How safe are the coatings used to protect floors in the home?

Hardwood floors in a home can emit a warm and inviting atmosphere, giving a home a classic and timeless look. Unfortunately, that is not the only thing the floors are emitting. Many of the floor coatings used to protect wood floors contain numerous toxic chemicals that emit harmful Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) into the air inside your home which can often be more harmful than the air outside your home.  This comes from a new report by UL Environment, a global safety science company, entitled The Safety of Wood Flooring.

The report discusses how VOCs can harm indoor air quality for months after application, putting consumers and vulnerable populations such as children and pregnant women at an increased risk for health problems. Consumers, however, are often unaware of the potential dangers of these floor coatings such as the respiratory and neurological effects and negative impacts on reproductive and developmental health.

There are over 60 chemicals in solvent-based coatings, including Ethylbenzene, Formaldehyde and Acetaldehyde, which have been linked to cancer.  Details about these chemicals and their harmful effects can be found in the UL report.

Consumers often rely on their builder and contractor to select the product that is the right fit for their job or rely on marketing and packaging to determine what is safe which can be a difficult and confusing process.

I recently had the opportunity to interview Andrew Meyer, Founder and President of Vermont Natural Coatings, and Scott Steady, Senior Product Manager for UL Environment regarding the UL report. Of the 12 products tested by the UL Environment, only two qualified as clean floor coatings. That means only 17% of floor coating products are considered safe.

This makes it very difficult for consumers to make the healthier choice. Even the water-based coatings that consumers will sometimes view as safe can still contain toxic chemicals which are linked to birth defects, including low birth weight and even miscarriage.

Scott has not only been working with product manufacturers to help them understand their products impact on chemical exposure and health but has also participated in the development of UL’s GREENGUARD Certification Program, which is based on recognized emissions standards for office furniture, building products, electronics, and consumer products.

Scott explained that the GREENGUARD program can help consumers identify products that emit low VOCs inside the home. Traditional terms and standards used in the industry tend to be based on outdoor air pollution, not indoor.

In the report, findings show that solvent-based coatings emit up to 11 times more VOCs than the clean water-based coatings after 24 hours of application. Even though the VOC exposure does drop dramatically after three days from application, it is still not entirely safe inside the home since there will still be some exposure for months and possibly longer afterwards.  This constant low level of exposure accumulates over ones lifetime and can cause long-term health risks as a result.

Although efforts to regulate the use of these solvents have increased in recent years, a number of solvent-based floor coatings are still on the market today in the U.S.  According to Andrew, the key is to raise consumer awareness so consumers can help drive demand for stricter regulations and safer products.

This report is a great opportunity to get the word out there to consumers to help raise that awareness since it provides the science regarding the harmful effects of the solvent-based finishes.

Getting contractors and builders on board can help as well.  One of the main roadblocks with this market is overcoming the false perception that performance is jeopardized when using cleaner and safer floor coverings. Although performance may have been a concern in the past, technology has changed dramatically and continues to evolve making clean water-based floor coatings better and more reliable.

Andrew explained that safety and performance are equally weighted at Vermont Natural Coatings; products have to be as good as they are safe. This assurance alleviates concerns over performance, and as more and more consumers begin to demand these products, builders will become more comfortable in using them for their clients.

Andrew, in collaboration with the University of Vermont, developed PolyWhey, which has emerged as a new wood coatings science, using whey protein to displace toxic ingredients common to traditional wood finishes.  As new technology and science emerges, healthier products can be created.

In summary, by choosing a clean water-based coating you can:

  • Reduce VOCs
  • Ensure optimal indoor air quality
  • Protect the health of family members and contractors
  • Lower harmful emissions

It is possible to do this while keeping your floors looking beautiful and well protected!

As an Interior Designer focused on delivering healthier solutions for the home, I feel this report will assist me in helping my clients understand the importance of what they put on their floors and guide them on a path for safer solutions.

Listen to my interview with Scott and Andrew here.

For more information on Vermont Natural Coatings and to learn more about Andrew Meyer please visit

This is not a sponsored post.

Infographic courtesy of Vermont Natural Coatings, Inc. 

Featured image copyright Amy Thomas.

Amy Thomas is an Interior Designer in the Washington, DC and Northern Virginia area. She focuses on creating a healthy living environment for her clients through the use of eco-friendly and sustainable home furnishings and finishes without sacrificing quality and style.  She is also a certified GREENleader through the Sustainable Furnishings Council. Amy volunteers with schools and has a strong interest in healthy learning environments.  To learn more about Amy, visit her Facebook page at Follow Amy on Instagram @amythomasdesign.



About the author

Amy Thomas


  • If this post isn’t sponsored by VNC, then you really should have done more homework. According to your words, reducing VOCs is supposed to mean the coatings are healthier for humans, yet VOCs are only regulated by the EPA because of their propensity to create smog. Your recommendations are extremely dangerous for folks with allergies, asthma and chemical sensitivities. Most water based, low to zero VOC coatings still contain a myriad of toxins that do not have to be listed on the MSDS or technical data.

    I invite you to contact me if you’d like to learn more about truly healthy finishes.

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