Cork flooring is a bit of a mystery – not just to me but to everyone I’ve ever asked … although they don’t all admit it. If you do any research on cork at all, you will find all sorts of conflicting information. Normally I could turn to my overwhelming experience and share more information than you would ever want to know except I have only used cork on the floor in a project once before – in this kitchen:
The client who requested this cork floor does a lot of entertaining and cooking so invariably spends hours at a time on her feet while in the kitchen. I do love the way this kitchen looks – so clean and modern – every time I look at it I ask myself “why aren’t more people using cork?”
I spent a lot of time looking for reasons to use or not use cork. I’ve skimmed millions of pro/con lists … and I have come to the conclusion that everybody has different opinions and experiences. People equally love it or hate it, there doesn’t seem to be any consistency and it’s driving me crazy!!!! The cork I’m talking about isn’t the stuff you buy to use on the typical bulletin board – that stuff is not nearly as dense and can fall apart fairly easily. No, the cork used for floors can be some amazing stuff.
Commercial flooring applications in Europe have been using cork for well over a century, but the growing interest in green living is making cork a more popular choice for residential living in the United States. From harvest to installation, cork flooring is possibly the most environmentally sustainable, non-toxic and healthy of all flooring surfaces.
Cork is harvested from the bark of the Quercus suber tree, more commonly referred to as a cork oak tree, which is grown in the Mediterranean region and has a life span up to 250 years. After the first 25 years of growth, the tree is stripped of its bark for the first time using traditional hand labor methods. This process is repeated every nine years with little or no affect on the health of the tree. During each harvest, about 50 percent of the bark is removed.
Unlike traditional wood flooring, the entire tree is not cut down, only the outside is removed. Harvesting does not harm the tree and a new layer of cork bark grows, making it a renewable resource. Ultimately, old age is what kills the trees, not the harvesting process.
Similar to growth of the raw material, manufacturing methods are also geared to protect the environment. To produce cork flooring, virgin cork bark and post-industrial waste cork from the manufacturing of other cork products is ground into small granules. During the manufacturing process, all raw materials are consumed, either for the finished flooring product or as an energy source. Production waste of cork dust and tree trimmings are burned in furnaces that supply heat to bake the cork tiles.
For people with allergies, cork flooring is an ideal surface. It is antimicrobial and less likely to be affected by mold and mildew. It does not absorb dust or pollen, making it easier to rid the home of these potential allergens.
The benefits of cork don’t end there. The bark contains a substance called suberin, a waxy waterproof substance present in the cell walls of cork tissue and a natural insect repellent. Suberin also protects cork from fire and when cork is burned, it does not release any toxic gasses.
And to add to its bounty of riches, the insulating properties of cork flooring contribute to energy efficiency. Experts say that even a cork under-layment will provide significant insulation in the cold months.
- Cork is a completely natural product, largely unchanged by processing.
- Cork is naturally fire resistant and it does not release any toxic gases on combustion.
- Cork flooring is regarded as one of the better choices in flooring for natural sound insulation because it absorbs ambient sound and generally reduces noise
- Due to the elastic nature and miniature cells composition, it is an extremely durable flooring material.
- Cork is worth considering for people with allergies. Due to the presence of a naturally occurring substance called suberin, cork is naturally resistant to deterioration and water damage, resists the growth of mold, mildew, bacteria, prevents the cultivation of mold, and keeps away bugs and dust mites.
- Cork flooring is warm under foot and insulates heat and cold.
- Cork has a unique cellular structure with millions of cells enclosed with a gaseous substance, providing a comfortable cushioned surface that gives a soft feeling to the feet and joints of people walking and standing on cork floors for extended periods.
- Cork floors have a very long life and can be repaired if damaged.
- Cork is an anti-static surface
Cleaning Cork Floors:
The daunting task of re-finishing or re-staining cork can become a burden due to the nature of the material. Cork must be initially sealed, and re-sealed every few years in order to protect the integrity of the material by keeping dirt and moisture at bay. Since cork has a thin outer layer, moisture and excessive dirt can damage the flooring. In addition to the added maintenance of sealing the floor, cork cannot tolerate regular cleaning products and, therefore, requires special attention. A solvent paste wax is recommended, but this process can be rather time consuming to apply.
- Wipe away spills immediately.
- Sweep or vacuum your cork floors regularly to remove dirt, dust, grit or debris which may act like sandpaper and will scratch any floor. This will prevent abrasion or scratches on the surface of cork floor.
- To clean a heavy stain or spill, use only the cleaners especially recommended for cleaning cork floors.
- Cork floors being a natural wood product can absorb moisture. Never allow any liquid to stand on cork floors; water can seriously damage the floor over time.
- Damp mop the floor at least once a week or as required. Avoid wet mopping. Be sure to use only a ‘damp’ mop as excess water will harm the floor in the long term.
- Do not flood the floor while cleaning or mopping.
- You can use mild wood-floor detergent once in a while for cleaning cork floors thoroughly.
- Use only non-abrasive soaps and cleaning materials when cleaning cork floors. Do not use oils or waxes or ammonia-based cleaning products. Never use harsh solvents or cleaners; many solvents can discolor or damage the floor’s surface.
- Place door mats and pads at the entrances, to prevent dirt, sand and grit being tracked onto the floor. However, do not use mats with rubber or other non-porous backings since these could trap moisture
I’d like to thank the following sites for contributing to my research on this post:
but most of all I would like to thank Floor Covering News. Since I was having a hard time getting some information I felt was reliable, I shot an email off to FCNews and they responded back immediately. The next morning I found an email waiting for me that was full of data, resources, pictures and links. It really was above and beyond and I will remember it. I love getting such good service – makes me feel special.