On the heels of concerns about toxic floors, Consumer Reports assessed the risks posed by phthalates in 17 kinds of vinyl tile and found little to worry about when it comes to harmful health effects, especially if homeowners are diligent about cleaning.
Inexpensive, easy to install, and able to replicate the look of marble, wood and stone, vinyl tile is one of the most popular building materials. However, safety issues related to phthalates — chemicals sometimes used to soften and increase the flexibility of plastic — have parents wondering whether unborn babies and little ones that crawl and toddle are in danger.
The family of chemical compounds has been linked to reproductive and development problems and they are banned in many children's products but not flooring, where kids spend a lot of time. That's prompted some retailers to take action on their own. Last month Menard's joined Home Depot and Lowe's in pledging to stop sales of vinyl tile that contains phthalates by the end of the year.
Consumer Reports, a magazine published since 1936 and well respected for its editorial independence, has raised red flags about phthalates, too, noting the compounds are endocrine disruptors and some are classified as possible or probable carcinogens.
The publication said it supports the pledges the big-box retailers have made and it wanted to delve a little deeper into the issue for consumers by conducting tests of its own on vinyl flooring products. Its lab researchers checked the composition of 17 different brands of vinyl tile and measured whether any of 13 kinds of phthalates were released through contact or emitted into the air.
The findings: While there may be “considerable” amounts of phthalates in the composition of some products, “very little” came out in the air or on the wipes used in the contact test.
In a video about the tests, Consumer Reports says although “the phthalate levels were very low,” it still recommends a couple precautions be taken. Homeowners should wet mop vinyl floors often if there are children in the house and wash their little hands after they crawl on the floor.
A lot of parents naturally become clean freaks to cut down on the dirt and germs their kids are exposed to on the floor. Now phthalates removal will give them another reason to be vigilant.
Consumer Reports also tested all kinds of flooring — solid wood, engineered wood, vinyl, linoleum and ceramic — for durability. How did it stand up to a lot of foot traffic? Did it scratch, dent or stain easily? Does it fade from sunlight?
There was good news for luxury vinyl tile (LVT) manufacturers and shoppers. After putting 55 types of flooring through the ringer, the publication recommends five of the vinyl products it tested and all are LVTs.
LVT is an industry term, not a standard, for vinyl that realistically mimics the appearance of natural materials with an added layer to improve wear and performance. The extra layer of protection is usually a heavy film covered with a UV-cured urethane that makes it scuff, stain and scratch resistant.
The top-scoring LVT was Tarkett's Natural Slate design in the Permastone collection. Consumer Reports found to be “stellar across the board.” (The sand stone color was tested.)
The other LVTs that rated highly were Congoleum's Dura-Ceramic Sierra Slate (“golden greige” color), Armstrong's Luxe Plank Timber Bay (barnyard gray), Armstrong's Altema Mesa Stone (canyon sun) and Shaw's Matrix Regency (gunstock oak).
When it comes to design and performance, vinyl tile has a lot to offer; and, when it comes to safety, there's little to fear with at least 17 of the products out there.