Rubber comes with a variety of inherent advantages that have made it an extremely popular flooring option for commercial, high-traffic environments. And now that rubber flooring is available in a wide selection of colors, patterns, and textures, this material is also finding its way into residential interior and exterior applications. Tile products, which typically come in 12-inch, 24-inch, and 36-inch squares, are especially friendly for DIYers. However, these advantages are balanced by a series of drawbacks that are important to understand before making a final decision about your flooring.
Rubber flooring is a type of resilient flooring, and therein lies its most obvious advantages. Like other resilient materials, namely vinyl and linoleum, rubber flooring provides a durable, easy-to-clean surface that's suitable for hard-wearing environments, such as gyms, basements, rec rooms, playrooms, laundry rooms, and utility areas.
It's fair to say that rubber tile flooring represents a niche in the flooring market. This means there are many fewer manufacturers and dealers—and consequently fewer options—than with other major flooring materials. Rubber flooring also has fewer applications in the typical home. As great as it is for activity areas, most rubber flooring doesn't have the right look and feel for living space (at least for most people).
Also worth noting: Though it eventually goes away, a distinct odor comes with the territory when it comes to rubber flooring, and some homeowners find it unpleasant. The odor is more pronounced with natural rubber products and less so with synthetic forms of rubber.
Rubber Flooring Cost
Premium rubber flooring can be quite expensive. Tiles suitable for exercise rooms may cost less than $2 per square foot, but the types that are attractive enough for living areas can run up to $12 to $15 per square foot, comparable to some natural stone and other high-end flooring products. On average, you can expect to pay $3 to $8 per square foot for decent rubber flooring.
Maintenance and Repair
Rubber flooring is very easy to care for. Cleaning rubber flooring generally requires no more than a damp mop (never wet). If you use a cleaning product, check it out with the manufacturer first, as harsh detergents can damage some flooring. Synthetic rubber flooring is generally more stain-resistant than natural rubber. Some types can be polished with a water-soluble wax to make it more resistant to damage and discoloration, but wax must be stripped and reapplied periodically, creating its own maintenance needs.
While rubber flooring is resistant to most staining agents, there are a few materials that can discolor its surface. Strong detergents and abrasive cleaning liquids can be especially harmful to rubber floors. Rubber flooring can also be stained by grease and oil—a drawback that should give any serious home chefs pause before using it in their kitchens.
The look of rubber flooring can be either an advantage or disadvantage, depending on your decorating goals. For many years, rubber flooring style options largely stopped at polished black or slate gray, but today you can choose from a wide variety of colors and textures, including coin, leaf, and diamond-plate textures. Some types even mimic wood flooring or ceramic tile. Despite advancements, rubber flooring still doesn't offer as many colors and design options as vinyl or linoleum, and the "wood-look" materials are nothing like the real thing.
Rubber Flooring Installation
Rubber tiles are among the easiest flooring materials to install. Some tile products use interlocking edges, while others use a system of edge pins that hold the tiles together. Tiles are easily cut with a sharp knife. There are also glue-down forms of rubber tiles available, though these are less common for DIYers since they are more complicated to install.
Most rubber flooring is highly resistant to damage from moisture on both the top and bottom surfaces of the material. However; if you are installing it below grade, such as in a basement, you may need to include a vapor barrier to prevent moisture from seeping up from underneath. Some rubber floor tiles also come specially treated to make them suitable for wet environments.
Rubber flooring tiles may themselves be water-resistant, but the installed flooring is loaded with seams that can let water through to the subfloor below. This is true for any type of resilient flooring tile—it simply can't be reliably sealed against moisture penetration. Therefore, it's not a great option for very wet areas, such as bathrooms with showers or tubs, or at least the immediate area around the shower or tub. If you want to use rubber flooring in these areas, sheet products are a better choice.
While rubber is fairly resistant to catching fire, synthetic rubber materials, when they do catch fire after being exposed to sufficient heat, may produce toxic gases. To guard against this, choose products that do not contain PVC materials. If the flooring was glued down, the adhesives may also be susceptible to fire.
Top Brands of Rubber Flooring Tiles
Most of the manufacturers of rubber tiles for residential use began as companies who made protective floor mats for businesses and industries, used to protect workers from leg and back strain. These companies now offer a variety of products, including both sheet rubber and rubber tiles suitable for residential use.
- American Floor Mats: Best known for mat products, American Floor Mats, based in Rockville, Maryland, offers a good selection of utilitarian interlocking tiles suitable for use in exercise rooms, entryways, and other such spaces. Their products are available from many sources, including online retailers.
- Rubber-Cal: Located in Santa Ana, California, this company offers a colorful selection of interlocking and glue-down rubber tiles. This brand is sold at Home Depot stores, as well as from online retailers. Rubber-Cal also offers a wide range of sheet rubber flooring products.
In addition, many of the giant flooring manufacturers offer a small selection of rubber flooring to go with their other product lines.
Comfort and Convenience
Perhaps the most commonly touted benefit of rubber flooring is the fact that it is strong, tough, and resilient under a variety of conditions. Depending on the type of tile used and the environment it is installed in, a properly cared for rubber floor may last 20 years or more.
Despite its durability, rubber flooring is soft underfoot. This is one of the primary reasons it's so popular for exercise rooms and playrooms. In general, the thicker the flooring, the softer it will be. Some types of rubber flooring have added cushion from fabric, cork, or foam-rubber backing. This elasticity makes rubber flooring very quiet to walk on. Heels don't click and dropped objects don't clang and clatter, as they do on most hard-surface floors.
On the other hand, smooth, untextured rubber tiles can be slippery when wet. This problem is even worse if the floor has been waxed and polished. This problem is most pronounced with smooth rubber tiles; products with surface texture are less susceptible.
Rubber flooring adds a measurable R-value improvement to floors. Energy bills are reduced. By comparison, ceramic tile has an R-value of 1.0, while recycled rubber flooring comes in at an R-value of 2.2.
Rubber Tiles vs. Sheet Rubber Flooring
All the advantages offered by rubber flooring tiles are also available in rubber flooring that is rolled out as a sheet. Most of the companies manufacturing rubber tiles also offer sheet products, often in the same colors and patterns as their tile products. Sheet rubber is slightly less expensive than tiles, but it can be more difficult to install, since cutting it to fit precisely can be an awkward process. However, because it has fewer seams, rolls of sheet rubber can be an advantage in damp locations.
Is Rubber Flooring Right for You?
Rubber flooring tiles are best suited for informal areas of your home devoted to recreation or utility functions. Its soft resilience makes it especially well suited for exercise rooms and spaces where you work on your feet, such as workshops and laundry rooms. While rubber tiles are more attractive than they once were, this is not a flooring material well suited for highly visible public areas of your home, where appearance is important.
Wan, Le et al. Flame Retardation of Natural Rubber: Strategy and Recent Progress. Polymers, 12,2 429, 2020, doi:10.3390/polym12020429