Want a ‘notice-me’ floor that’s easy on the feet and the wallet? How about cork? It’s durable, unique and environmentally friendly. Plus, cork is a natural material, so it doesn’t off-gas like many other types of flooring.
- Cork Comparisons
- Pricing Guide
- Finding High-Quality Cork
- Popular Cork Brands
- Installation Options
- Cork, in a Nutshell
Cork flooring is about as green as it gets. Harvesting doesn’t damage trees, and very little goes to waste.
It’s good for anyone with allergies because it resists mold and mildew. Cork is also easy on the ears, soft on the feet, and light on the pocketbook. And, more music to our ears: installation is relatively simple if you can follow directions.
While cork isn’t as popular as hardwood or vinyl plank, it’s got serious staying power. In fact, cork can be traced back to Ancient Greece where it was used for construction and insulation. Portuguese and Spanish explorers even used cork on their ships.
Fast forward to today, cork has become a staple in green building. And although 70% of the world’s cork supply comes from Portugal, this flooring can be found in homes and structures across the globe. But is it right for your home?
Let’s find out:
- Easy Maintenance
- Soft Underfoot
- Retains Heat
- Sound Dampening
1. Cork flooring is hypoallergenic.
If you struggle with allergies or asthma, cork can alleviate some of your symptoms. That’s because this flooring is mildew and mold resistant, plus it contains natural anti-microbial properties. Which means cork repels dirt, dander, and dust mites better than many types of flooring.
If you’re concerned about the air quality in your home, it’s best to look for flooring with the FloorScore or GreenGuard Gold certifications. These labels ensure that your flooring meets strict environmental and health standards.
2. Cork is easy to maintain.
Cork is not a maintenance-free floor, but with proper precautions, it will look beautiful for decades. Once your cork floors are sealed, they should hold up well against spills and pet accidents. But, it’s still important to wipe up liquid as soon as possible.
For daily cork floor cleaning, use a static dust broom or a vacuum with a bare floor setting. For tougher jobs, try a mild wood floor cleaner and a damp mop. Standing water and oil-based soaps will damage your floor’s finish, so only use water-based cleaners.
You can find cleaning products made specifically for cork online or at your local home improvement store.
3. Cork is durable.
Even though cork is portrayed as a hard surface, that’s not entirely true. Cork handles every day wear much better than carpet or hardwood, but it is susceptible to dents. Remember to use coasters under any large pieces and shift your furniture frequently to prevent your cork from sagging.
Another enemy of cork? Rocks and sand granules. These tiny particles can scratch your flooring’s finish if not swept up right away.
If you don’t have time to sweep every day, place floor mats at entryways or adopt a no-shoes policy. This will help to cut down on tracked-in dirt and debris.
4. Cork is soft underfoot.
That’s because it contains 40 million air-filled cells per cubic centimeter. These shock-absorbent cells give the floor a sponge-like feel. When the cork is compressed, it flexes and returns to its original shape.
If you suffer from leg or back pain, cork flooring can relieve the pressure on your joints as you walk and can make standing for lengthy periods a bit easier on your spine.
5. Cork flooring holds the heat.
Tired of stepping on to a cold floor in the winter, but hate the look of carpet?
Invest in cork flooring. Why? Because cork is a natural insulator.
Unlike tile and other hard surface floors, cork doesn’t allow heat to escape. Its cellular structure holds the temperature of the room and disperses heat evenly. If you live in a colder climate, cork flooring can save you a ton on energy costs year after year.
6. Cork is a natural sound dampener.
Acoustics play a significant role in the comfort-level of your home. Especially in two-story houses, condominiums, and apartment buildings. If you have large pets and an active household, you understand what I’m talking about.
Voices and footsteps can sound like a herd of cattle at a rock concert if your home isn’t insulated correctly.
If you’re struggling with sound issues, cork flooring may be the perfect solution. Due to its thick spongy composition, cork absorbs vibrations and footfalls. It traps the sound and lowers the volume to a comfortable and acceptable level.
7. Cork is a sustainable flooring.
Cork is the bark of the cork oak tree otherwise known as Quercus Suberus. These trees grow along the border of the Mediterranean Sea and can regenerate after every harvest. In fact, cork trees can live up to two centuries.
The first harvest takes place when the tree is approximately 20 years old. Subsequent bark removal occurs every 9 years – up to 15 times per lifetime. Farmers take great care not to damage the tree by using a specially designed hatchet to strip the bark without disturbing the inner layer.
8. Cork flooring can be refinished.
Solid cork can be sanded and re-stained. The trick is to use a palm sander and fine grit paper. Once you’ve finished sanding, you can go ahead and apply a new coat of stain.
If you have cork veneer or composite, don’t sand it. You’ll damage the flooring. Instead, use a thick wax and sealer to buff away scratches and restore the natural beauty of your cork flooring.
If you’re not comfortable performing the work yourself, you can hire a professional refinisher for less than the cost of replacing your floors.
As with any natural material, cork is not flawless. In truth, cork may not be the best choice for your home. In order to accurately weigh your decision, you’ll need to examine the drawbacks:
- Sensitive to Temperature
- Dents & Scratches
- Absorbs Liquid
- May Look Uneven
- Regular Sealing
- Tricky Installation
1. Cork floors are sensitive to temperature changes.
Like hardwood, cork reacts to changes in humidity and temperature. Both cork planks and tiles will expand, and contract based on the moisture-level. Cork is a bit more stable than traditional hardwood as it expands in all directions as opposed to one.
If you’re installing cork, be sure to acclimate the flooring at least 5 days prior to installation. Additionally, you’ll want to invest in a temperature and humidity monitor to ensure moisture levels stay within acceptable ranges.
2. Cork flooring may fade.
Direct sunlight may light up your life, but it can also fade your cork. If you have large windows or a south-facing room cork might not be a desirable choice.
Sure, you could use area rugs, but the flooring will fade around them. Then you’ll be stuck with unsightly outlines.
If your heart’s set on cork, purchase high-quality blinds or light-filtering curtains for your windows. These should help minimize the amount of sunlight beating down on your floors.
3. Cork flooring can dent and scratch.
There is no such thing as scratch-proof wood flooring. And while cork isn’t exactly traditional hardwood, it shares similar properties. That means dirt, pet nails, and high-heels can leave behind gouge marks, scuffs and scratches.
Heavy furniture may leave indents in your flooring after time. The good news is that cork has a flexible composition, so divots and dents should disappear as the pressure is taken away. Most cork manufacturers suggest shifting your room layout every few months to lessen the chance of compression damage.
You can protect your cork’s finish with a sealer or wax, but If you’re looking for a large pet-friendly flooring option, or have an active household, tile might be a better option.
4. Cork can absorb liquid.
Cork isn’t as fussy as hardwood or natural stone, but it isn’t waterproof. Even with proper sealing, liquids can find their way through cracks and leave behind water rings or spots. Floating floors are especially susceptible to damage at the gaps where the planks click-together.
Pet accidents and red wine spills can even stain the polyurethane coating or finish. It’s important to consider your room’s usage before you invest in cork flooring (i.e., this may not be a great choice for kitchens or basements). Otherwise, you may be left feeling let-down by your flooring choice.
5. Stained cork floors may look uneven.
If you’re choosing solid cork flooring, understand it won’t look completely uniform. Cork is a natural substance that absorbs stain and dries at different rates. Even professionals have a tough time applying an even finish.
If color or tone variations make you twitch, opt for a pre-stained product with a factory finish. And if you choose to stain on-site, hire a professional with years of experience.
6. Cork flooring can appear trendy.
While some people love the style and versatility of cork flooring, there are those who detest its unique look. In fact, it’s hard to find a discussion about cork that doesn’t reflect contrasting opinions.
If you plan on staying in your home for 10 years or longer, then, by all means, embrace your love for cork. However, if you anticipate putting your home on the market shortly, it may be best to stick with a more traditional floor covering.
7. You must seal the flooring regularly.
Sealing your cork floor every few years will keep it from looking dingy and outdated. Unfortunately, the costs can add up, and the process is time-consuming. If you want a set-it-and-forget-it option, vinyl or laminate is a better choice.
If a little yearly maintenance doesn’t bother you, you’ll be happy to know that cork-veneer doesn’t require sanding. Just a few coats of roll-on polyurethane for cork & a ton of patience.
8. Glue-down installation can be tricky.
Installing your cork in a damp area? You’ll need to use the glue down method. And if you’re tackling the cork flooring install yourself, prepare for some headaches.
Simply put, gluing cork tiles isn’t for the faint of heart. On top of meticulously preparing the sub-floor, you’ll need to ensure the tiles are even, the glue is consistent and the manufacturer’s instructions are followed to the letter. Otherwise, you may ruin your flooring or void your warranty.
By now you’re probably wondering how cork stands up against other popular floor coverings. Here’s a quick run-down of side-by-side comparisons to help you choose a winner:
Cork Comparison Guide
Cork vs. Carpeting
Like cork, carpeting provides superior soundproofing and insulation. It’s cost-effective and soft underfoot, but carpeting has a short lifespan. If you have pets or small children, carpeting may be an expensive choice. An accidental spill or puddle can ruin your new flooring in under 10 seconds.
In contrast, cork provides better protection against damaging liquids. Once it’s sealed, you can relax a bit. And if by chance your cork falls prey to grape juice, you can always refinish it.
Cork vs. Tile
Tile is undoubtedly the most forgiving floor covering on the market. It won’t scratch easily and holds up well to dirt and moisture. But, it’s also cold & potentially uncomfortable. Plus, if you drop something heavy, tile may shatter.
On the other hand, cork may puncture – but it won’t break. Its spongy cells feel like a cloud underneath your feet. However, you will have to watch out for scratches & keep it shaded from direct sunlight.
Cork vs. Hardwood
Hardwood is the gold standard for floor coverings. It’s timeless, renewable and adds a special layer of warmth to your space. However, it scratches easily, hates water and can cost a boatload.
By comparison, cork is made from tree bark. It’s slightly less expensive and holds up better than many softer species of wood. Unfortunately, cork can feel a bit “trendy,” so if your home’s on the traditional side, hardwood might be a better option aesthetically.
Cork vs. Vinyl
Luxury vinyl tiles and planks have become popular over the last several years. Vinyl is an affordable (see: FloorCritics’ cheap flooring ideas), durable material that offers superior water and scratch resistance. Plus, high-quality planks bear a shocking resemblance to hardwood and come in a wide variety of textures and tones.
However, vinyl is not a natural material. There is a cloud of controversy surrounding manufacturing processes and ongoing concerns about this material’s affect on air quality.
On the other side of the spectrum: cork. Cork doesn’t contain VOCs or release toxic chemicals into the air. It’s allergy-friendly, hypo-allergenic and resistant to mold and mildew. If you choose cork based on the health benefits, be sure to double check the label for any adhesives or sealants. These products may contain chemical irritants.
Speaking of shopping choices, lets talk money. Here’s a breakdown of what to expect when budgeting for cork flooring:
The price of cork often depends on several factors, including quality level & warranty length. Color and size also contribute to the price tag. Cork tiles range between $2 -7 per square foot, on average. But, you can usually find them online for less.
Adhesive cork tiles are available in both natural and stained varieties. Pre-sealed cork features a coat of wax or polyurethane and factory-grade stain. Remember to check with your salesperson to verify whether the floor is solid cork or cork-veneer.
Solid cork tends to come as an unfinished product. It’s cheaper but requires sealing after installation. If you’re installing the floor yourself, a gallon of sealer will cover an area of 100 square feet and costs approximately $80.
If you’re opting for a floating floor, cork planks will set you back approximately $4-8 per square foot, again depending on price and quality.
If a professional is installing your cork, expect to pay $1-2 per square foot. And if you’re taking on the installation yourself, don’t forget to include the price of adhesive, underlayment and prep materials. These extras may seem small at first, but the costs add up over time.
Still Team Cork? Smart decision. Time to discuss quality. What do you need to know before swiping your card? Let’s take a look:
Finding High-Quality Cork
Shopping for cork flooring can be a bit tricky. Most manufacturers won’t post signs advertising their products as “cheap, low-quality cork.” If you’re lucky, a helpful salesperson may point out a better option, but often their intentions may be driven by commision or personal preference.
The internet may not be much help either. Cork sales contribute to less than 1% of the entire flooring market. That means for every 100 floors sold, only 1 customer bought cork. Therefore, reviews are few and far between.
However, there are a few guidelines that can help you make a well-informed purchase.
Cork flooring is a green building product, and as such, it should always carry a regulation and quality-standard seal. Products with certifications such as the Greenguard Gold, FloorScore, or FSC seal have been independently tested for compliance with quality and safety guidelines.
As a rule, cork flooring should be at least 4-12mm thick, or the equivalent of a stack of 2-6 nickels. Thicker tiles are usually found in commercial applications as they hold up better to wear, and have superior sound-proofing properties.
Most residential grade tiles tend to fall in the 4-8mm range. If you plan on refinishing your cork down the line, opt for a thicker tile or plank. Not only will you have more material to work with, but you’ll also have a more comfortable, durable floor.
The next factor you’ll want to consider is the finish. If you’re buying natural cork, you will add the finish on-site. But if you’re choosing a sealed product, you’ll want cork with a layer of aluminum-oxide or coated polyurethane finish. Multi-layer hardened finishes act as armor and protect your cork from everyday hazards.
Finally, make sure your salesperson shows you the warranty paperwork before you buy. The best manufacturers offer warranties ranging from 20 years up. Be advised most warranties won’t cover damage due to improper installation or excessive wear and tear.
Wondering which manufacturers have the highest quality cork? Well, it depends. There are tons of reputable companies out there, and a few not-so trustworthy types. Your best bet is to find a flooring you like first, then research the company.
Online review sites and forums can provide a treasure trove of information. Additionally, check the companies website to get a better feel for their service and quality standards.
The following manufacturers have excellent reputations among consumers and professional designers:
8 Popular Cork Brands
The Globus company has been in business since the 1990s and manufactures pre-finished, pre-glued, 4mm thick cork tiles. Globus sells directly to consumers online, and ships from its New York factory to all 50 states.
The company sells tiles in 25 shapes and sizes, and more than 40 interchangeable colors. You can even order custom-sized tiles. And if you’re an eco-conscious consumer, you’ll be happy to know that Globus tiles are VOC free, LEED certified, and responsibly harvested.
Pricing for Globus Cork tiles ranges from $6-11 per square foot depending on size, color, and finish.
WE Cork Flooring
WE Cork flooring has been a Wicander family business for five generations (see: Wicanders cork flooring options on Wayfair). The company started out in Switzerland back in 1868 as a manufacturer of cork stoppers, and has since ventured into the world of cork flooring.
WE Cork, carries three lines of tiles and planks in various sizes and styles. You can choose between 33 shades of floating and glue down products to create unique designs and eye-catching patterns.
WE Cork sells flooring through distributors and showrooms across the United States. Product pricing isn’t displayed on the website, but anyone interested in purchasing WE Cork products should contact the company via phone.
CorksRibas, a Portuguese company, is a leading producer of cork flooring that sells its products through distributors and resellers across the globe.
CorkRibas flooring is suitable for both business and residential applications. Floating planks come in several sizes and feature a click-lock mechanism for easy installation. The company describes its flooring products as functional, fashionable and environmentally-friendly.
You can find out more information about pricing and styles on the company’s website. Better yet – submit a request for free flooring samples.
iCork Floor is the United States distributing division of Cancork flooring. The company sells direct to consumers and offers ‘rock-bottom pricing’ on an extensive selection of floating and glue-down cork tiles and planks.
You can go online to browse their collections and order samples, free of charge. As a bonus, iCork doesn’t charge sales tax on online orders outside of Washington state.
Tiles range in thickness between 4-8mm, and planks vary between 10-12mm. iCork carries flooring in colors and patterns that mimic the look of natural stone, traditional cork and even weathered wood. The company also sells coordinating wall tiles, underlayment, and adhesives.
APC Cork is one of North America’s biggest suppliers of cork flooring. The company is known for its affordable, stylish cork tiles and award-winning customer service.
As one of the forerunners in the sustainable cork movement, APC Cork goes the extra mile to ensure its products are harvested responsibly and come only from legally compliant plantations.
Cork tiles come in several varieties of glue-down and floating styles. In addition to size options, APC offers more than 70 colors and finishes to choose from. Samples are available on the company’s website for $5 per sample.
Jelinek Cork Group
Jelinek Cork Group is the world’s oldest existing supplier of cork flooring. Founded in 1855 in the province of Bohemia, the company has evolved from a bottle stopper supplier to a trusted source for cork flooring, fabric, and furniture.
Jelinek cork is available in glue-down mosaic tiles, large format sheets, and interlocking planks. Patterns and styles are limited, but flooring is available in 30 unique colors.
And, although most floors carry just a 10-year structural warranty, the company claims that many Jelinek floors installed in the 1950’s are still as beautiful and functional as they were 60 years ago.
AMCork is an American supplier and distributor of Portuguese cork products. The company sells 12×12 adhesive cork flooring tiles and 12×36 tongue & groove interlocking planks. AMCork is available in 30 colors and patterns.
Cork planks come standard with built-in underlayment and a 25-year warranty. This eco-friendly company prices its planks to sell at an average of $4.75 per square foot, with tiles closer to the $4.50 range.
Tip: If you’re looking for a real bargain, check out the sale section of AM’s website. You can find deals on first-quality cork flooring ranging from $2-3 per square foot. The company also offers online discounts, so you might consider signing up to their mailing list for exclusive savings.
USFloors is the only supplier of cork and bamboo with manufacturing plants located in the United States. All milling and finishing work is conducted at their plant in Dalton, Georgia. In addition to the US Floor brand, the company also markets products under several famous labels, including Natural Cork and Navarre.
The Natural Cork line is available in both plank and tile formats. In addition to 30 color options, consumers can also choose between glue down and floating installations.
All US Floor cork products are GreenGuard certified and UV Cured. The company guarantees its flooring is made of 100% Suber cork, and extends a generous lifetime warranty on all residential applications.
More Brands: Millstead Cork
Now that we’ve covered selection criteria, are you ready to select an installation method? Floating, or glue? Which option should you choose?
Let’s discuss the details:
You should never install floating floors in a bathroom or any area where there is a high probability of splashes. The reason: liquid can seep through the gaps between planks and cause your floors to buckle & shift. Additionally, If you choose to install a floating floor in your kitchen, remember it must go in after the cabinetry. You can run it under the toe kick for a seamless look.
Floating floors are ideal for below-ground installations, and an easy do-it-yourself project. Once your flooring has been properly acclimated, it should only take a day or two to install the floor. Click-lock cork planks have attached locking mechanisms that fit together at the seams like a giant jigsaw puzzle.
First, make sure your subfloor is level and even, then run a vacuum over the area to suck up any dirt or debris. If you’re using a moisture barrier, it should go down before you start laying the planks. Undercut any door-jambs and moldings to ensure a tight fit.
Start at the longest wall and work in rows. Don’t forget to leave room for expansion. If you need to cut any planks, you can use a jigsaw or fine tool. One final tip, if you’re struggling with the locking mechanism, use a rubber mallet or tapping block to flatten the seams.
If you’re installing your cork in high-moisture areas, glue-down tiles are the best option. That said, installation is a bit tricky. Since the probability of making mistakes is quite high, it’s a process best left to professionals.
Any misstep could lead to undesirable results or a violation of the product’s warranty. Read the manufacturers directions carefully, and follow them to the letter.
Make sure you’re starting with a clean, level surface before you roll on the glue. It’s also a good idea to sort through the boxes ahead of time and decide on a layout before you begin. After you lay the tile, check the labels for drying times and allow the adhesive to cure before applying a sealer or walking on the floor.
If you have any doubts about installing adhesive tiles as a DIY, do yourself a favor and spend the extra money on a professional. It’s worth the added peace of mind.
As a side note, there are cork tiles available with adhesive backings. Pre-glued tiles are expensive and usually not worth the added cost. Most installers won’t recommend this option because pre-glued tiles have a shelf life of 3-6 months. Which means the glue loses its bonding power over time.
Ok, so we’ve covered the installation options, now it’s up to you to complete the story. Fair warning, it’s one of those choose-your-own-ending types.
If you’re still not sold on cork, check out our other flooring guides. But, if you’re convinced cork is the covering for you, take one last look at the facts:
Cork, in a Nutshell
Cork is a solid choice for anyone wanting a unique and functional floor covering. It’s a bit less maintenance than hardwood, lasts for decades and won’t empty your bank account.
If you’re looking for a green building material, cork is environmentally friendly and sustainable. It’s great for allergy sufferers, people with joint pain, and those wishing to lower their energy bills.
Cork isn’t as durable as vinyl, but it is a natural product. It can be refinished several times and may even add to the resale value of your home. However, you will have to seal it every few years, and that can be expensive and time-consuming.
If you’re looking for a maintenance-free floor, you may want to consider tile or laminate. But, if you’re willing to put in some elbow grease, cork flooring can be a wonderful investment in the quality and comfort of your space.