Floor Covering News and Information on all types of flooring

Flooring Information and News on all types of Flooring

What is PVC-free resilient flooring, and is it truly the best choice for the health of those living atop it as well as the one least disruptive to the environment?

All vinyl flooring contains plasticizers in order to confer flexibility. Traditionally, those plasticizers have been made from petroleum-based phthalates, though in recent years most suppliers to the U.S. market have come up with alternatives because phthalates naturally migrate from vinyl and have been determined to be carcinogenic and otherwise unhealthy. U.S. vinyl producers have all developed alternatives. However, most vinyl flooring is imported from China, and it can be hard to determine whether all these imports are phthalate-free.

PVC-free flooring does not contain ortho phthalates, and therefore eliminates the concerns associated with them. This is obviously a good thing. It does contain tera phthalates which do exactly the same thing for the flooring without any known, at this point, adverse effects to humans. So, is PVC-free then the superior choice? The fact is that the issue is more complex than it may first seem.


As the largest single material used in the built environment, plastic surrounds us. It’s in everything: from lining the inside of our cars to carrying the water we drink to, well, look around – plastic is in almost everything, even the credit cards in our pockets. Just for fun, not really, visit this site from Reuters 2019 – A Plateful of Plastic Visualizing the amount of microplastic we eat (reuters.com)

To isolate plasticizer migration from flooring as a major concern is, then, to be somewhat naïve. It is my opinion, then, that considering the sea of plastic within which we dwell, PVC in flooring is not going to compromise the health of occupants in a space in which it’s installed unless there is a concern for a legitimate plasticizer migration event from a flooring material that is leaching. And plasticizer always leaches from vinyl materials. For example, you know that oily type film on your windshield that forms, especially in hot weather, even if you don’t smoke? That’s plasticizer leaching from all the plastic components in your car. You’re sitting in a sea of the stuff.


To improve materials while also adhering to the ideals of creating a truly green flooring chemistry, developers must design for degradation, design benign or less toxic compounds, and prevent the production of waste. Also, they should consider using renewable feedstocks and benign solvents as well as improving the performance of the flooring material, yielding a longer lifecycle. Using pre or post recycled content can also affect the performance of resilient flooring materials, and carpet tile backings for that matter. The more recycled content in a product, and the more it is used as that product wastes is recycled, the more compromises can be built into the finished product. And it’s a delicate balance that you are not going to be aware of.

Bio-based PVC-free flooring ingredients are derived from plants, renewable resources, or outside the common chemical stream of conventional chemicals used for vinyl flooring, which originate from petroleum. However, being bio-based does not guarantee that they are inherently safer or more environmentally friendly than nonrenewable conventional PVC flooring.

PVC-free flooring can be manufactured using various processes that involve the use of vegetable oils, cellulose, starches, acids, and alcohols – there are numerous options available. Contrary to popular belief, bioplastics and PVC-free materials are not necessarily completely green, and the characteristics of the finished flooring material can vary depending on the manufacturing method. This can result in performance challenges similar to those observed with standard vinyl flooring. It is important to note that “green” plasticizers can still leach from the flooring material, and the flooring may experience dimensional or planar issues. Furthermore, the potential health effects of these alternative plasticizers and materials on living organisms are still unknown.

In two recent cases of PVC-free flooring failures, LGM has identified stability issues. In one instance, the manufacturer enlisted an expert to assess the problem. Various mitigation measures were attempted and claimed to solve the issue. However, despite all efforts to prove otherwise, the product continued to exhibit the same problems as before. The issue lay with the product itself.

In another case, the flooring experienced lifting, cupping, and shrinking on the ends. Additionally, when the flooring was lifted off the substrate, it emitted an odor of phthalate plasticizer or alcohol, even though it was labeled as PVC-free. This indicated the presence of phthalate plasticizer, which was not supposed to be there. It is worth noting that with many products being imported, particularly from Asia and China, it is difficult to ascertain the true nature of what is being obtained.

Just remember, the hype about PVC-free flooring has to be taken with a grain of salt, just like the hype about waterproof flooring. It’s possible that these new products will have some inherent characteristics that could compromise their performance, and frequently the installation firm gets blamed when this occurs, though often it’s the product that’s the problem.


How is anyone to know whether the product is actually what it is said to be? How can you know if something that you can’t see is or isn’t really there without sophisticated laboratory testing? With all the testing we do on flooring products and materials to determine why they’re doing what they’re doing, and frequently find them to be off, why would content be any different? The flooring industry trusts that the hard surface flooring product in the box is what it is said to be, but the majority of vinyl flooring products – well over 80% of PVC-based and over 90% of PVC-free – are sourced. The company that is selling it, in most cases, did not make it, and, to compound the problem, the people selling or specifying the products often have little knowledge of what they are actually peddling. Never in the history of the industry has any product category upset the balance of traditional flooring like luxury tile and plank. As the category continues to evolve, the entire industry is on a learning curve, and it seems that new components and constructions are introduced daily. Hang on because this ride is going to get wilder. Our job is to know what the products are and what’s in them, and we have very bright people associated with us. I’m the dumbest guy in the group, but our intellectual resources are extraordinary. If you need help, guidance, or answers, we have them – always. No guesswork or opinions. Our business is to know the answers, and we do.