Residential Rubber Flooring Products: The Basics

Rubber flooring

Thomas Northcut / Getty Images

Rubber flooring is quickly gaining in popularity as a flooring surface for a variety of interior and exterior residential locations. That is because rubber flooring exhibits the durability, strength, and ease of maintenance found in hard tile materials but with a soft, yielding feel that is comfortable underfoot and safer for family members who are prone to falling, such as children or elderly residents.

Types of Rubber Flooring

Rubber flooring is available in two primary product types, and it can be made of genuine natural rubber (latex), synthetic rubber, or recycled rubber.

Rubber tiles: Rubber flooring is most typically sold in tiles cut into standard 12 x 12-inch, 18 x 18-inch, and 36 x 36-inch sizes. These can cut down into specific sizes or shapes as needed to fit the space or as dictated by your design. The advantage of tile is that it is extremely easy to install, either with adhesives or with snap-together connection systems that allow the tiles to form a floating sheet. An important advantage of using rubber tiles is that they can be extracted and replaced fairly easily if a single piece gets damaged.

Rubber sheeting: Another form of flooring consists of wide strips of rubber material that are rolled out over a floor to completely cover the surface. Generally sold in rolls 4 feet wide and 20 to 30 feet in length, sheet rubber can be custom-cut so that the material perfectly matches the shape of the room. Installation of sheet rubber is more difficult than tile, but the advantage is that you get an installation without any vulnerable seams.

Natural rubber: Some rubber flooring materials are manufactured using the natural latex extracted from the sap of rubber trees. The tiles and sheets produced in this way are durable, water-resistant, and easy to clean and maintain. The drawback is that natural virgin rubber flooring will have a relatively noticeable odor that can irritate some people. Over time, this should fade with proper ventilation.

Synthetic rubber: Some flooring products are not made of real rubber at all, but instead are made of one of several different forms of synthetic vinyl or polyvinyl chloride (PVC) manufactured to have the same soft, yielding feel of rubber. The advantage is that the floor feels just like the real thing but is much more durable and resistant to all stains. The drawback is that it is a synthetic material made through chemical processes, which can cause some off-gassing of VOC (volatile organic compounds).

Recycled rubber: This type of flooring is usually made from recycled automobile tires that are melted down and then bonded into usable shapes. This process creates a very strong rubber that is often more durable than the original materials. In some cases, the finished product may be slightly porous, but that can be solved by applying a quality sealing agent during the manufacturing process.

Maintenance and Durability

Rubber flooring is an extremely durable and resilient material that is difficult to damage. Resistant to stains and nearly impervious to water, rubber can be maintained simply by keeping the surface clean of dirt and debris through sweeping, vacuuming, or wet mopping with clean water.

Materials that damage rubber: While rubber is rugged, durable, and able to shrug off most staining agents, the following substances can cause permanent damage to the floor’s surface:

  • Grease spills and splatters
  • Any type of oil
  • Acidic substances
  • Acetone-based cleansers
  • Products containing turpentine

When cleaning your rubber floors avoid any harsh chemical cleaners or detergents, and anything that is acid-based. A mild soap solution diluted in water is fine.

Sealing: Most rubber flooring is nearly impervious to water penetration, but if you wish to reinforce this and make it completely immune to liquids, then you can seal the floor after installation with a product designed for use on rubber. This will coat the material in an invisible chemical layer that will act as a barrier against water and stains. Sealing is especially important on rubber floors that get heavy use, or where health is particularly important, such as in exercise rooms where users may lie on the floor. Use a sealer designed for rubber flooring, not a general-purpose sealer such as that used on wood or concrete.

Advantages of Rubber Flooring

The advantages of rubber flooring generally outweigh the disadvantages:

  • Different textures are available: When rubber flooring is being manufactured, it can be set and molded so that it takes on a variety of textures, including dimples, rivets, studs, and waffles. This can be great for improving the traction of the floor, especially in high traffic situations. It also gives you the ability to add a dimensional touch to your flooring.
  • Rubber provides a soft surface: Rubber is an extremely safe floor covering material that is used in many active environments, such as gyms and playgrounds. That means that it is great for homes where small children or elderly relatives are living, as it can be a kind of cushion beneath them protecting them during accidental falls.
  • There is a growing selection of colors and designs: This has traditionally been a drawback with rubber, as manufacturers offered it in only a few unattractive colors. However, as rubber flooring becomes more popular in residential areas, suppliers are moving to meet new demands by offering a variety of rubber materials that have attractive patterns, multi-colors, and speckled hues. There are also faux stone and ceramic-look materials available from some vendors.

Disadvantages of Rubber Flooring

Consider these few downsides:

  • Rubber flooring may have an odor: With brand-new installations of natural rubber flooring, you notice a moderate odor for a time. While this is harmless, it can be annoying to some people and should be taken into consideration. It usually fades with time. 
  • Fire can be a consideration: Natural rubber is fairly resistant to burning and catching fire, but a flame that is hot enough will ignite it. If adhesives were used during installation, this can cause the release of noxious chemicals. Synthetic rubber products will be more susceptible to fire, and the chemicals used in their manufacture will be released into the air when they burn. 
  • Design options are somewhat limited: Although the selection is growing, rubber flooring is still somewhat limited for design and color options when compared to other forms of resilient flooring, such as sheet vinyl and luxury vinyl flooring (LVF).

Cost

Rubber flooring tiles cost between $3 and $8 per square foot, with professional installation running an extra $2 per square foot. This makes rubber tiles somewhat more expensive than most other forms of resilient flooring. Thicker, plusher, and more well-made materials will tend to be more expensive, but they will also last longer. Bargain-basement rubber tiles may be available for just $1 to $2 per square foot, but quality will be an issue here. 

Sheet rubber flooring costs between $1 and $5 per square foot, again with installation adding roughly $2 per square foot.