Your mother was right when she told you, “wipe your feet at the front door.” Did you know that wiping your feet on walk-off mats at the entrance can reduce floor cleaning by 75%! That’s right. Mother knew best. Or better still, remove your shoes as they do in many countries. Leave the dirt, mold and contaminants outside or at the front door.
For those of you who did not listen to your mother, here are all the things you will need to do to keep your cork flooring looking and feeling great. The following guidelines apply to traditional cork floating floors or waterproof cork flooring. (Note: Cork 12x12 tiles with an oil wax finish require different instructions.)
Maintain constant humidity—30-60%
If your cork flooring becomes too dry on the surface it can begin to show tiny cracks. If it becomes too damp, it can begin to curl or buckle. This is true for all wood and bamboo flooring as well.
The National Wood Flooring Association (NWFA) has created a standard for wooden floors that applies equally to cork flooring. The rule is: keep your humidity between 30% and 60% year round. If needed, use a humidifier or dehumidifier. Check the humidity of each room with a hygrometer/humidity monitor (humidity monitors are available online or at most hardware stores).
While stand-alone humidifiers and dehumidifiers are available at most appliance and box stores, you should also consider a whole house humidifier and dehumidifier. These utilize water through evaporation or steam and will work much more quickly and efficiently than schlepping water every few hours to fill or empty the containers. We recommend AprilAire or Honeywell brands for whole house humidifiers and dehumidifiers.
Routine maintenance required
Cork flooring should be maintained in the same manner as most hard surface floors. This includes regular vacuuming and sweeping of dust and dirt with a broom, microfiber dry mop or products such as a Dry Swiffer or Swiffer Moisture Cloth, as well as damp mopping every week. Should there be extra dirt and grime, typical neutral pH floor cleaners should be used (see list below) in conjunction with a terry cloth or microfiber cloth-covered mop, such as Sh-mop or Bona Spray Hardwood Mop.)
Avoid harsh acidic or alkaline cleaners—use neutral pH (7-9) only
For routine cleaning, use only mild water-based cleaners. Do not use turpentine, paint thinner, mineral spirits, alcohol or vinegar. Oily cleaners are also not advised.
We recommend you test on a sacrificial piece of cork, before use on any new or existing cleaner to make sure it does not dull or etch the surface. We recommend one of the following non-toxic neutral pH cleaners for cork flooring: AFM Multi-Purpose Cleaner, Woodwise, Detergente Neutro, Bona Hardwood, and HydrOxi Pro. All of these come in concentrate form and should be diluted to make many gallons of cleaner that will last for months.
Don’t use a wet mop or steam mop—only use damp mop
Applying too much water or hot steam can get between the planks and cause potential mold issues on your subfloor. Also, leaving puddles of liquid on a cork floor for 10 or more hours may soak through the finish and leave unsightly water marks. This applies to pet urine and pet water bowls, too (clean those up immediately).
Use chair mats, furniture pads and rug pads
Office chairs with casters that roll back and forth over a floor will eventually wear away the finish. Use chair mats that are approved for use over wood flooring and don’t trap moisture or compromise the finish in any way.
For area rugs, use only natural rubber (Rug Grippers) or felt rug pads. Make sure these are breathable and don’t trap moisture. The best ones are made of wool and are available at most hardware stores.
For tables, chairs and couches use felt pads which are also made of dense wool on the bottom, and a rubber top for grip. Sliding felt pads are especially helpful when moving furniture. Available at most hardware stores.
If you have difficult spots, mars or ground-in dirt, soak the area for a few minutes with the cleaner and then use a soft nylon scrub pad that won’t scratch the surface. We recommend our GBS scrub pads in white or red.
Light scratches can be repaired with Tibet Almond Stick or tool kits made by Loba-Wakol, Novority, Unika, and Dr. Schultz. Deep gouges can be repaired with wood patching compounds or putty. However, serious damages will usually require the replacement of a floor panel.
Cork flooring that becomes badly damaged or worn beyond repair can be removed by a moderately skilled handyperson. The technique is almost identical for replacing laminate, or any floating type floor. There are many good YouTube videos such as this one.
Most traditional floating cork flooring with a UV cured acrylic/urethane finish can be refinished with a polyurethane coating. (The exception to this is a PET coating used on the wood-looking waterproof cork which cannot be refinished.) Prior to sanding, scratch marks and gouges must be filled and sanded smooth. Unlike hardwood floors, cork floors should not be sanded with a heavy-duty hardwood floor sander. Instead, a light sanding of the surface by hand is required.
This light sanding is accomplished with a 150-220 grit sandpaper or drywall screen. This will open the pores and de-gloss the surface providing some tooth for the polyurethane.
This process can also be done when the flooring is new, as it will fill in any tiny gaps between the planks and prevent moisture from getting through to the subfloor. Although this is not required, it is optional if you expect high traffic or excessive moisture such as in kitchens or bathrooms.
Which polyurethane to use? We recommend 2 coats of our non-toxic AFM SafeCoat Polyureseal BP. Many other brands are available and each flooring manufacturer will list the brands they recommend in their own maintenance and installation guides.
As always, it is critical that you first test in small inconspicuous areas that have been sanded to ensure that the product does not interact chemically and that it bonds well. After a few days, test with your fingernail or sharp metal object to make sure that the finish has bonded well and does not peel off easily. Always consult the flooring manufacturer’s instructions for complete directions as each cork flooring manufacturer makes a subtly different cork floor.