Bamboo flooring is an increasingly popular option for homeowners who want an eco-friendly and cost-effective alternative to hardwood. Like all products, though, bamboo has its strengths and weaknesses. How does it fare in two of the rooms most likely to have solid flooring—the bathroom and the kitchen?
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1. Why does location matter?
Each room in your home has its own characteristics, and some of those characteristics can influence which types of flooring are appropriate or desirable in that location.
One such factor is foot traffic. Some areas of your house, such as the main hallways and highly used rooms, need more durable flooring to withstand everyday stresses. Others—guest rooms, for example, or gently used bedrooms—can handle more delicate flooring chosen for its appearance rather than durability.
Another important factor is the level of mess and grime. Areas such as the kitchen can be expected to sustain frequent spills. Mudrooms, true to their name, can accumulate mud and dirt. Pets and children add to the mess in any area of the house they regularly inhabit. Potential odors and germs can also have an impact on flooring choices.
The texture of the floor matters, too. A playroom for children might need some texture to prevent slipping, for example. It would also help for the floor to have some give—the difference between wood and ceramic tile, for example. Some materials even transfer heat more than others. What flooring will be comfortable to your feet early in the morning?
Finally, there are environmental factors that can affect the durability of the flooring. Bright light in some areas can cause uneven fading. More important is the amount of moisture in the air. Certain materials are highly water-resistant while others can be susceptible to mold or warping.
2. What are bamboo’s strengths and weaknesses?
Bamboo flooring has some clear advantages that make it a desirable choice in the right location.
a) Easy to clean. Bamboo doesn’t require much day-to-day maintenance, and you don’t need special products to clean it. It should be swept regularly with a soft-bristle broom, and cleaned using a hardwood floor cleaner and a mop with warm water.
b) Durable. The earlier types of solid bamboo flooring were only moderately durable, but newer strand woven bamboo uses adhesives and high pressure to create a product that can be harder than true hardwoods.
c) Health-Friendly. Bamboo flooring is an inhospitable environment for dust mites, and they repel pollen and dust. It also resists mold and mildew. To maximize the health effects, shop around for formaldehyde-free and low-VOC products.
a. Easy to scratch. Your flooring’s hardness is not the only factor in how it stands up to regular wear and tear. While hard to dent, bamboo floors still have a tendency to scratch, especially when it’s solid bamboo rather than strand woven.
b. Some types are difficult to resurface. Solid bamboo, like hardwood, can be refinished when it has sustained damage. For engineered bamboo with a veneer on top, it can be more difficult to refinish. If the veneer layer is thin, sanding might remove too much material.
c. Water-sensitive. Bamboo flooring needs to be kept dry to avoid warping, visual damage, and bacteria and mold. The protective coating helps, but spills must be cleaned up quickly and mops must not be too saturated in order to keep the bamboo in good shape.
3. In the kitchen
Kitchens are often the hub of the home, with traffic in and out throughout the day. They’re also the home of one of the messiest everyday activities: cooking, with its spills, spatters and dropped items. Kitchens floors must be easy to clean and resistant to water damage.
High-quality bamboo flooring—especially the strand-woven type—can handle dropped dishes here and there and wipes up easily. But since they’re not particularly scratch-resistant, consider whether items such as chairs will be sliding across the floor.
Water can damage bamboo, so consider how water is managed in your kitchen. Do you dry up spills right away? Does your stovetop have proper ventilation when boiling water or cooking with steam?
Bamboo flooring can work in a kitchen for the right household. If you take good care of your home and clean as you go, it can be sophisticated and attractive, with the warmth of wood but for a lower price.
If your house is full of children and/or pets and you’re prone to dropping things and leaving messes, there are better options for you.
4. Alternatives for kitchens
One better option for kitchens that need to withstand some chaos is sheet vinyl. It cleans easily, gives enough to prevent some dropped items from shattering, and won’t allow water to soak in. Newer luxury vinyls look convincingly like tile or even wood. It’s hard to repair damage, though, without replacing the whole floor.
Porcelain tile is another very durable alternative; it is one of the best options for resisting claw marks from pets, and because it’s not porous it won’t absorb water. On the other hand, tile tends to break fallen dishes and can be slippery when wet and requires occasional grout maintenance.
Engineered vinyl plank (EVP), like bamboo, can closely resemble other materials such as hardwoods. It is waterproof and slightly cushioned, making it an appealing choice for kitchens.
5. In the bathroom
Bathrooms are the wettest rooms in the house. Bathtubs, sinks and toilets can all splash or overflow, and showers fill the room with steam, resulting in very high humidity. Even before accounting for wet feet, it’s clear that a bathroom’s floor must be able to withstand water without damage.
That means that—despite its attractive sleek look—bamboo is usually not the right choice in this space. If you decide to proceed with it anyway, be sure to choose a well-sealed product and take care to use ventilation fans and wipe up spills right away.
6. Alternatives for bathrooms
If you love the look of bamboo for your bathroom, you may want to shop waterproof laminate or tile, both of which offer many options that look convincingly like hardwood or even bamboo itself.
For the best in water resistance, high-quality sheet vinyl—which lacks the seams and gaps of wood and laminate—offers plenty of protection.
Natural stone can also stand up to the relatively harsh conditions in a bathroom if used and maintained correctly. Take special note of the texture, though, since a wet floor can be hazardous.
Bamboo is a strong choice for modern, easy-care flooring at a lower price than traditional wood. In a high-moisture environment like a bathroom or kitchen, though, there are better options for avoiding warping and other water damage.