Since bamboo floors began to see a rise in popularity a couple of decades ago, there have been a lot of questions related to the safety of bamboo floors, especially as it relates to health.
One of the primary questions we’ve been asked is: “Are Bamboo Floors Safe?”. In general, bamboo flooring has become quite safe. Especially when looking at the bamboo flooring supply chain, we’ve seen huge advancements in innovation as it relates to the manufacturing of bamboo floors that give you very little to worry about in terms of your safety.
Now, while this is the case with most bamboo floors, there are also exceptions.
Whether you’re asking the question because of your own personal health, the health of your family, or the health of your pets, it is important to understand what to look out for in order to find the safest options for you.
We’ve taken the time to gather all of the facts to help you understand why there are questions about the safety of bamboo flooring, steps you can take to make sure you know what you’re selecting, and our recommendations for the safest bamboo floors you can purchase.
What can make bamboo flooring unsafe?
Much of the recent conversation about the safety of bamboo floors has been related to the use of formaldehyde in the manufacturing, assembly/installation, and the polishing or finishing of bamboo flooring.
Even in recent years, some of the largest players in the flooring industry have had to pay considerable fines for misleading investors and consumers about the use of formaldehyde in the production process of certain wood floors.
While there have been studies looking at the harmfulness of formaldehyde to humans, it has also been shown to be present in bamboo floors at a level that is not harmful to humans.
What is formaldehyde?
Formaldehyde is actually a naturally occurring organic compound that is found in products that we use everyday. From glues and adhesives, to building materials, to certain fabrics, formaldehyde is extremely common. So common, in fact, that it is even used as a preservative in food products.
Obviously, the reason why we are discussing this on our blog is because of its use in many offerings of bamboo floors.
How can formaldehyde be harmful to humans?
There have been many studies related to the harmfulness of formaldehyde, especially as it relates to its cancer-causing properties. Many organizations, including the National Toxicology Program (NTP), the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), have listed formaldehyde as being carcinogenic to humans.
What levels of formaldehyde are harmful?
According to the CDC, which has given recommendations on both the levels of formaldehyde that can be consumed in our drinking water and how much should be present in our workplace air, “exposure to 1 ppm formaldehyde in drinking water is not expected to cause any adverse effects” and “OSHA set a legal limit of 0.75 ppm formaldehyde in air averaged over an 8-hour work day” are their recommendations based on formaldehyde’s effects on humans.
How much formaldehyde is found in bamboo flooring?
As mentioned above, this has changed quite a bit over the years as the manufacturing process for bamboo flooring has seen advancement over time.
Today, you can find bamboo floors that have been made formaldehyde-free, while other brands have been able to manufacture bamboo floors with as little as .01 ppm formaldehyde and many that have less than .05 ppm formaldehyde.
There are even examples of bamboo flooring manufacturers that have produced bamboo floors that emit formaldehyde at such low levels that they can be classified as undetectable.
How is formaldehyde used in bamboo flooring?
Formaldehyde can be used in the manufacturing, assembly, installation, and polishing of bamboo floors. The most common step where formaldehyde is added to bamboo floors is during the manufacturing process.
In terms of the manufacturing of bamboo floors, bamboo stalks are cut into thinner strips and often glued together using high heat and an adhesive that contains urea-formaldehyde, which can let out higher levels of formaldehyde than other types of wood and also lets out formaldehyde for the life of the bamboo floors.
Tips for avoiding unsafe bamboo floors
There are a number of ways that you can avoid selecting floors that have harmful substances or volatile organic compounds (VOCs), or avoid using them altogether. Here are some tips:
1. Consult with a professional
If you are serious about finding a product that either limits or completely abandons the use of formaldehyde in the making of their bamboo floors, you may want to ask your flooring professional for advice.
You may find that a flooring contractor has dealt with this concern from customers in the past and will be able to provide recommendations that fit your needs and requirements.
2. Look for items that are FSC-certified
This is typically step one in understanding if your bamboo floors are coming from the right place. The FSC certification is provided by the Forest Stewardship Council, which is a non-profit organization focused on preserving forests. The certification that they provide “ensures that products come from responsibly managed forests that provide environmental, social and economic benefits”.
If you see the FSC certification label on a bamboo flooring product, you can be sure that the manufacturer has taken the appropriate early steps to provide transparency into their operation.
3. Verify that the glue being used for installation is also formaldehyde-free
As mentioned above, outside of the manufacturing process, there are also wood glues that are used during installation that contain formaldehyde.
If using a contractor, be sure to bring this up to make sure they source the right materials for your job. If you are purchasing the materials yourself, you will find that many brands will clearly state if they are not using formaldehyde in their adhesives.
4. Check for other labeling on the packaging related to formaldehyde
Other than the aforementioned certification, you can also check for the following labels that deal with formaldehyde use:
- No-Added Formaldehyde (NAF) – Assigned to products that use an alternative bonding agent. This type of bonding has grown in popularity over the last few years and has helped to normalize pricing for products with this designation.
- No Added Urea-Formaldehyde (NAUF) – Designation created by the U.S. Green Building Council that is awarded to companies that do not use urea-formaldehyde resins. However, these companies may still be using resins that are phenol or melamine formaldehyde-based.
- Ultra Low-Emitting Formaldehyde (ULEF) – Meets standards set by the California Air Resources Board that require that “90% of tested samples emit no more than 0.06 PPM for a period of six months.”
Our top 3 choices for formaldehyde-free or low-VOC bamboo floors
If you’re still concerned with even light traces of formaldehyde in your bamboo floors, here is our list of top choices of products that use no formaldehyde or are low-VOC:
If you’re looking for a product that checks off all of the boxes in terms of no formaldehyde, no VOCs, non-toxic, and certified safe, then you don’t need to look any further than Green Building Supply’s portfolio of bamboo floors.
Very few bamboo flooring manufacturers are able to offer such an extensive list of bamboo flooring products that meet all of the requirements for someone who is looking for absolutely no formaldehyde or VOCs.
While not all of their products are 100% formaldehyde free, Cali Bamboo states that some of their floors have had formaldehyde levels that were undetectable, helping to have their floors classified as ultra-low.
All of Teragrem’s bamboo floors have been shown to emit “significantly less formaldehyde than allowed by the CARB standard.” Not only have they met the standard, they’ve far surpassed it. It is a great sign of a company that is willing to go above and beyond to ensure that their products are compliant while also meeting the needs of individuals looking for the best option.
Once again, it is important that you know that most bamboo floors have levels of formaldehyde that are far below harmful levels; however, if this is still a concern for you, there are plenty of options out there.