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Plasticised PVC floors can be found in a variety of buildings around the world. Thanks to the use of phthalate plasticisers, these comfortable, safe and stylish floors are also inexpensive and therefore accessible to many.
Most PVC floors are created through a process known as 'plastisol spread coating'. Phthalates are first combined with PVC powder to produce a liquid paste or 'plastisol' which is then applied in several layers, literally ‘building up’ the floor composed of a foam core, a decorative and clear protective wear layer.
Plastisols prepared with these phthalates are rapidly fused so that the layers can be applied quickly, ensuring that the whole process is productive and cost-effective. These plasticisers also enable the plastisols to be processed at a range of temperatures while giving consistent to high quality foams. Thanks to these integral foams, soft PVC floorings muffle sound and are soft to the touch yet still hard wearing.
Complex patterns and three-dimensional effects can be built up through these layers, offering a wide range of styles. But aesthetic value is not the only advantage of soft PVC floors. The smooth, tough surface of the upper wear layer prevents dust and dirt from building up and stops microbes from breeding, helping to reduce disease and infections in buildings that need to be kept sterile, such as hospitals and clinics. This is also a key factor for PVC floors in household kitchens and bathrooms so our everyday health is protected.
The robust surfaces of soft PVC reduce the need for cleaning and the use of polish. They are a natural choice in buildings with large floor space, such as schools, offices and public buildings, where durability and low maintenance are vital.
PVC floors can last for up to 20 years of intensive use. Over this period, phthalates guarantee the application’s flexibility despite frequent temperature changes. Deterioration and discolouring from exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light are also minimal.
In recent years, certain groups have alleged that the migration of phthalates from flooring may pose a threat to the environment or human health. However, consumers can rest assure that modern manufacturing techniques guarantee that PVC flooring meets the strict EU regulations on emissions.
These allegations are not based on objective scientific facts. Whilst phthalates can migrate out of PVC flooring for example, during and after cleaning, the amount which is lost to the environment is negligible.
Phthalates biodegrade rapidly in almost all conditions. The only exception is in anaerobic– without oxygen - sediments in water, although recent studies have shown no adverse effects on the organisms living in these sediments.
Concerns have also been raised regarding the link between phthalates in PVC floors and asthma in children. Scientific evidence does not support this claim and also runs counter to experience over many decades of PVC use in homes, hospitals, offices and public buildings. On the contrary, they help to reduce the level of dust which can primarily aggravate asthma.
Images provided by FORBO, flooring systems