The Pros and Cons of Cork Flooring

Cork Flooring in a Newly Built Luxury Home
© Iriana Shiyan / Fotolia

Since it first showed up in U.S. homes in the early 20th century, cork flooring has enjoyed several periods of popularity. Recently, homeowners have been rediscovering the advantages of this durable, eco-friendly flooring. In addition to its warm, natural appearance, cork holds physical properties that help make your home more comfortable.

The Advantages of Cork Flooring

The first thing you’ll notice when stepping onto a cork floor is how soft and cushiony it feels under your feet. The resilient sponge-like structure of cork allows it to compress to absorb shock, and then spring back to shape.

Cork’s softness makes it perfect for children’s rooms, where it will protect kids from bumps and bruises as they play on the floor or in case of falls. This property also makes cork a good choice for households with senior citizens who might be prone to falls. In the kitchen and dining room, cork’s cushioning ability reduces the risk of glasses and dishes breaking when dropped.

Touch a cork floor in winter and you’ll find it feels warmer than tile or even the average wood floor. That’s because in addition to providing softness, cork’s structure also makes it a good thermal insulator. The tiny air-filled chambers in the wood slow heat transmission, keeping your floor and the rest of the room warmer in winter and cooler in summer.

The structure of cork also absorbs sound waves to provide acoustic insulation. This reduces the amount of noise that carries through the floor to lower rooms or through the ceiling to upper rooms.

Durable and Easy to Clean

Despite its softness, cork flooring can stay looking good for decades as long as it’s installed correctly, treated with a high-quality water-barrier sealer, and cleaned regularly.

Dirt, sand, and other gritty debris can scratch the floor as foot traffic passes through, but you can largely prevent this by sweeping or vacuuming at least once a week. Cork flooring will resist water and staining from minor spills as long as you clean up the mess quickly.

Cork can compress to 40 percent of its original size and still spring back, so minor dents made by high-heeled shoes or heavy object will recover. The same can’t be said for linoleum and hardwood flooring. For heavy furniture, such as beds and sofas, placing protective felt, rubber or plastic pads under the legs to disperse the weight reduces the risk of permanent denting.

If it does become scratched, a cork floor can be refinished just like hardwood. The floor is sanded down, then the stain and finish sealer is re-applied. You can refinish the floor several times before it needs replacement, depending on the thickness of the cork planks or tiles.

Good for Your Health and the Environment

In addition to looking and feeling good, cork can also help you maintain good health. Thanks to its smooth surface, cork flooring doesn’t harbor dust and other debris the way carpet does. This gives you a cleaner home and higher indoor air quality.

Cork also has something other smooth flooring doesn’t: antimicrobial properties. Cork contains a natural waxy substance called suberin, which repels bacteria, mold, and insects. This makes it a healthy flooring choice for anyone with allergies or asthma. It’s particularly helpful in the bedroom and living room, where those with respiratory conditions need clean air the most.

Corkscrew and Cork Bottle Stoppers
© DmyTo / Fotolia

Cork flooring is one of the most environmentally friendly flooring options. Cork comes from the bark of the cork oak (Quercus suber). The bark can be harvested without harming the tree, which regenerates its bark. Cork flooring is made from the scraps left over from bottle stopper production. These scraps are ground and formed into sheets that can be made into flooring planks or tiles. The flooring is biodegradable, so when it wears out, it can be disposed of and will break down naturally.

The Disadvantages of Cork Flooring

Cork Flooring in a Hallway
© Iriana Shiyan / Fotolia

While cork can stand up to a lot, it’s more vulnerable to certain types of damage than hardwood or other flooring materials. That means it’s unlikely to stay looking brand new for long. Cork floors scratch easily, so they must be swept often to prevent dirt from being ground into the surface.

Dog and cat nails, even when neatly trimmed, nearly always leave some scratches on these floors. This is especially true with larger dogs. Over time, your pets will give your floor a weathered look.

Cork can spring back from dents, but it’s susceptible to punctures and cuts. Walking in unpadded high heels, dropping a large knife or dragging a chair over the floor can leave a hole or deep scrape mark.

If not positioned correctly, heavy appliances and items of furniture can sink into the floor, leaving permanent dents and making the item hard to remove. Placing pads, coasters or wooden boards under the legs of these items reduces the risk of permanent dents, but doesn’t always prevent them entirely.

Fading is another potential issue more common with cork than with hardwoods. If parts of your cork floor are exposed to direct sunlight every day, the color can bleach out, leaving your floor looking patchy. Using curtain or blinds to keep the sun off the floor helps, but in this case you’ll need to make sure the window covering is correctly positioned every day, which can become an annoyance.

When properly sealed, cork floors easily repel liquids from minor spills. That said, standing water and moisture from high humidity can seep into the floor, damage the joints, and cause the planks or tiles to swell and buckle. That makes cork less than ideal for damp or humid areas such as the bathroom, laundry room or basement. While cork flooring can be used in the bathroom, correct installation and joint sealing is essential.

If your dog or cat happens to wet on the floor one time and you’re able to clean up the mess quickly, the floor should survive with no damage. If you don’t remove the standing moisture quickly or your pet repeat offends in the same spot, staining and water damage are likely.

While cork less expensive than most wood and stone flooring options, it’s generally more expensive than laminate, vinyl, and linoleum flooring. What’s more, cheap cork floors won’t be as durable or as resistant to water and staining as high-quality, higher-priced products. Additionally, it should be professionally installed for best results.

Cork Floors Room by Room

Whether or not cork is the right choice for you depends largely on where you want to install it and your personal needs and preferences.

Cork flooring is ideal for:

  • Bedrooms
  • Living rooms
  • Children’s playrooms
  • Kitchens
  • Dining rooms
  • Entryways and hallways
  • Home offices and workshops
  • Home gyms
  • Homes with senior citizens
  • Homes with allergy or asthma sufferers
  • Eco-friendly “green” homes

Cork flooring is less than idea for:

  • Bathrooms
  • Laundry rooms
  • Basements
  • Homes with large dogs
  • Those on a tight budget

With its resilience, durability, insulating properties, and hypoallergenic nature, cork has a lot going for it. As long as you don’t mind taking some precautions to protect your flooring and don’t need it to tolerate standing water, cork flooring is well worth considering.

Posted on Categories Flooring