I’m on a mission to build-out our camper van with sustainable, non-toxic materials as much as possible within our budget (check out my guide to non-toxic campervan products here!).When I started the search for the best non-toxic camper van flooring for our conversion, we had three main requirements: non-toxic (duh!), water-resistant, and thin.
Looking to do your own DIY flooring for your van conversation? Here’s everything you need to know.
Why Not Wood Flooring
Though we love wood flooring in homes, it’s not the most practical for camper van flooring. Wood tends to absorb moisture and can warp when it gets wet. Since we have two big dogs, we knew our flooring was definitely going to get wet. On top of that, quality wood flooring is typically 1/2″ or thick. The height of the Nissan NV2500 is 76″ BEFORE adding the insulation, subflooring, and wall/ceiling paneling. This means that the extra 1/4″ headspace seriously matters.
Is Laminate and Vinyl Flooring Toxic?
Laminate and vinyl are much thinner than wood, but they’re both notorious for having added formaldehyde and toxic VOCs. If you want non-toxic camper van flooring, these materials are not the best options. Not to be a buzzkill, but laminate and vinyl can off-gas toxic chemicals for 2-10 years! Since the indoor air in your van is limited, it’s important to ensure the air quality is a healthy as possible.
We narrowed our choices down to two products that fit our main requirements: cork and linoleum.
Cork vs Linoleum Flooring
Cork has great characteristics. It’s renewable and non-toxic, of course. It’s also sound deadening, insulating, fire-resistant, water-resistant, anti-microbial (resistant to mold and bugs). Plus, it’s durable, which is a very good thing when you’re talking van flooring. Cork tends to be more expensive than other flooring options and requires some maintenance (you need to reseal it every couple years). You can buy cork in either thin sheets that you glue down or thicker click tiles that can be snapped together and floated over your subfloor.
Linoleum is another awesome sustainable material that hits all the same “green” markers as cork– non-toxic, water-resistant, stain resistant, fire retardant, antimicrobial, hypoallergenic and anti-static. Linoleum has a smooth sleek shine finish and it stays cool to the touch in hot weather.
What Is Marmoleum Flooring?
Linoleum, sold by Forbo as Marmoleum, comes in a ton of really cool colors with lots of options for funky patterns. Similar to cork, you can buy click tiles that float or glue down, or you can purchase linoleum in thin sheets.
In the end, we went for Marmoleum Real linoleum, which comes as a super thin sheet that’s only .0984″ thick. Forbo sells the Marmoleum sheets in rolls that are 78″ wide and cut to your desired length. This provides a super cool opportunity for your van flooring– since our van is 70″ wide, we realized that we could make the entire van floor out of one single seamless sheet of linoleum. This means no gaps or seams so there’s nowhere for moisture to leak and installation is way easier!
Installing Underlayment Sheets
Since the linoleum is sooo thin, we decided to add cork underlayment sheets between the subfloor and the flooring. As we mentioned, cork is insulating and helps with sound deadening, so we think the addition of flooring thickness is worth the benefits of the cork underlayment. The underlayment comes is 2’x4′ sheets that can easily be cut or even layered if you wanted a thicker subfloor.
So our flooring assembly consists of birch plywood as the bottom subfloor, cork underlayment sandwiched between, and the .0984″ thick linoleum sheet on top.
How to Install Marmoleum Flooring
- Birch plywood (we purchased CARB 2 certified plywood because there’s no added formaldehyde)
- Cork underlayment sheets (they come in 2’x4′ sheets)
- Forbo Marmoleum Real linoleum from Green Building Supply (we chose a dark gray color called Lava)
- Forbo Sustain sheet and flooring adhesive
- Vinyl & Linoleum Floor roller (we rented one from a local heavy equipment rental company)
- Cardboard Utility knife
- Trowel– (we used this 1/16″ square trowel but the adhesive you use will dictate what type of trowel to use)
- Metal tapping screws
- Duct tape
NOTE: We recommend doing this installation with a friend because it’s difficult for one person to maneuver the materials and floor roller on their own.
Before You Start
Step 0 is Insulation. As we describe in our post on sustainable insulation, we rolled small pieces of wool along the entire van floor between the flooring beams prior to installing our subfloor.
Install your subfloor. We used birch plywood, which is more moisture-resistant than OSB. Mark where the floor ridges are on your plywood and attach the plywood with metal tapping screws.
Create a cardboard template of the van floor using several pieces of cardboard cut to the exact dimensions of your van floor and tape the cardboard together across the top with duct tape.
Lay out the cork sheets across a flat surface and place the cardboard template on top of the cork. Cut the cork sheets to the template of the van floor, duct taping the tops of the cork sheets together to create one large sheet of cork that’s the exact size of your van floor.
Next place the cork template on top of the linoleum flooring sheet and cut the flooring to the template.
Clean the subfloor very thoroughly so it’s completely clean of all debris. Since you’re using thin materials, even small specs of dirt can show up as small bumps in the final floor, to be sure there’s no bugs or debris anywhere on your subfloor.
Using the trowel, spread a thin layer of the glue on top of the plywood and glue the cork underlayment template onto your subfloor.
Using the heavy roller, carefully roll over the flooring until it’s all flat and affixed to the plywood. Let dry and then remove the duct tape from the cork.
Clean the cork thoroughly. The linoleum is so thin, you can see even a small pieces of dirt underneath it, so be very thorough again in your cleaning.
Lift the linoleum sheet on top of the cork, rolling half of the flooring up. Trowel the glue on the exposed side of the floor. Again, ensure no debris gets stuck to the glue before laying down the flooring.
Then roll down the linoleum on to the glue, ensuring the templates match up. Roll the unglued side up and repeat the process by gluing down the other side.
Lay down the linoleum smoothly and evenly on top of the cork to ensure there are no bubbles and it’s all placed correctly on the van floor. (This step requires two people.)
Roll the heavy roller over the entire flooring until secured onto the cork.
Let dry and enjoy your sleek new sustainable van flooring!
NOTE: Our Marmoleum had a few scratches on it after installation, likely because we have two big dogs with long nails. Since the product’s color is consistent throughout the entire material, you can disguise surface scratches with a wax shine like WAXIE pro shine. For us that was an easy fix. Forbo recommends applying a top coat like Topshield to keep their floors in good shape.
Did you do a DIY camper van conversation? I’d love to hear about your experience! Tell me in the comments and let’s talk floor durablity.
Did you consider rubber flooring?
Hi Bob! Thanks for reaching out! I didn’t look into rubber flooring, but recycled rubber could be a great sustainable option (especially if paired with a zero-VOC glue and sealer). Recycled rubber is more likely to have already off-gassed, which is important for your van’s indoor air quality.
Hi there, I am curious which color you have chosen? I chose one single color marmoleum for my van but I got warned that it is very risky for damage. What is your experience with the marmoleum floor?
Hi Wendy, thanks for reaching out! I chose the color “Real Lava” for my camper van flooring. Marmoleum can be a controversial material– one on hand it’s a material that can scratch pretty easily. On the other hand, it’s very easy to repair any scratches and damage that does occur. I’m happy with the flooring, but there are scratches that I haven’t taken the time to repair (yet). This is a great, lightweight material for a camper van, but if I were selecting flooring for a house in a non-wet area (living room, bedroom), I’d opt for hand scraped wood that looks better and better as it ages and gets organic scratches. Thanks for your comment!!
Hi, I’m in search for the exact same problem as you described in this post…
How is this flooring performing so far for you?
I’ve also found a new product NatureFloor – eko laminate… No “bad ingredients” but it’s tile based and I’m worries about the joints
Hey Ben, thanks for your comment! My complaint about Marmoleum in a van is that it scratches pretty easily. I’ve gotten to the point where scratches and dings don’t really bother me anymore, but I want to mention that in case that’s an issue for you. I know quite a few people with the stick-on laminate tiles and they seem happy with their choices. I really like having one seamless floor though, so that’s why even with scratches, I would still choose this same flooring. Thanks!
Hi! If no dogs, would you recommend keeping the cork as flooring? Wondering if we could save money by just applying plywood and then cork. Thanks!
Hi! The underlayment I used is unfinished cork underlayment and I think it would scratch if used as the final floor. From what I’ve typically seen, cork flooring tiles or tongue and groove boards are a little thick, but if you found cork that’s suitable for a finished floor, it will likely finished in a way to limit scratches. The marmoleum definitely scratches, but everything gets scratched eventually in the van, so it’s been something I’ve accepted. The scratches can be removed with time and effort but it’s kind of a part of vanlife.
Hi, I was wondering how well this held up? I would like to glue sheet Marmoleum to a rubber underlayment for a dance studio floor. I called Forbo (Marmoleum’s manufacturer) and they did not recommend it but I don’t see why it wouldn’t work. So, looking for feedback for someone’s who’s done it, at least with cork. Any thoughts are welcome!
Hi! It’s fine with cork, but they recommend using cork. Personally I’d listen to their recommendation because it’s a very particular product. Best wishes!
By any chance do you know of any (safe of course) sound reduction, absorption, deadening materials to use for the walls and ceiling of the van? I don?t recall seeing you did so for your van? Are you having any issues woth noise when you want to retrieve to your sanctuary while a party is going on outside ;). Thank you!!! Dee
Hi Dee! I used Noxudol– https://amzn.to/2U0pz87 on the wheel wells which is water-based but I’m not sure how non-toxic it really is. I think the more sound deadening, the better. Even foam board could help with that– though it’s spray foam and when sprayed that can potentially release chemicals in the air, this is already dried and probably pretty stable in terms of indoor air quality.
What thickness of birch plywood did u use?
Hey there, 1/4″ thick plywood
Love this guide and I’m pretty sure I’m going to use a similar solution for the flooring in my Promaster! Do I have this layering correct?
1.) Wool in floor valleys
2.) 1/4″ birch plywood
3.) 1/4″ cork underlayment
4.) Marmoleum sheeting
I think l am going to glue the plywood down, and then use the existing ring bolt holes to affix in certain locations. This would cut down on adding extra holes to van floor.
Any other lessons learned on this project? Everything still holding up well?
Yup! If you have headspace, you may want to insulate more. The Nissan’s headroom is more limited. Best wishes!