Your laminate floor could be toxic

Over the past decade, safety investigations into laminate flooring have uncovered the widespread use of formaldehyde – a known carcinogen and air quality threat – in the manufacturing of these popular household flooring products.

Safety investigations have uncovered the widespread use of formaldehyde – a carcinogen and air quality threat – in the manufacture of laminate flooring.

Here’s what you need to know about laminate flooring, formaldehyde, and your indoor air quality – including what to do next if you think you may have installed this potentially toxic flooring.

What is formaldehyde?

Formaldehyde is a naturally occurring volatile organic compound (VOC) found in plants, fruits, vegetables, and even animals and humans.1

Formaldehyde is naturally present in indoor and outdoor air at very low levels. However, a synthetic form of formaldehyde is manufactured as a chemical and used as an adhesive in cabinetry and flooring, among other products.2

After manufacturing, products containing formaldehyde continue to emit the colorless (but not odorless) gas into the air. This process is known as off-gassing– the release into the air of a gas that was dissolved, trapped, frozen, or absorbed in some material.

Off-gassing is not typically harmful outdoors. But indoors, emitted formaldehyde can build up quickly, especially in high heat or humidity.

Off-gassing is not typically harmful when products are used outdoors, as natural airflow helps dilute concentrations of airborne formaldehyde to relatively safe levels. But indoors, the emitted formaldehyde gases can build up quickly.

This off-gassing process increases when the temperature rises above 22 degrees Celsius (approximately 71.6°F) due to increased molecular activity resulting from heat energy. Off-gassing can also increase when relative humidity (RH) levels climb above 50 percent.3,4

Although levels of formaldehyde emissions from products like laminate flooring decrease over time, significant off-gassing may continue for months and even years.5

Significant off-gassing from laminate flooring can continue for months and even years.

Formaldehyde and laminate flooring

Formaldehyde has been found in laminate flooring sold by major national retailers. Many such investigations are still ongoing.

In 2019, The Washington Post reported that flooring retailer Lumber Liquidators was criminally charged with fraud and required to pay a $33 million USD fine for underreporting their use of formaldehyde in laminate flooring when communicating product risks to investors and to the public.6

As recently as 2021, Lumber Liquidators faced further legal scrutiny for allegedly lying about formaldehyde compliance to California health regulators. Formaldehyde levels in some products were tested as 7 to 20 times higher than what California regulations enforce, but the retailer did not accurately report these levels to California authorities.7

Formaldehyde levels in some laminate flooring were tested as 7 to 20 times higher than what was officially reported to regulators.

Laminate flooring manufactured in China and sold by U.S. companies is often found at the center of these cases, containing unsafe levels of cancer-causing formaldehyde.8 At times, the suspected flooring has been shown through independent testing to emit formaldehyde at a level more than 13 times the standard limit.9

Nonetheless, many of these products have been incorrectly labeled as complying with widely recognized standards, such as regulations by the California Air Resources Board (CARB) that identify formaldehyde as a “toxic air pollutant.10

Homeowners who have installed suspicious laminate should demand that sellers remove and replace it.

The U.S. government and other relevant local, state, and federal authorities continue to investigate these claims. Homeowners who have installed the suspicious laminate flooring should demand that sellers should remove and replace it.

Is laminate flooring toxic?

The potential health effects of exposure to formaldehyde include both short- and long-term effects:

  • Short term: When formaldehyde is present in the air at levels exceeding 0.1 parts per million (PPM), some people experience respiratory symptoms including a burning sensation in the eyes, nose, and throat. Other symptoms include coughing, wheezing, nausea and skin irritation.
  • Long term: The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has listed formaldehyde as a Group B1“probable human carcinogen.”This means that research has shown strong evidence of a link between exposure to formaldehyde and individual risk of developing certain types of cancer as a result.11

How to test for formaldehyde

There are two basic ways to test for formaldehyde:

  1. Hire an expert.Indoor air quality experts can sample for formaldehyde levels in your home using tests that are not generally available to consumers, and can also help interpret results. Health and safety organizations in your region may have listings of local licensed professionals. IQAir testing services can also assess the presence of formaldehyde in office or commercial buildings that may have installed toxic laminate flooring.
  2. Obtain a testing kit for consumers.Some kits are for testing only, while other kits include analysis components that allow you to determine results without sending the sample off to a lab. Use with caution – the accuracy and reliability of consumer testing and analysis kits vary widely. You should not make any critical decisions about home renovation or air quality if home-tested formaldehyde measurements are your only source of data.

How to reduce existing levels of formaldehyde

Source control should always be the first and most important step in addressing an air quality concern.

If formaldehyde from your laminate flooring (or any other indoor source) is making you sick, you should consider removing the flooring (or other source). This can directly reduce formaldehyde levels.

Source control should always be the first step in addressing an air quality concern. Remove laminate flooring to directly reduce formaldehyde levels.

Increased ventilation will also help reduce existing levels. The best way to increase ventilation is by opening doors and windows and using an exhaust fan.

Using a high-efficiency HVAC air purifier with your system on “Fan On” mode can help ventilate an indoor space when outdoor air quality is too poor to open doors or windows.

Increased ventilation and HVAC air purification can also help reduce indoor concentrations of formaldehyde.

How to reduce your exposure to formaldehyde

  1. Air out new products.When purchasing and installing new wood floorings (or other composite wood products), allow the product to air out in a garage or other covered space for a few days. This will allow formaldehyde and other pollutants to off-gas before the product is brought into the house.
  2. Ventilate.After installation, proper ventilation will help speed up any additional off-gassing. Open up windows, use a central ventilation system if available, and run exhaust fans as much as possible.
  3. Clean the air.Consider using a high-performance air purifier with high-quality activated carbon that will filter formaldehyde from the indoor air before it can be inhaled. However, air cleaning will only provide temporary relief if the source of formaldehyde is ultimately not removed.

The takeaway

In addition to laminate flooring and cabinetry, formaldehyde is also found in carpeting, cosmetics, and other products around your home.

The best way to protect yourself and your home from excessive formaldehyde gas is to learn how to recognize and reduce or eliminate the possible sources and risks in your home.

The number one air cleaning solution for your home.

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