Find Out Whether Cork Tiles Are Right for Use in Your Kitchen

Cork flooring has become an increasingly popular option for kitchen floors in recent years. If you’re considering cork tiles for your kitchen remodeling or new construction project, there are several factors to take into account to determine if they are the right choice for your space. This article will provide a detailed overview of cork tile flooring pros and cons, cost comparisons, maintenance needs, installation considerations, and style options to help you decide if cork is right for your kitchen.

An Introduction to Cork Tiles

Cork tile is a durable, natural flooring product made from the bark of the cork oak tree. The bark is harvested without harming the tree, which regenerates its outer layer every 9-12 years allowing for renewable harvests. Cork tiles are comprised of compressed cork flakes bonded together with suberin, a natural binder inherent to cork.

Some key benefits of cork tile flooring include:

  • Natural material – As a rapidly renewable natural product, cork is an eco-friendly flooring choice perfect for sustainable, green builds.
  • Moisture resistant – Cork naturally repels moisture and will not warp or swell when exposed to water or humidity fluctuations. This makes it an excellent kitchen flooring.
  • Sound absorption – With natural sound damping properties, cork floors reduce ambient noise and walking sound for a quieter indoor environment.
  • Comfort – Cork has a slight spring and softness underfoot, reducing fatigue for extended periods of standing. The warm, soft surface is gentle on feet and joints.
  • Insulating – With low thermal conductivity, cork floors keep interiors cooler in summer and warmer in winter helping to maintain efficient temperature regulation.

Cork tiles are typically available in 12″x12″ and 24″x24″ sizes in various thicknesses ranging from 3/16″ to 3/4″. Thicker tiles provide greater durability and performance. Tiles can be installed on virtually any hard subfloor surface including concrete, plywood, OSB and existing flooring. Most cork tile floors are finished with durable polyurethane coatings for scratch, stain and moisture resistance.

Now that we’ve covered the basics of what cork tile is, let’s look at some of the key considerations of whether it’s the ideal flooring choice for your new or remodeled kitchen.

Cork Flooring Pros for Kitchen Use

There are several beneficial properties that make cork a smart flooring choice for kitchen and dining areas including:

Naturally Water and Moisture Resistant

Kitchens inherently contain lots of moisture – from frequent sink use to cleaning, spills and high humidity from cooking. Cork repels water naturally due to its suberin binding agents. It will not swell, buckle or warp when exposed to wetness. Cork can even withstand standing water for hours without damage. This natural water resistance means cork floors can stand up to heavy daily use and moisture in busy kitchen spaces.

Adds Warmth & Softness Underfoot

Hard flooring materials like stone, ceramic tile or even wood can become tiring to stand on for extended prep and cooking time in the kitchen. Cork offers slight springiness and cushioning thanks to its honeycomb cell structure. This adds comfort, eases strain on feet, knees and backs during lengthy food prepping or cooking sessions in the kitchen.

Naturally Hygienic & Antimicrobial

The waxy suberin binder in cork contains an antimicrobial agent that helps to inhibit the growth of bacteria, mold and mildew. This natural ability to deter microbes makes cork a hygienic choice for kitchen floors prone to spills, debris and contaminants. Proper sealing and maintenance helps enhance cork’s antimicrobial qualities.

Excellent Sound Absorption

Noisy kitchen environments are less than ideal. Cork’s honeycomb and tube-like cell structure enables it to effectively absorb sound. Cork floors can reduce ambient noise and minimize pesky walking noise or chair scratches – a great benefit for open kitchen dining room floor plans.

Sustainable & Renewable Resource

In a world where sustainability and eco-consciousness are increasingly relevant, cork is naturally derived from the bark of Cork Oak trees without harming them. It’s easily replenished on a 9 year cycle. This makes cork an environmentally responsible flooring choice for earth-friendly homes and kitchens.

Natural Beauty & Visual Appeal

The rich, warm look and natural variations of cork floors add organic visual style to kitchen decors from Old World rustic to sleek modern spaces. Choose from natural tan hues or go bold with colorful options. The texture adds depth and interest underfoot as well.

Potential Cons of Cork Flooring in Kitchens

Despite the many positives, there are a few potential disadvantages of cork floors for kitchen use that are important to note:

Prone to Dents and Scratches

Although durable, cork is somewhat soft and can be prone to dents, scratches and indentation when subjected to heavy impacts or abrasives like unprotected chair legs, dropped cookware or pets claws. Proper finishes and care is required to preserve cork floors for a long lifespan.

Not Impervious to All Moisture

While highly moisture resistant, cork should not be subjected to standing water or flooding. Excessive water exposure can lead to deteriorating coatings, discoloration or buckling over time. Quick cleanup of spills is advised. Wet or damp mopping is fine, but avoid excessive water exposure.

Can Stain if Unsealed

Unfinished, raw cork is vulnerable to staining from spills. Proper sealing with a quality polyurethane finish provides a protective moisture and stain barrier for cork floors. Reapplying coats periodically will be needed for continued protection in a kitchen environment.

Requires Some Maintenance

Cork does not have the same “install and forget” ease of maintenance of materials like ceramic tile. It will need proper cleaning, occasional resealing and possibly refinishing after many years to retain its look and performance. This requires some care and maintenance commitment.

Not as Durable as Stone/Ceramic Tile

Stone, ceramic, porcelain or glass tile floors offer greater heavy duty durability for the rigorous demands and abuse kitchen floors encounter. Cork cannot compete with the extreme scratch, stain, impact and wear resistance of these non-porous floors.

Cork Flooring Cost Factors

Cork tile flooring offers a wide range of pricing based on the quality, thickness, size and finish level selected. Here are some factors that influence overall installed cork floor costs:

  • Tile thickness – Thicker cork tiles are more durable and cost more. 3/16″ thick options range $2-5 per sq. ft, with 1/4″ and 3/8″ tiles running $5-8 per sq. ft. High end 1/2″ or 3/4″ tiles run up to $12 per sq. ft.
  • Tile size – Larger 24″x24″ tiles typically cost $1-2 more per sq. ft. than smaller 12″x12″ tiles.
  • Finish – Pre-finished cork tiles cost $2-4 more per sq. ft. than unfinished options that require site finishing.
  • Adhesives – Waterproof, urethane adhesives are recommended for $3-5 per sq. ft. Budget friendly water-based adhesives run $1-2 per sq. ft.
  • Underlayments – For sound control and smoother installs, cork underlayment adds $0.50-1 per sq. ft.
  • Installation – Professional installation typically runs $4-7 per sq. ft. DIY installation cuts costs, but is labor intensive.
  • Total cost range – Considering tile, finishing and installation costs, expect to invest $7-15 per sq. ft. installed for quality cork kitchen floors.

Cork floor prices are very competitive with many other kitchen flooring options when you factor in the durability, performance and eco-friendly benefits it provides. Costs are very reasonable for a high end flooring material.

Maintenance Needs for Kitchen Cork Floors

All flooring materials require proper care and maintenance for optimal longevity. Here are some key maintenance tips for cork tile floors in busy kitchen spaces:

  • Seal and finish – Ensure tiles are factory pre-finished or site finished with at least 2 coats of water-based polyurethane for moisture and stain protection. Reapply finish coats every 2-5 years in kitchens.
  • Sweep and mop – Daily light sweeping and damp mopping removes surface debris that can scratch. Avoid excessive water exposure.
  • Protect floor – Use area rugs in high traffic zones and furniture pads under chair and table legs to prevent indentations.
  • Prompt cleaning – Immediately clean up any liquid spills to prevent possible staining. Spot clean as needed with clean water and mild cork floor cleaner.
  • Deep clean – Periodically deep clean floor with manufacturer recommended cork floor cleaner using a microfiber mop or rag, not excessive water.
  • Humidity control – Maintain moderate indoor air humidity between 40-60% to prevent cork from drying out or absorbing ambient moisture.

With proper installation, sealing, moisture precautions and regular maintenance, cork floors can provide many years of service in kitchen spaces. Their natural durability allows them to withstand the rigors of kitchen use with the proper care.

Cork Flooring Installation Tips for Kitchens

Proper installation is key to ensuring cork kitchen floors last for the long haul. Here are some top tips for successful floor preparation and cork tile installation:

  • Have the subfloor leveled and prepped to be clean, dry, and smooth beforehand. Fill any cracks or imperfections.
  • Test the subfloor and room for moisture issues first. Cork can bubble or unbond if excessive moisture exists.
  • Acclimate cork tiles to interior conditions for 1-2 days before install. Let tiles sit unopened in the kitchen until fully adapted.
  • Use premium waterproof urethane-based adhesives and follow the instructions precisely. This prevents moisture related failures.
  • Stagger tiles in a bricklike pattern for best visuals rather than a grid layout. Leave a 1/8″ gap along walls for expansion.
  • Once tiles are fully adhered, roll the entire floor with a 75-100 lb roller to strengthen bonds between tiles and subfloor.
  • Follow manufacturer instructions for proper cure times before allowing foot traffic or moving appliances onto floor.
  • Apply at least 2 protective coats of water-based polyurethane finish following label directions for drying time between coats.

Hiring experienced professionals for both subfloor prep and cork installation is advised to ensure optimal results long-term. But DIY is possible if you take care to closely follow all instructions.

Cork Tile Design Styles for Kitchens

One great perk of cork floors is they offer tons of style versatility fitting both rustic and modern kitchen designs beautifully. Here are some top cork tile floor style ideas:

Warm Farmhouse Chic

  • Natural tan cork colors
  • Square 12″ tiles
  • Textural appeal
  • Vintage style accents

Sleek Contemporary

  • Gray-toned cork planks
  • Glossy finish
  • Large format tiles
  • Matching wall textures

Urban Industrial

  • Bold solid-color corks
  • Varied neutral tones
  • Exposed pipes and vents
  • Minimalist lines

Inviting Cottage

  • Traditional patterns or motifs
  • Mix of cork and wood colors
  • Distressed finishes
  • Rustic ceramic accents

Eclectic Bohemian

  • Distressed multi-color tile mix
  • Moroccan or geometric patterns
  • Woven rag rugs
  • Global decor elements

Minimalist Scandinavian

  • Light clean color palettes
  • Visible cork texture
  • Seamless monochromatic scheme
  • Open airy space

Cork Flooring Frequently Asked Questions

Q: Is cork flooring durable enough for kitchen use?

A: Yes, when properly sealed and maintained, cork can withstand years of kitchen use. Opt for thicker tiles with polyurethane finishing for best durability.

Q: Can you use cork flooring in a bathroom?

A: We don’t recommend cork flooring in bathrooms as excessive moisture can damage it over time. Kitchens, laundry rooms, etc. are fine.

Q: Does cork flooring add resale value?

A: In general, cork floors add a small amount of value for their visual appeal, comfort and eco-friendly qualities. But likely not as much value as stone, ceramic or hardwood.

Q: Is cork anti-allergenic?

A: Yes, cork resists mold, mildew and dust mites making it a good choice for those with allergies. It also does not emit VOCs.

Q: Can cork flooring be refinished?

A: Yes, cork tiles can be sanded down and refinished with fresh coats of polyurethane periodically as needed to refresh and protect worn floors.

Q: Is cork flooring slippery?

A: Properly finished cork has anti-slip properties similar to wood. Cork gets grippier when wet actually. Maintenance keeps oils off the surface for reduced slip risks.

The Final Take: Is Cork Right for Your Kitchen Floor?

Cork flooring offers a versatile, comfortable, eco-friendly and visually appealing option that works beautifully in a wide variety of kitchen designs and spaces. Thanks to its moisture resistance, sound absorption, warmth and organic nature, cork floors provide a high performance solution able to withstand the rigors of daily kitchen use with proper maintenance and care.

Factors like your style, budget, durability needs and maintenance commitments should all be weighed as you evaluate if cork is the ideal flooring material to install in your kitchen remodel or new home build. But for many homeowners seeking a comfortable, inviting and sustainable kitchen floor, cork tiles can be an excellent choice.