Cleaning Cork Floors – Maintenance the Do’s and Don’ts

Everyone wants to know how hard it is to maintain a cork floor.  The simple answer is, “It isn’t hard at all.”  But then again, I work here.  Maintenance isn’t always about “cleaning cork floors” it is about understanding the product.  If you understand the properties of cork you can take the “guess work” out of how to maintain the beauty and usefulness of your flooring.

An ounce of caution is worth a pound of cure.” Nothing comes closer to the truth than this simple saying.  Cork may look, and act, like a “hard surface” but it has some big differences that need to be explained.  The softness of cork is one of its selling features.  This softness allows items, especially heavy items to “sink in”.  This is natural.  The weight of a chair or sofa will cause the item to sink into the floor.  If it is for a short amount of time, that’s fine.  The cork will recover from this denting and act as if nothing happened.  For extended periods of time though, this denting is not something you would wish for.  Plan ahead and use furniture coasters on the large pieces of furniture (beds, sofas, arm chairs, dining room tables, etc).  You will want to place self-adhering felt pads to your more mobile furniture such as dining room chairs or office chairs.  Items that roll (like office chairs, TV stands, dishwashers, etc) should be fitted with the large castors that look more like soup cans than metal balls.

Lift!  I need Lift!”  As the saying goes – so goes the world of cork!  When you re-arrange your furnishings, or install new pieces, remember to lift.  This is where your furniture coasters come in handy.  Some of these coasters have two sides, one that is felted and one that isn’t.  Flip the felted side down so you can allow some “glide” to get your pieces into place.

Move it or lose it!”  Another good thought to keep in mind.  By routinely moving your furniture, even when on castors or coasters, you will be able to extend the life of your cork.  Even if the movement is only a few inches left or right you will have prevented your major pieces of furniture from permanently denting your cork.

The future’s so bright you gotta use shades!”  Direct sunlight on a cork floor will lead to one thing – FADING!  Some people like the look of a cork floor patina.  Those “some people” are rare, but they are out there.  If you have just invested in your money into a cork floor with a specialty finish, you will want to protect your investment by investing in a few meters of window treatments.  Not only are window treatments easier to install they are cheaper to purchase than relaying a faded floor.

Forewarned is Forearmed”  To know your cork is to protect your cork.  A short introduction to cork flooring production will go a long way in understanding your cork flooring.  Like most high-end wood finishes (like Teak, Mahogany, etc) cork flooring’s beauty comes from its veneer.  The cork veneer is like the veneer on your china cabinet or antique chest.  A thin layer of the “valuable” finish is overlaid over the “utilitarian” agglomerated cork (cork-board cork used as underlay, etc).  Your cork flooring is cork through and through, but the specialty finish is a thin skin of high quality cork.

Cleaning Cork Floors
Cleaning Cork Floors

The veneer’s “skin” is what you are protecting from wear.  Sand grains or fine particles are death to a cork finish (or any high polished surface for that matter) and should be swept up regularly.  Vacuuming comes in very handy when keeping your cork floor in top shape.
Spills, especially onto unsealed floating cork floors, should be wiped up immediately.  Floating floors use wood products to produce the “click-together action”.  It is this middle layer that is susceptible to water absorption.  If this layer gets wet, it can damage your floor.  A harsh colour, like red wine or coloured drinks for children could stain the finish.  Polyurethane may be durable, but it is still a form of plastic and plastic can stain.

To seal or not to seal, that is the question!”  So many people choose not to seal their floating floors right away and for good reason: the cost!  After spending a few thousand dollars on your floors, the last thing most people want to do is add another cost.  With floating floors in a dry environment (bedroom, hallways, stairs, etc) you don’t need to seal the floors…right away.  At sometime in your floor’s future you will have to face the fact that it is looking a bit grubby.  That’s when you need to get out your wallet and pay the piper.  A few hundred dollars is an acceptable price to pay for refinishing your cork floor.
The “up-side” is you don’t have to do anything other than roll on a few layers of fast drying polyurethane to bring your floor back to life.  Just think of those poor schleps that went out and paid 5 times your cost for hardwood floors.  Not only did they pay the original installation costs, they also have all the headaches that go with having to sand their floors down before putting on 4 or 5 more coats of their solvent-based varnish!