The Beauty of Cork Flooring

September 8, 2008 Updated: September 8, 2008

We usually think of cork as something we attach to our walls and stick memos to, or pull from a wine bottle, but cork has been used in flooring in Europe for over 300 years. At first glance, it seems that cork would be easily damaged because of its softness, but cork is tougher then you think. It is a strong and resilient product made of millions of honeycomb cells that hold air pockets, and therefore lends itself to be a quality floor product.

Cork comes from the bark of a cork tree, and when carefully harvested will not kill the tree, thus making this product a good eco-choice for home or commercial use. The cork tree itself has a lifespan of over 200 years, and if only 50 percent of the bark is peeled away, the tree can be harvested once every nine years. Cork has been a renewable material for thousands of years. A tree called the “Whistler Tree” (because of the songbirds that dwell in its branches), found in the Alentejo region of Portugal, is said to yield over a ton of cork per harvest and has been used since 1783! It is the oldest cork tree in the world.

I remember the panic-stricken call of a lady who had just installed a cork floor in her kitchen only to have the movers drop her stove on it! The stove made deep marks in the floor, which she thought was ruined for good. Then, just like magic a few hours later, the cork healed itself by springing back to its full beauty! She and the relieved movers came to believe that cork is indeed tough and can withstand almost anything.

What other benefits can cork bring? If you are on a second floor or doing an addition to an attic, cork is an excellent choice, as it reduces noise. Cork absorbs sound, unlike wood, which echoes sound, making it even louder. If you have foot traffic above you, cork will muffle the sound quite a bit.

Dislike cleaning or have little time to do so? Again cork is your friend, as cleaning is as easy as a vinegar spray bottle and a dust mop. Cork repels dust mites and mold. It is anti-static and fire retardant. It also can regulate the temperature of a room and keep it cool in the summer and warm in the winter.

Cork comes in a multitude of incredible designs and a wide range of colors. White cork looks like finely polished marble without the upkeep or slippery surfaces. There are also a variety of installations, including rolls, tiles, and click systems, which do not require any glue, making cork very safe for sensitive individuals. If the company uses a top finish, find out if it is tough and safe.

Cork can fade in the sun if not treated or protected properly, but also does better in dry locations than moist ones. Opt for a kitchen installation rather than a bathroom.

Most building supply stores have cork as a flooring option. Make sure you shop around, though. Cheap cork will not last as long as the thicker, higher-quality brand. And ask about the warranty before you buy; good-quality cork will have a 25-year warranty.

In your search for reliable, comfortable flooring, give cork serious consideration. It will be kind to your feet and legs, and stand up to pets and kids. Cork can go in almost any interior design, and its beauty will make you happy for many years to come! 

Mrs. Sim has been living an eco-conscience lifestyle for over 20 years. She is the founder of “Future Green,” one of the first stores in the country solely devoted to offering a complete line of sustainable products, including Fair Trade products, organic, recycled, and non-toxic building supplies. For more information, see Futuregreen.net