Consumer Reports: Formaldehyde in flooring

Laminate flooring is less expensive than solid wood, but there have been concerns that it emits formaldehyde.

Formaldehyde is a colorless gas that's considered a human carcinogen by the World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer. It's used in many types of household products and was in the news in 2015 when some laminate flooring from Lumber Liquidators was reported to emit worrisome levels of formaldehyde.

Consumer Reports purchased a variety of wood-based flooring products and ran lab tests over the past year.

“It was a small study, but we did find that laminate and engineered wood had consistently higher levels of formaldehyde emissions compared to prefinished solid-wood samples that we tested," said Dr. Urvashi Rangan, Consumer Reports Product Safety and Sustainability.

If you’re putting in new flooring, Consumer Reports says prefinished solid-wood flooring is a better choice for reducing formaldehyde exposure. If you’ve had laminate or engineered-wood flooring for several years, there’s less cause for concern because formaldehyde is a volatile chemical that will dissipate over time.

"The problem is that lots of products can emit formaldehyde, especially when they’re new," Rangan said. "Things like permanent-press fabric, upholstery, plywood, particleboard, paints, and cigarettes all can emit formaldehyde.

To lower formaldehyde levels, open windows to let in fresh air, wash permanent-press clothing and curtains before using them, choose wood furniture without formaldehyde-containing glues, and ban indoor smoking. But forget about using an air purifier. It probably won’t lower formaldehyde levels. Nor will putting a rug over your floor.

There are no federal limits for formaldehyde, but California does set limits on how much formaldehyde can be emitted by flooring and other pressed-wood products. Consumer Reports believes even California’s levels are not low enough.

In June, Lumber Liquidators reached a settlement with the Consumer Product Safety Commission and agreed to continue testing some of its laminate floors free of charge. You can get more information at 800-366-4204.

This report is based on an article in the September 2016 issue of Consumer Reports magazine. More information on formaldehyde in flooring is available for free at: www.ConsumerReports.org/formaldehydeflooring.

There are do-it-yourself test kits for testing for formaldehyde in your home, but neither Consumer Reports nor the Environmental Protection Agency has tested the kits or verified their accuracy.