Cork Flooring

Cork flooring has been part of the construction scene for over 100 years, and is making a comeback. It has a very different look and feel from ceramic tiles, hardwood, stone, or carpeting, and is worth looking into for your next floor.

Uncorking the Joys of Cork Flooring

Cork isn’t just for wine bottles any more! Cork makes a great foor too. Cork has been used in a variety of ways for thousands of years, and flooring has been on the list of cork uses since the late 1800s.

Related Reading:  Check out our best reviews and comparisons of floor tiles made from cork!  Including buyer’s guide!

Cork is the outer bark layer of the cork oak tree. Cork consists of a tight web of up to 40 million cells per cubic centimeter, cells that retain gas and give cork its unique character. These trees are found growing in Mediterranean climates like Portugal, Spain, southern France, Italy, and the Maghreb region of north-western Africa. Cork is considered environmentally friendly and sustainable; not only does cork regrow, but also it is readily recycled and biodegradable.
Cork floor qualities include:

  • cushiony and comfortable to walk on
  • impermeability
  • light weight
  • insulating
  • resilient and elastic; re-expands quickly after compression
  • muffles sound
  • warm to the touch
  • resistant to insects and fires
  • non-allergenic and no offgassing


Cork flooring’s possible drawbacks are:

    • seems fragile
    • too soft to make it a good flooring
    • flaky
    • expensive

Cork flooring’s two styles are tiles and planks, and it comes in a range of natural colors. Tiles are glued down and planks are generally floated. Cork tiles are solid cork, about 1/4″ think and are usually 12″x12″ or 12″x24″, with a veneer of decorative cork on top. Cork planks are a sandwich, the layers being cork, a solid center core, cork, and a decorative cork veneer. The solid core is typically made of a fiberboard like HDF (high density fiberboard). The plank dimensions are about 1/2-5/8″ thick, and a nominal 1 foot wide by 3 feet long. Tiles are typically glued directly to the subfloor or concrete slab, while planks are clicked or glued together but floating on the subfloor.
The hardness of cork is rarely discussed because it is so different from wood and laminate flooring materials. Its Janka rating is 200, but that doesn’t accurately reflect its durability. Its softness seemed like a problem when I dropped a wood sample on it, and the corner of the sample cut into the flooring. I went to show our flooring installer the cut a few months later and couldn’t find it; the wound had “healed” without a trace.
Cork has been around for thousands of years. It has been used for floats for fishing nets, stoppers for wine and olive oil bottles, sandals, insulation on boats, and even roofing in northern Africa. As a flooring material, it has been used for over a hundred years in buildings like churches, private homes, courthouses, health clinics, libraries and banks. Cork flooring has recently made a comeback, and it’s being used in a wide range of buildings, including restaurants, bars, showrooms, as well as private homes.
From personal experience, I see the cons of cork flooring being in the new approaches to finishing the product. The floating cork floor we put in our house has a finish that streaks when damp mopped, has attained a dull finish, and scratches easily. The finish hasn’t kept the cork bits from flaking out of the tile, even in low-traffic areas. I frankly blame that on the finish rather than the concept of cork flooring. I haven’t tested this yet, but I wonder if a urethane finish would not only improve the existing finish, but also seal the seams that don’t seem to bet as impervious to moisture as advertised.
Cork flooring has the most abundant list of benefits I have ever seen or experienced. It is such a delight to walk on, adding a spring to your step, and it muffles sounds, like carpeting does. Its hard surface keeps allergens from hiding, so cleaning is easy and reduces allergy problems. It is beautiful to look at, partially because of its lack of grain and directional growth. Because of its insulation quality, cork mutes sound transfer between floors, and maintains a reasonable temperature range. If you are striving for a “green home”, take note because it qualifies for points under LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, a green building rating system developed in the U.S. by the Green Building Council); that’s a huge statement of support for the sustainable aspects of cork.
If you are looking for an elegant flooring that is durable, comfortable, easy to maintain, and has a unique look to it, then cork is the right choice for you. When you choose a cork floor, you are choosing to have a floor that will last several lifetimes. What a great choice!

52 thoughts on “Cork Flooring”

  1. Hello! Cork Flooring is very interesting to me. But, I am thinking of putting it in my kitchen…will it be durable enough? How is it to be cleaned? I have a dog and a young son. Is it appropriate for them?
    Thanks for any information you can provide.
    All the best,
    Jen

  2. Cork flooring is very durable. It’s been used for flooring for over a hundred years in public buildings, and still holding up well to traffic found in them.
    Part of the question should be which type of cork flooring to use: floating or glue-down tiles. If you need the depth of flooring product provided by a floating floor, then that’s the route to go. If you can go with a thinner tile, then I’d go with the glue-down tiles.
    Cork can be sealed with polyurethane (though test a tile to make sure the product you buy will seal nicely) to keep it more resistant to the kind of traffic you have at your home.
    I cleaned my cork floors with vinegar water (1 cup of distilled white vinegar to a gallon of water). It’s inexpensive, environmentally safe, and effective.
    Shop around for the best product you can find. Companies do provide samples to help you determine which cork flooring product will satisfy your needs most.
    Good luck!

  3. I don’t know about the salty environment, but the humidity should make it very happy. Do be sure to acclimate the cork outside of its packaging for a week or two before installing.
    I’ve never lived in a salty and sandy environment, but I would think you’d want to put a good polyurethane finish on after cork installation so that it’s nicely sealed from the sand and salt.

  4. Would like to take out carpet and refinish our floors in Colorado Springs house with wood floors. Due to relative cold weather am concerned about floors being too cold. Have been looking into cork floors but we have small children (high traffic) and antique furniture (heavy with wheels or thin legs). Will the low Janka rating of cork stand up to the weight of the heavy antique furniture? Colorado Springs has extremely arid/dry air, will the dry climate increase the flaking of the cork rendering it a poor choice for that area? If so what would you recomend instead? Also redoing floor in master bath (currently carpeted as it connects to the master bedroom without wall or door). Any suggestions there? Thank you!
    Lynn

  5. This question was originally posted on the Bamboo Flooring article. I answered it for bamboo there, and am now addressing it here, since cork is specifically what was asked about.
    I chose cork flooring for my new home several years ago. Living in Colorado turned out to be an issue for the floor, but mostly because we didn’t acclimate it properly prior to installation. To compound our problems we had a defective batch of cork so it wouldn’t lie flat or click properly.
    Note: Be sure to choose a product that has a warranty and guarantee from the manufacturer (and make sure you agree with the concept of their terms).
    Lessons from my cork floor experience are:

    • buy cork tiles, not floating floor planks
    • acclimate the cork so it dries to match your home’s particular climate — that could take several weeks of the cork being out of the packaging it’s shipped in
    • choose unfinished cork and coat it with a water-based polyurethane after installation
    • use Bostik’s Best flexible urethane adhesive to glue the cork tiles down with, even with in-floor radiant heat

    Cork may not have a high Janka rating, but that’s also part of its charm. It is durable yet soft under foot. Any heavy furniture should have “coasters” under the feet to help distribute the furniture’s weight — and that’s true whether it’s on carpet, wood, concrete or cork.
    Cork is a natural insulator, but it will feel cooler to your feet than carpet does. But I think that’s what area rugs are for. Cork is easy to clean and maintain, easier than carpet for sure. The insulation quality of the cork also helps dampen noises and sounds in the house; I really miss that aspect of my cork floor.
    I had cork throughout my home and loved the look and feel of it. If I had known then what I do now I’d probably still have cork flooring. I love my bamboo floors, but miss the cork just the same.

  6. We are going to install a floating cork floor in our dining room (12 X 36″ planks), but one wall has a stone fireplace with a stone seat. The cork will butt up against the stone seat. Do you have any suggestions on how to cover the joint b/w the cork and the stone (which is not straight)? We have to leave 1/4″ expansion joint. Thanks for any suggestions.
    Mary

  7. Hi Mary,
    Geez, that’s a tough one! Normally, you’d use some sort of floor trim – what are you planning on using around the rest of the room? Perhaps you could use a really decorative floor trim there, so that it looks like you really intentionally wanted it there, rather than as an afterthought. There is beautiful wood trim impressed and carved with all sorts of wonderful themes and you can stain it yourself so that you get a color you want.
    Anybody else out there have any thoughts/comments?

  8. We had cork flooring abutting a tile floor-level hearth and framed the tiles with wood. Then the cork was cut to meet the wood “frame” — without the 1/4″ gap. We filled the joint initially with caulk, but that cracked as the floor shifted slightly as people walked across the room. We re-caulked with sanded caulk and have had great success.
    If you length is greater than ours you could consider putting a wood trip along the stone — the wood could be routed to follow the texture and line of the stone. The cork could then abut the wood. If your floor contractor is really good the cork could be cut to flow with the stone line and then put sanded caulk in the joint between the two.
    I just hope you don’t have Natural Cork’s cork flooring.

  9. We’re about to remodel our entire main floor and we’d love to use cork flooring from the kitchen through the dining area and to the edge of the carpeted entrance into the family room. We have opted to forego a formal dining room, and instead we’ll have a 5-6 seat kitchen peninsula for casual family dining, and an over-sized rectangular table between the kitchen and family room for entertaining, which can range from a gourmet dinner party to a family gathering with my siblings and their kids.
    I’ve been doing a lot of online research and I’m completely convinced of cork’s benefits, especially in durability and self-healing, and it seems that cork does well in high-traffic areas; but what about high-SITTING areas? Can it really bounce back from a 200-lb man sitting at the table for a two-hour wine-tasting dinner? And can that 200-lb man, or even a 60-lb child, slide his chair back with ease, or will he have to lift it up to push back from the table? That may be our most crucial concern — is cork “user-friendly” or will it frustrate us? Do different sealants affect the “slide-ability?” And maybe all of these questions are moot because I’m making too much of a comparison between cork flooring and the stickiness I equate with wine bottle corks.
    If cork doesn’t seem like the right surface for us in the dining area, then we won’t use it in the kitchen either, because we want one flooring material to flow through the entire area.
    I apologize for the length of my post; I really, really want a cork floor, but I really, really want to make the best choice for the way we use our space. Thanks for any insight you can give me.

  10. Hi Jen,
    Your ideas sound wonderful! As far as your concerns about high-traffic (or sitting!) areas, it does well in all areas, using the right precautions.
    * Felt pads under chairs and some furniture is important.
    * Furniture casters should be placed under heavy furniture — piano,
    dresser — and furniture with hard or pointed “feet” — antique
    sewing machine case.
    And put several coats of water-based polyurethane — Diamond Coat Varathane PolyurethaneVarathane
    Diamond Coat Polyurethane
    , formulated for floors on top of the
    cork before baseboards are installed.
    And yes, it really can bounce back from a 200-lb man sitting at the table for a two-hour wine-tasting dinner. ;~) Sliding chairs out from sitting at the table works fine, assuming the various precautions (above) have been taken.
    Have no fear, Wine corks are not compressed as tightly and don’t have protective coatings on them. My sister used to “skate” around the house in her socks, something we can’t do as well with our bamboo or oak.
    I’d suggest glue-down cork and use Bostik’s Best adhesive. It’ll be great! Hope the info helps.

  11. We recently had cork flooring installed in our kitchen/entrance hallway and had the cork in our basement for about 8 months (still in boxes covered in plastic). I’m concerned that it might not be acclimated because we didn’t open the boxes. Should I worry because it was in our house so long before installation. Also, our floor wasn’t completely level and there is a noticeable hump near the fridge. Will this eventually crack the planks that aren’t level. The planks were placed over the old floor but they removed the old flooring in the higher area. Lastly, the installers took out the cork three times because 1) they cut wires on our security system, 2) didn’t realize it extended to the front hallway and 3) worked on reducing the hump a second time. Does anyone know if there’s a limit to how many times the planks can be taken apart and reinserted. Does this weaken the joing? I’ve never posted before so apologize if I’m asking too many questions in one e-mail. Thanks.
    Lucy

  12. Hi Lucy,
    No problem with asking so many questions – that’s what this site is here for! I’ll try to answer them in order.
    The flooring should have been taken out of the boxes to acclimate, or at least had the plastic opened up. You should be ok though, since the floor was laid and taken back up if I’m understanding you correctly.
    I think the hump in the floor needs to be addresses. Any new floor you put down needs to be installed on a level floor or else there’s probably going to be some sort of issue arise down the road. See if your installer can put down a leveling agent of some kind.
    Taking the planks apart a few times, hopefully won’t hurt the joints. It’s really hard to say since I can’t actually see it. Most interlock flooring products are pretty sturdy. I’d check to see if there’s any noticeable wear on the interlocking parts. If they’re showing wear then I’d insist on the installers having to bear the expense of more new flooring to ensure that this isn’t a problem. I’d also insist that the floor be level. This part might cost you more, depending upon if the installers knew that they’d be dealing with the hump. If the installers are the ones that removed the old flooring, then they knew well enough that it’d have to be level before putting down new flooring. If I’ve confused, let me know. ;~)

  13. Thanks very much for the information. I don’t think any joints were damaged although they may not have left the space on the sides to adjust for expansion of the floor. We’ll take the ‘hump’ issue up with our installers. We love the cork and wouldn’t go back to anything else in our kitchen.
    Lucy

  14. Hi Lucy,
    Glad you like the cork – it’s pretty nice stuff isn’t it?!
    Take a peek to see if the installers left an expansion gap, if not, that’s something else you’ll need to take up with them when you call them about the hump issue.
    Good luck!

  15. I’m back for another question. The guys came and put a leveler on the laminate (first they primed it the night before) and then a couple of days later they came and feathered it out and then layed (yet again) the cork. The hump has definitely improved but there are some soft spots so I feel we traded one problem for others. There was a soft spot in a high traffic area near the sink and the installer put a couple of small nails in and then puttied them. Is it possible for cork to crack over the years with these soft spots or because it’s a soft flooring will it just flex with traffic.
    We noticed also that one of our cats had scratched the surface which is strange as she’s been sliding on it for a couple of months now as she chases her ball and we also noticed a little scuff probably due to moving the fridge back to its spot. Can those areas be buffed by steel wool for example or do we have to live with these imperfections so soon after installation. Maybe with cats we just have to give up on it being pristine although it has numerous coats of topcoat (verathane/urathane ?) so thought it would hold up better. Thanks so much for your time.
    Lucy

  16. Hi Lucy,
    It’s hard to tell how your floor will react over time – this is a new type of product and it’s going to take time before people hear about all it’s little quirks. I would think that it’ll be ok though (referring to the soft spot).
    As far as the scuff/scratches and getting them out, I’m not sure how to go about advising you. Did the installer apply the top coats or was it already this way from the factory? You are correct in assuming that they can probably be buffed out, but without knowing what kind of urethane they’re finished with you won’t know which type to use – you need to know or else you can really ruin your finish.

  17. Thank you for you comments. The floor was already finished when we bought it and is supposed to be industrial strength. I’ll contact Wicanders directly to see if they can tell me what they used and if I can buff and then reapply.
    Lucy

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