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. Hi, we walked into our Chicago home last night and we greeted with a burst pipe and a flooded basement. The new pergo-type flooring in the basement is warped and needs to be replaced and as I become more eco-friendly about renovations and I am interested in replacing the ‘wood’ with cork tiles. Can we use them in the basement that is possibly prone to flooding? If the flooding happens again can we pull them up and save them? We have a sub-floor that may have to be replaced but they won’t be put on the concrete. Thoughts?

  2. Cork tiles are wonderful, but I would be hesitant to use it in a basement that is prone to flooding. Does your basement flood when you have lots of rain too? I’m really having mixed thoughts about this because you haven’t clarified what “prone to flooding” really means. If you’re implying that it would only get flooded if you have a pipe burst, then by all means you may as well put down the cork tiles. Chances are, any flooring you put down is going to get ruined if you have a pipe burst again. I don’t know if they’ll be reusable even if you take them up and let them dry out.
    You might want to look at the section of moisture proofing and read the articles about some of the different sub-floor systems available. I don’t know if even these would work though as you didn’t mention how high the water gets.

  3. we are finishing our basement and am thinking of putting in cork (floating). we are going to have a large back bar, pool table, ping pong table and it will basically be used by our teenagers and their friends. do you think cork is a good choice, or do you recommend another flooring. we love the fact that it is “green”, warm, and absorbs sound, but am concerned about scratches. we also have a 70 lb dog that loves to run and play. we would love to hear what you think.
    thanks,
    diane

  4. Hi,
    I want to lay down a floating cork floor in my kitchen. I have a large heavy oak table that i am afraid it will dent or rip the cork. Is there a way to protect the floor? The table has small disk at the bottom of the legs. Being so small it does not disperse the weight properly. Would it be possible to cut cork disks larger to disperse weight evenly? Any suggestions?
    Thanks
    al

  5. Hi Al,
    I’m not sure what you mean by your last sentence. I would suggest removing the small floor protectors from the table legs and replacing it with larger ones so the weight is dispersed better.
    Are you planning to seal your cork flooring? If so, I’d recommend Diamond Coat Varathane Polyurethane — it will protect your flooring better because it will actually make the surface harder.

  6. We had cork tiles professionally installed last year in the basement (the “click” type, no glue, with a plastic, water-proof sheet beneath the tiles). A pipe burst about a week ago and leaked into the basement. We mopped and dried where the water leaked, but the tiles obviously got water underneath them because they buckled at the edges. I have had a fan going for about 4 days, but the tiles are still a bit buckled around the edges. Should I continue to fan and hope for the best, or should I lay books down around the edges to try to weight them down. I worry about trapping moisture in the tiles if they are not completely dried out, but also wonder if they should be weighted AS they dry? We live in Utah, so it is rather arid.

  7. I am thinking of getting cork floors installed in my home, but I have quite a few cats and am worried that they will scratch the flooring. My cats have not been declawed and have been known to claw at the carpeting that is currently on the floors. Can cork flooring withstand cats?

  8. Hi Roman, Please see my reply to Suzanne. I really don’t think there is much you can do at this point due to the fragility of the cork. I would have a professional evaluate it but I’m afraid replacement is probably going to be the best option.

  9. Thanks for your comment. We have moved the leaky pipe away from the building and replaced the water main, so hopefully there will be no more flooding. The tiles seem to have dried out, and the bowing has lessened somewhat. Just for the heck of it, I am going to try to weight down the bowed edges. I’ll tell you if I have success in doing that — before I call in the expensive professionals. I really appreciate your site and the advice you give to all of these individuals!

  10. Help! I’m moving into a beautiful rental apartment which has cork floors. They are 75 years old and the landlord doesn’t want to replace them or repair them in any way. They are very dirty.
    My question is: Can they be professionally refinished. I will absorb the cost for this, but who can I contact to do this and what is the process? Can they be sanded, stained and polyeurathaned?
    Please help me out. I love the apartment and want to move in, but don’t know if there’s any way I can salvage the floors.
    Thanks
    Paul

  11. Paul,
    Modern cork flooring can be refinished by gently sanding between polyurethane coats as the cork is normally quite thin. I would highly recommend you speak with a professional contractor who specializes in restoring vintage flooring.

  12. I have been entertaining the idea of installing floating cork flooring in my family room. I have two misgivings though. One is that the cork would butt up against bamboo flooring, and I’m concerned that it would look odd. My other concern is that the bamboo is 5/8″ thick and the cork flooring seems to be 1/2″ thick. Do you know of any cork that has a thickness of 5/8 inch? Have you seen bamboo and cork used ajacent to each other?
    Thanks for any help and info,
    Mary

  13. Mary,
    In regards to your first concern. I’ve had both cork and bamboo separately. I see no problem mixing the two as both being natural products, go well together. I would suggest getting samples and setting them next to each other in your home with your decor and your lighting as it will make a difference in how the flooring is portrayed.
    Every manufacturer has a different thickness of their flooring. Rather then choosing the company in the style you like you can shop the same manufacturer as your previous floor. If the floor is a must-have you can put down a cork underlayment about 1/8”to help with raising the floor. I have several articles in my archives regarding cork.

  14. Hi !
    We are thinking of installing cork flooring at our summer cottage. For many months of the year the heat is off and the house is below freezing. Can you advise how this will affect the cork? Should we look to a different flooring? Anything you can recommend other than carpet or hardwood? Thank you.

  15. Murray,
    I don’t know how cork will respond to your specific situation although hardwoods can be stressed by the intense temperatures. They generally hold up fine, based on my experience with my cabin. If in doubt linoleum could be an alternative to consider — beautiful colors,easy care, and fun patterned designs.

  16. We installed a floating cork floor a few years ago and initially the look was great. Even though our house is situated such that it doesnt receive a lot of direct sun, the cork has faded irregularly and forget about areas that were covered by things such as an area rug or a well placed plant…permanent fade marks around the items. Shortly after our floor was installed we had a leak in the kitchen area that affected the surrounding areas. Even though the water was quickly removed and the flooring dried, we still had to take up the entire floor and have it relaid (one of the features touted by the manufaturer was that the floor could be relaid up to four times) over time, the tiles in some areas have gaps that cannot seem to be repaired. Now I am faced with either replacing the entire floor (very costly) or working with what I have. Do you know if anyone has reused these floating cork tiles and refashioned them into tiles that can be set into a proper adhesive and then grouted? Also what is your take on just filling the gaps and then using a paper bag technique to create a faux leather look until such time as I have the resources available to redo to floor entirely.

  17. Tigg,
    I am not familiar with reusing water damaged cork in that setting. Although you may find my Cork Articles informational as you research.
    Your dilemma leaves me with lots of questions. I don’t know what kind of cork you have so I can’t address your issues specifically. You may want to buy a different color
    cork flooring and make it a border around the “old” cork so that when you reinstall your cork floor — if you go that route — you’ll have enough good pieces to work
    with. Thanks Tigg for stopping by!

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