapours or gases. When you can smell paints, adhesives, cleaners, insect repellents, new furniture, printer fluid etc., these smells are caused by VOCs being released.
We place a sample of flooring in an environmentally controlled chamber, where we can measure all of the VOCs released over 14 days. We record the levels after 24, 48, and 336 hours, to make sure that throughout this time period the levels remain low. If the flooring is designed to be secured with adhesive, then we include the adhesive in this chamber test.
Why do we do VOC tests?
Exposure to VOCs can cause irritation of the eyes and respiratory tract, headaches, dizziness, and other side-effects. These can impact more on people with sensitive respiratory systems, such as people with asthma and certain allergies. We want to make sure that VOC emissions are as low as possible. However, if you are someone with asthma or nasal allergies, it would still be better for you to avoid being in the room during or directly after flooring installation.
Why do we include the adhesive when we test flooring?
Adhesive can be a source of VOCs, and different adhesives can give off different levels and types of VOCs. When you have flooring installed in your home, if it requires an adhesive then the indoor air environment could be impacted by both VOCs from the flooring and VOCs from the adhesive. So it makes sense that we would include the adhesive in the chamber test to find out what VOCs would be produced in a home environment.
Is there flooring that is definitely safe?
Unfortunately, no. Given the variability between people, and the variety of sensitivities and allergic responses that different people can have, it is simply not possible to say a type of flooring will not cause sensitivities for anyone.
But there are definitely some flooring that create a better indoor environment than others, because they emit lower VOCs in your home over time, and any allergen that accumulates on it can be removed by cleaning. However, if you have had a reaction to VOCs in the past or you know that you are sensitive to some of the chemicals that are in household furnishings, you should take sensible precautions. Avoid being present when the flooring is installed, and make sure that the area is well-ventilated. Clean your floor regularly to ensure
What else do we certify?
We have 46 different asthma & allergy friendly® certification standards for products and services, addressing all areas of the indoor air environment. Some of these relate to products which remove allergens and dust from the indoor environment, like vacuum cleaners, air cleaners, dehumidifiers, and washing machines. Some of them relate to products where it is important not to provide an easy home for allergens and that it is possible to remove allergen from them – like bedding, toys, and flooring. And some of them relate to household products that should make as little an impact on the indoor environment as possible – like flooring and paint.
You can find out which products are certified asthma & allergy friendly® and read more here: www.asthmaandallergyfriendly.com