A kitchen is a place where you can be on your feet literally for hours. That kind of stress can be tough on your legs and back, especially if you have hard flooring like tile or even hardwood. The problem is, the softest kitchen flooring—carpet—isn't kitchen flooring at all. It's much too vulnerable to stains and moisture to work in the kitchen. What you need is a flooring material that combines comfort with cleanliness and durability, and there are several options that do just that.
Cork Kitchen Flooring
Cork is arguably the most comfortable "hard" flooring material, and it's a solid performer in the kitchen. You can actually feel the springiness of cork under your feet. For the most comfortable cork flooring, choose the thickest underlayment (foam padding underneath the flooring) recommended by the manufacturer, and use click-together cork planks installed as a "floating floor."
Cork is naturally porous, and is relatively easy to damage with pet claws, high heels, and dropped utensils. The surface can be protected from stains by applying a chemical sealing agent on a regular basis, but it won’t hold up against a flood, and liquids should never be allowed to rest on its surface for any period of time.
Vinyl and Linoleum Sheet Flooring
Vinyl and linoleum have a similar feel but are not the same material. Vinyl is largely synthetic, while linoleum is typically made with all natural materials. Both are available in tile and sheet versions. With sheet vinyl or linoleum, you can choose a thicker, softer underlayment than with tiles because the sheet material has no seams that can open up when the floor is walked on. Vinyl sheet flooring also comes in "comfort" versions that offer more cushion than standard vinyl.
As for durability and low-maintenance in a kitchen environment, the only flooring that beats vinyl and linoleum is rock-hard ceramic tile.
Soft Rubber Kitchen Flooring
You don’t often see rubber flooring in kitchens, but why not? It's a highly durable, stain-resistant material that is very comfortable to walk on. Made from the sap of the para rubber tree, or formed from recycled rubber automobile tires, these floors are tough enough for gyms and weight rooms, so you know they can survive in a kitchen.
The only drawback to rubber flooring in the kitchen is that some types can be stained by oils, acids, and certain cleaning agents. It's best to choose a rubber flooring that is treated to resist stains and to wipe up oily and acidic liquids as soon as possible.
Avoid Carpet in the Kitchen
Carpeting is the most standard option for comfortable flooring, but it is a bad idea in the kitchen. Spills and stains are constant hazards for carpet, while moisture problems can lead to the growth of mold and mildew in the carpet backing or padding or subfloor below. With other types of flooring, liquids can be cleaned up with a single swipe with a paper towel or cloth, but with carpet, every spill has the potential to become a stain. Even specially treated carpeting requires delicate care and constant upkeep and will likely wear out much sooner than almost any other flooring choice in this hard-working space.