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Are Hardwood Floors Safe For Seniors? (Other Flooring Options)

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Are hardwood floors safe for seniors?If your elderly parent is living in a home with hardwood floors – or if they are moving into your home with that type of flooring, you may be wondering if that is going to be a problem as they continue to age and decline.

So, are hardwood floors safe for seniors? – When it comes to falling, hardwood floors are not as safe as vinyl or cork or carpets.  But when it comes to being slippery, hardwood floors CAN be made less slippery by removing any waxy residue and keeping them clean and dry and possibly using some anti slip products.

If you compare the different types of flooring (for senior living) vinyl floors and cork floors would come up on top because they are easy to maintain, they hold up to wear and tear well and they provide some type of cushion (not as great as carpeting but better than wood or stone).

How To Choose A Flooring Option For Senior Citizens

Choosing a floor for the living spaces of someone who is elderly does not have to be complicated.

The trick is to consider the following five factors and to prioritize these factors for each type of flooring and how and where you will use it.

The five factors are:

  1. Slip Factor – Is it a non-slip surface, even when it’s wet?
  2. Mobility  – Is it easy to use a cane, rollator, walker or wheelchair over it?
  3. Cleaning and maintenance – How much maintenance does it require?
  4. Comfort – How does it feel under the feet?
  5. Absorption – Does it offer some type of cushion in case of a fall?

Here is a comparison of these factors with the different types of flooring available today.

Slippery Mobility Maintenance Comfort Level of Absorption
Carpeting No Easiest on low pile Easiest on low pile High level High
Hardwood Yes Easy Easy Low Low
Vinyl Maybe Easy Easy Medium High Medium Low
Linoleum Maybe Easy Easy Medium Low Medium Low
Laminate Maybe Easy Easy Low Medium Low
Cork Less slippery Easy Easy Medium High Medium
Bamboo Less slippery Easy Easy Medium High Medium
Rubber Yes when wet Easy Easy Medium High Medium
Stone Yes Easy Easy Low Low
Ceramic Yes Easy Easy Low Low
Porcelain Yes Easy Easy Low Low

Note: The materials of vinyl, linoleum, cork, bamboo, stone, ceramic, porcelain and hardwood CAN be made less slippery with the use of anti-slip material.  Companies like Trustystep, Slip Doctors and Slip Tec Solutions all provide products that can be used to make any flooring (ceramic, wood, vinyl, etc.) less slippery and more safe.

Below is some information on each type of flooring available today.  If you are remodeling or building a new home – this information can help you to make the most informed decision concerning aging in place and flooring.

Vinyl

Advantages of Vinyl Flooring

Luxury vinyl flooringCleaning and Durability: Vinyl floors offer the same type of durable and low-maintenance benefits of linoleum.  They are very easy to clean and are especially beneficial when it comes to cleaning up any spills whether it be food or water or other type of substance.

Water Resistance: Vinyl is a very water repellent material and high-quality vinyl is virtually waterproof. However, the seams in vinyl tiles and planks can let water through to the ground so that standing water can be a problem. In bathrooms, the type of vinyl flooring that is ideal is the sheet vinyl as there are no seams except at the edges of the room.

Cost: Vinyl covers a wide range of prices, but is usually one of the most affordable floor options and is suitable for DIY installation.

Mobility: Vinyl is relatively hard and smooth, so it’s really ideal when it comes to using a cane, walker, wheelchair, etc.

Variety: These days, with high end luxury vinyl flooring – the days of vinyl looking and feeling like plastic are long gone.  There is a huge variety of vinyl flooring that can look and feel like wood or ceramic tile.  I personally have luxury vinyl flooring in my master bathroom that you can see here on the left.  After I had it installed, everyone that saw it thought it was stone flooring!

Disadvantages of Vinyl Flooring

Durability: Vinyl floors, in general, do not stand up well to high traffic areas nor to heavy furniture, sharp objects, etc.  The colors will also tend to fade if they are exposed to direct sunlight for too long.

Repair: A vinyl floor cannot be repaired, it has to be entirely replaced.  So, if there is a tear in any part of the floor – it cannot simply be replaced with another piece of that vinyl – the entire floor has to be removed and replaced with another.

Cork

Advantages of Cork Flooring

Cork is between a hard and soft material. It has a smooth, washable surface but offers a cushion underfoot. It is also not as loud as very hard materials and offers some thermal and sound insulating properties.

Mobility: Cork is tough enough for efficient wheelchair travel, and it does not catch feet like carpets.

Cleaning: As long as a cork floor is properly maintained, it is relatively easy to clean and maintain. The sealant above the surface protects the porous material from staining and all that is necessary is to sweep or vacuum regularly to make it look the best.

Disadvantages of Cork Flooring

Water and damage: Since cork is so soft, it can be damaged relatively easily by furniture, pointed heels or sharp objects. It is only moderately waterproof meaning that spills should be wiped away immediately as standing water can get into the joints of floor tiles or planks and damage the core of the material.

Linoleum

Advantages of Linoleum Flooring

Cleanliness: Linoleum is easy to clean and maintain. It does not stick to dust and pollen like carpets.

Durability: Linoleum is water and stain resistant enough to work well in kitchens and bathrooms, but be aware that puddles of water sitting on the floor can easily creep it’s way under the floor through the seams of a linoleum floor tiles and planks.

Mobility: Linoleum has a flat, smooth surface and is laid directly on subfloor or wooden base, making it well suited for wheelchairs and rollators.
Of course, many homeowners like the fact that linoleum is made with natural materials such as linseed oil, pine resin and cork or jute. This makes it a natural alternative to his next cousin vinyl flooring.

Disadvantages of Linoleum Flooring

Cost: Linoleum can be a relatively expensive floor material compared to other types of flooring.

Hardness: Although linoleum is not as hard or cold as tile, it offers little upholstery and can be relatively cold underfoot.

Rubber

Advantages of Rubber Flooring

Safe: Rubber floors are commonly used in gyms where it is important to have a surface that is safe for strong physical activity. It is both impact and slips resistant.

Durable: Rubber floors are  hard to damage, with furniture, equipment or water. However, the seams are susceptible to the penetration of water into the ground. It can be laid on concrete and thus offers more comfort and safety for outdoor areas and cellars.

Disadvantages of Rubber Flooring

Cost: Rubber flooring can be expensive. Simple collapsible tiles can be relatively inexpensive and are very easy to install themselves, saving the cost of a professional installation.

Look and Feel: Rubber is anything but cozy. The variety of rubber floors are growing but still somewhat limited in their color and style choices.

Odor: Brand new rubber flooring will have an odor to it that may be uncomfortable for some.  It normally fades with time but it is something to consider.

Natural Stone, Ceramic or Porcelain

In general, if you are remodeling or building a new home and you will be aging in place in that home, I would not recommend using stone or ceramic or porcelain floors.  Not only are they very hard if you fall on them, but they are also very easy to chip and break if anything is dropped on them.

They are, however very water resistant which makes them ideal for kitchen and bathroom areas but you can achieve very similar results with high end luxury vinyl or laminate floors and give yourself a little safety in case of a fall.

Also, any type of stone floors tend to be more slippery (generally) but be aware that there are products out there that can make a floor less slippery (as I mentioned above).

Hardwood, Bamboo, and Laminate

Advantages of Hardwood, Bamboo and Laminate Flooring

Hard but natural: Wood, bamboo, and laminate floors are a hard surface with a soft, natural look. It is generally easy to clean and care for and will not be as dirty as carpets.

Aesthetics: You can not beat the look of real hardwood or bamboo flooring. Laminate is similar to luxury vinyl in that it also looks pretty good and at a fraction of the cost of real hardwood or bamboo.

Cost:  Laminate can cost less than $ 1 per square foot, but you should spend a little more on acceptable quality material.  Hardwood floors are generally more expensive than either laminate or bamboo, depends on what surface each is being laid on.

Disadvantages of Hardwood, Bamboo and Laminate Flooring

Maintenance: Hardwood floors can last for many years if cared for properly, but they are not water resistant enough for the bathroom and can be a maintenance issue in the kitchen. It should be vacuumed regularly to remove chippings that can damage the finish. Stagnant water can cause permanent stains and damage.

Noise: All wood and bamboo floors are quite noisy and do not provide sound absorption. Laminate is especially loud under hard shoes and when something falls to the floor.

Cost and installation: Solid wood and bamboo are relatively expensive and usually require professional installation. Click-together floors – available with hardwood and bamboo and all laminate flooring – are cheaper and suitable for home use.

Carpeting

Advantages of Carpeting

Comfort: Carpet is a very soft material that feels comfortable underfoot and provides the best protection against falls.

Carpets are more comfortable to walk on and to stand on for anyone, but especially when you are older.  If you suffer from arthritis in your feet, walking on the cushion of carpets feels much better than any type of hard flooring.  Carpeting does not store heat or cold like many hard floors, but on a cold morning it is much nicer than, for example, ceramic tiles.

Sound: Carpet absorbs sound and is almost noiseless to walk on.

Disadvantages Of Carpeting

Air Quality: The fibers of carpets tend to collect dirt and dust that are floating in the air, and it is difficult to remove all soils with a vacuum. This can be problematic for people with severe allergies or respiratory sensitivities.

Cleaning: Carpeting is not good in wet areas, such as bathrooms, or in wet and dirty areas, such as kitchens. It dyes very easily and is difficult to clean, which usually requires a professional carpet cleaner.

Mobility: Wheelchairs do not roll over the carpet as well as on hard floors. Long-pile carpet can pose a stumbling hazard. For this reason, the type of carpet for seniors that I would recommend is low pile carpeting.  It should not be higher than 1/4 inch, and the padding should be firm and not too thick.

Making Floors Less Slippery

Replacing your hardwood floors (or any other slippery floor) would be extremely expensive and frankly, unnecessary.  These days, there are multiple products that can be used to make floors less slippery.  The 3 main types of products are:

  • Clear anti slip tapes
  • Rubber and carpeted treads (for stairs)
  • Anti slip coating products

I wrote an article on these anti slip floor products – check it out by clicking here.

Related Questions

Are hardwood floors bad for knees? – In general, any hard surface is bad for all joints, knees, ankles, hips, back, etc.  I personally use an Anti Fatigue comfort mat by my kitchen sink so that when I’m washing dishes I’m not standing on my hardwood floors.  The link here will take you to Amazon and you can see the mat that I use but you can also see other designs and variations as well.

If your senior loved one suffers from arthritis or any type of joint pain, I would try to avoid all types of hard surface materials for flooring – if possible.

Does water hurt hardwood floors? – Living here in Georgia, the majority of homes have hardwood throughout, including mine.  I can tell you from personal experience that YES – water will damage hardwood floors if the puddle of water stays on the floor long enough (a few hours) it will discolor the wood and cause it to swell and cause it to warp.


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