Made of PVC plastic and dubbed "the poison plastic" by some advocacy groups, this type of petroleum-based flooring has a long track record of problems. Though it's cheap at face value, emerging studies suggest those initial savings come at a cost, with other studies linking it to wheezing and asthma and even finding lead contamination in the flooring.
In the latest study, scientists looked at about 3,000 children, using data the kids' parents provided at the beginning of the study, and then 5 and 10 years later. Children whose bedrooms had vinyl flooring were 1½ times more likely to be diagnosed with asthma a decade after the study started compared to kids with other types of flooring in their bedrooms.
Interestingly, the strongest asthma link in children in the study occurred in those whose mothers slept in rooms with vinyl floors during pregnancy. That makes sense, since critical biological pathways in the baby are developed during particular points in pregnancy.
So what's the asthma trigger in vinyl flooring? The researchers suggest it could be phthalates, harmful chemicals used to soften plastic, giving vinyl its soft, bendable structure. The chemicals leach into household dust for years, creating constant exposure.
If you're in the market for new flooring, look for safer materials like responsibly harvested hardwood (look for Forest Stewardship Council certification), real linoleum made from linseed (beware, some vinyl is marketed as linoleum), ceramic, or bamboo.
Avoid carpets, which are often coated with other harmful chemicals, including nonstick, stain-repellent chemicals linked to developmental problems in children. (Carpeting also traps allergens.)
To go the extra mile, opt for unfinished hardwood or bamboo and finish floors yourself using less-toxic sealant brands like Vermont Natural Coatings.
For more information on creating safer kids' rooms, check out 5 Nontoxic Ways to Get Ready for Baby.