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Cork Flooring For Bathrooms

There is a lot of controversy among professionals about whether cork is an appropriate flooring material for basement installations. On one hand it does have a number of properties which make it resistant to some of the challenges posed in subgrade locations. However it is not impervious to these factors, and depending on the environment it may not be an appropriate option for you.

Basic Cork Flooring Articles

Case Study

The contention seems to arise from ambiguity in information provided by the manufacturer of some of these products. In the case of Torlys, a fairly major provider of cork flooring products, the instructions for their Cork plank products specifically state that this material is “well suited for all residential rooms including bathrooms.”

The problem arises later in the document, where the instructions clearly state that you need to “Maintain a healthy humidity at 40-60%.” It also advises you never to wet mop the floor. This implies that the floor should, if possible, not get wet. Of course, in most bathrooms the humidity is going to occasionally rise far above 60% and spills and drips are bound to occur.

Cork Bathroom Flooring Options

Solid Cork Tiles: This is the most common incarnation of cork flooring materials, with individual self adhesive tiles which are installed directly onto the subfloor. The tiles generally have a UV treated polyurethane finish on the surface, however in a bathroom, you still need to seal the tiles multiple times in order to make the seams water repellent.

The problem with solid cork tiles is that they are very soft, and when you walk on them occasionally the tiles will bend, slightly, causing the seams to break apart and the sealer to crack. This can allow moisture to penetrate down into the substructure of the floor, causing adhesive to loosen and mold to form.

In addition to this, a high level of humidity in the air can cause the material to plump, and expand. This means that a steaming shower can end with a floor full of popping cork pieces. For this reason solid cork is generally not recommended for installation in bathrooms.

Click Together Floating Cork Bathroom Floors

These are tiles and planks that are constructed with a 3mm cork surface layer adhered to a fiberboard backing. The surface layer gets a UV-cured polyurethane wear layer which coats the top of the piece making it impervious to moisture penetration. This can be combined with a vapor barrier underlayment and a coat of seam sealer to make the installation nearly impervious to water.

You should only consider installing the highest quality floating cork materials in a bathroom. You want to make sure that the manufacturer approves its use in high moisture environments, and that installation in this area will not void your warranty. In addition you want to make sure that the materials have a thick, durable wear layer, and that you have a quality sealer to apply to the seams. You also need to seal the perimeter with silicone upon completion.

The drawback is that these engineered pieces still suffer from the expansion issues that solid cork pieces have in high humidity areas. Because of this even top quality floating cork floors will only be appropriate for certain bathrooms, where spills and splashes can be avoided.

Drawbacks To Cork In a Bathroom

Excessive spills, and standing water, can plump, warp, and distort the flooring materials.
If water penetrates the seams it can get under the tile, causing the adhesive to come loose.
Humidity will cause the tiles to expand and contract, popping them from their installation.
Refinishing in small bathroom spaces is difficult due to the size of the machinery required.

Benefits Of Cork In a Bathroom

Cork does have a natural resistance to moisture, and is a better choice than many hardwoods or carpet alternatives in this space.
Individual tiles can be easily replaced if damaged, especially if you install click together pieces.
Cork naturally resists the growth of mold and mildew, although they can get a foothold if excessive moisture is allowed to stand.