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Installing Cork Floors in Kitchen

I'm considering installing cork floors in my kitchen. Does anyone have experience with cork flooring? Can you tell me about the plusses & minuses?

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  1. Hey, so am I! I've been researching it a little bit, I would be eager to hear what you've learned so far. As far as I've learned, the pros are:

    - It's softer, so it's more comfortable to stand on for prolonged periods and slightly less likely to break things that are dropped on it.

    - It's made from tree bark, a renewable resource.

    The only con I know of so far stems from the softness: it's more prone to being gouged by sharp objects than a tile floor.

    1. i'll be installing one in the near future.

      do not use the snap together, think pergo, laminates; they are not good for potentially wet environments despite any claims from the maker.

      don't buy a prefinished product. in order to ensure water resistance, the product has to be finished in situ so that the gaps between the tiles will be filled with the sealer. if you buy prefinished, you'll just have to sand off the finish, which is a pain with factory-applied finishes. also, cork is temperature sensitive, so you have to watch the heat generated by sanding; taking off an existing factory finish is even harder given this constraint.

      on the plus side, as noted already, they are comfortable to stand on. they also tend to feel warmer than harder flooring choices. they dampen noise. dropped objects are less likely to break. it's relatively easy to do spot repairs since it's a glue-down tile; just remove the damaged piece, glue down a new one, sand and finish while feathering the repaired finish onto the adjoing tiles. the floor can be refinished several times before it becomes too thin. cork works well with radiant heat as there are no mechanical fasteners.

      on the negative side, they are easier to damage; a dropped knife that lands point down will likely leave a mark that looks like a scratch (cork tends to be somewhat self-sealing; as long as no material is removed, it will close up around the wound - however, water-resistence will remain compromised as the finish is not self-sealing). sharpish objects, knives, pan edges, etc, that strike it at an oblique angle can remove material fairly easily. the soft surface distresses fairly easily from pet claws, chair scuffs, etc. if you don't mind a "worn" patina in relatively short order, it's a good choice. if you like your new stuff to stay pristine for long periods, i'd reconsider. as far as dropped object damage goes, it seems about as durable as floating vinyl installations. heavy objects, refrigerators, etc, tend to sink in over time, leaving dents that won't fully rebound, and making it hard to move the object. you might consider a piece of 1/4" plywood or a sturdy-gauge piece of stainless steel to go under objects like the frig to distribute the weight evenly. as with most natural, organic products, if water gets under it, you're probably hosed.

      we use commercial-grade resilient rubber mats in our kitchen at the main work stations. (not pretty, but they work for us.) our intention is to continue using these mats with the cork floor to protect the places most likely to be damaged.

      1. Thanks for all for your input. I'm choosing between the cork & returning to rubber flooring (Pirelli commercial flooring IIRC -- the stuff you see in airports, hospitals etc) which I had years ago & loved. Easy on feet, easy to clean, warm in winter, cool in summer, forgiving to dropped stuff. The only negative I recall is that it eventually got quite scuffed but I understand there are better, more durable waxes, finishes these days. My hesitation about going back to rubber is the been-there-done-that syndrome. Always tempted by something new & different. LOL

        1. As a RE agent I see a lot of houses. We have a lot of homes that were built in the 50's and many of them have the original cork floors that just keep on going and going. I remember my parents building a home in the 50's in Savannah and having cork floors installed with 4 kids and 4 dogs those floors took a pounding. Cork like hardwoods just keep going and going. I have wood in my kitchen and like it but if I were in market again for new flooring cork is something I certainly would consider.

          1 Reply
          1. re: Candy

            I also grew up with cork floors in the 50s -- LA instead of the East Coast. To us, they were just "floors" -- what do kids know? But I remember my mother wishing for some serious damage or wear so that she could replace them.

            When it was time to wax them, we had a ball skating around on rags to do the polishing. There was never any damage to these hardy floors and she finally bit the bullet and covered them simply because she got tired of them. When my brother and I sold the family home 45+ years later, there they were. Good as new.

            I have bamboo throughout my whole house but would certainly consider cork if/when replacement time comes. They were indestructible.

          2. We had a cork tile floor installed in a kitchen more than 20 years ago (long since moved out) and absolutely loved it. Easy on the back and feet, on anything we dropped, easy to clean, no cons except the color/pattern selection - it hasn't changed in all these years.

            1. We just installed cork flooring in our kitchen a few weeks ago. They are 1-by-3 foot planks, with a thin layer of cork on both sides, and fiberboard in between. So far we love it, feels great underfoot etc etc. I wouldn't want to drag anything sharp-edged along it, but I wouldn't want to do that on any other surface either.

              1. Cork? Yikes. Personally, I would be concerned that in 5-ten years, this will be the equivalent of the 70's green carpet and orange accents everywhere. Have you considered bamboo or tile? Either way, do your homework, and you will do great. Best of luck!

                5 Replies
                1. re: Max Fischer

                  Really? Cork floors have been around for quite some time. I'd think bamboo flooring would suffer from a dated look more easily.

                  1. re: ATaleOfFiction

                    I live in Ohio and our local art museum has had cork floors ever since I was a little girl (the 50s). Even with all the wear, they are interesting, classic and beautiful. You can see where chunks have gotten dug out over the year, and those chunks are filled in with the surface coating, but just add to the richness and natural agelessness of the floors.

                    I was just told by my contractor that the tile I wanted on my floor would be very expensive to lay because we'd have to pull up the vinyl and put down an underlayment, so I'm back to looking at cork and am getting very excited.

                    Does anyone have some experience with laying cork on a vinyl surface that is on a crawl space or basement?

                    1. re: rebiljoj

                      Cork floors also require a new underlay, as far as I know. They telegraph any imperfections in the base layer.

                      1. re: mlgb

                        OId, old, thread, but modern floating cork floors are over a quarter-inch thick and hide imperfections in the subfloor. They're not the same as the old eighth-inch cork tiles.

                        I installed prefinished cork about seven months ago, and would never even think about any other surface again. Water damage between the planks is a non-issue, at least with the brand I chose. To test it, I submerged a sample in water for 48 hours, and it dried out to exactly the same as new, save for a slight discoloration in the middle composite layer, which is invisible when the floor is installed.

                        Go for it. It's an all-time classic.

                  2. re: Max Fischer

                    Yeah,bamboo? that is so 1998! :) Bamboo is already in its lackluster heyday, where cheap knockoffs and big box stock abounds!

                  3. My dad put them in our brand new house in West Los Angeles in 1953, I remember they were very comfortable, looked great lots of complements, but women that wore high heels would put indententations in the flooring, we had to warn them to take off their shoes before coming into the house.

                    1. I'd call Living Green for info. They have a wide selection and (one of the ladies there) were able to answer all my questions on cork. They specialize in sustainable/green living.

                      10000 Culver Boulevard, Culver City, CA 90232

                      1. We installed cork floor in our kitchen 4 months ago. It is not the clicking kind. It is glued on. The tiles themselves are very thin (like 1/4 inch?) and all cork, no fibreboard. As part of the installation, 1/8 inch plywood was first installed on top of the subfloor. The tile was not pre-finished. So 3 coats of varnish was put on after the tiles are glued down. The planks came in 3 different widths so we alternated the widths to get a subtle pattern.

                        We love the floor, it is soft on the feet. It is also warmer than hardwood which is great. We have a few scratches already from moving appliances. But the flooring company gave us a repair kit including some sort of colour powder that we can use to repair the scratches. You can hardly tell where they are. Aside from those, we haven't had other damages. We have 2 dogs and a child so we were expecting more scratches.

                        1. I'm the one in the kitchen a lot and I wanted cork for comfort but for whatever reason my sweet wife didn't, so I cut a deal with her that we could have hardwood as long as I could have commercial rubber mats in the key work areas. This is what we did, and it works well for both of us. Because of the woods (dark-grained oak in cabs and floors) and appliances (SS with black accents) in our kitchen, the black industrial mats actually look pretty cool.

                          That said, I'd still say from the functional standpoint cork is the way to go unless you have iron muscles in your legs and comfort doesn't matter. Tile IMO is the worst way to go from the comfort standpoint. I think the clean-up aspect is overrated.

                          1. fauchon, this is ancient history for you, but for others considering cork who may find this discussion, I have had cork in my kitchen for 6 years now. For many patterns (and there are many, MANY patterns, sizes and colors available) you have to be on your hands and knees to notice virtually anything on cork floors. The patterns hide dirt, scratches, dropped food, spills, and even dents. I am an admitted floor abuser - I have put down maybe two coats of poly since the initial two when I had the floor installed (where I have seen maintenance recommendations of 3 per year) and wash the floors maybe twice a year, at most. No polishing, nothing but vacuuming twice a week if I get around to it. Yet the floor gets a rave review every time someone comes to visit, even repeat visitors. Cork is timeless, and is still unique enough to be the first time anyone has ever seen it for most of my visitors and neighbors. All the other things are true, too: warm, soft, comfortable, sustainable and easy to fix (tho I haven't had to yet).

                            I hope you went for it fauchon!

                            2 Replies
                            1. re: srdill

                              Me, too. We are ripping out an old vinyl floor and I *really* wanted cork -- but the cost of leveling my floor plus the cost of the cork was too prohibitive this time around. Alas, we went for vinyl. But at least it's new, cushioned vinyl.

                              To "Max Fischer" re the idea that cork will look dated -- that might be true, but it will be no more dated than granite countertops or stainless appliances, which are much more pervasive these days. Cork has two advantages: the sustainability aspect, and its cushioning properties, both on feet and noise. It seems likely that some people will value these factors over any design aesthetic.

                              1. re: hollerhither

                                It's hard to imagine that cork will become dated. The largest (or at least best known???) flooring company, Armstrong, wasn't called called Armstrong Cork Company for many years for nothing. Cork has been used as a flooring material since before most of our parents were born, and I would say for good reason.

                            2. We put ours down about 2 years ago, and we love it. it's warm and giving to stand on and looks great. we put down the prefinished cork boards and haven't had any trouble with scarring or cuts. we dampmop once a week and that's all it takes. Stuff doesn't break when you drop it either.

                              4 Replies
                              1. re: chazzerking

                                Probably a stupid question, but is cork used for florring like putting down a huge cork board?

                                Other than soft I quess I'm thinking it might absorb mositure when washing like a coaster.

                                Sorry if it is a stupid question.

                                I have quarry tiles and would love to replace them, was also thinking of bamboo.

                                1. re: hummingbird



                                  The new cork floors are prefinished and come in lots of colors, they're really very attractive and you can custom design a pattern. And they feel great underfoot!

                                  1. re: hummingbird

                                    as mlgb says, they come prefinished or unfinished so that you can finish them yourself. When we put ours down, we were also looking at bamboo, but went with the cork for the comfort. it is very cushy, and if you stand for any significant time on tile, you know how uncomfortable that can be; cork is about as opposite from tile as I can conceive from that standpoint. I also happened to really like the look in our kitchen. It really warmed up the look of the room. Some people talk about scarring as a problem, but we haven't experienced that.

                                    1. re: chazzerking

                                      I love our cork floor. Granted we only put it down 2 or 3 months ago, but it looks fabulous. We chose a very dark colour, so it doesn't show a lot of the 'cork' pattern. The bad news is that it shows every cat hair in the house (and we have 3 cats), but I guess we'd have that problem with any darker floor. It looks amazing and it feels great.

                                2. We have cork floors in an addition and I love them. We are thinking of installing the same flooring in our kitchen. (We used the floating planks). However, we have a question:
                                  We have had terrible fading issues from the sun. The floor changes colors completely from one end to the other.
                                  Does anybody know a way to refinish? Has anyone else had this problem? The color we picked was a warm nutmeg color, but 1/2 of the room is almost white.

                                  1. we're thinking of putting cork floors in the kitchen. We are about to do a whole kitchen reno. but we have some concerns like what if the dishwasher floods. (which I've seen happen a few times). My question is "do the cabinates go in first then the cork floor is cut around them? Or does the cork floor go down then the cabinates on top? and what about the frig and dishwasher area? Thanks

                                    2 Replies
                                    1. re: bklynruark

                                      As with all flooring, it goes up to the cabinets, but the cabinets need to get shimmed up to meet the level of your new flooring (e.g. if your underlayment + flooring =1/2", then you need to make sure the bottom of your cabinets is 1/2" off the floor. You can always lay your flooring under the cabinets, but if you're paying for premium flooring, then it's a real waste. Dishwashers have feet tha can be adjusted to the proper height; whether your flooring goes under depends on how it's installed. If any part of the flooring is visible with the appliance in place, then put a 6" apron of flooring at the front of the appliance and plywood under the remainder or just level the feet. A built-in fridge need not be installed over flooring, a free-standing fridge should have flooring underneath.

                                      1. re: bklynruark

                                        I would just add that to me dishwasher flooding suggests a need for repair or replacement. I've used several dishwashers of various ages and conditions and brands in various different kitchens I've lived with over the years and never seen that. Maybe I'm just lucky, but I really don't think that should happen at all if it's installed properly. Main point being that I don't think that needs to be a concern in your choice of flooring. A minor spill shouldn't matter anyway, and a major water issue is likely to damage something else (like the bottoms of the cabinets, the subfloor, etc.) even if the floor is vinyl or tile.

                                      2. I installed cork floors in my kitchen 2 years ago when I wasn't able to refinish the room's orginal woods floors, which were badly damaged. I thought cork would offer some of the benefits of wood, and it does.
                                        Cork is natural and absorbs sound and shock. My kitchen is much less noisy and I haven't broken a dish-- I'm really clumsy. It's soft on the feet and on the eyes, and it's durable and hides dirt. (http://www.expanko.com/CORK/CORK-Prod...) People walk on it and say, "What is this floor, it's so cool!"

                                        That said, I would have done the following differently:
                                        1. Hired someone with lots of experience installing cork. If the floor isn't perfectly level, it spoils the affect and you see the seems.
                                        2. Lay out the floor ahead of time. The tiles can vary slightly in color, especially from box to box.
                                        3. Sunlight fades cork, and my kitched has a southern exposure. I chose a newer style that's has espresso tones and the floor is quite faded near the window.

                                        1. I had both hardwood and cork. Hated both, not for the look or the comfort of cork. But I often get many people in my kitchen and things drop, I also have pets DOG not currently but did. Big claws just didn't work well over a few years. Also water damage. My dishwasher broke, damage galore. But comfortable but it was in a somewhat sunny location (part of the floor). One half faded slightly and looked lousy with the rest.

                                          Hardwood, again pets, my refrigerator leaked while on VACA. What an expense that was. And just water damage in all. Getting ice cubes from the freezer, not noticing that maybe you dropped one or 2 and then wake up to soaked in.

                                          Never again on either. I love the look don't get me wrong. But too many cons for me.

                                          1. See my above of the last post. I love cork, I love oak. I had oak and cork and got rid of both. Had oak however in all other rooms including tile through the hall ways.

                                            It really depends on the family. I had a child and many other kids always came other, also many parties where people would accidentally spill something or drop something and then just doesn't work good in the kitchen for me. We had an accidental leak from the fridge while on vacation, the dishwasher one other time and it was only 3 years old. I loved the feel, but just too much work. My husbands friends came over one night, big birthday party, lots of beer, lots of fun but yes, a couple of glasses were accidentally knocked over, red wine on the cork floor, also one heavy pan dropped on my oak once, a nice indent.

                                            Anyways, I am sure you will get opposite opinions and it really depends on your lifestyle which I think you have to decide which works best. For me, it wasn't practical.

                                            2 Replies
                                            1. re: kchurchill5

                                              I know this is an old thread, but I thought I'd try. I'm thinking about getting cork in my kitchen and we have 2 toddlers and parties several times a year. To kchurchill5, were your cork floors pre-finished or did you apply a protective finish after installation? I'm just wondering if it makes a difference with the wear issues. I was under the impression that the poly top coat helped significantly and made the floors stand up to heavy traffic.

                                              1. re: mgtates

                                                If you do a topcoat of poly, your floors will be as indestructible as any plant product can be. However, if you're really worried about water damage, why don't you check into real, old-fashioned linoleum? It's made from linseed oil and various plant matter, and is close to waterproof as almost anything. It has nothing -- absolutely nothing -- to do with vinyl flooring.

                                                And if money isn't a huge issue, check out PVC flooring. Probably the most jaw-dropping floor I've ever seen was a roll PVC I saw in a designer's showhouse. It had a subtle texture and color variegation -- and the homeowner told me her 10 x 12 kitchen cost her almost $8000 to floor. Now, that's an extreme case, and it was several years ago. But they also had a sample of it out on the counter with a claw hammer, where they invited people to do their best to damage it. Couldn't make the slightest mark in it. Worth it? Well, I'm not a class-action lawyer or a high-class prostitute, so I can't make it work money-wise. Your mileage may vary.

                                            2. Pet owners beware.

                                              We had a cork floor installed in our old style kitchen 10 years ago. It's comfortable to stand on and we love the crazy natural pattern it creates. The colour hides toast crumbs and bits of cereal, etc. and it's super easy to damp mop clean. All good.

                                              BUT our two small dogs really did a number on it and several chunks were taken out as they tore around corners when it was time to go outside.

                                              Also, water stained the area by the sink and fridge an ugly grey color - looks like dirt now. If you spill a bit of water or drop a couple of ice cubes and miss finding one it will create a problem when it melts.

                                              We weren't told that these floors need ongoing resealing. Had we done that sooner, it would be a much better looking floor now. Most of the floor looks ok still but at the back door and by the sink-fridge it is just ugh! We just resealed and it perked up the colour nicely except the grayed parts are also now more noticeable. There are lots of scratches over the surface that kind of blend in. When we no longer have dogs we plan to reinstall cork again.