What to Know About Bamboo Floors
Learn about the 3 types of bamboo floors, their costs, and bamboo’s pros and cons as a flooring material
If you’re searching for durable flooring with an organic look, bamboo may be an option worth considering for your home. This attractive material is relatively affordable and appreciated for its eco-friendly qualities. Here are some essential facts to know about distinctive bamboo floors.
Photo by telmo32 on Flickr
What Is Bamboo Flooring?
Bamboo is a giant woody grass that grows chiefly in the tropics, so technically bamboo flooring is made of grass. This material goes through several stages to become hard, eye-catching flooring. First the stalk is split into strips and boiled to rid it of any insects, pests or grime. Next the bamboo strips go through a process called carbonization that involves subjecting the bamboo to high-pressure steam or heat. Carbonizing darkens the bamboo, giving it a warm and rich coloration; the longer it is carbonized, the darker its color. Some bamboo floors don’t go through carbonization, so their natural light color stays intact. These lighter bamboo floors can be stained.
After carbonization — or just boiling for natural-colored strips — the bamboo gets dried in a kiln. The strips are then glued together to form planks in one of three styles: horizontal, vertical or strand woven (more about these styles later). The final step involves milling a tongue-and-groove system into the planks for a snug fit during installation. A clear coating is then applied for protection against wear and damage.
3 Types of Bamboo Flooring
1. Horizontal bamboo is the most common type of bamboo flooring and is pieced together so that it shows a prominent grain pattern with knuckles, which look somewhat like knots, where the bamboo stalks come together. This style is most similar to bamboo’s natural form in its jungle habitat. If you’re looking for a cozy, eclectic look, horizontal bamboo is your best bet.
2. Vertical bamboo has a uniform linear appearance. Unlike horizontal bamboo, which showcases the wider surface of a bamboo stalk, vertical bamboo involves gluing together the narrow edges of the stalk (like books set side by side on a library shelf). The result is a more streamlined look suitable for modern spaces.
3. Strand woven bamboo features minimal variation, which gives it a contemporary characteristic. This type of flooring is made from shredded bamboo fibers mixed with resins and pressed into rock-hard planks. The strands are interlocked, making this the hardest (and most expensive) type of bamboo flooring. Strand woven bamboo’s flowing grain patterns make it a suitable choice for modern spaces.
Horizontal and vertical bamboo are sold strictly as solid bamboo planks, made of solid bamboo all the way through. Strand woven bamboo is available in either solid planks or engineered planks, which are composed of a strand woven top layer adhered to a mixed wood core.
Sizes of Bamboo Flooring
Whichever type you choose, bamboo flooring typically comes in lengths ranging from 3 to 6 feet and widths from 3½ to 7½ inches. Its thickness typically ranges from one-half inch to five-eighths inch.
How Is Bamboo Flooring Installed?
The installation method for bamboo floors depends on whether you have solid bamboo planks or engineered ones. Solid tongue-and-groove bamboo is installed like traditional hardwood flooring: with nails or staples that secure the bamboo flooring to the subfloor.
Engineered bamboo is also milled for tongue-and-groove installation and is typically snapped together and placed over an underlay that rests directly on the subfloor. The benefit of this installation method is that the bamboo flooring can be laid on any type of subfloor, including concrete.
How Much Does Bamboo Flooring Cost?
Bamboo flooring typically costs $2 to $8 per square foot, with thicker planks usually costing more. Professional installation adds $3 to $5 per square foot. As you shop, pay attention to warranties on this flooring material, as they are excellent indicators of quality. The best materials usually come with longer warranties.
Advantages of Bamboo Flooring
- Affordability. Bamboo flooring offers a similar look to hardwood flooring at a fraction of the price.
- Durability. It is also surprisingly durable. Uncarbonized horizontal and vertical bamboo flooring is comparable to the durability of oak flooring, while strand woven bamboo has been tested to be more than twice as durable as oak. In fact, bamboo comes out slightly ahead of traditional hardwood in its resistance to water damage, stains and warping.
- Ability to be refinished. Like hardwood flooring, bamboo can be refinished, with the number of times depending on the thickness of the planks. Consult with the manufacturer about any questions you may have about refinishing your bamboo floors and be sure to review the warranty before you proceed.
- Ability to be stained. Another advantage is that naturally light-colored bamboo can be stained almost any color or shade during the manufacturing process. Pre-stained color options range from soft cedar tones to bright reds and greens, so you should be able to find a color to work in your space.
- Clean and calm quality. Bamboo is a good option for those who like modern decor or Zen-like spaces. Its clean, contemporary look complements modern furnishings, and its natural texture can add a meditative quality to a space.
- Simple installation method. Most bamboo flooring is relatively easy to install, with interlocking joints similar to click-in-place laminate and engineered wood flooring. Intrepid DIYers might take it on, though most homeowners will want to call in a pro.
- Warmth and comfort. Bamboo is warmer underfoot than laminate (since laminate is made of plastic) and has a more natural look. While laminate flooring is a cheaper option, it is also harder on the foot than bamboo and can’t be sanded and refinished.
- Somewhat green bona fides. Bamboo flooring is often cited as a greener building material than both hardwood and laminate. Because it is a regenerating grass, it grows much faster than hardwood and can be harvested without the need to replant. This makes it a popular choice with environmentally conscious homeowners. However, there are more factors to consider regarding this material’s relative eco-friendliness (see this story and further down for more details).
Disadvantages of Bamboo Flooring
- It should be used with caution in humid climates. Bamboo grass readily absorbs water, and therefore bamboo floors may be susceptible to warping from water or excessive humidity. Because of the unpredictable rate of expansion and contraction of the flooring in humid climates, it is critical that homeowners in humid areas carefully monitor their room conditions (temperature and relative humidity) to prevent potential problems.
- It can scratch. High heels, pet claws, grit, sand or dirt can cause scratches on bamboo floors. Inexpensive bamboo flooring is more susceptible to scratches and dings than a premium product. Being mindful of your flooring and keeping a regular maintenance regime will help extend the life of your floors.
- It doesn’t work with all decor. If your decor style is not contemporary or spa-like Zen, bamboo flooring may not be the best stylistic fit for your home.
There is an element of controversy as to whether bamboo flooring is an eco-friendly material. On the one hand, it’s a fast-growing plant available in vast quantities, making it a rapidly renewable resource. It also takes the pressure off other wood species, especially exotics. Bamboo reaches maturity in about five years, compared with hardwood trees that take a few decades.
On the other hand, most bamboo flooring is made overseas, and shipping contributes to the material’s carbon footprint. Manufacturing practices abroad can also be questionable. It is important to note that most manufacturers of bamboo floors use a urea-formaldehyde resin during the manufacturing process. Some brands may contain adhesives and formaldehyde that emit toxic volatile organic compounds. Contact the manufacturer to address concerns about off-gassing, and look for the Forest Stewardship Council certificate, which indicates responsible forestry.
How to Clean Bamboo Flooring
Like hardwood flooring, bamboo should be treated carefully. A buildup of dirt and debris can cause scratches, dents and damage to the floor surface. Your maintenance routine should include sweeping your floor regularly with a soft broom. Use a cloth damp with Squeaky clean to spot clean or wipe down your floor when needed. A wet mop should be avoided, as the heavy moisture it carries could potentially warp and damage your bamboo over time. Never use a steam mop, as the heat and steam will penetrate the floor and cause irreparable damage. On a daily basis, wipe up spills as soon as you notice them so liquid does not seep in, and avoid placing wet footwear on bamboo flooring.
Finally, take special care not to drag or slide heavy objects across your bamboo floor since these could damage the surface. Felt protector pads on the bottom of furniture can prevent unsightly scratches on your floor.