The flooring in your bedroom is a particularly intimate surface. It is the first thing your bare feet step onto in the morning and the last thing they touch before climbing into bed each night. The effect that bedroom flooring has on a person is both physical and psychological, making your choice of materials a particularly important design decision.
There are many criteria you can use to choose the best bedroom flooring material. Some of these may be obvious, such as the feel of the floor underfoot, or its visual appeal. You may also be concerned about environmental issues—does the flooring off-gas chemicals, is it created in a green manner, and will it be recyclable someday when it is time to replace it? And there are also care and maintenance issues, as well as longevity to consider. Some of these elements may be more important to you than others, but all should be considered when you make a flooring choice for your bedroom. Every flooring material has both advantages and disadvantages, including the five most popular options for bedroom flooring.
Carpet is the most popular choice for a bedroom flooring surface in North America and many other western nations, largely because it is soft and warm on the feet—an obvious advantage in a room where you are often bare-footed. That tactile comfort helps to create a sense of lush luxury in the room while also protecting you from cold toes on chilly winter mornings. But there are other reasons that carpet is popular, as well as some reasons you might not want to use it.
- Thermal insulation. Carpeting, combined with a good-quality pad, can insulate a floor against heat loss, ensuring that the bedroom will remain toasty warm.
- Sound-dampening. In a room where you sleep, carpeting can absorb outside noises and keep a bedroom quieter. Carpeting is the very best flooring for this.
- Economical. Price is another factor that makes carpeting in the bedroom so popular. In recent decades, the manufacturing process has gotten so efficient that the cost for low-end materials can be as low as $2 to $3 per square foot installed, considerably cheaper than most other options. Keep in mind, though, that the price for higher-end specialty materials, such as wool carpeting, can be quite a bit higher. And carpeting has a shorter lifespan than some alternatives, such as hardwood.
- Cushioned surface. This can be a matter of safety in bedrooms used by children or older adults since a fall on carpeting is unlikely to cause injury the way that a hardwood floor or other rigid surface can do. A good-quality pad beneath the carpet can increase the cushion.
- Difficult to keep clean. Liquid stains can seep deep into the padding and remain permanently. And carpeting tends to attract both dust and small microscopic organisms, which can compromise to the air quality of the bedroom.
- Traps allergens. Carpeting can trap pollen and other allergy-causing particles. No amount of deep vacuuming can completely remove allergens that become trapped deep in the backing and padding of a carpet. Carpeting is not a good choice for the bedrooms of allergy sufferers.
- May off-gas chemicals. Although carpeting manufacturing processes are much better than they once were, some carpeting can still off-gas chemicals such as formaldehyde, especially when the carpeting is new. For people with chemical sensitivities, this can be a serious health concern.
- Usually not recyclable. Although some installers will haul away old carpet when they install new flooring, this carpeting—and the synthetic materials used in its manufacture—are usually destined for landfills.
Next to carpeting, hardwood flooring is the most popular choice for bedroom flooring. Among real estate professionals, genuine hardwood is usually regarded as one of the best flooring materials.
- Attractive surface. Hardwood extends a warm, natural beauty to a bedroom. The look will vary depending on wood species and finish, but wood almost always lends a feeling of primal beauty to a room.
- Warmer and more resilient than tile and stone. While it’s obviously not as soft as its carpeting, hardwood planks do have some yield and are softer and warmer underfoot than most tile and stone alternatives. Hardwood can be combined with throw rugs and area rugs to make the floor even more amenable.
- Improves real estate value. While it wasn't always the case, in today's real estate market, hardwood flooring is a much sought-after flooring, and homes with hardwood tend to sell faster and for a slightly higher selling price.
- Durable, long-lasting material. When cared for properly, hardwood flooring can last as long as the house itself. It is unlikely your hardwood floors will need to be replaced unless you do it for aesthetic reasons.
- Recyclable material. At the end of its life, old hardwood flooring almost always has a market as a second-hand material. Many recycling centers accept old hardwood flooring, and if a landfill is the only option, hardwood breaks down naturally.
- Non-allergenic. Hardwood is easy to sweep and wipe clean of dust, pollen, and other allergens. For allergy sufferers, hardwood is an ideal flooring.
- Maintenance is tricky. Hardwood flooring is fairly resistant to stains and damage, but when damage does occur, it can be hard to repair. And hardwood needs to be sealed occasionally and eventually will need to be stripped and refinished.
- Relatively expensive. Quality solid hardwood is one of the pricier flooring choices. Materials plus installation costs range from $6 to $25 per square foot, depending on the type of wood selected.
- No thermal or sound insulation value. Hardwood floors offer no insulation value, and they are noisy, with no sound absorption or dampening effect.
- Harder than cork or carpeting. Although not a fully rigid surface, a child or older adult on hardwood flooring still runs the risk of injury from falls.
What about bamboo?
Bamboo flooring is often lumped together with hardwood, since the products are similar in quality and use the same installation methods. However, the bamboo plant is actually a form of grass, not a wood. Bamboo grows very quickly, making it a completely renewable material, and flooring made from bamboo fibers is actually harder than most hardwoods, making it a very durable flooring. This easy-to-care-for flooring usually costs less than $5 per square foot for materials, with installation adding about $5 per square foot. This makes it comparable to mid-range hardwood flooring. The look is quite unique, and it is worth checking into bamboo flooring if you are already considering hardwood.
Although it is still a relatively unusual flooring material, natural cork flooring is becoming more popular in bedrooms, where it has many virtues.
- Spongy and soft underfoot. Cork is a yielding surface that is extremely comfortable on the feet. Next to carpeting, this is one of the most forgiving floors when a person falls.
- Warm underfoot. This material is warmer than hardwood, though not as cozy as carpeting.
- Insulation value. Cork is filled with millions of tiny air bubbles, which serve to offer both thermal and sound insulation value.
- Easy maintenance. Unlike carpet, which can be a chore to take care of, cork flooring is relatively hassle-free. As long as the surface seal is properly applied, and the seal is periodically reapplied, the material itself will be virtually immune to stains.
- Anti-allergy, anti-microbial. Cork is naturally resistant to microbes and dust-trapping static, which means that it doesn't cause the same air-quality problems often caused by carpeting.
- Less "green" than hardwood. While cork itself is a natural material that doesn't pollute, the manufacturing process uses resins and adhesives that use synthetic chemicals. You may have trouble finding a recycling center that will accept old cork flooring. But cork is still better for the environment than carpeting, vinyl, or laminate flooring.
- Easily scratched. The big problem with cork flooring is that it is a relatively soft material and will easily scratch from pet claws, furniture legs, and high heels.
- Shorter lifespan than hardwood. Cork will have to be replaced periodically,, although some products can be refinished a few times between installations. Well cared for, however, a cork floor can still last 25 years.
- Relatively expensive. Cork is nearly as expensive as hardwood, with thicker, higher quality, longer-lasting cork floors costing as much as many hardwood options.
Whether it takes the form of sheet vinyl, vinyl tiles, or newer luxury vinyl flooring (LVF) tongue-and-groove planks, vinyl is a surprisingly versatile flooring choice for bedrooms. This is no longer a flooring reserved only for bathrooms and kitchens. A wide variety of looks is now available, with luxury vinyl products that are almost indistinguishable from wood, ceramic, or stone.
- Nearly waterproof. Although this is more important in bathrooms and kitchens, the waterproof nature of vinyl may be of value in bedrooms with adjoining en suite bathrooms. The waterproof nature also makes this flooring easy to clean.
- Easy maintenance. Bedrooms are relatively low-traffic rooms, and vinyl is easily kept clean by sweeping and an occasional damp mopping.
- Somewhat soft. Although not as soft as carpeting, vinyl flooring is a second-best choice in rooms where you are concerned about someone falling.
- Easy installation. Vinyl flooring, especially tiles and luxury vinyl planks, are relatively easy for DIYers to install.
- Inexpensive. According to national averages, sheet vinyl costs about $3 per square foot to install, while luxury vinyl planks average about $7 per square foot, though these costs are much reduced if you install the flooring yourself. This puts vinyl flooring at the low end of costs for recommended bedroom flooring.
- Relatively long-lasting. Because bedrooms are relatively low-traffic areas, a good-quality vinyl floor can easily last 10 to 20 years.
- Not a "green" choice. The major drawback to vinyl is that it is relatively bad for the environment. Its production uses non-renewable petroleum resources and it requires considerable energy to manufacture.
- May off-gas chemicals. New vinyl installations, especially those that use glue-down application methods, may emit VOCs and hazardous chemicals such as formaldehyde for several weeks after they are installed.
- Not recyclable. When vinyl flooring reaches the end of its life and is removed, it is probably destined for a landfill, with its synthetic materials likely to last for centuries before breaking down.
The linoleum alternative:
Linoleum is the original resilient flooring, made from linseed oil and other natural ingredients. Vinyl flooring was originally a replacement for linoleum, but homeowners concerned about the environmental impact of vinyl flooring have now rediscovered linoleum, which has most of the same virtues as vinyl but is a more environmentally sound choice. Linoleum is slightly more expensive than most types of vinyl flooring, and design choices may be more limited, but it is worth looking into if you are considering a resilient flooring material.
Laminate flooring is made from a thin layer of plastic laminate printed with a design layer, bonded to a base layer of high-density fiberboard (HDF), and topped with a clear wear layer. It is a remarkably versatile material that can be manufactured to look like almost any material, including hardwood, stone, or even metal.
- Easy to install. Laminate plank floors use a modified form of tongue-and-groove connections, sometimes known as "click-lock." This is one of the easiest flooring materials for careful DIYers to install, though surface preparation is critical.
- Many design choices available. Laminate flooring has now been around for decades, and manufacturers offer an almost infinite range of styles and designs, many of which are fairly good mimics of hardwood or natural stone.
- Inexpensive. Good laminate flooring can usually be purchased for less than $3 per square foot, with installation adding $2 to $8 per square foot. With total costs that are usually well under $10 per square foot, laminate flooring is only slightly more expensive than vinyl.
- Can be scratched. Over time, it is almost impossible to avoid scratching the clear wear layer on laminate floors, as owners of active dogs with unclipped toenails can attest. Better quality laminates have thicker, more durable wear layers, but even with these, the floors will eventually get scratched.
- A hard surface. Although they can closely resemble hardwood, laminate floors have even less resilience than wood, and a fall on a laminate floor will hurt and perhaps injure. This may not be the best choice in a bedroom for young children or older adults.
- No insulation value. Laminate floors offer no thermal protection, and the hard surfaces tend to echo sound in a hollow fashion. A good quality underlayment may help dampen the sound somewhat.
- Difficult or impossible to repair. Unlike hardwood, laminate flooring is almost impossible to repair when damage becomes extensive. While it is theoretically possible to disassemble and replace individual planks, it is more common for the entire floor to be removed and replaced. And unlike hardwood, which can be resurfaced several times, laminate flooring cannot be refinished.
- May have a "cheap" feel. When they were first introduced, laminate flooring was an innovative product that was seen as somewhat high-end, but in today's real estate market, laminates are sometimes viewed as a bargain-basement choice when compared to hardwood, porcelain/ceramic tile, or even luxury vinyl.
- Not a green product. Laminate flooring is plastic, and like most plastics it can take many, many years (perhaps centuries) to break down in a landfill. Unfortunately, there is almost no recycling market for old laminate flooring thus far, and when discarded it usually winds up in those landfills.