Cork Flooring – Cork Floor Tiles, Plank Flooring and Pros & Cons

$3 – $12 per sq/ft

If you’re looking for something unique, beautiful and durable for your home or office, cork flooring is worth considering. Along with its durability and popularity cork floors are very Eco-friendly, made from materials that are quickly renewed.

Cork floor tiles and planks

In case you haven’t noticed, cork flooring has undergone a quiet revolution in recent years, shedding its dreary 70s homespun image and emerging as a wholly interesting and infinitely greener alternative to traditional hardwood flooring. Plus the latest manufacturing and coloring techniques means that you can achieve cool and chic aesthetics to match any of the latest design trends.

In fact, you may be surprised by the extraordinary advantages of cork flooring. For a start cork is a natural, harvested material making it a great environmentally friendly choice; it also has a long life span and is easily repaired, so there’s longevity and durability in-built. Whilst cork is softer (and more comfortable) than hardwood, its inherent elasticity means that it is less prone to dents and scratches, unlike hardwood; and it has excellent thermal and acoustic properties too.

And if that’s not enough to convince you, then it’s good to know that cork contains a substance called suberin that repels bugs, mold and termites, making cork naturally anti-allergenic and insect repellent! And it’s also suberin that helps make cork both fire and water resistant – cork can be submerged under water almost indefinitely without rotting, one of the principal reasons it’s used for wine bottle stops!

So, if you’re looking to find out more about cork flooring you’re in the right place. In this flooring guide we’re going to take a really in-depth look at cork, including:

Buying Guide: We’ll outline the different styles of cork flooring, how it’s made, and what distinguishes a good quality cork flooring from a bad one; we’ll review the pros and cons so to help you decide if cork is the best option for your home.

Price Guide: Our cork flooring price guide gives you the latest information on the cost of cork flooring, what additional costs you’ll need to consider and offers up a  few tips to help you get the most from your cork flooring budget.

Installation Guide: Cork has a reputation of being one the easiest flooring options to install, but we’ll have a look at what techniques you’ll need to know and if installing cork floor really is a DIY job or if you’d be better off getting a pro.

Cleaning and Maintenance: To finish, we’ll list the Home Flooring Pros tips for cleaning and maintaining cork floor to maximize your investment.

ALL ABOUT CORK FLOORING

What is cork?

Cork is made from the outer phellem layer of the bark of the cork oak tree (Querus suber). Most cork oak trees are farmed for commercial exploitation in southwest Europe (predominantly in Portugal and Spain) and also northwest Africa.

This outer layer (harvested in panels or strips) is then boiled to clean and soften the material. Once dried the best quality panels are used immediately to be shaped into cork bottle stops. The lesser quality panels are ground up to make granules of cork, which are then glued together to make agglomerate cork planks and tiles for flooring and underlayment.

Why is cork considered environmentally-friendly?

The great thing about harvesting cork is that the tree is never cut down. The outer layer of bark is separated from the tree without harming the tree at all, and it starts renewing its bark immediately.

This method of harvesting is a major element of cork’s environmentally-friendly credentials. The fact that the trees aren’t cut down makes cork sustainable and, because the trees continue to absorb carbon dioxide even without their outer layer of bark, they are able to mitigate against the CO2 produced in transporting the finished product around the globe.

Cork oak trees can live to be 200 years old, and are harvested every 9 to 10 years. Good cork oak forests management also dictates that when a cork oak tree become too old to provide good cork, it is removed and two saplings planted to replace it.

Cork tree forests also help against desertification, provide habitats for numerous animals and cork can be recycled.

What other aspects make cork a great choice for flooring?

Cork contains a high level of a natural-occurring biopolymer called suberin. That’s what gives cork its slightly bouncy and rubbery feel, and makes cork more comfortable underfoot than hardwood or resilient flooring.

Finally, the suberin also ensures that cork flooring is highly moisture-resistant, hyp-allergenic and great for thermal and acoustic insulation.

Is cork flooring durable?

If cared for well cork flooring is relatively durable: you should expect 20-25 years from cork. It also hides scratches well, and its softness and resiliency makes it less susceptible to permanent dents.

Can I install cork flooring in the bathroom or basement?

Yes. As mentioned above, cork is almost completely imperviable to liquids, so it’s a great option for rooms that may be prone to spills and higher moisture levels such as bathrooms or basements.

However, note that while cork flooring in a basement won’t rot or deteriorate if submerged in water for hours, it will expand and swell (that’s why it’s a great choice for bottle stops). So, cork is water resistant – spills that you clean up quickly won’t hurt it – but it will not withstand a flood!

CORK FLOORING OPTIONS

There are three categories of cork product in the current flooring market.

  1. Planks, tiles and sheets that are entirely made of cork

This type of cork flooring is most commonly available as square tiles or rectangular planks. Some manufacturers also offer sheets or rolls of cork, as well as strip planks, and shaped tiles such as triangular, diamond, lozenge and hexagon.

As cork is becoming increasingly popular, it is now available both in its natural light tan and in darker tones of brown and beige, but also some manufacturers offer bolder options in just about every color you can imagine. There are also a handful of manufacturers offering cork tiles that have integrated patterns using different tones of stained cork, rather like encaustic cement tiles.

  1. Composite planks and tiles that have a cork core or a cork backing

Whilst many people love the distinctive granular/ grainy look of all-cork flooring, it is not to everyone’s tastes.

The good news is that increasingly, composite cork planks are being made to mimic authentic hardwood flooring, by adhering a PVC digitally printed top layer with a cork core. There are also many resilient rigid core vinyl flooring brands that add a cork backing to the base of their planks and tiles to provide that all-important comfort factor.

  1. Cork underlayment

Because of its excellent thermal and acoustic insulation properties, and that lovely bouncy feel, cork is also commonly marketed as underlayment.

BUYING GUIDE SUMMARY

In summary here is a list of the pros and cons of cork flooring:

PROS:

  • Aesthetically unique and diverse: All-cork flooring has a distinctive grainy pattern, whilst composite wood-look composite cork flooring expands the range of possibilities. Cork tiles and planks available in different shapes, sizes and colors offer even more design options, giving you the opportunity to customize the look of your floors.
  • Easy to clean: A lightly damp mop is all that’s required for most cleanup.
  • Sustainable: Cork sheet flooring and planks are made from the harvested bark of cork trees with no negative impact on the trees, and the bark regrows in 8-10 years; some cork tile flooring is produced from wine stopper manufacturing scraps.
  • Warm underfoot: Cork feels warm to the touch because its natural cell structure has excellent insulation properties that also help to control heating costs.
  • Soft: Cork’s structure acts like a cushion, so it is gentler on your feet when you’re standing for a long period of time and is a good choice where someone in the household is at high risk for falling.
  • Resilient: Cork’s structure is also a lot like memory foam, so if the flooring is dented by a lightweight to moderately heavy piece of furniture, the indentation will disappear in time (but it’s still a good idea to use pads on the feet of heavy furniture pieces).
  • Quiet: Due to its makeup, this material absorbs sound rather than reflecting it like wood, tile and concrete.
  • Durable: Despite its softness, properly sealed and maintained cork wears well in commercial installations and high-traffic residential locations and can be expected to last 20 years or more.
  • Affordable with long-term value: Many homeowners are surprised to discover that cork floor prices begin at less than $2 per square foot. Combined with cork’s durability, this means it has a very low lifetime cost.
  • A DIY option in some styles: Cork roll flooring is best left to a professional to install, but some planks and tiles feature snap-together design that makes them as easy to install as laminate flooring
  • Versatile to install: This flexible flooring can be installed over radiant heat systems and any subfloor or existing flooring that is in good condition.
  • Suitable as underlayment: Leaving an existing cork floor in place to serve as the underlayment for tile, wood, stone or vinyl flooring works well.
  • Forgiving: This material has the unique ability to hide imperfections from everyday wear, dog claws, spills and similar events.
  • A refinish option: If heavy wear begins to show, most cork can be sanded and resealed at least once to restore a just-installed appearance.
  • Full of suberin: The waxy substance suberin in cork cells naturally resists water, allergens, microbes and insects.

CONS:

  • Susceptible to punctures and tears: While it handles dents well, sharp objects such as knives, stiletto heels and untrimmed claws on heavy dogs are a threat to this relatively soft material.
  • At risk for stains: We noted cork hides minor stains, but larger spots will be visible, so add a fresh coat of sealer every three to five years, and clean up spills quickly before they can seep into the soft, absorbent cellular material.
  • Damaged by UV rays: Direct sunlight will eventually fade cork, so use blinds on windows that give UV rays a direct path to your flooring.

CORK FLOORING PRICES

Cork flooring costs approximately $3-$12 per square foot with an average price of about $6.

Some of the top cork flooring brands to consider are USFloors, WE Cork,  Wicanders, Globus Cork, Expanko, APC Cork, AmCork and Capri Cork.  Why not take a moment to read our reviews of the best cork flooring brands and manufacturers.

Most of the top brands can be found for retail in reputable flooring stores and online. However, if you’re buying online, we recommend getting floor samples first so that you can really appreciate the tones and feel of the cork floor before you buy.

Cork Flooring VS Hardwood, Natural Stone and Other Flooring

Whilst cork is not the cheapest flooring on the market – it is a mid-range cost option – it does have the benefit of not requiring added underlayment which you would need to add to your budget for cheaper flooring such as laminate. Here’s a chart to show how cork compares to other flooring materials. NOTE, that prices quoted are for the material costs only.

TYPE OF FLOORING PRICE RANGE PER SQUARE FOOT
Cork $3 – $12
Bamboo $3 – $9
Carpet (wall to wall) $1 – $20
Ceramic tile $0.50 – $15
Concrete $0.60 – $2
Hardwood – solid $1 – $18
Hardwood – engineered $3 – $16
Laminate $0.70 – $5
Linoleum $3 – $8
Natural stone – slate $3 – $15
Natural stone – marble (basic range) $4 – $15
Natural stone – marble (top range) $10 – $45
Rubber $1 – $15
Vinyl Sheet $0.60 – $5
Luxury vinyl tile (LVT) $1 – $7
Composite vinyl  (aka rigid core, WPC / SPC) $2 – $12

 

INSTALLATION COSTS FOR  CORK FLOORING

Cork flooring typically costs less than $1 per square foot to install. However, there are a couple of factors that affect the estimates you’ll get for installation. The more complex the job and the more trimming there is, the higher the price per square foot will be.

For example, if you need 600 square feet of material for a large living room, the cost per square foot will be relatively low. If the 600 square feet of material is going to go in several small rooms with lots of trim, like a kitchen with an island, a bathroom and a hallway, then the price per square foot for cork flooring installation will be higher.

If stairs are included, they may be priced separately. For example, the contractor might give you an estimate of $2 per square foot plus $250 for the stairs.

Time of year may affect price too. If you’re in a rush to get your new flooring in for the holidays, you may find that bids are higher because a lot of other customers are trying to do the same thing.

Ways to Save Money

Doing as much of the preparation work as possible will save you money. Remove trim and doors. Remove the old flooring and prepare the subfloor yourself.

Secondly, getting several flooring estimates from contractors that know they are competing for the work will bring the lowest bids.

Cork Pricing FAQs

Q: Why is cork flooring installation so inexpensive compared to ceramic tile flooring installation?
A: It’s all about the time and materials required to do the job. Cork flooring installation goes pretty quickly and the tools and materials required aren’t especially costly. Ceramic tile installation is very labor-intensive. Plus, grout is costly and so are tools like a tile saw that are required to do the job.

Q: What should you look for in a good flooring contractor?
A: Look for years of experience. Ask for references, and if possible, take a look at some of the floors the contractor has installed. If the installer is working on a home under construction, then you may be able to stop by and see the work firsthand. Ask about the experience of the crew too, since the contractor may not do all the work himself.

Q: Do flooring installation contractors ever negotiate?
A: Some will. If you think one contractor will do a better job but his or her estimate is higher than another’s, ask if the contractor will meet the competitor’s price, or at least come closer to it. Be prepared to show the contractor the written estimate of the competitor. Keep in mind that the better contractor might charge more because of the superior workmanship you’ll receive. In other words, if you want the job done right, it might be worth paying a bit extra.

CORK FLOOR INSTALLATION

The type of installation process for cork flooring depends on the type of cork flooring product. Exact installation methods will be detailed with the product of your choice, but it usually comes down to two options.

If you are using cork tiles that are completely cork, then you’ll likely use a glue-down method. If you’re using resilient tiles backed with cork, then often you’ll find they are to be laid as a floating floor using a click-lock system.

Is installing cork flooring a DIY job?

If you have some experience of DIY jobs and are careful to follow all instructions, especially when prepping your subfloor, then it is possible to install cork flooring yourself.  However, cork sheet flooring can be a bit tricky to install, and so if this is the option you choose, we would recommend hiring a pro.

Prepping the subfloor for installation

You can glue cork to concrete, wood flooring and plywood subfloor.

Getting the subflooring very clean and free of debris is essential. Start by removing the baseboard trim from the room. Then, remove any carpeting, padding, tack strip and staples if needed.

Sand any rough spots, and if it is concrete, fill in any significant cracks. If the subfloor is plywood, sand it with gritty sandpaper to rough it up just a bit. This will enhance adherence of the glue.

HOW TO INSTALL GLUE DOWN CORK TILES

You can buy cork tiles that are prefinished or unfinished. Initially, they both install the same way. Here is a step by step guide to cork flooring installation.

Step 1: Start by leveling the subfloor if needed. If you’re installing cork over plywood or OSB, using a skim coat of mortar to all cracks first.

Step 2: Sand the skim coat with fine or medium-grit sandpaper with an orbital sander.

Step 3: Plan to start along the longest exterior wall in the room. Before applying glue, mask finished surfaces adjacent to the floor. Apply the adhesive with a brush or glue trowel. If you prefer, you can use a foam roller for applying adhesive to larger areas.

Most cork flooring adhesive requires 30-60 minutes to set up before the flooring should be placed on it. Read the instructions carefully.

Step 4: Lay the first cork tile or strip along the wall. Butt the tiles/strips as you go, until you complete your first row. If they are strips, say 12”x24”, you may want to consider an alternate approach. Install the first tile lengthwise so that the long side is against the wall. Install the second piece so that the 12” side is against the wall. Complete the first row alternating long and short sides against the wall.

You can practice laying strips before you apply any glue to see which look you prefer.

Step 5: Start the second row by butting the short end of the strip to the first row. This will produce staggered seams rather than seam that align. That will leave a half-strip gap. Cut a strip in half to fill it. Then, continue with this technique to complete the second row. The end result will be seams that are more random. This is the method that most flooring pros use.

Of course, if you’re using square tiles, then this technique does not apply.

Step 6: For cutting cork flooring, a tough utility knife works very well. You’ll use it for trimming around floor vents and doorways, and for cutting pieces to fit as you approach the opposite side of the room from which you started.

Step 7: If you are finishing the cork flooring yourself, read the directions carefully on the can of urethane. Use a synthetic applicator to apply the finish. Make all your passes in the same direction to avoid streaking. Wait at least 2 hours and apply the second coat. After another 2 hours apply a third coat. Then, after 2 more hours, sand the floor. Finally, apply the finish coat.

Once all the flooring is down and finished, let it dry completely. Then, you can reinstall floor trim and toe-kicks around the room.

Cork Flooring Installation FAQs

Q: Are there other types of cork than glue-down cork flooring?
A: Yes. Some manufacturers make floating cork flooring that is only glued at the perimeter.

Q:  Can cork flooring be installed in a basement?
A: It depends. Cork can swell at the seams and even buckle if it comes into contact with too much moisture. So, installing cork flooring in a basement is only recommended if your basement is completely dry.

Q: Should cork be acclimated before installation?
A: Yes. What this means is that the boxes of cork should be brought into the house and opened 5-7 days before installation. This allows the cork flooring to acclimate or adjust to the humidity and temperature of the home. This will help prevent shrinking or swelling after installation that can cause issues.

Q: Should cork flooring be mixed before installation.
A: It’s not as important as it is with solid wood flooring, engineered wood flooring or even tile flooring, but it won’t hurt. Open 3-4 boxes of the flooring and mix the tiles/strips to blend slightly different shades. Then, when you’ve installed half of the blended material, mix in a few more boxes.

CORK FLOOR CLEANING AND MAINTENANCE

Like any floor covering, a little TLC with cork will go a long way. The first step is to keep the surface of it clean. Dust, dirt and sand acts like sandpaper to mar the surface, wear away the protective finish and dull the shine.

CLEANING TOOLS, SUPPLIES & METHODS OF CLEANING

A list of cork flooring maintenance tools is pretty simple:

  • a soft broom or lightweight vacuum with a suction-only mode
  • a mop and bucket
  • floor cleaner approved for cork flooring
  • soft cloths for spot-cleaning

To clean dirt and dust from your cork flooring: start with a soft-bristled broom  or, for better control of dust and allergens, you may use a vacuum cleaner. But be sure to not to use  an engaged, rotating beater bar. Choose either a light vacuum without a bristle bar or one that has a “Hard Surface” setting that doesn’t engage the bar.

After removing loose dirt: wet a mop and wring it out thoroughly. Mop the floor gently. For most corks, a light, mild wood flooring soap can be used. Check with the cork flooring dealer or manufacturer for specific products.

For sticky, tough items: use a dry rag to wipe off as much as possible. Then, use hot water on the rag to remove the rest. Dry the area immediately after cleaning.

The cork flooring dealer may also be able to recommend a cleaning kit made especially for the brand and type of flooring you have.

If any liquid spills onto the floor: remove it as quickly as possible. If it sits on the flooring, it may get into the cork, causing it to swell and possibly staining it.

To protect high traffic areas: place rugs or mats at doors for foot-wiping and also at sinks to catch any splashes or drips. Choose mats made of natural, absorbent fabric. If it gets wet, remove it from the floor. Vacuum or launder the mats frequently and mop beneath them to remove abrasive dirt.

DO NOT use mats with a rubber backing because they can trap moisture against the floor and cause swelling or staining.

REFINISHING OR REPLACING YOUR CORK FLOORING

Not all cork flooring can be refinished. Check with the dealer before you buy if you want a product you’re sure can be refinished. If yours can be refinished, here are the basic steps.

  1. Remove baseboard trim, toe kicks and doors.
  2. Use an electric belt sander with 60-grit sanding pad to remove the polyurethane finish and a very thin layer of the cork surface. Cork is very soft, so don’t push too hard or stay in one spot very long.
  3. Vacuum the floor entirely.
  4. Switch to 100-grit or 120-grit sandpaper and give the floor a once-over.
  5. Vacuum the floor very thoroughly.
  6. Use a mop that is slightly wet to remove the rest of the dust and debris. Towel-dry the cork flooring.
  7. Wait several hours to make sure the floor is completely dry. Using a fan can help to speed the drying.
  8. Use a soft-bristled, wide paint brush to apply a new coat of polyurethane. Make the coat light. Work from a corner to a door, so you’ve got an exit. Read the sealer directions carefully and follow them closely. Several light coats are preferred to one heavy coat.

NOTE: You may want to ventilate the house while applying polyurethane sealer. Wearing a mask that filters VOC fumes is a good idea too. You can find one at your local hardware of flooring store.

  1. Allow the sealer to dry the recommended amount of time and repeat at least once. Some home flooring pros recommend 3 or 4 coats of polyurethane over cork flooring. You’ll be surprised at how much of the first coat absorbs into the cork.

Allow the final coat to dry 12-24 hours before allowing heavy traffic on it or returning furniture or carpets to it.

  1. Reinstall the trim and doors.

Cork & Bamboo Flooring Maintenance and Care FAQs

Q: Are there things you should NOT do for cork flooring care and maintenance.
A: Yes. Never use excessive water when cleaning. Do no use abrasive, soft scrub-type cleaners. Do not use acidic cleaners like vinegar. Ammonia should not be used either. Oils and waxes are not recommended for cork floors.

Q: How thick does a floor need to be in order to consider refinishing it?
A: The thicker the better. Home flooring pros recommend at least 1/4″ but 3/8” or 1/2″ is better.

Q: Is cork refinishing a DIY project?
A: If you’ve got experience with a belt sander and applying polyurethane, it might be something you can try yourself.

Q: If the floor gets too wet during cleaning or from a spill and swells, what should be done?
A: Dry any remaining moisture from the spot. Place a fan where it will blow directly on it or over it to quicken evaporation. Give it a few days. It might dry out and shrink back to normal.