When properly cared for, a cork floor can last for decades, even in high traffic areas. However, it will take some regular maintenance to keep the flooring looking new and beautiful. You will also have to enact a variety of precautionary measures, which will prevent problems that can occur before they have a chance to affect your floor.
Regular Maintenance Steps For Cork Floors
Sweeping or Vacuuming: This is probably the most essential thing that you can do to help maintain the integrity of a cork floor.
When small particles of dirt, dust, and debris are allowed to accumulate on its surface, they begin to act like tiny grits in a piece of sandpaper. Then, every time someone walks across that floor, they drag the particles along with their feet, scraping into the protective surface that is over the top of the material.
Water: Never immerse a cork floor in water, and when spills happen, wipe them up immediately. You should also refrain from wet mopping. If you do mop it, make sure that you wring it out so that it is only slightly damp, and don’t allow puddles to accumulate on its surface.
Preventative Measures For Cork Flooring
The following precautions will only take a little bit of time to put in place. However, they have the potential to save you a tremendous amount of hassle and expense going forward.
Floor Mats: It may seem like a simple thing, but just placing floor mats at the entrances to the room can do a lot to help cut down on damage to the floor.
These mats will pick up debris from shoes, that is dragged in from the exterior world. Mats can also be placed in areas where splashing occurs, or where people tend to stand for long periods of time, such as in front of sinks or fountains.
Curtains: Much like hardwood flooring, cork will tend to discolor, and fade, when it comes in direct contact with sunlight for a prolonged period of time.
That means that you have to keep your eyes open throughout the day, and note when the sun shines down through your windows and onto the cork with the greatest intensity. This can then be offset through the hanging of curtains or blinds whenever the issue arises.
Pet Nails: While cork is relatively resilient and will bounce back from most weights, it can be punctured. Unfortunately, pet nails, especially those on larger dogs, can cause scratches which will gouge and break the surface of the floor. Simply keeping your pets well groomed, and controlling the length of their nails can do a lot to help prevent blemishes in the material.
Furniture Pads: Another potential danger to your cork floors are the pointed legs of heavy furniture pieces. Not only can these scratch the material if dragged across it, but they can also gouge it, leaving permanent impressions in the surface if heavy pieces are left sitting on it unprotected. Luckily there are furniture pads which can be purchased, which will act as a barrier between pointed legs and the vulnerable floor.
High Heels: If you like to wear high heels in the house then make sure you maintain the padding on the tips. Remember the amount of pressure exerted by the pointed tip of an average woman's heel is equal to that of the entire foot of an elephant.
Humidity: Cork flooring is subject to plumping and expanding in extremely humid environments. That is why you need to maintain a relative humidity of 45%-60% in any room where it is installed to prevent the tiles or planks from popping out. This can be done to some extent through the use of dehumidifiers.
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Periodic Maintenance Necessities
Sealing: When solid cork is used in an interior space, it needs to be sealed in order to protect it from water penetration, and staining agents. The seal used is most often a UV-treated polyurethane mix that creates an invisible layer over the surface of the floor. However, over time this layer will slowly start to fade. That is why it will need to be reapplied to the flooring material periodically, every year or so, or whenever you start to notice it fading.
Refinishing: If you have solid cork installed, then slowly, over the months and years, tiny dents and scratches will slowly begin to appear in its surface. Luckily this is a natural material, and this can be resolved by simply having the floors refinished. That involves sanding them down slightly, so that the surface is below the level of the scratches, and then applying a fresh coat of varnish so that it looks like a brand new installation. This is a process that can only be done a limited number of times before the material is too thin, so it should only be undertaken every few years.
Buffing: In general, it is not recommended that you apply a wax sealer to the surface of a cork floor, as it requires periodic maintenance with a very large and expensive machine. However, in certain commercial applications, this is the best way to protect a cork floor from high traffic situations. In these cases, a buffing machine will need to be run over the material every 12-18 months by a trained professional in order to restore the quality of the floor's surface.