Laminate vs Cork Flooring

Laminate vs Cork Flooring

Laminate and cork both make what I call great “casual” floorings. They work well in less formal rooms: bedrooms, main living areas, “man cave’s,” etc.

Other than that, they don’t have many similarities. Below, both floors are compared in 7 important categories to most homeowners. This should let you choose which makes the cut for your home.

Cost

If you are looking to compare costs, laminate will usually end up being the less expensive option compared to cork.

Laminate floors run from less than $2 on the low end to between $3-5 for mid-range and as much as $10 per square foot for the most expensive types. Usually, the quality of the laminate will directly correspond to its cost, so most homeowners will not spend less than $3-5/sq. foot for living spaces, dining rooms, and bedrooms.

Cork flooring will usually start at about $4/sq. foot and goes up to $15/sq. foot. Cork costs more because it is normally imported into the country and the shipping costs are passed on to the consumer.

The winner? Laminate

Durability

Both laminate and cork flooring will give a durable surface able to stand up to a family and pets. This may seem surprising, given cork’s softness underfoot. That softness allows it to spring back into shape and helps it resist scratches and dents. The main drawback is that cork floors can permanently dent if placed beneath heavy furniture and deep scratches will show easily.

Laminate floors form a harder surface than cork and rely upon the synthetic surface layer to prevent scratches, water, and stains. As long as you are purchasing quality laminate, it should stand up against pet damage and regular wear and tear.

Normally, a well-maintained cork floor will last approximately 25 years. That is longer than a laminate floor, which usually has a lifespan of 15-20 years.

The winner? Cork

Moisture Resistance

Cork tiles need to be sealed then resealed every 5-10 years, but once sealed they are one of the best materials for keeping out moisture, mold, and mildew. This makes sense, as they are made out of the remnants left over after manufacturing wine corks. Sealed cork tiles are often used in bathrooms, which is one area you will not expect to find laminate flooring.

Laminate is not known for moisture resistance. The technology is better over the years, but before, you wouldn’t want any moisture of humidity coming in contact with your laminate. Today, that’s not the case, particularly with higher quality laminate. That said, I still wouldn’t leave a spill on it for too long.

The winner? Cork

Appearance

Cork flooring comes in either plank or tile forms. A cork veneer is usually placed on the outside of a core cork layer and that gives it its appearance. Some cork floors are patterned to resemble bamboo or marble, but you can also find cork flooring that looks just like the cork wood underneath. You can usually pick out the style that you like best and there are quite a few to choose from.

Laminate floors are made out of a synthetic top layer adhered to a plywood or fiberboard base. The top layer shows a picture of either wood, tile, or stone. The best laminate floors will closely resemble their corresponding floor element, but none can exactly imitate the look and texture of the real thing.

Laminate gives you more variety, but cork has its own unique look. That gets bonus points in my book, but if you don’t like the look or want more choices, laminate will be your go-to.

The winner? Cork

Installation

Both laminate and cork flooring are fairly easy to install.

Cork flooring is usually put together one of three ways. Some types are able to be clicked together like laminate and installed as a floating floor, but other times they will need to be glued or stapled down to the floor.

Laminate floors are easy as far as DIY flooring projects go. Laminate floor planks have an interlocking feature on the side which allow them to click together quickly and easily. Even beginning DIY installers can learn how to bring the boards together and can install a laminate floor with almost no tools or special skills.

The winner? Laminate


Captain’s warning!When installing laminate floors, make sure to tap gently when locking the planks together. The protective surface layer is easily damaged when struck heavily with a hammer or mallet.

Cleaning and Maintenance

Both laminate and cork floors will stand up well against heavy foot traffic in your home with regular cleaning and care. They are both stain resistant and can be cleaned with a simple broom or vacuum. When properly sealed and installed, cork floors can be mopped clean.

In the long term, cork flooring will require more maintenance than laminate floors. Depending on the floor and the sealant you use, it will need to be resealed every five to ten years or it can suffer from water damage and moisture. Laminate floors do not need to be resealed but there are special cleaners you can buy that will keep them looking like new for many years.

The winner? Laminate

Comfort

One of the major draws for cork is that the material is soft underfoot and easy to walk on. That, combined with its natural resistance to water, makes it a popular floor for places like the kitchen where you may be standing for a long time.

When you walk on cork, it will insulate against heat and cold and soften under your step. If you have pets that can reduce the noise level in your home. Laminate, however, is a solid surface underfoot. Footsteps and paws can make an artificial sounding noise on laminate floors.

The underlayment will help keep noise levels down with a laminate floor, and some of the best underlayment will almost eliminate the noise levels altogether. Yet even with underlayment, laminate floors will not be able to match the softness and give of cork flooring.

The winner? Cork

Environmental impact

Even though it is imported from Europe, cork is still one of the greenest flooring choices you can make. It comes from the bark of the cork oak tree, which regrows its bark every few years after harvesting without any damage to the tree itself.

The material for cork floors comes from leftover cork in the wine bottle cork industry. The scrap pieces are remade into flooring. This reduces the overall level of waste in the wine bottle industry and gives you an eco-friendly option for your home.

Laminate floors have come a long way in terms of sustainability. Their base layer is made out of particle board or plywood, which reuses the scraps of other wood projects. In some cases, up to 80 percent of the laminate floor can be recycled.

Since laminate floors can be made locally, there might be fewer shipping costs to the environment with laminate. That is one clear advantage it has over cork, even though on the whole, it is a less eco-friendly option.

The winner? Cork

Captain’s parting words!

Cork flooring may not be the first idea that comes to mind when you envision your flooring plan, but it has many benefits compared to a well-known choice like laminate floors.

Both are relatively easy to install and keep clean within your home. No two cork boards are going to look identical, but the same cannot be said of laminate floors. Cork also brings a mixture of durability, comfort, and environmental awareness to the home.

Laminate floors are a great choice if you want a less expensive option that looks consistent anywhere you lay it down. It is very easy to clean and unlike cork, it will not need to be resealed every 5-10 years.

If you’re interested in laminate, check out the Captain’s unbiased laminate guide (no guide on cork yet!). Any questions on laminate or cork? Let me know in the comments below.

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