hardwood vs cork

Hardwood vs Cork Flooring

You’re definitely familiar with hardwood floors.

But cork flooring?

Isn’t cork something you use to plug your wine bottle?

Well yes, but it’s also used in flooring. And I think it’s one of the most underutilized floors. I’ll explain why below.

But even though I do enjoy a well-placed cork floor, this article is 100% designed to give you a fair breakdown between hardwood and cork (and I don’t own a cork farm, so no bias here).

In other words, what advantages will you get if you choose cork over hardwood? But also, what will you miss that you won’t find in cork but would in hardwood?

Cost

Often times, homeowners are interested in hardwood flooring but the cost is the turn-off. It can cost 3x (or more) than alternative flooring options.

But how does it compare to cork?

Well, about the same as it does to other types of flooring. On average, I’d say you’ll want double the budget for hardwood floors. Bamboo flooring is in the $3-$8 range and hardwood is in the $8-$16 range. Both floors can be outside there ranges but most of the time the price will fall somewhere between.

The winner? Cork.

Durability

You can’t talk flooring without talking durability.

After all, it doesn’t matter how much you love a floor if it’s not going to look the same in 6 months. And we just talked about costs—the only way to truly know the cost of a floor is to also know how long it will last.

In general, cork is more susceptible to damage than hardwood. It’s softness and can be a weakness. For example, furniture legs and high heels can both pierce through cork flooring. Even dust and debris can potentially scratch it if not cleaned regularly and there is a lot of friction.

This isn’t to save cork has no advantages in the durability department. It may not hold up to a high heel, but it does hold up well against moisture. Just remember, if cork can sit dipped in wine for years, it can probably handle your spilled wine in the kitchen.

The winner? Hardwood.


Captain’s warning! The finish is critical for both cork and hardwood durability. Both floors need to be regularly cleaned to protect the finishes but also re-finished every 1-3 years. It’s like getting an oil change for a car. Even great cars get damaged if you don’t follow the maintenance.

Comfort

Remember how we talked about cork being used in wine bottles?

That’s because it’s squishy enough to stuff in the bottle.

That’s good news for your joints when you have a cork floor. Cork is hard enough to walk on (more on this in durability), but you definitely still get the more cushioned feeling you’d expect.

Hardwood on the other hand… well, I’m sure I don’t have to lecture you that “hard”wood is hard. This may or may not be a big deal to you but is worth pointing out.

The winner? Cork.

Insulation

I’m talking insulation for sound and noise here.

Cork is a like a sponge, and it absorbs sounds and cold air trying to push through your floor.

Hardwood tends to echo sound more, and on cold days, your feet will get cold touching the floor. You can always use a rug (check out our rug guide) in areas where you walk, but with cork, you don’t have to worry about it.

The winner? Cork.

Eco-friendliness

A lot of people have turned to cork as a more eco-friendly alternative to hardwood flooring. Unlike cork, hardwood flooring means cutting down trees and using the materials for wood. Cork is a renewable resource because instead of harvesting the tree itself, they remove the bark from the tree, which is the cork. This grows back over time, which means it’s more sustainable than trees and can take a long time to harvest.

The winner? Cork.

Which Flooring is Better for Allergies?

Allergies are on the rise. Sometimes you’ll hear recommendations like, “Avoid carpet if you have allergies.” This might be overrated, but what about cork vs hardwood?

Is there a better floor for allergy suffers.

It looks like there isn’t. What makes hardwood preferable to carpet is that allergens can’t hide in the floor. This makes it easier to wipe up dust, pollen, and pet dandruff with a mop or broom.

Cork shares this same advantage.

The winner? Tie.

Which floor looks better?

That can be a tough question to answer because with hardwood flooring, you have tons of choices. You can choose from a variety of species of wood, which means you probably have a greater diversity in selection with hardwood flooring than what you might get with cork. However, that doesn’t put cork out of the race for superiority.

Even though cork doesn’t come in different varieties, you do have options. For example, you can buy this material as either planks or tiles. You also have a variety of styles, sizes, and colors to choose from. You can play with the designs: some people have used alternating colors of cork to create a less traditional pattern effect.

But at the end of the day, hardwood is the higher-end floor that more people than not will agree is better looking (than about all flooring). That said, cork is a unique trendy look. So if you want less classy and more trendy, you might find cork to be better looking.

The winner? Hardwood.


Captain’s fun fact! Legendary designer architect Frank Lloyd Wright used cork for his famous Fallingwater Project. So while hardwood may be considered the better looking by most, you’re in good company if you have an eye for cork floors.

Maintenance required

Neither cork nor hardwood is high maintenance. Have a mop and broom? You have everything you need to take care of these floors.

It is recommended you mop, sweep, or vacuum your floors weekly. It gets allergens out of your home, but it also helps your floor last longer. Both floors, but cork in particular, can be worn by dust and debris. Not to mention, you’ll have to refinish the floors more frequently if you don’t keep up with regular cleaning.

That brings us to our next point: both floors will need occasional refinishing. The finish is like wax on a car. It protects the appearance, but it wears off. Your particular floor and use of it will change how much you have to re-finish, but every one to three years isn’t uncommon.

The winner? Tie.

Is cork or hardwood better for a home with termites?

This doesn’t apply to most people, but if your home has a history of termites, your floor can be termite candy. And the last thing you want to do for your termites is feed them dinner.

The good news is both cork and hardwood aren’t termites dinner of choice. Cork is typically covered with wax or other coatings that naturally repels termites.

Hardwood is still wood, so termites may go after it. But remember the “hard” part? Termites don’t like that. They prefer softer woods. This is why you’ll probably do okay with cork or hardwood flooring.

The winner? Cork.

Captain’s parting words!

Cork and hardwood both have a place in the home. The question is which is best for your home?

In main living areas where there are high-heels and heavy furniture, hardwood makes the better choice. Want an elegant luxury look? Again, go with hardwood.

But if you want something dinner, maybe for a kitchen, bathroom, man-cave, or other “extra” room, cork stands out more than most flooring because you rarely see it. And you’ll get the benefit of great insulation from weather and noise as well as its comfort has no flooring challengers except carpet.

So which did you choose? If you like hardwood, check out our hardwood guide. Is cork your winner? Check out our cork flooring guide.

Any other questions on cork or hardwood? Let me know in the comments below.

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Tanja

Thank you, this is helpful as I couldn’t make up my mind. I still can’t but I love the feeling and warmth of cork under my bare feet, hardwood feels much colder compared. So I’d add that cork is a few degrees higher in temperature for those with permanently cold feet like me, it’s a great sound insulator and much better and easier for the legs and feet to walk on.