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Cork has been getting a lot of attention nowadays as a fantastic flooring material. It owes its popularity to a broad range of attractive properties, which we’ll explore in this article.
But one of the questions we hear most often is: what about bathrooms? Will cork be able to deal with the additional moisture? Is it a reliable choice?
Let’s dive into the details and try to find out.
Is cork flooring suitable for bathrooms?
We should start by examining how the natural qualities of cork make it a very apt choice for a bathroom.
The need for cleanliness and hygiene is one of the first things that come to everybody’s mind when it comes to those spaces in our houses, and cork is, in fact, a valiant ally in the fight against microbes and allergens.
Due to its chemical composition, it is naturally resistant to mold and mildew. It also does not trap dust, pollen, or pet dander, which makes it excellent for people with allergies: allergens can’t penetrate the smooth surface, making it very easy to clean (you’ll find more on cleaning and maintenance tips below).
Due to its characteristic structure – it’s made up of millions of cells that act like minuscule air-filled chambers – cork is a great insulator, so it’s not easy for temperature or sound to come through. This may be especially useful in houses with more than one level.
It’s often desirable for bathrooms to have good sound insulation – after all, no one wants their nice, warm shower to be accompanied by noises from other rooms. And we’re not particularly fans of ice-cold tiles on our naked feet!
Cork and water
And so, we come to this critical matter, the one that most worries people when they are considering using cork in their bathrooms: what about moisture? After all, this is where we shower, bathe, and wash our hands. Can cork handle it?
Firstly, it’s important to note that cork is naturally resistant to liquids, due to a waxy substance in its chemical composition named suberin. This is easy to verify by simply looking at a wine stopper. As this suggests, cork is also resistant to stains, which is another great advantage.
Please keep in mind that this doesn’t mean that cork is invulnerable to water, even though it is better in that regard than, for example, hardwood. You should take some precautions, as shall be seen below.
Maintenance and prevention
The main risk is that the cork absorbs water, which could cause it to swell and, consequently, warp. That risk is particularly present when there is excessive moisture. However, this is by no means a reason to panic, as it’s possible to take good, effective measures to counter it.
To begin with, there’s no substitute for proper maintenance, even though maintenance of cork isn’t complicated: simply clean it up regularly, by vacuuming or sweeping, to keep it free from dirt and grime. Also, always wipe up liquid spills as soon as you can.
You can occasionally use a damp mop for a more thorough cleaning, but avoid harsh cleaning chemicals, which could damage the finish. Instead, opt for a mild cleaner, appropriate for cork.
Another important precaution is good sealing. A high-quality sealant acts as a protective barrier, making it extra hard for water to seep through.
Good ventilation, in the form of an exhaust fan or an open window, is important to help water evaporate and vapor dissipate.
Placing rugs and mats in strategic spots, where there are frequent spills or water accumulation, is also a good idea. The rugs will help to absorb the water and protect the flooring.
Finally, if you detect any sign of damage to the flooring, take notice of it and, ideally, correct it as soon as possible, as damage can grow and become more costly or time-consuming to fix later. Signs of damage could be swelling, discoloration, or changes in texture, and early detection can make all the difference.
Repairing cork floors
The appropriate ways to repair flooring in bad condition will depend on the severity of the damage.
Often, refinishing is enough. This involves sanding the surface and applying a new finish, to fix minor problems and restore the original appearance. If the problems aren’t minor, though, you may have to replace an entire area of the flooring. In case of doubt or difficulty, call a professional.
Comparison with other flooring materials
If you’re trying to make a decision, the most logical approach is to compare cork with the other most common bathroom flooring materials. This is basically what you should have in mind:
- Cork vs. Tile: Cork is softer and more malleable, and therefore more comfortable than porcelain or ceramic tiles. It is also more insulating in terms of both temperature and sound. However, tile is extremely resistant to water. Cork, on the other hand, requires sealing and some maintenance to be used in a bathroom.
- Cork vs. Vinyl: Cork is, again, softer and more insulating. It should also be said that it’s more eco-friendly and more stylish. The advantage of vinyl is, as with tile, that it’s waterproof.
If you are looking for a flooring material for your bathroom that is both elegant and practical, cork can make a great case for itself. It is an ideal choice, as more and more homeowners have found out in recent years: clean, comfortable, and durable.
Make sure that you follow our tips on maintenance and on preventing damage from water, so that your beautiful new flooring will withstand many decades to come.