Eco-Experts: Answers to Your Questions About Nontoxic Floor Coverings, Natural Detergents and Earthships Built From Recycled Tires

Find out the best sources for nontoxic flooring, how to use natural cleaners in high-efficiency washers and how to build an Earthship from recycled tires.

| November/December 2002

  • Carol Venolia
  • David Eisenberg
  • Debra Lynn Dadd

Concrete flooring

I am trying to find sources for nontoxic floor coverings and know that you recommend bamboo, cork, or natural linoleum, but do you have any information on how healthy or nontoxic cement flooring is?

—Marsha Miller, via e-mail

David Eisenberg replies:

In general, cement (concrete) floors are inert and do not pose a toxicity risk as far as offgassing is concerned. For people extremely sensitive to chemicals, some admixtures in the concrete may be problematic. These are added for such things as controlling the workability or setting time of the concrete. And curing compounds, used to prevent rapid drying and cracking after concrete is poured, have been suggested as potentially problematic for highly sensitive people. It is usually possible to pour high-quality concrete floors without admixtures or curing compounds.

Greater concern about toxicity is related to the possible effects of finishes, such as stains, sealers, or waxes. If finishes are used, it is good to know what is in them and what health concerns are known about them.

Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDSs) should be available from the suppliers of most commercially available sealers and finishes. These provide important information about known health concerns, exposure levels, and proper safeguards for use. Adding pigments directly to the wet concrete before or just after it is poured and then troweling the surface to a hard, smooth finish usually makes it unnecessary to use any other finish.

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