The advantages of cork flooring are that
- it is very sustainable,
- provides a slightly soft (resilient) surface, and
- can be treated with totally naturally products, such as hardwax oil, extremely well due to its porosity.
Of course, if you don't like its look, none of these cork flooring pros and cons will help you much. There are, however, now a lot of different looks available in cork, so it may be worth checking your local eco-flooring store.
When it comes to hardwoods, you could go one of two routes:
- buy an unfinished hardwood floor and have it finished naturally, or
- buy a fully finished floor that is sealed with polymerized (chemical) finishes but has probably already done most of its off-gassing at the factory rather than in your home.
You will still be exposed to the toxins in the finish due to the remaining off-gassing, and when it has to be refinished in many years (or in the event of a fire).
Finishing a wood floor naturally
Here's my advice on finishing a wood floor naturally (the same way you should finish a cork floor). I recently answered this question for Claudia from Pasadena, Calif. Here is the part that is most interesting to you:
In general, you would want to look for a hard oil or hardwax oil. This genre of natural wood finishing products is the best nature offers. The deeper it penetrates the wood, the better for durability, and there are several ways to achieve that.
- Applying it at high temperatures. Relatively rare in the U.S., and comes with higher risks at the time of application since the hot oil can cause burns.
- Adding VOCs. This is the way companies like Bioshield go, as the VOCs make it thinner for application. Reputable companies tell you which VOC is in it, select a natural VOC, and don't process it to make it smell less. I believe that if you need to use VOCs, you are much better off with smelly ones, as you then know to open the windows and also know when the VOCs are gone. The recent trend to not smelling VOCs increases the health risks, in my opinion, as people are unaware of the danger.
- Use it as-is, or first apply a primer oil that is thinner before applying the thicker finish product.
A surface treated that way can then be maintained nicely with a completely natural Carnauba wax emulsion. Another advantage of oil and wax treated floors is that spot repairs can be easily done and blend in perfectly.
Currently only a handful of companies sell VOC-free hardwax oil in the U.S., including Stang-Lund and Oli-Natura HS. More are coming to the U.S. this year, so I will update this article once the products are available.
Stang-Lund provides an insightful and accurate description of these oils at their website.
Thank you for asking, and I hope this helps you!
For more information:
Check our green flooring Know How for a buyer's guide and backgrounder detailing pros and cons of hardwood, cork, linoleum, etc.