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 such as ceramic tile or hardwood. But the softest flooring material—carpet—isn't at all suitable for kitchen floors. It's much too vulnerable to stains and moisture to be acceptable in the kitchen. 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.
For kitchen flooring, you need flooring material that combines comfort with cleanliness and durability, so liquids can be cleaned up with a single swipe with a paper towel or cloth. Here are five good floor coverings that are well suited for use in the kitchen.
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 flooring is a synthetic material, not to be confused with linoleum, a similar product made from natural materials. Vinyl is available both as sheets sold in 6- or 12-foot-wide rolls, or as individual tiles, but for the best underfoot comfort, sheet vinyl is best since you can pair it with a thicker, resilient foam underlayment that creates more cushion. The sheet vinyl itself also comes in "comfort" versions that offer more cushion than standard vinyl.
Aside from the underfoot comfort, sheet vinyl has several advantages when used in kitchens. It is one of the least expensive flooring options, it is very durable and easy to clean, and it is virtually impervious to moisture and stains.
Luxury Vinyl Flooring (LVF)
Another type of vinyl flooring deserves a separate mention. Luxury vinyl flooring (LVF) is a thicker form of vinyl flooring that consists of a flexible, stable base layer made of PVC vinyl, followed by a decorative PVC film that creates the color and pattern, followed by a clear vinyl wear layer. It is available in planks (LVP) or tiles (LVT) that connect with a modified tongue-and-groove system, known as "click-lock." Installation is similar to the way laminate flooring planks are installed.
Because the planks or tiles have joints between them, there is the potential for moisture to seep through them. Because the flooring itself is entirely waterproof, moisture cannot damage it, but there is the potential for the wood underlayment to be affected if water reaches it. Luxury vinyl flooring is a waterproof and highly stain-resistant material, but you still should take care not to allow water to remain pooled on its surface.
The sheer thickness of luxury vinyl makes it quite comfortable underfoot, and this can be enhanced by installing a foam underlayment beneath the flooring layer.
Sheet Linoleum Flooring
Linoleum can be considered the original resilient sheet flooring—and a more natural one. Made primarily from linseed oil and other natural materials such as wood flour and rock dust, linoleum is particularly attractive to homeowners who like the idea of using natural "green" materials. Like vinyl, linoleum is a resilient material that is soft underfoot, especially when paired with a good foam underlayment. It is installed in much the same way as sheet vinyl.
However, linoleum is slightly less impervious to water and stains when compared to vinyl flooring, so it is important to apply a sealer periodically to restore its water-resistant surface.
You don’t often see rubber flooring in kitchens, but it is a natural choice. Rubber flooring is a highly durable, stain-resistant material that is very comfortable to walk on. Made from the sap of the rubber tree, or from recycled rubber from 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.