In our cork flooring and bamboo flooring guides you can find tips for cleaning and installing these two popular flooring materials and a price guide to help you budget your new flooring project. In this latest Home Flooring Pros blog post we take a more in-depth look at the pros and cons of bamboo flooring & cork flooring, and then examine how they measure up and compare against one another.
Let’s start by taking a look at cork and bamboo flooring pros and cons, before concluding with a look at which of the two might be the best fit for your home.
The Main Pro of Cork and Bamboo Flooring – Sustainability
The number one benefit that cork and bamboo have over hardwood flooring, as manufactures and retailers of both products are eager to point out, is their eco-friendly credentials. Cork is produced from the bark of the cork tree and can be re-harvested every ten years without ever damaging the tree itself. Meanwhile bamboo, of course, is not actually wood at all, but a grass that grows very rapidly, with supplies replenished every 3 to 5 years. In both cases this is a fraction of the 25-100 years that it takes for a tree to be replanted and harvested.
Other Pros of Cork and Bamboo Flooring
Climatically more adaptable – Both bamboo and cork need correct acclimatization before installation and you should consult with a local professional to check that the weather conditions in your area suit either option. Nevertheless both types of flooring are more adaptable than solid hardwoods. Click here for more info on solid hardwood installation and what to look for in a reliable installer.
Easy maintenance – Like other forms of wood flooring both cork and bamboo need little in the way of cleaning. Dust mopping or hoovering (being careful to disengage the beater bar) is mostly all that is needed. And an occasional mop with a just slightly damp mop works too.
Heat and Sound Insulation – Cork’s structural make up makes it a great choice if you want your floor to give you an added layer of insulation. Cork will help prevent both heat and cooling loss, so great for both summer and winter, and is much softer than solid hardwood or bamboo making it quiet underfoot. Insulation is one of the main reasons we like cork basement flooring.
Anti-bacterial – Cork contains a natural ingredient called suberin, this waxy substance helps keep cork moisture resistant which in turn makes it mold and mildew resistant, giving you a cleaner healthier floor.
Are They Right For You?
Here at Home Flooring Pros we’re big fans of cork and bamboo. Stick to a high quality product, have it correctly installed and you won’t be disappointed. But we recognize that they won’t always be the best option for every home, so here are a few things to consider.
Cons of cork floors
Aesthetics – The best cork flooring is unique to say the least, it has a very specific look which will either attract you or leave you cold. Of course it is this very uniqueness that attracts many homeowners who love the informal, warm and slightly retro look of cork. No two cork planks or tiles will be exactly the same so if it’s a plain uniform floor you’re after cork is probably not for you.
Refinishing – Or rather a lack thereof. Given its softness and thin wear layer (engineered cork flooring) refinishing cork floors isn’t really viable. You could use a hand sander and re-seal a small area to make minor repairs, but you won’t have the option of completely re-sanding the floor and returning it to new.
Re-sealing – Cork glue down tiles can work great in a bathroom or kitchen. With both the glue and several polyurethane layers on top you will have a pretty impregnable water-proof floor. You will, however have to keep it this way. Unsealed cork does not stand up to moisture at all well, so be prepared to re-seal your cork flooring in wet areas after a time.
Cons of Bamboo Floors
Quality rating – This really is the number one problem with bamboo flooring. With no official quality rating for most bamboo products it’s very difficult to judge the quality of the bamboo flooring stacked on the selves. Pricing really is your best guide, steer clear of the lowest priced floors and stick with reputable brands. Alternatively get hold of a sample and put them through some scratch tests to find the best bamboo flooring.
Refinishing – Because bamboo is a grass rather than a wood, refinishing is very problematic and is not advised. Your best option with any damaged plank is replacement.
Cork vs Bamboo Flooring – Which is Better for Your Home?
So having decided why cork and bamboo might be a better flooring product over solid hardwood and other flooring types, how do they compare to one another?
Sustainability – While both are green options it is worth mentioning that much bamboo production is still unregulated and not certified by any official body. Questions still surround production methods, including the chemicals (like formaldehyde) used in treating and gluing bamboo strands, toxic fertilizers and pesticides used to speed up production, reports of deforestation to make way for more profitable bamboo manufacture and of course the environmental costs of shipping.
This means it is very difficult to really judge the green credentials of many bamboo products sitting on DIY store shelves. So you have two choices, go with a respected brands, like Cali Bamboo or Teragren, who have products and production certified by bodies like the FSC and LEEDS or…go with cork flooring!
Return On Investment – Savvy interior designers know that when choosing a floor you should at least consider how your choice of flooring might affect the re-sale of your home. It’s impossible to know what will be in or out of fashion ten years from now, but you will still need to make that judgment call when choosing between cork and bamboo. Solid hardwood flooring is widely seen as the luxury flooring of choice (interestingly this was not always so, not so long ago carpet was the way to go) and you would have to say that bamboo is a closer cousin to solid wood than cork.
To be clear, we’re not saying that bamboo will add more value to your home than cork, simply that corks unique aesthetics might not be to every-bodies taste and that bamboo could make resale easier by appealing to a broader range of buyers.
Prices – What often surprises many buyers is the high price of both cork and bamboo flooring. $4 to $8 per square foot is a pretty common/standard price for a good quality product of either type. Unless it’s on sale, you’re better off avoiding cork or bamboo flooring below this price point, there are too many stories of dissatisfied customers who tried to cut corners with low cost, low grade bamboo flooring. This $4-8 cost is on a par with hardwood flooring, so apart from the environmental considerations why not go with wood?
Well, the saving really comes with installation. Whether you are looking at a DIY project or calling in professional installers, putting down an engineered floating floor or glue-down tiles is a simpler, easier and quicker job than solid hardwood planks. Of course there’s nothing to stop you investing in engineered hardwood flooring.
Durability and Wear – Both bamboo and cork are durable but in different ways. Decent bamboo products are tough and you will no doubt have seen much comment on how it compares favorably on the Janka hardness test against other hardwoods. So scratches, dents and dings shouldn’t be any worse than many other solid hardwoods. Nevertheless bamboo isn’t indestructible and isn’t necessarily the best choice for a home full of children, animals and high heels!
Cork is durable in a different way. With its springy nature cork rebounds well from dents although you are advised to use protective coasters and pads for heavy furniture that continually sit in the same place. The mottled pattern of cork means that it hides dirt and scratches better than bamboo or other hardwoods, so is more forgiving.
Comfort – Overall we would say that cork is a warmer and more forgiving flooring option than bamboo. As attractive and desirable as hardwood floors are some homeowners find them too cold and hard underfoot. If you share this opinion then you will probably feel the same way about bamboo as well.
Conversely corks cellular structure makes it a much softer and yielding option and has a reputation for being warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer, one of the reasons that glue down cork tiles are a popular choice in the bathroom.
You should now have a clearer idea of the pros and cons of cork vs bamboo flooring, for more detailed info on the suitability of either in your home start with a free estimate from a trusted local installer. We would love to hear your experience of working with either type of flooring, just leave us a comment below.
About the Author:
Jamie Sandford is the Owner and Chief Editor of Home Flooring Pros (find out more). After 12 years’ experience in screen and stage set construction followed by a further 15 years working in the home renovation/remodeling business he now writes and curates online home improvement advice.
“Buying and installing home flooring should be a fairly straightforward process, but often it isn’t. After more than 15 years’ experience in home flooring and remodeling, I started Home Flooring Pros in 2013 to help homeowners navigate the often-over complicated process of choosing, buying and installing a home floor. The aim is to save you time and money by helping you to make better floor buying decisions.”