Several customers have asked us whether a particular type of floor covering contains VOCs. They had heard horror stories about this and did not want to go near it. With that being said, few people know what VOCs really are, where they can be found and what the real issue is with respect to VOCs. It is for all these reasons that we have decided to shed light on the subject.
First, what are VOCs? A VOC is a volatile organic compound (VOC) resulting from a grouping of substances of chemical origin evaporating into the ambient air (indoor and outdoor). Their volatility ensures that they quickly and easily spread from their point of emission to the ambient air. Volatile organic compounds are often found in hydrocarbons, solvents or manufacturing components such as resins or adhesives. Volatile organic compounds are harmful to the environment as they can create explosions when a large amount is in contact with a heat source. They are also harmful to health since they can cause heart, respiratory, eye, skin problems and more. For all these reasons, several regulations and standards have been established to limit the use of them.
As far as floor coverings and volatile organic compounds are concerned, it is recognized that vinyl is THE type of floor covering that can contain the most VOCs. However, you should also know that laminate floors (floating floors), carpets and some wood floors could contain VOCs. For example, a wood floor could contain some due to the components used to produce its stain or varnish. As for carpets, since most are made of synthetic fibres, the fibres often contain chemical agents that bind the various components together or stain repellents.
It should also be noted that there is not only the volatile organic compounds present in floor coverings that are harmful to health; phthalates are just as harmful. Phthalates are chemical compounds that are present in PVC to make it more flexible. They are less known than VOCs among customers, but they are just as harmful to health.
With that being said, since the floor covering industry is aware of the existence and negative aspect of VOCs and other chemical compounds, tests have been set up to control their emission rate of floor coverings. There is the FloorScore® certification that measures the level of volatile organic compound emissions. A FloorScore® certified product would therefore not contain any components that could affect the level of indoor air quality. There is also the E1 certification, which measures the quantity of formaldehyde (type of VOC - colourless gas that can come from varnish, paint, wood panels, etc.) emitted into the air in parts per million (ppm). Depending on the amount of formaldehyde found, the products measured can be classified as E0, E1 or E2. E0 is the classification with the lowest formaldehyde level and E2 the highest.
Overall, rest assured that few types of floor coverings contain VOCs or phthalates these days. Floor covering manufacturers often indicate that their products are phthalate-free and have very low volatile organic compound emissions. Floor covering manufacturers are concerned about the environment, health, air quality in their customer’s homes, and avoid using materials that are harmful to the public.