Laminate vs Cork Flooring

Laminate vs Cork Flooring

When comparing laminate vs. cork flooring, which is better? Both options are becoming ever more popular with homeowners. Here, we will look at the pros and cons of both laminate and cork floors.

Laminate is a great choice if you have an active family with kids or pets and want the look of hardwood without the price tag. Cork may be your best option if you are seeking an eco-friendly floor with a unique and distinctive look but is still moderately priced.

Taking on any type of home remodeling project is a lot of work, time, and money. You want to make sure you are getting the best return on your investment and a floor covering you will be happy with.

In this guide, we’ll explore:

Side-by-Side Comparison

 LaminateCork
Construction/AppearanceA photograph of wood, stone, or other material laminated with urethane, pvc, and/or aluminum oxide on top of high density fiberboard or HDF. HDF is wood fibers bonded with resins. Many feature hyper- realistic images and texures. Single plank construction in single width or multi width and single length or random length. Frequently confused with engineered wood flooring or vinyl plank flooring.Natural material harvested from the bark of the Cork Oak tree. The bark is bonded with natural resins under high pressure. High variation color and pattern. Comes prefinished with colored stains or available for site finish. Can come in tiles or planks in solid or engineered construction. Typically only available in single-width and single length options.
DurabilityVery durable. Typically finished with aluminum oxide. Scratch and impact resistant. Available in several thicknesses 6mm, 8mm, 10mm, 12mm.Soft underfoot and great for kitchens, but not scratch or dent resistant. Must use furniture coasters and boards under heavy appliances. Water, mold, and mildew resistant.
WaterproofLaminates are not waterproof. However, there are many water-resistant types on the market. Water resistance is limited to top spill only. 24-72 hr protection based on manufacturer. Warrantied to install in kitchens and baths. If not water resistant, flooring will swell, warp, and delaminate.Naturally water resistant, not waterproof. Avoid excessive saturation.
Pet-FriendlyDurable finish makes this a pet-friendly choice. Easy to clean up hair and dander. Water resistant laminate is better for pet accidents. Not pet friendly. Cat and dog nails can scratch and damage the floor. Keeping nails trimmed helps. Not recommended for large or heavy dogs.
Acoustics/InsulationA thicker product and a quality underlayment will improve acoustics. Superior noise reduction.
Eco-FriendlyTypically, laminates do not fall into the eco-friendly category. However, several manufacturers are now sourcing HDF from FSC certified suppliers and using "green" inks in the printing process. Advancements in recycling technology have now made recycling laminates possible. Contact local waste collection agency for more info.Cork is an eco friendly hard surface choice. The cork tree is not damaged when the bark is harvested. The bark can be safely stripped every 7-10 years. It is landfill safe and will completely decompose.
CleaningCleaning is easy. Vaccuum on hard surface setting or use microfiber broom. If laminate is not water resistant, do not wet mop or saturate the floor. Use slightly damp microfiber mop and spray bottle for extra soiled areas. Only use PH neutral cleaners designed specifically for floor. Always do a test in a corner or closet. Some cleaners may damage finish beyond repair.Cleaning is similar to care for laminate. Damp mop ok, do not saturate.
RefinishingYou cannot refinish laminate. It must be replaced if it becomes damaged. There are markers available to conceal minor scratches. Avoid polishes, waxes, and sealers, and products that claim to refinish the floor.Yes, cork can be refinished if solid or is engineered with a thick veneer. Note that refinishing will void manufacturer warranty if sold as prefinished product.
InstallationLaminates are a true floating floor and can be installed over a variety of substrates. Easy for DIY or homeowner. Minimal or no acclimation required. Minimal special tools required. Cork is either constructed to function as a floating floor with an underlayment or as a direct glue installation. Some are peel and stick. Simple for a DIY. If direct glue is used, subfloor must be plywood or T&G. A particle board subfloor requires floating floor. Acclimation required.
CostLaminates are a cost effective hard surface option. Thickness, style, type, brand, pad attach, and warranty all impact pricing. Laminates do not typically increase property value, but may be appealing to potential buyers depending on your local market.More costly than laminate. Typically less expensive than hardwoods. Considered a wood floor on property listings, may increase home value. However, due to unique look and softness, may not appeal to average homebuyer. If selling is your main priority, consult a realtor.
Flooring GuideLaminate Flooring GuideCork Flooring Guide

How It’s Made

Laminate is a photograph of wood, stone, or other material laminated on top of high density fiberboard, also known as HDF. The photograph is protected by a wear layer which is made of urethane or PVC and coated with aluminum oxide. Many new laminate styles feature hyper-realistic images and textures.

Laminate flooring is available in a multitude of plank sizes in single or multi width and single length or random length. People often confuse this flooring type with engineered wood flooring or vinyl plank flooring. They sometimes call laminate “fake wood floors.”

Whereas cork flooring is made of natural material from the bark of the Cork Oak tree. The manufacturer bonds the bark with resins and forms it under high pressure.

Cork floors can come prefinished with colored stains as well as unfinished or site-finished options.  Since cork is made by nature, the floors feature high variation in both color and pattern. If you like your floor to be more uniform in color and pattern, cork may not be a great option.

Cork flooring is manufactured in tiles or planks in solid or engineered construction. Typically, cork is only available in single-width and single length options. However, the cork tile option offers more versatility for layout and creative designs.

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Durability

While no flooring is bulletproof, it is tough to beat the durability of a laminate. Most manufacturers finish laminates with aluminum oxide, a compound that is nearly as hard as diamonds.

The tough wear layer does well to protect the floor from every day wear and tear, but it is still susceptible to gouges if you drag heavy furniture across the floor or drop sharp objects.

Cork, on the other hand, is a very soft material. It is springy underfoot and great for places you might stand for long periods of time, such as a kitchen. Cork scratches quite easily and will gouge if you drop something on it.

However, cork is somewhat resilient in that small dents may pop back up over time. You should use furniture coasters as well as boards under heavy appliances to distribute the weight.

Both floor types will fade or discolor from UV rays in direct sunlight, but cork will typically discolor faster than laminate. It’s not a good idea to attempt to shield the floor from the sun with an area rug. The floor underneath the rug will be a different color than the surrounding floor after you move the rug.

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Waterproof

Traditional laminates are not waterproof. If you expose them for water, the flooring will swell, warp, and delaminate. If you spill something, it is important to clean it right away.

However, there are now many water-resistant types on the market. Water resistance is limited to top spill only. Think a spilled drink, a forgotten ice cube, or a pet accident.

Water-resistant laminates offer a range of 24-hour to 72-hour spill protection per the manufacturer. This type of laminate is typically warrantied to install in kitchens and bathrooms.

Cork, on the other hand, is naturally water-, mold-, and mildew-resistant. It is also not waterproof and not recommended for areas with excessive moisture.

Keep in mind that with both floors, a leak from an ice maker, sink, or toilet will not only damage your subfloor, it will also damage your flooring beyond repair. A full floor replacement is costly, so it is important to understand this risk should you choose to install a non-waterproof floor in a wet area.

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Pet Friendly

Many pet owners choose hard surface flooring because it is easy to clean pet hair, dander, and the occasional accident. When it comes to pets, laminate is a better choice than cork.

For example, laminate has a durable finish makes this a pet-friendly choice. It will resist most every day wear and tear from a rambunctious pet and is stain resistant.

If you do choose laminate, consider a water-resistant model. This type is better for potential pet accidents and muddy wet paws.

Cork, on the other hand, is not the most pet-friendly. Cat and dog nails can scratch and damage the soft cork floor. Keeping nails trimmed can help mitigate the damage, but it is not good for a home with large or heavy dogs.

Some manufacturers offer pet-specific warranties. If you have a non-traditional indoor pet, such as a pig, make sure to clarify that the warranty covers your pet.

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Sustainability

When it comes to eco-friendliness, cork is the clear winner. Unlike other hardwood species, the cork tree is not cut down when the bark is harvested. Manufacturers can safely strip the bark every 7-10 years for the lifetime of the tree.

Cork is unique in that it is naturally zero VOC. Therefore, it has no harmful off-gassing once you install it in your home.

In addition, cork composites are bonded with natural resins. They will fully decompose over time if dumped in a landfill.

Typically, laminates do not fall into the eco-friendly category. However, several manufacturers are now sourcing HDF from FSC certified suppliers and using “green” inks in the printing process. In addition, Advancements in recycling technology have now made recycling some laminates possible.

Considering recent issues with some imported laminates, many consumers are still concerned about the safety of these floors their homes. You can put your mind at ease and not risk the well-being of your family by choosing a laminate that features “Meets or Exceeds CARB-2” or has a “Floor Score” rating on the label.

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Cleaning

Many people choose hard surface floors because they are easy to clean. Laminate and cork floors are no exception.  To remove dirt and debris, you can either use a hardwood or laminate vacuum with an adjustable beater bar, a microfiber sweeper, or a traditional broom.

When cork or laminate mopping, you can use a slightly damp microfiber mop and spray bottle for extra soiled areas and take care not to saturate the floor. However, you can wet-mop water-resistant laminate. Please note that you should not use steam cleaners, as they can cause the floors to de-laminate.

Only use pH-neutral cleaning products designed specifically for your type of floor. It’s good practice to test the product in a corner of the room or closet as some cleaners may damage the finish beyond repair.

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Ease of Installation and Repair

Laminates are a true floating floor and you can install them over a variety of subfloors. The click-lock construction and no special tools required makes installation easy, even for the average homeowner.

You can install cork as a floating floor or with the direct glue method. Which type you choose is dependent on the area you want to put it in as well as your subfloor.

If you are planning to put your cork in a kitchen or laundry room, you should consider a cork that you can glue down. This will prevent moisture from becoming trapped underneath the floor.

For a successful direct glue installation, the subfloor must be plywood or tongue and groove.  If you try to glue the cork to a particle board subfloor, the tiles could lift, break, and take off pieces of the subfloor with it.

If needed, you can refinish cork if it is solid or engineered with a thick veneer. Note that refinishing will void manufacturer warranty if the  manufacturer sold it as a prefinished product. Keep in mind that if you choose to refinish your cork floor, the finish will not be as durable as the one applied in the factory.

You cannot refinish laminate. You must replace it if it becomes damaged. Avoid polishes, waxes and products that claim to refinish the floor.

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Cost

If you are budget-conscious when it comes to flooring, laminate is a great choice. It provides the look and feel of hardwood without the price tag. For this reason, house flippers and long-time homeowners alike love it.

With laminates, you really get what you pay for.  Thickness, style, brand, pad attach, and warranty will all impact laminate pricing. The more features it has, the more you can expect to pay.

Cork, on the other hand, is costlier than laminate but less expensive than other hardwoods. This is largely due to its status as a renewable resource. Cork is considered a wood floor on property listings and it may increase your home’s value.

However, due to its unique look and softness, cork may not appeal to the average home buyer. If selling is your main priority, it can be helpful to consult a realtor that is familiar with your local housing market and can make recommendations on the floor type that will give you the most bang for your buck.

Another cost factor to consider is installation. If you plan to hire a professional to install your floor, you can expect to pay less for the laminate installation labor.

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The Verdict

The differences between cork and laminate flooring really comes down to durability, pet friendliness, sustainability, and cost. In other categories, they are similar.

If you are on a budget and want the look and feel of hardwood without the price tag, a floor that will stand up to pets, has a water-resistant option, and is low maintenance, laminate is an excellent choice.

Cork is the clear winner for eco-friendliness. You can refinish it if you need to. It also provides a distinctive look while still being affordable when you compare it to other hardwoods.

As a homeowner, it’s up to you to decide which flooring will work best in your situation and create an inspired space that will bring you joy for many years to come.

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Sarah Williamson

About Sarah Williamson

Sarah is a self-described “flooring nerd” with over a decade of building industry experience including installation, estimation, and sales. She thrives on finding unique solutions to interior design challenges and sharing her love of creating inspired spaces through writing.

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