If you're looking for the pros and cons of cork flooring, we've got you covered. Cork is a layer of bark that grows particularly thick in several tree species — most notably, Quercus suber.
Cork has many interesting uses, including as the primary material used to seal wine bottles. But did you know that this substance can also be used to make floors?
Cork flooring is a remarkably sustainable solution that offers a comfortable walking surface and great insulation. It can be stained and refinished just like hardwood to prolong its lifespan. And it resists moisture damage better than most other organic flooring materials.
While cork flooring is very durable, it’s not impervious to damage. Cork floors are prone to scratching and gouging, which will give the surface an aged appearance over time.
They also don’t last as long as tile or hardwood and require frequent resealing to maintain their quality. There’s no denying that cork is great for the environment! But should you install this innovative flooring material in your own home?
Here’s what you need to know about the pros and cons of cork flooring.
11 Pros and Cons of Cork Flooring You Need To Know
Pros of Cork Flooring
1. Incredibly Sustainable
Why make flooring out of cork in the first place? One of the key motivators behind this innovation is cork’s unbeatable sustainability.
Unlike other organic materials like hardwood or bamboo, harvesting cork does not mean killing the producing plant. After the existing cork is harvested, a new layer will grow back within a few years.
It takes a lot of land, water, and other resources to grow a tree from seed. So the fact that cork can be harvested continuously throughout the tree’s lifetime makes it significantly more sustainable than regular wood!
2. Comfortable to Walk On
Take a moment and think about the consistency of cork. While cork is firm and holds its shape well, it is also remarkably soft.
Cork flooring is extremely comfortable to stand and walk on. Using cork instead of hardwood or tile could even improve joint pain caused by standing for long periods.
3. Naturally Insulating
Cork flooring is a great insulator! Installing cork floors can help maintain the temperature of your home while reducing unwanted noise. Cork’s innate insulating capabilities come from the countless tiny air bubbles inside.
If you have an area in your home with poor acoustics or that is prone to echoing, cork flooring may be an ideal solution. And the surface will never get cold in the wintertime like tile or hardwood might.
4. Easy to Install
While there are several cork floor products available to choose from, most are very easy to install. Many can be easily DIYed without any special tools or experience.
Cork tiles are perhaps the most popular option currently available. These tiles often feature tongue-and-groove edges that can be clicked together in a matter of seconds.
Despite cork’s porosity, it is considered one of the best flooring materials for allergy sufferers. Cork is naturally resistant to contaminants like mold and mildew — two common allergy triggers.
When sealed, cork can be cleaned just as easily as a surface like hardwood or tile. So keeping your living space free of dust and other allergens is much simpler than with a flooring material like carpet.
6. Resists Moisture Damage
Water is an enemy of many high-end flooring materials. This can make renovating a bathroom, mudroom, or even kitchen particularly difficult. Cork flooring is naturally water-resistant and repels things like mold and mildew.
It is a great alternative to hardwood in moisture-prone areas. According to Better Homes & Gardens, applying a coat of polyurethane over the top will prevent nearly all water damage from occurring.
Pay close attention to the seams of your cork flooring when applying this topcoat.
7. Can Be Stained
You can customize the color of cork floors just like hardwood using stain. According to SFGate Home Guides, a water-based stain is recommended for the best results.
Keep in mind that you cannot stain cork that is already sealed. The layer of sealant must be completely sanded off before the cork flooring can be stained.
Cons of Cork Flooring
1. Prone to Surface Damage
The same softness that makes cork flooring comfortable to stand on also makes it more vulnerable to scratches and gouges. It’s nearly impossible to keep a cork floor pristine for its entire lifetime.
If you plan to install cork flooring in your own home, it’s important to accept that the surface will show some natural wear over time. Subtle wear and tear is one thing. But cork flooring can also fall victim to more severe damage.
Cork floors aren’t ideal for households with large dogs. While keeping Fido’s nails short can help mitigate potential damage, it’s hard to avoid entirely. Heavy furniture can cause semi-permanent indentations on the floor’s surface.
Fortunately, some indentations are successfully removed with steam.
2. Not Super Long-Lasting
Cork flooring is often touted as a viable alternative to hardwood. But you shouldn’t expect cork floors to last for anywhere near the life expectancy of solid wood.
According to HGTV, cork flooring can last 40 years or more with proper care. This is significantly longer than some types of flooring — e.g., carpet or laminate — but nothing compared to the 100+ years you can expect from hardwood.
3. Sensitive to Sunlight
Installing cork flooring in a space with constant direct sunlight might not be the best idea. Excessive light exposure will cause cork to discolor and fade.
To be fair, nearly all flooring materials are sensitive to sunlight to some degree. Cork floors just happen to be one of the most susceptible to this type of damage.
4. Must Be Routinely Sealed
To keep your cork floors looking and feeling great, routine sealing is a must! Sealing protects the cork against surface damage and discoloration. It also prevents the cork from becoming dry and brittle with exposure to the environment.
BuildDirect recommends resealing most cork flooring every 3 to 7 years. Cork that is improperly sealed (or not sealed at all) will be less resistant to moisture damage and will have a much shorter lifespan than floors that are properly cared for.
All flooring materials come with benefits and drawbacks. Cork is no exception!
By far the most exciting thing about cork flooring is its renewability. Few materials can compete with the sustainability of ethically harvested cork. Plus, cork floors offer a similar aesthetic to solid hardwood with greater comfort and insulation.
While it’s true that cork flooring is more durable than many people realize, it can still be damaged. Most surface damage can be repaired but prevention is always the best strategy!
You should also be prepared to schedule routine resealing and avoid installing cork floors in rooms with excessive sunlight.
For those interested in a more eco-friendly alternative to hardwood or vinyl, cork flooring may be exactly what you’re looking for! But this material is far from the end-all-be-all of home flooring.