When seeking the best alternatives for tile and hardwood, the race comes down to cork vs. carpet. No more achy heels from hours in the kitchen on hardwood floors, no more freezing toes after stepping out of bed onto chilly tile. Cork and carpet are comfy and practical.
Both affordable, cork and carpet floors are similar in their durability and softness, but the two differ in many other ways. From sustainability and health considerations to installation and maintenance, there is certainly a lot to consider before making a final decision.
Let’s explore the ins and outs of cork and carpet, the advantages and disadvantages of each, and what might work best for you.
In this guide, we’ll explore:
- Durability & Longevity
- Installation & Maintenance
- Aesthetics & Comfort
- Environmental & Health Factors
- Which Should You Buy?
- The Verdict
|Very easy to puncture and damage with furniture, high heels, pet claws, or dropped objects
|Will become worn down especially in high traffic areas
|Average life is about 25 years, Can be refinished to last longer
|Average life is about 10 years
|Sunlight will cause cork to fade, doesn't come in many colors
|Comes in a wide variety of colors, textures, and lengths
|$2 to $5 per square foot
|$2 to $5 per square foot
|Soft, cushioned surface great for walking and standing on
|Soft and plush for walking, standing, and sitting
|Easy to DIY with peel and stick application
|Professional installation is necessary
|Only needs light sweeping and vacuuming to clean
|Dirs is easy to hide, but it's also easy to stain; Needs consistent maintenance, regular vacuuming, and periodic steam cleaning
|Yes, sustainably sourced, good insulator
|No, can give off chemical emissions
|No, can be protected with sealing but flooding or humidity can cause warping and curling
|No, flooding or water damage may lead to removal of carpet due to mildew and mold build-up
|No, claws can cause a lot of damage to cork
|No, retains stains and odors
|Yes, repels dust, hair, and even microbial things like bugs and small vermin
|No, collects allergens
|Cork Flooring Guide
|Carpet Flooring Guide
Durability and Longevity
Cork and carpet are similar in their durability and longevity in that they actually are neither durable nor long-lasting. However, the reasons why are different.
Cork lasts on average about 25 years. Upon purchase, you can add on protective sealing to increase its lifespan. You can also refinish cork to improve its longevity. But what’s more, cork isn’t very durable at all.
Being such a soft and malleable surface, high heels, moving furniture, and the nails of dogs and cats can tear up cork. Plus, heavy appliances like a refrigerator, for example, can leave permanent divots in cork flooring. You’ll need to reinforce the area beneath heavy objects, make sure your pets’ claws are short, and do your best not to accidentally drop sharp objects onto cork floors.
Carpet has a similarly short life-span, on average lasting only around 10 years. It can easily wear down, especially in high traffic areas, and is incredibly prone to staining. Since carpet doesn’t come in tiles, like cork, when carpet gets ruined you’ll have to replace the entire area.
Both cork and carpet are also not waterproof. You can protect cork with water-inhibiting top coats but floods can ruin the floor completely. Even humidity can cause cork tiles to warp and curl.
And it’s obvious that carpet isn’t best suited for bathrooms or kitchens, either. Carpet will need to be totally replaced if water damage occurs since mildew and mold can easily generate beneath its surface when water becomes trapped.
Installation and Maintenance
This leads us to the installation and maintenance of both cork and carpet, which one of the major differences between the two. Installing and maintaining cork in your home is substantially easier than installing and maintaining carpet.
Cork comes in tiles, usually with peel and stick application. You can use more intense grouting with cork but it’s not necessary and the process can be completely DIY if you wish.
That’s not the case with carpet where professional installation is definitely recommended. All of the complex tools and techniques that go along with laying down carpet is probably best left to a pro, whereas laying cork is more straightforward.
Maintaining & cleaning cork is as simple as a quick sweep or vacuum with a hard-surface vac to pick up loose debris and dust. If something spills – no worries there. All it takes is a wipe or mop and a little bit of water. Anyone with experience knows that a spill on carpet is far more dramatic.
Carpet is extremely susceptible to stains and takes a lot more consistent maintenance than cork. It’s imperative to vacuum and spot clean carpet on a regular basis and you’ll also need to periodically steam clean carpet, which can be tedious and expensive.
Aesthetics and Comfort
Carpet comes in the widest variety of colors and variations of any type of flooring on the market. Choose from any color under the sun, with any texture you can think of ranging in lengths from long and shaggy to short and stable. Choose a certain pattern for funky design or calming neutrals for a cozy atmosphere.
Cork is much more limited in its color choices. Since it’s made from wood, most of the hues will look like different shades of brown. Some companies do offer colored cork but for the most part, you’ll find only neutral shades.
Both cork and carpet are similar in their comfort and cushioning effect. Carpet is made of materials like wool or nylon and are typically plush and soft, making them perfect for standing, walking, and even sitting or lying down.
Cork, while less comfortable than carpet, is the most cushioning “hard surface” on the market. Like carpet, cork is great for standing and walking on (for example, standing in the kitchen baking cookies for hours), but it’s probably less appealing to sit or lie on.
Additionally, cork fades when exposed to sunlight. It’ll be important to employ shades when using cork or to install it in rooms that get minimal sunshine.
These options are both great for young kids running around who are more prone to falling or being rambunctious in general, or for elderly folks who might have a slip. With cork and carpet, these instances are less likely to cause any true harm.
Cork and carpet are both extremely affordable flooring options, ranging at almost exactly the same price – anywhere between $2 and $5 per square foot. The real difference in cost lies in installation and maintenance, as briefly mentioned before.
Cork is not only an affordable product itself, the fact that you can install it yourself and is incredibly easy to maintain makes it truly a budget-friendly option.
Carpet, on the other hand, with its difficulty to clean and maintain can cost you a lot in the long run. On top of paying for professional installation, carpet cleaning products are a must-have. From stain-removers to high-powered vacuums to fully industrial steam cleaners, keeping up with carpet is not cheap.
Plus, as mentioned earlier, if you ruin one tile of cork you can replace it by simply changing out that tile. Ruining one swatch of carpet means replacing an entire room. Just something to think about if you’re more on the messier, clumsier side.
Environmental and Health Factors
As a sustainable and environmentally-friendly option, cork has re-surged as a popular choice. Made from the bark of living trees, it’s not necessary to cut down forests in order for production. And since it’s only made with all natural ingredients, it’s a renewable flooring source.
Cork is also hypoallergenic since it repels common allergens like dust and pollen and is easier to clean than carpet. It’s even antimicrobial, repelling bugs and small vermin, making it a suitable option for those with allergies or health concerns.
Carpet is not eco-friendly and can actually release harmful chemical emissions. It also collects dust and other allergens and holds them in the fibers of the carpet. Plus, being more difficult to keep clean, it’s not the best for anyone with health issues.
But, depending on what sort of climate you live in, having both cork or carpet can save lots of energy by way of air conditioning and heating as they are both good insulators.
Cork can help keep rooms cool when it’s hot out and warm when it’s cold out, since the cork has millions of tiny air chambers within its core to hold the temperature. Carpet is better for keeping rooms warmer since the fabric of the bristles trap heat. In both cases, they’re a good idea to help save on energy bills.
Which Should You Buy?
When deciding between cork and carpet and which is better for your situation, it’s important to consider a few things.
If you have pets, it’ll depend on whether you prefer potential stains or potential marks on your floors. Pet stains are notoriously difficult to remove from carpet – as are odors from accidents and simply being smelly pets. Conversely, cork is very easy to scratch up and tear apart, so cats and dogs with long nails will make cork floors look terrible very quickly.
If you’re on a tight budget, cork is probably your best bet since it’s affordable through and through. You’ll be able to install it yourself and maintaining cork floors is not only easier than with carpet, it’s much cheaper too.
If you have a specific color in mind, choose carpet because there are a ton more options when it comes to hues, patterns, and varieties. It’ll also give your home a cozier feel than cork, great for living rooms and bedrooms.
Additionally, if being environmentally-friendly is of high importance to you, it’ll be better to use cork as it’s more sustainable than carpet while also being a great insulator. Plus, it’s much more hypoallergenic and essentially better for your health.
Both cork and carpet are quiet floors that absorb sounds and are soft to walk on, but if you had to choose based on which one will be quieter, then cork is the way to go.
Carpets and cork are both textured, so each time you step on your floors, they will absorb the sound and prevent others from hearing your footsteps. When noise reduction is your primary factor, these two flooring alternatives are here to save the day.
How long does cork flooring last?
Cork floors last around 25 years when maintained properly. You can also consider refinishing them if you want to prolong their lifespan. In general, with great care and refinishing, these floors can be a part of your home for around 40 years.
The great thing about cork is that it’s naturally resistant to mold and mildew, as long as you protect it from excessive water exposure.
What happens if cork flooring gets wet?
Although cork is a naturally water-resistant flooring option, you shouldn’t expose it to liquids for long periods because they can cause damage. In addition, cork doesn’t absorb a lot of liquid because it contains a substance named suberin. This substance protects it from decomposition; however, you still shouldn’t risk leaving cork exposed to liquids long term.
If that happens, your floors might show signs of damage. You’ll notice that your cork floors are swelling, starting to crack, and are uneven.
Is cork a good choice for kitchen flooring?
Although many people decide to install cork floors in their kitchen, this isn’t the best flooring option if you deal with frequent spills and know that your floors will be exposed to liquids. Cork might be fire-resistant, comfy, soft, and water-resistant; however, when exposed to water often and if the spills aren’t handled right away, it can be damaged.
Cork is not recommended for areas with high humidity levels. In that case, a much better alternative is flooring such as ceramic or porcelain tiles.
Can I use cork under carpet?
Yes, you can use cork underlayment under carpets. The most important thing to keep in mind is to install these floors and underlayment in a room that’s not going to be exposed to water, moisture, and humidity on a regular basis. Cork can absorb liquids, which can cause damage and lead to mold and mildew.
Before deciding to use cork underlayment, you should check the room’s humidity levels and consult a professional as to whether this is the right approach.
Overall, cork and carpet are extremely similar when it comes to cost of the product, durability and longevity, and comfort. But they are very different in pretty much every other way.
If you need flooring that comes in a huge variety of colors and that’s extra cozy and comfortable, you’ll love the plush goodness that comes along with a carpeted room.
But, if you prefer doing hardly any maintenance, are hoping to install it yourself, have health concerns, and want an eco-friendly option, cork is the one for you.Back to Top