Which types of flooring are best and safest for aging seniors and elderly adults? Which types are best for kitchens, bathrooms, steps and main living areas.
According to the CDC, more than 1 in 4 adults aged 65 or older fall each year. And, out of these falls, 20% lead to broken bones or head injuries. So making smart and safe flooring choices is super important as you get older.
Choosing flooring that is safe for aging in place may seem challenging as you have several competing priorities:
1) Which type of flooring is the most slip resistant?
2) Which type of flooring is the easiest to traverse or walk on? (i.e. if you have a cane or walker or wheel chair, which types are easiest to maneuver?)
3) Which type of flooring provides the most cushioning if you do or your loved one falls?
4) Which type of flooring is easiest to clean and maintain?
5) Which type of flooring is most comfortable?
While these benefits may at times conflict with each other, it’s really simply a matter of prioritizing which factors are most important. And, importantly, this may vary based on which room you are discussing. Your choice for the kitchen may different than your choice for the bedroom or the bathroom or the stairs.
So, I’m going to provide my top 3 choices for the main living areas (incl kitchen), followed by recommendations for the steps and bathrooms. I’m also going to share some general tips that will apply to multiple rooms.
I understand that some of your choices may be limited by budget, but in my mind, safety is the most important aspect, and it’s important to remember that falling and getting hurt can be a major cost – and in many ways – your health and well being, your comfort, your mobility and of course medical bills (and assistance while recuperating). My goal is to help you make smart decisions in your flooring choices while being practical with your budget.
Please note that this article may contain affiliate links. You can read my full disclosure at the bottom of the page.
General principles for safe flooring for aging adults
1. Fewer and smoother transitions across flooring surfaces
The more consistent you can be with your flooring , the better off you’ll be (and your place will look larger and nicer, too). The reason that this is important is because you want to minimize the number of transitions (i.e. saddles or thresholds) as these can become tripping hazards. Many older adults drag their feet a bit and/or don’t lift them as much.
When you do have transitions, try to minimize the height difference, and if possible make them flush across rooms. Note: If you have hardwood flooring with saddles at the doors, you may want to consider removing these as an extra safety precaution.
2. Avoid area rugs
While area rugs have many benefits (decor and warmth), they can be a major tripping hazard for older adults who drag their feet a bit more. Furthermore, small area rugs at the front door on in the kitchen can cause someone to slip across the floor (as the smaller rugs don’t have enough weight to hold them down. (Instead, see the next solution below)
3. Leverage rubber anti-fatigue mats in places that may get wet
Anti-fatigue mats are excellent for people of all ages. They come in particularly handy in area that may become wet such as kitchens and bathrooms. They are heavy, so their weight naturally holds them in place. And, importantly, they are super soft on your feet, so it makes standing, cooking and cleaning much easier as your feet and back don’t get as tired.
Note: these are available in many different colors.
4. Keep the floor dry
This is so important. Wet floors can make virtually any type of flooring slippery and cause slips and falls. So make sure spills and splashes are wiped up right way.
5. Keep the floor clutter free
This is such an important and often overlooked step. Make sure the floor is clear, so that there aren’t toys, clothes, books or other items that could cause tripping hazards (and make sure walk ways are clear). Importantly, make sure all wires and cords are out of the way.
6. Make sure you have good lighting
Aging adults tend to have poorer eye sight, especially periphery vision. So, do all you can to make sure you have strong lighting, especially in hallways, stairs and bathrooms. Night lights will also help. I especially like these new night lights from SnapPower as they don’t take up extra space and are great for hallways.
7. Avoid wearing socks on hard surfaces
When you wear socks on hard surfaces, it’s easy to slip. Instead, it’s better to wear some sort of non-slip slippers or comfortable shoes.
My top 3 flooring choices for aging seniors (for the main areas)
Now the big choice here is whether you want a hard surface or a soft surface such as carpeting. Many seniors prefer carpeting, especially for the bedroom. But, many are split on common areas such as living rooms, dining rooms, kitchens, etc.
Hard surfaces are easier to clean and are more sanitary. They will also last longer. Most prefer the look of hard surfaces, too. Carpets are softer and warmer, and importantly provide more cushioning if you do fall.
Option 1: Coretec Plus Engineered Vinyl Planks
If you prefer a hard surface, my top choice for aging adults would be a new product called Coretec Plus. These are luxury vinyl planks that look like hardwood flooring, but they are waterproof. They are easier to clean and hold up to water and spills. And, they look and feel so real.
Because they’re waterproof, they are a great choice for kitchens, entryways and anywhere in between. And, importantly, they have a cork underlayment underneath so they add some cushioning if you do fall (and a bit of insulation).
Coretec Plus is a floating floor, so it can be installed directly on top of tile flooring, without the need to rip up. It’s an economical choice as well especially as it can be installed on top of virtually all surfaces. You can read my full review of Coretec Plus here, as well as see the many color and style choices available. You can also order samples of Coretec plus here on Amazon.
Advantages of Coretec Plus Luxury Vinyl Plank:
- Easy to clean
- Looks and feels like real hardwood floors
- Has texture, so it’s slip resistant (and less slippery than hardwood flooring)
- Relatively economical (it does cost more than carpet, but it is among the less expensive hard surfaces)
- Can be installed directly on top of tile or concrete
- Variety of colors and styles; tile looking options are available
Disadvantages of Coretec Plus Luxury Vinyl Plank:
- Costs more than carpet
- Doesn’t provide as much cushioning as carpet
- Not good for bathrooms or steps (see my recommendations below for these areas)
- Add an additional layer of cushioning below Coretec Plus for extra shock absorption. This felt underlayment is good for extra cushioning and sound absorption.
Option 2: Carpeting
If you’re going to go with carpet, I would recommend a short cut pile to mid pile carpet. This should be one that is smooth and even. Tighter and denser carpets are easier to traverse than high pile carpets or friezes which have twists and a curled appearance (and they are less dense).
Carpeting is a great option for bedrooms as it’s easier on your feet and warmer. This can be especially important in cooler climates (especially in the winter). Remember that aging seniors are more sensitive to cooler temperatures.
Also, many feel safer with carpeting in the bedrooms, especially if they are worried about falling out of or off the bed. (Yes, this does happen as we age). And, there is something comforting about this if you wake up in the middle of the night and need to use the bathroom (and of course it’s quieter).
Advantages of carpet:
- Softer on feet
- Less slippery/less likely to fall
- More cushioning if you do fall
- Less expensive (carpet is generally the least expensive flooring surface).
Disadvantages of carpet
- Harder to clean and maintain; may stain over time
- May be challenging to traverse if you have a wheel chair or a walker with wheels (but lower pile and tighter carpets will make this easier).
Upgrade the carpet cushion for extra cushioning (and well as better sound absorption and insulation). This will also help the carpet last longer.
Option 3: Cork flooring
Cork flooring is another good choice for seniors. It is “softer” than most other hard surfaces and they are good for insulation. They also feel really nice and comfortable on your feet. But, many people mistakenly think that cork flooring is soft. It’s not “soft” in the same way that a carpet is soft. It is still a hard surface, but it has more cushioning on your feet or give if you do fall down.
Related article: How is cork flooring made and why is it considered green?
While cork is a great choice for aging adults, I still recommend Coretec Plus over cork as Coretec Plus is 100% waterproof, and it’s easier to clean and maintain. Additionally, most people strongly prefer the look of Coretec Plus over cork as Coretec looks like real wood and comes in a full range of colors from light to dark (including grays).
Cork tends to have a narrow range of colors (i.e. light tan) and limited styles. It’s sometimes more challenging to match cabinets, too, especially if you have wood colored cabinets. And, of course, Coretec Plus is less expensive than cork.
Advantages of cork:
- Easier on your feet
- More shock absorption if you fall
- Has some insulation
- It’s a floating floor, so it can be installed on top of tile or other hard surfaces
Disadvantages of cork:
- While it’s water resistant, it’s not waterproof like Coretec Plus is
- Costs more than Coretec Plus
- A bit more challenging to maintain.
- You need to be careful with cleaning products and make sure you don’t let water soak in. Many customers have had issues because their cleaning person did not know how to properly clean these floors.
- Limited color and style selections
My top flooring recommendation for kitchens for elderly adults
So, as I stated above, my first choice for kitchen floors (for older adults) would be Coretec Plus. This looks great and is waterproof. It’s slip resistant and provides shock absorption if you do fall. It’s easy to clean and maintain, and it’s reasonably priced. My 2nd choice would be Cork flooring.
My last choice for kitchens among older adults is tile floors. These can become very slippery when wet and are the most likely surface to cause falls. And, they are super hard, so if you do fall, you are much more likely to hurt yourself. In addition, tile is hard on your feet, and cold, so it’s less attractive in cooler climates, especially during the winter.
My top flooring recommendation for bathrooms for aging in place
Let me preface this section by saying that this is often the trickiest area of the home to make safe for seniors when it comes to flooring. You will see that there can be some down sides in virtually all options (and sometimes the downside is simply a cosmetic one). Also, it’s often necessary to make many other adjustments to bathroom to make them safer and more comfortable, but that’s a topic for another article.
While I highly recommend Coretec Plus for most areas of the home, this product, in my opinion is not suitable for bathrooms (assuming we are talking about the main bathroom that has a bathtub and/or shower; it is generally fine for powder rooms).
While Coretec Plus is waterproof (from the top), bathrooms contain some unique properties that make it difficult to use Coretec Plus (and the same holds for any other floating floor). So, the first issue is how the flooring abuts to the shower/bathtub areas as well as the toilet area.
It’s usually next to impossible to have smooth edges and transitions here (especially because you can’t nail them into the tile or porcelain (and even worse if there are any sorts of curves). Furthermore, and this can be a bigger issue, water can easily seep underneath the floor at the transitions, especially by the bathtub/shower area. Then, the water gets underneath the flooring and this can cause all sorts of issues including mold creation and softening of the sub-floor. So, I would not recommend Coretec Plus here (nor any other type of floating floor).
Now, at the other extreme, you have tile floors which will hold up to water (and they are easy to clean), but this is the most DANGEROUS surface for older adults, especially in bathrooms (and kitchens) where things can get wet. It gets very slippery and the surface is hard, so if you do fall, you are more likely to hurt yourself (either on the floor or on the toilet or something else). Many people already have tile in their bathrooms (and that’s a great choice until you get older). It’s then about making adjustments to make it safer.
If you have tile in the shower, leave it. BUT, importantly add in anti-slip strips, or else some other form of anti-slip mats for the shower. These come in many colors and sizes, so you can choose what works best for you.
You can also use this tape in other areas, such as the steps, but as you’ll see below, carpet on steps is a much safer option.
If you have tile floors and you can’t afford to change them, by all means add a rubber anti-fatigue mat by the shower area. This will make entering and exiting the shower much safer as it won’t be slippery there. And, the rubber mat is heavy, so it will stay in place. (Avoid towels and area rugs as these can be slippery and move and actually cause someone to fall). Home Care places recommend these anti-fatigue mats as they are much safer.
If you’re able to replace the floor in the main area of the bathroom (i.e. outside of the shower/tub area), then a safer option is to install some sort of sheet vinyl or fiber floor. You should get a higher grade one that has some cushioning built into it and one with some texture. This way, slips are less likely to occur and if they do occur at least you’ll have a bit of shock absorption.
With a sheet vinyl, it’s easy to clean, and you don’t worry about water penetrating underneath it through the sides. The installer can cut it perfectly to the shape of the shower/bath tub and then use caulk at the edges to seal it. (By the way, hospitals and doctors offices use versions of these types of floors since they are the most sanitary and easiest to traverse).
The safest flooring option for steps
By far, the safest option for the steps is carpeting. You can either do wall to wall carpeting or a carpet runner on top of wood treads. Both are safe. You are less likely to slip on carpet, and if you do, the carpeting will help cushion the fall. In addition, the carpet will provide cushion and shock absorption which makes it easier and less tiring on your feel.
Or course, carpeting or carpet runners are better for pets, especially small dogs and aging dogs. They also make the steps much quieter.
Obviously, steps get to be more challenging if as you age, or if you get hurt. I even know this from personal experience when I broke my foot many years ago. Assuming that the person can walk up the steps, take many precautions here, including making sure that the banisters are safe (and at the proper level) and the area is well lit.
And, at some point, it may become necessary to install a chair lift. Check with your health insurance on this one…sometimes your health insurance will cover this expense. Of course, at some point, aging seniors may decide to move and downsize and choose a home without steps. If you are planning to move, check out this helpful article from Sharon Paxson, 10 Considerations for Seniors Searching for a Home to Age in Place.
Note: Carpeting is the safest option for steps for ALL ages, including toddlers, adults and older adults. And, it’s safest for dogs and cats, too.
Flooring choices you should avoid for elderly adults who want to age in place:
1. Tile flooring
Tile flooring is not safe for aging seniors. It’s easy to slip on tiles, especially when they are wet. And, if you do fall, you are much more likely to be seriously injured, especially if you are older. So, if you do have tile flooring, especially in the kitchen, you may want to consider replacing it or else placing a more forgiving floor (e.g. Coretec Plus or Cork) on top of it. These can be installed directly on top of tile (without the need to rip up the tile flooring.
If you’re older and have tile floors, I would advise against adding area rugs as these can cause tripping hazards and also can cause you to slip. Instead use a rubber anti-fatigue mat (which is soft and easier on your feet and will remain in securely in place).
2. Natural stone flooring, especially polished marble or granite
These floors are even more dangerous than tile floors. They are super slippery even without water. And, with a drop or two of water, they are super dangerous. And, they are even harder than porcelain and ceramic tiles. Furthermore, they require much more maintenance – both in cleaning and in needing to reseal the floors.
Many people look to bamboo because it is a cheaper alternative vs hardwood. They also seem to be mislead on it’s durability (yes, there is a LOT of incorrect information out there on this product – both online and offline). But, there’s a reason it’s cheaper…it does not hold up well.
Bamboo scratches and dents super easily. And, this can be more of an issue among seniors who may use canes, walkers or wheel chairs. (And, yes, over time it can splinter). It also doesn’t hold up well to water, so it’s a poor choice for kitchens and entryways (and of course bathrooms).
Conclusion for the safest flooring for aging in place
As you can see, there is no “one size fits all” flooring option for the entire home, and it’s important to look at your options room by room. The more consistent you are with your flooring and more level to you are as you change flooring surfaces, the safer you’ll be. For areas where a hard surface is preferable, it’s ideal to make selections that have some cushioning and shock absorption and ones that have some texture and slip resistance. For bedrooms and steps, carpeting is a very safe and often preferable option.
Note: When it comes to safety among seniors, there are many adaptations you may want to make to your home to make it safer and allow you to age more comfortably in place. Some of these may include modifications to the steps or relocating the master bedroom to the 1st floor. Check out this article on potential remodeling considerations for aging seniors.
Additional resources for aging in place:
- Great tips for buying your retirement home by Debbie Drummond
- How Seniors can make a big move into a smaller home by Karen Holt Highland
- Coretec Plus luxury vinyl review
- What is cork flooring and how is it made?