Tag Archives: cork floors

White Cork – The Trials and Tribulations

White Cork – The Trials and Tribulations

White Cork flooring is all the rage and cork is no exception.  Forna has produced 5 different white floors ranging from an ivory “marble” to almost paper-white. Each has its own character.  Each its own role to play in the market. It has taken more than 3 years to finally produce a white that is “good enough” for today’s aesthetics.  Cork is magnificently difficult to produce grays and whites which means we have heard all the comments such as, “That’s not white!  How can you call that white?”, to “The gray looks muddy.  Why can’t you make a better pattern in gray?”

First off we are using “stains” instead of paint which means we have to turn something the colour of a pumpkin into something the colour of white chalk or cement gray.  If you can image applying the thinnest lime whitewash to orange stone and then cartier love bracelet knock off
insisting it become a “perfect” white, you get the idea of how difficult our task has been. white cork the trials and ribulations Now image the same task master saying, “Oh. And I want you to keep the pattern visible.” Covering the orange means we have to use “high solid” stains (very similar to paint) which means the patterns get covered in “white”.  That is to say, the patterns we produce get covered in white paint.  The same is true for gray but much more difficult.

Now that we have a decent array of whites and a few acceptable grays it is now onto the task of keeping these floors looking their best for as long as possible.  Because cork starts out orange and the stain on top determines the final colour it means the colour is only skin deep.  It is possible to scratch past the white or gray to reveal the true nature of the beast below = pumpkin orange.

To say this is disturbing would be an understatement!  The “perfectionist” client who insists on “perfect white floors” is not someone who is going to enjoy the patina of scratches caused by the perfect white fluffy dog named Peaches!  Not on your life!  Which means extra care must be taken when working with white cork (gray as well but the visual isn’t as disturbing as with white). We have begun to highly recommend using Loba 2K Supra AT polyurethane with white cork because of the outstanding anti-scratch properties associated with this finish.  We have also experienced very limited yellowing with this finish.  This fits the bill when it comes to applying a protective finish on cork.  The same cannot be said for other “money saving” finishes available at the corner “Big Box” store.

Many if not all off-the-shelf products can turn white floors a light yellow.  Even the water borne or water based finishes can still cause yellowing.  We know this.  We have experienced the heartache together with several of our clients because of locally available products.  It turns out the concept of saving money on floor finish when working with white flooring is a bad one.  Several of our clients have learned the hardway that white cork is special and it needs special attention and special resources.  It is like a thoroughbred race horse.  It can’t be exposed to the dog and pony show at the local home improvement store before it turns off its feed and stops running.

Site finishing a factory finished floor may sound odd to many but it makes perfect sense with cork.  Cork floors have the ability to be sealed or site finished.  It’s what makes them water proof or water resistant (glue down tiles vs. floating floors respectively).  Its what seperates them from laminate or engineered hardwoods. This same ability to be site finished also makes protecting white cork very simple – stick with the product that has the proven track record.  The problem comes in when our advice to use the high-end, high-priced, appropriate product is ignored in lieu of a cheaper alternative.

The cheaper alternative ultimately costs the homeowner the price of a replacement floor.  Imagine the heartache of coming home to find your white floor had turned yellow because of a product purchased off the shelf.  Now imagine the heartache of being told by us and the “cheap product” producer that there is no compensation other than being reimbursed for the cost of the can of finish. The refund of $60 – $85 isn’t going to come close to the cost of ripping out the floor and purchasing more.

A cork floating floor doesn’t necessarily have to be finished immediately after install.  We know this. At Forna, we try hard not to sell anything other than what is truly needed for your floor.  If we highly recommend your white cork be sealed with a Loba 2K Supra AT, please listen to us.  We’ve seen the circus that ensues when white cork isn’t treated with the respect it deserves.

Seal cork floor, why do I need to?

Seal cork floor, why do I need to?

This is one of the most common questions we run into.  “Why do I need to seal cork floor?  Doesn’t it already have a finish on it?”

Almost all of today’s modern cork floors come with a factory finish.  Forna cork products are no different.  We finish our products with 3 coats of water based polyurethane at the factory.  This is good enough to use a floating floor laid in a bedroom or a living room without doing anything more than moving in and enjoying your new space!  A glue down cork floor is another story.seal cork floor why need

Glue down tiles are not click-together.  They are glued in place in areas that are required to be “water proof” such as bathrooms.  A glue down cork tile floor always requires site finishing.  Always.  The reason being is not for the cork but for the adhesive and the subfloor.  Because the tiles are held in place with adhesive and they sit directly over top of a subfloor the seams of the cork must be made impervious to water.  That means the tiles must be sealed once they have been installed.  Without this site finishing water, dust, dirt, mud, oil, etc. will work its way between the seams to reach the subfloor and adhesive.  The adhesive will then become contaminated and eventually loose adhesion.  That means floor failure.

To avoid floor failure, the solution is perfectly simple: site finish the tiles with 2-3 coats of polyurethane = sealed seams = water proof floor.  The subfloor is protected from water reaching it and the adhesive is protected from dirt and grime contaminating it.  It is a win-win situation.

A floating floor that has been installed in kitchens or entranceways also require 2 coats of water based polyurethane to seal cork floor the seams against surface/standing water (aka: spills). Again, this extra bit of protection protects the middle core from having to deal with water working its way between the seams and damaging the High Density Fibreboard.  This extra protection reduces the likelihood that the flooring will swell or deteriorate after years of exposure to spills…which is common in kitchens.

Another reason seal cork floor is because cork shrinks.  Like any other wood, cork will slowly dry out over time.  This means that a cork floating floor will slowly begin to show gapping at each and every seam.  The locking system is unaffected by this…it is the cork wear surface, or “skin” that is slowly shrinking back from the edge of the plank.  In very dry climates (Okanagan Valley in BC, prairie provinces of Canada or Arizona/California/Nevada in USA) the shrinkage can cause the gaps to open inside of 8 years.  For this very reason we require all Forna cork floors to receive at least 1-2 coats of polyurethane SOMETIME before the floor turns 7 years old.  If you apply polyurethante at the time of install, then you have nothing to worry about.  If you waited or decided not to apply the polyurethane then you are responsible to have the polyurethane applied before gapping occurs.

Once the first coat or two has been applied it comes down to routine maintenance and concerns with wear through of the polyurethane.  The “gapping” issue will have been taken care of with the first application of polyurethane.

If you a question about Why do I need to seal cork floor, please contact us

Cork Flooring History

Cork Flooring History

Eventhough cork flooring is consider new or novel to the North America it has been around in one format or another for more than 125 years of Cork Flooring History. Cathedrals in Spain and Portugal have cork floors that were installed in 1870′s or even ealier. The US Library of Congress is the most famous American cork floor in existence. The Library received its cork floor before the building opened 1897. The floor is still in use today.

At that time, cork flooring installation was an exotic, expensive and laborious undertaking. Cork was imported at great expense as North America does not have cork oak forests. Great rolls or sheets of cork were glued in place, custom stained and then finished with hardwax or varnish. A complete installation could take weeks or even months depending on the stain and length of time it took the varnish to cure.cork flooring history

In the 1920′s to the the 1940′s cork floor came into vogue as every-day-flooring. Post-war bungalows around the USA and Canada can be found which still maintain their original cork floors. Many people have taken the time and the effort to refurbish these floors to bring them back to their former glory. These old floors are mainly a single colour and are now a deep orange due to the solvent based finishes of their day. Not many homeowners had the money to stain their cork floors with custom colours or patterns. Only in the more stately homes of this era will you find antique cork floors stained to match or enhance architectural detail.

Today’s technology has removed most of the expense associated with cork flooring. Namely the advent of the floating floor plank and today’s click-locking systems. Today’s floating flooring allows any homeowner who wishes to have a cork floor the opportunity to own and enjoy this luxury flooring product. The locking systems have allowed cork to be installed where it was never allowed before namely basements or in areas where high water-tables are a concern.

Glue down cork tiled floors are still a major investment in time and money. It is still the highest level of flooring available in the cork market, but the labour or installation costs are still as prohibitive as before. The labour costs needed to produce a medium to high end cork glue down floor will often triple or quadruple the cost of materials. In many markets today, to install the glue down format can be the same as installing a ceramic or porcelain tile floor. Because of the costs involved, the floating cork floor is now gaining ground and making cork flooring an excellent alternative to laminate or engineered hardwood flooring.

How to Clean Cork Floors

How to Clean Cork Floors

Cleaning cork flooring is not much different from cleaning hardwood floors.  If you have questions about How to Clean Cork Floors or comments about How to Clean Cork Floors, I will answer them here.  Feel free to ask your questions about How to Clean Cork Floors and care for a cork floor.

The basics:

There is a “right way” and a “wrong way” to take care of your cork floors. Cork is a finished surface and should be treated in the same way a hardwood floor is treated.  Forna cork products are factory finished with water based polyurethane.  Polyurethane is a tough, surface finish that sits on top of the cork and protects it from damage and stains.  The polyurethane is in the same category as hardwood floors finished with urethane or polyurethane.  That means there can be no harsh chemicals, no wax based, no oil based, no solvent based products used on these floors.  If the bottle does not say “pH Neutral Hardwood Floor Cleaner” then do not buy/use it on cork or hardwood.

The RIGHT way:

  1. Sweep dust/dirt/sand off of the floor on a regular basis (3-5 times per week)
  2. Vacuuming is fine so long as you TURN OFF the beater bar
  3. Dry mopping with microfibre material or push mops that use static electricity to hold the material is acceptable
  4. Damp mopping with water is normally all these floors required (1-4 times per month)
  5. For a deeper clean or to remove stubborn dried on food/mud a “pH Neutral Cleaner for Hardwood Floors” is acceptable (1-2 times per month)
  6. For “natural” cleaning products we ONLY allow a water:vinegar mixture of 10:1 ratio (1-2 times per month)
  7. For very stubborn greasy floors the water:vinegar mixture can have 1 DROP of “Dawn” dish soap added;  if you proceed with this method the floor must be rinsed with hot, clean water to remove any trace of the soap.  Several rinses (2-3 rinses) are normally required for this procedure which is why most people choose not to use this method of cleaning; this format is recommended only a few times per year (2-4 times per year)
  8. After a damp mop, it is wise to wipe the floors dry to remove any concerns about water spots left behind on the floor

The WRONG way shows how these products will damage your floor:

  • #1 WORST thing to use is Murphy’s Oil Soap – will ruin the most expensive finish inside of a year or two and there is no way to apply more finish to save the floor; the only cure for Murphy’s = new flooring
  • “All Purpose” cleaners are not to be used on finished wood floors; they can to be used on glass, ceramic/porcelain/cement tiles and metal but NOT WOOD!
  • “Natural All Purpose” cleaning products are as bad as their “chemical” cousins; they are not meant for anthing other than glass, cement or metal
  • “Natural” Cleaning products are often derived from “oil based soaps” which puts these products in the same “floor killing” category as Murphy’s Oil Soap; best to avoid these products
  • Oil Based cleaners or “shine” products such as Mop&Glo or Orange Glo; these products leave heavy residues that rank in the same category as Murphy’s Oil Soap and should never be used on wood surfaces – ever!
  • Steam Cleaners will “cook” the finish to the point where it will turn white and hazy; this is quite common and often requires the floor to be fully sanded and refinished which means you will loose the pretty pattern and the colour of the cork you paid plenty of money for; or the cheapest option is to rip out the floor and install another floor while at the same time throwing out the steam cleaner
  • “Swiffer” style spray mops are not designed for polyurethane or urethane floors; they are allowed on ceramic/porcelain/cement tiles, linoleum and sheet vinyl but NOT WOOD!
  • Oil, wax or polishes should be avoided They are inappropriate for Forna cork flooring products

These are the basics of How to Clean Cork Floors.  Most of these products are heavily advertised with pretty pictures of the product being used on wood floors but the reality is that very few are acceptible for use with wood or cork.