What’s wrong with LVT?


Luxury Vinyl Tiles are widely used in all markets across the building industry and have become one of the most popular flooring solutions due to their durability, low maintenance, and cost-effectiveness. LVT is composed of polyvinyl chloride (PVC) layers and additives such as plasticizers and stabilizers for structural performance. There are 14 billion pounds of vinyl flooring manufactured in the United States each year.14 Between 2014 and 2020, vinyl flooring sales in the U.S. grew from $1.1 to $5.2 billion.12


What’s the concern?

PVC, a primary ingredient of LVT, is banned in many countries throughout the world because of its harmful effects on humans and the environment.1 PVC has been classified as a human carcinogen and is on the Living Building Challenge Red List of toxic chemicals to avoid.  


When it is manufactured, PVC generates these harmful toxins:


  • Dioxins are persistent organic pollutants (POPs) meaning they do not break down. Dioxins get into our soil, water, and accumulate in food chains. They are highly toxic and can cause cancer, reproductive and developmental problems, damage to the immune system, and can interfere with hormones.10
  • Phthalates are toxic substances known to leach into food and water supplies. They are linked to reproductive and respiratory health problems with prolonged exposure.9 A 2012 study found that phthalates from PVC flooring absorbed into children’s bodies, showing that they can ingest phthalates not only from food but also from breathing and skin contact.4 Phthalates such as DEHP and DOP are most concerning because of endocrine disruption and reproductive harm.6 1
  • Ethylene dichloride exposure can occur from breathing ambient or workplace air. Inhalation of concentrated ethylene dichloride vapor can induce effects on the human nervous system, liver, and kidneys, as well as respiratory distress, cardiac arrhythmia, nausea, and vomiting.11

End of life is another concern of vinyl flooring. Most vinyl is not biodegradable and will not decompose naturally when sent to a landfill. Millions of pounds of LVT are thrown away annually, so the amount of vinyl waste is increasing year after year.3 When vinyl is burned in incinerators or accidental fire, it releases toxic dioxins. In places like California which are prone to wildfires, these chemicals pose a serious threat to the health of residents and first responders.1


Luxury vinyl tile may be cheap to users, but the societal costs of its poisonous environmental health consequences are immense at every stage of vinyl production.2


Industry response:

Companies have been slowly acknowledging the toxicity of LVT and making changes accordingly.1 Phthalate replacements are now used by some manufacturers, including bio-based plasticizers and a terephthalate called DOTP or DEHT.1 Some distributors, such as Green Building Supply, have made the choice not to sell LVT at all.4


Learn more:

In this video, The Center for Environmental Health, Material Research L3C and Autocase share their current research into what we need to know about LVT and why alternatives for flooring are in urgent demand. 


To learn more about selecting healthier flooring, you can take the free course “Selecting Healthier Flooring with HomeFree” offered by the Healthy Building Network. 


✓ Spec healthier alternatives such as reclaimed wood, cork, stone, tile, wool carpet, and natural linoleum.5

  • Linoleum and bio-based flooring tiles are affordable and offer wood looks:
  • Reclaimed wood offers beauty, sustainability, biophilic elements, and meets indoor air quality low-VOC requirements. With proper care and maintenance, it will last for many years. Unlike LVT, scratches in wood flooring can be repaired.

Bookmark and refer to this database of healthier flooring created by the Center for Environmental Health in partnership with Healthcare without Harm. It’s a tool to support purchasers, designers, and architects to select healthier resilient flooring products, that are free of vinyl and a range of other toxic chemicals.

If using LVT, select products with transparency documentation and avoid toxic additives. Refer to this resource for healthier plasticizer and stabilizer options.7

✓ Prioritize LVT manufacturers with recycling and end-of-life programs. Many vinyl materials can not be recycled because of their complicated chemical compositions. However, the industry is stepping up and creating programs to help in recycling the old, unwanted LVT. 3