Hardwood vs Cork Flooring

Hardwood vs Cork Flooring

You’ve been searching for new flooring, and you’ve narrowed it down to two choices: hardwood vs. cork. Hardwood is a classic choice in flooring that’s been installed in homes for centuries, while cork is a relatively new flooring material that’s growing in popularity.

They both are great bare flooring options, but which is best for your home?

In this post, we’ll explore the pros and cons of hardwood versus cork, pairing the two flooring types head-to-head across six different categories. This will better help you choose the right flooring for your home.

Before pulling out your wallet, read on to learn more about the benefits and drawbacks of hardwoods and cork and see which flooring type comes out on top.

In this guide, we’ll explore:

Side-by-Side Comparison

 HardwoodCork
DurabilityExtremely durable but is vulnerable to scratches, dents, and dingsExtremely durable but is vulnerable to punctures and heavy furniture can cause indentations
WaterproofNoNo
CleaningBroom, dust mop, or vacuum for daily cleaning. Products designed for hardwood flooring should be used for deeper cleaning. Wax can be used to restore shine. Broom, dust mop, or vacuum for daily cleaning. Products designed for cork flooring should be used for deeper cleaning.
RefinishingYes Yes
Pet-FriendlyYes but softer woods may be scratched with pet claws. Nails should be trimmed and harder woods should be selected for households with pets. Pet claws can puncture flooring, so nails should be trimmed to prevent damage.
PriceFrom $3 to $10+ per square footFrom $3 to $8 per square foot
SustainableSome productsYes
LifespanCan last for over 100 years25 to 30 years but can last much longer
Good for Allergy Sufferers YesYes
Professional Installation Costs$5 to $8 per square foot$1 to $3 per square foot
Flooring GuideHardwood Flooring GuideCork Flooring Guide

Durability

One of the most important features about a floor is its durability, or how well it holds up under daily use. Can it withstand the wear and tear from kids and pets, or is it better to tread lightly? Let’s find out which flooring is more durable – hardwoods or cork.

Hardwood flooring is extremely durable. In fact, with proper care, solid hardwoods can easily last for 100 years or even longer. However, durability primarily depends upon the type of wood that is selected.

Some woods, such as pine, are much softer and are more susceptible to damage like scratches, dents, and dings. Other woods, such as exotic Brazilian cherry or hickory, are much harder and are less vulnerable to damage.

A tool known as the Janka scale measures the hardness of wood. The higher the score a wood has, the harder and more durable it is. Households with children, pets, or heavy traffic should use this scale to select a wood species that isn’t easy to damage.

Cork flooring offers an alternative to hardwoods, but how does it hold up under pressure? Unfortunately, cork flooring is susceptible to some of the same type of damage as solid wood floors. In fact, you need to take a few additional precautions with this type of flooring.

Cork is very soft, which provides a padded surface area that’s more comfortable than solid wood. However, this soft material also has its drawbacks.

Dropping something sharp or dragging furniture across the floor can puncture cork. Furniture legs and even high heels can puncture this type of flooring. Dirt and debris can also cause damage to this flooring.

Furniture coasters will also need to be used, as heavy furniture and appliances can sink into the flooring. Pet claws can also cause damage, and exposure to sunlight can cause the flooring to fade.

While solid hardwoods aren’t completely immune to damage, they are much more durable than cork flooring, especially when a harder wood species is selected.

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Water Resistance

Some types of flooring can easily withstand spills or you can clean them with a mop and water, but with other types of flooring, water can be a real problem. How do hardwoods and cork perform when exposed to water?

A major drawback of hardwood flooring is that you can’t let it get wet. This means that you need to clean spills up quickly. Using a wet mop to clean it is a big no-no.

When hardwood flooring gets wet, it will warp or buckle. Wet hardwoods can absorb stains. Mold and mildew can also grow on hardwoods on which moisture has sat. When hardwood flooring is wet, you will need to refinish or completely replace it.

Because you can damage it when you expose it to moisture, you should not install hardwood flooring in rooms where there is a lot of moisture, such as bathrooms, or in below-grade rooms like basements.

Cork flooring is much more resistant to water than solid hardwood. If cork flooring is sealed and installed properly, it will be protected against damage from water. However, water should never be allowed to sit on the flooring, as excessive exposure may potentially lead to expansion and warping.

Cork is also more naturally resistant to the growth of mold and mildew. You can use a damp mop during cleaning, but you should never allow water or liquid cleaning products to pool on the floor.

Although neither type of flooring is completely waterproof, cork outperforms hardwoods. When cork is sealed and installed properly, this type of flooring can withstand some exposure to water without the staining, warping, and other damage that can occur with solid wood.

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Cleaning

To keep floors looking their best, you must clean them on a regular basis. When comparing hardwoods and cork, which type of flooring is easier to clean and which requires special care?

You can clean hardwood flooring on a daily basis using a broom or dust mop. You can also use a hardwood vacuum, but it should be a model that does not have a beater bar and is especially for people to use on hard flooring. Using a vacuum cleaner that is not for bare floors can lead to scratching and other damage.

For a deeper clean, you can use a a product especially for hardwood flooring. You should use these products on a small section at a time, and never saturate the flooring. You can wipe these cleaning products up with a dry microfiber mop or a cleaning cloth.

If hardwood floors begin to lose their shine, you can apply a product specially for use on wood flooring. If floors are very damaged, sanding and refinishing can restore their beauty.

Daily cleaning of cork flooring is very similar to cleaning solid wood. You can use a broom, dust mop, or vacuum cleaner for use on hard floors to clean up daily dirt, dust, and debris.

People can use specialty cleaners specifically for use on cork floors with a dry microfiber mop or a slightly damp mop. You should never use cleaners that are abrasive or contain wax or ammonia on cork.

You can refinish some types of cork flooring over the years. Other types will not require a traditional refinishing but instead you will need to apply an oil to it that will restore it.

Although both floors are fairly easy to clean and maintain, cork has a slight edge. It is more resistant to moisture, so you can use a damp mop or cloth during cleaning. Some products don’t require traditional refinishing, which can be time-consuming and costly.

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Comfort

While the beauty of flooring is an important factor for most consumers, looks aren’t everything. In fact, many consumers place comfort over appearance. Between hardwoods and cork, which flooring is the most comfortable for walking or standing?

It’s no surprise that hardwood flooring is hard. However, this doesn’t mean that it has to be completely uncomfortable. Adequate underlayment proves a layer of cushioning that makes hardwood floors easier on the back and knees.

Few things are worse than a cold floor under your feet first thing in the morning, and hardwoods have developed a reputation for being one of the coldest types of flooring. Fortunately, this can be resolved with the installation of radiant heaters. Unfortunately, the cost of materials and installation can easily run into the thousands of dollars.

On the other hand, cork flooring is popular with consumers because it has a more cushioned feel than solid hardwoods. Because cork flooring has natural acoustic and thermal insulating properties, it is much quieter and warmer than other types of flooring, including hardwoods.

For this category, there’s no doubt about it: cork is the superior option. This flooring provides a more cushioned walking surface and is warmer and quieter than hardwood flooring.

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Pricing

One of the biggest determining factors for many consumers when choosing their new flooring is how much it will cost. Between hardwood flooring and cork, which is the most cost-efficient option?

The cost of hardwood flooring depends upon the species selected. Softer, more common woods like pine cost, on average, between $3 and $6 per square foot. However, exotic species may cost upwards of $10 per square foot.

This cost gets even higher when a contractor is hired to install the flooring. Consumers should expect to pay between $5 and $8 per square foot for the professional installation of hardwood floors, although this price may vary based on location and the difficulty of the job.

Cork flooring is about $3 to $8 per square foot. The average price most consumers pay is around $5 per square foot.

Although the cost of the flooring is very comparable to the costs of hardwood, installation costs are much lower. Cork flooring costs anywhere from $1 to $3 per square foot for professional installation.

In terms of pricing, cork flooring comes out on top as the more affordable option.

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Sustainability

Threats of global warming and the effects of humans’ actions on the planet, more people are turning to greener options for their homes. From solar electricity to sustainable flooring, many consumers are doing their part to help the environment.

When compared side-by-side, which is the more sustainable flooring? Which has the lowest impact on the earth’s natural resources: solid hardwood or cork?

Manufacturers harvest a truly sustainable wood from a forest that has a balance of plant and tree diversity. When they harvest the trees, they take steps to reduce the impact on the surrounding environment.

Some of the most sustainable woods companies use for hardwood flooring include black cherry, ash, mahogany, maple, and oak. Flooring that is sustainable will be certified and marked accordingly on its packaging.

Consumers who want a truly sustainable floor will be happy with cork. Cork is quickly growing to become a hit with homeowners and even builders who want attractive flooring that doesn’t contain chemicals or cause further damage to the environment.

Manufacturers harvest cork they use for flooring from cork trees found in Europe and Africa. Trees do not have to be cut down for this resource because the bark is used to create the flooring. The trees regenerate their bark over their lifetime of up to two centuries.

It is for this reason that cork is the more sustainable flooring type when compared to solid hardwoods.

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Lifespan

Purchasing new flooring is a huge investment. Not only does it cost hundreds (or thousands) of dollars, but installing it is a very time-consuming project that can turn any home upside down for days or even weeks. This is why consumers opt to purchase flooring that will last through the everyday wear and tear of life.

Solid hardwood flooring has an average lifespan of 40 to 80 years depending on the thickness of the wood and the species selected. Some flooring can even last for over 100 years with proper care and maintenance.

Cork will also last for many years. On average, cork flooring lasts for about 20 to 25 years. However, higher quality brands may last for much longer.

Even though both flooring types are built to last, hardwood has a much longer lifespan than cork when you maintain it properly.

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Final Verdict

Hardwood and cork flooring each have their benefits and drawbacks. The type of flooring you select depends upon the features that are most important to you.

Hardwoods are a great choice for anyone who wants classically beautiful floors that are extremely durable and will retain their beauty for many years.

Cork is the ideal choice for anyone who wants a more affordable type of flooring that is more resistant to moisture and easier to clean. Cork flooring is also great for anyone that wants a softer and more comfortable floor that is eco-friendly.

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Nikki Seppala

About Nikki Seppala

Nikki is an experienced writer and editor and has worked in industries that range from home improvement to entrepreneurship. For over 10 years, she's used her unique talent and love of the written word to uncover the stories that people want to read.

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