Bamboo flooring has become very popular in recent years. Its benefits are many, including affordability, style, weight, and performance. Whether you are thinking about its stylish appearance or environmentally friendly construction, bamboo is a solid choice to consider.
As with all home improvement projects, there are benefits, drawbacks, and options that you need to consider before you select a flooring material. So, here is all you need to know about buying, installing and maintaining bamboo flooring.
While it’s not exactly a new material, the popularity of bamboo flooring has grown as an alternative to hardwoods due to its exotic look and ease on the pocketbook in comparison to other materials.
Advances in manufacturing have boosted its performance and given new options for its look. Bamboo can be produced in a wide array of wood-like styles and densities. A relatively new variety, “strand-woven” bamboo, is manufactured to be more than twice as hard as oak. With a significantly lower price tag.
Bamboo vs. hardwood – how do they compare?
Hardwood is one of the most popular, long-lasting, and best floorings on the market. Can bamboo flooring keep up with it or is it actually a good competition?
|Durability||Hardness and durability depended on choice of wood. May be prone to scratches and dents.||More durable than most species of wood but may be prone to scratches with use. Durability can depend on quality of bamboo.|
|How it Stands Up to Water||Will warp, stain, and is prone to mold and mildew growth when exposed to moisture||Slightly more water-resistant than hardwoods. Naturally resistant to mold and mildew growth|
|Grading System||Well-established standards and grades||No standardization for grade or quality|
|Lifespan||100 years +||20 to 25 years on average|
|Environmentally Friendly||Yes||Yes, but off-gassing possible|
|Cleaning||Daily cleaning with dust mop, broom, or bare floor vacuum. Can be cleaned with hardwood-specific products. No wet mops. Can be waxed to restore shine.||Daily cleaning with dust or mop, broom, or bare floor vacuum. Can be cleaned with bamboo-specific products. No wet mops. Should not be waxed.|
|Refinishing||Can be refinished||Can be refinished but with extreme care or by professionals|
|Pet-Friendly||Yes, but softer woods can easily be scratched.||Yes|
|Price||Average cost starts at $8 per foot||Average cost starts at $3 per foot|
|Installation methods||Nail-down, staple-down, glue-down, floating||Nail-down, glue-down, floating floor|
|Installation Difficulty||Moderate (Novice DIY-friendly)||Moderate (Novice DIY-friendly)|
|Professional Installation Costs||Begins at about $8 per square foot||Begins at about $6 per square foot|
|Weight||22++ lb/ft3||19 lb/ft3|
While hardwood has it’s benefits, it also has its disadvantages. So does bamboo flooring. I believe the table above shows it quite well. The major differences between the two flooring types are the longevity and price tag.
Other floor materials
There are other floor coverings to consider, such as engineered hardwood, ceramic tile, stone, and laminate. In brief, here are how some other popular materials compare.
Engineered hardwood – a hybrid of materials, including high-density fiberboard with a top layer of hardwood veneer. More moisture resistant, lower-priced and less expensive than hardwood, but less durable and less environmentally friendly. Cost is oftentimes more than bamboo.
Ceramic tile and stone – much more expensive than bamboo. More durable and water-resistant, with a longer lifespan. An entirely different look than bamboo.
Laminate – a hybrid of materials, no veneer of hardwood. Extremely resistant to scratches, but not to water. Lifespan is 50% less than bamboo, on average. Priced comparably, or slightly less, than bamboo.
Natural bamboo vs. carbonized bamboo
The two main types of bamboo flooring materials are natural and carbonized. They differ in looks, cost, and durability.
As the name suggests, natural bamboo features the original and natural look of bamboo. It is a rather golden or blonde tone. The flooring is harder than carbonized bamboo flooring.
What it is known for: Light color and affordability
- Affordable and eco-friendly
- Incredibly durable, almost comparable to traditional hardwood flooring
- Stands up well to water and humidity
- Will work in kitchens, too
- Straw-like color works well with natural lighting
- Hard to keep clean
- Dust and debris show on its light color
- Not as versatile in color as carbonized bamboo
Bamboo, when steamed or smoked for long periods of time, is known as carbonized bamboo. The natural straw color turns into a wood-looking hue. The carbonization process also softens the material, thereby making it more susceptible to damage.
What it is known for: Warm, rich coloring, upscale appearance
- Blends with a variety of decors and interiors because it imitates wood colors
- Is available in different hues
- Dark color minimizes appearance of dust and dirt
- Carbonization process significantly weakens or softens bamboo
- Floor can be damaged easier
- Manufacturing process also makes material more prone to humidity damage
- Not a good fit for kitchens
- Significantly more expensive than natural bamboo
How is bamboo flooring made?
After harvesting bamboo canes, the outer skin will be removed. Then the stems are cut into strings (lengthwise). There are going to be thinner pieces left over because of the round shape of the bamboo canes. These will be used later as well. These go through a boiling process in order to get rid of starches/sugars, grime, and insects (if there are any). This will prevent a termite infestation or other insect invasions. In addition, this step also prevents expansions from humidity. Liquids used for this boiling process are hydrogen peroxide, lime acid, or boric acid, which are all not harmful in theory.
From the water immersion, the bamboo strips can be carbonized before the drying process. The kiln-drying process includes quality control. The pieces that pass are going to be kiln-dried. It creates a hotter environment so that the water evaporates faster.
The dried strips are then glued together. There are 3 different styles, which I go into detail later.
Gluing the bamboo strips is an important factor for eco-friendliness. Certified manufacturers use glue that doesn’t contain formaldehyde. Others may use glue that causes off-gassing.
After the planks are glued and milled, they may get stained in order to have a long-lasting product that can deal with everyday use.
Three main types of bamboo flooring
The bamboo stalks are sliced into thin strips and bound with powerful adhesives. They are then milled into one of these three types of bamboo flooring:
Strips are glued together edge-to-edge, with the skin side up, to form a plank. They usually have a tongue-and-groove fit. This orientation makes maximum use of the stalk and shows the nodes, or “knuckles,” for a classic bamboo look. The layers are offset for additional strength.
This type of bamboo can be natural, stained, or carbonized, for a range of color.
The bamboo strips are soaked in adhesive and arranged with the cut edges up, glued together for a linear look on the surface. It’s the most commonly fitted tongue-and-groove. The nodes of the bamboo are much less likely to show. This orientation can be a little more durable to dents than horizontal bamboo
This type of bamboo is available natural or carbonized. It is not usually stained since the cut ends of the bamboo do not stain well.
Strips are shredded into thin strands and fibers, which are then dried and compressed in giant hydraulic presses to form the plank. The resultant plank is a solid rectangular mass with a random grain pattern. This plank is milled into floorboards that are 2-3 times denser than the other types of bamboo floor covering.
This type of bamboo is very versatile. It is available in many special finishes and surface treatments.
What is engineered bamboo flooring?
The bamboo for engineered bamboo flooring is processed in much the same way as for solid strand-woven bamboo. But only the top layer is bamboo. Below you’ll have plywood. It results in wider, more durable and cost-intense planks.
The thin sheets of processed bamboo are bonded to a base layer of plywood or fiberboard and covered with a clear layer. These large sheets are sliced into planks which can then be cut for tongue-and-groove or “click-lock” edges.
Because of its layer of clear surface wear, as well as a waterproof undercoating, this type of flooring is considered more resistant to moisture and water than natural bamboo. As it is using real wood and more production steps, it is more expensive than normal bamboo flooring.
Buying bamboo flooring: What to look for
As with most materials, the quality of the bamboo you purchase has everything to do with its durability and strength. In determining the quality of your bamboo, hardness is probably the number one concern.
There is a widely recognized scale for wood hardness, called the Janka Hardness Scale. Most bamboo typically score around 1,825, comparable to pecan or hickory. Strand-woven bamboo scores an average hardness rating of 2900 or more, comparable to Brazilian cherry.
Though there is tremendous variation among products, so when purchasing bamboo, be sure to check the hardness rating of the exact flooring you choose.
- Solid bamboo plants come ½ to ⅝ inch thick
- Engineered planks: ⅜ to ½ inch thick
Solid bamboo has standard width of 3¾ inches, but 4- to 6-inch widths are common.
The main ingredient in bamboo flooring is adhesive resin (besides bamboo itself). Cheap urea-based resins can off-gas formaldehyde, a known carcinogen. Find out if your floor has a green certification or indicator of VOC emission.
As with hardwood flooring, the glossier the finish, the more scratches will show. Factory-applied finishes offer superior durability but require more skill and labor to replace.
Types of finishes for bamboo
You can special-order your bamboo without a finish. Once the natural boards are installed, they can then be sanded and custom-stained. When installed this way, it is generally easier to refinish the floor if damage occurs. But this DIY technique doesn’t usually provide a finish with a lifespan if pre-finished bamboo.
The most durable finish for your bamboo floor is a factory-applied finish. The planks are coated in multiple layers (anywhere from 2 to 10) of an aluminum oxide coating for superior water resistance. The flooring is then topped with an additional clear coat for a smooth appearance. Take heed: the glossier the finish, the more scratches will show.
Wax-based coatings, often made of linseed oil, carnauba wax and beeswax, can give a more matte, vintage look. Think of wood with a hand-rubbed oil or wax. Scratches are less noticeable on this forgiving finish. And they are also easier to touch up, though it does need to be reapplied every few years.
The price of the bamboo flooring materials varies depending on the quality of the material, brand, local market and retailer. In general, though, bamboo has a reputation for being more cost-effective than hardwood.
It is safe to say that the price range of bamboo flooring (uninstalled) generally starts at about 60% of that of hardwood. However, as the quality of the chosen bamboo goes up, that margin shrinks exponentially.
Overall cost factors to consider
- Flooring materials: In addition to the square footage of the space, purchase additional for installation mishaps and replacement of damaged planks down the road. Don’t forget to include delivery charges.
- Labor: A professional contractor will charge you not just for the time it takes to lay the flooring. Expect to pay for planning, prep, and clean-up, too. And how long it all takes depends on how big the space you’re covering.
- Supplies: You’ll pay for everything that it takes to turn your flooring materials into a floor: equipment, special tools, hardware, adhesives, and sealants. You may even pay a rental fee if special equipment needs to be borrowed
Is bamboo flooring hard to clean?
No, bamboo flooring isn’t difficult to clean. But to keep your floor looking its best for years to come, it’s good to know the best cleaning method for your material. Your bamboo floors will look great far longer if you learn how to clean and care for it consistently. Protect your investment with these tips and techniques.
Materials and tools to keep on-hand
- Soft fiber or bristle broom
- Soft cloth mop
- Wood cleaner (recommended by manufacturer)
- Soft, clean rags
General Cleaning Tips
- Use a soft-bristle or fine-fiber broom for sweeping, ideally once a day
- Consistently keep gritty dirt and dust off the floor’s surface
- Mop weekly, using a hardwood-rated cleaner or wood soap
- Avoid ammonia, vinegar or any acidic cleaning agent
- Do not over-dilute the cleaners
- Do not use too much water on the floor
- Thoroughly wring your mop
Pros and Cons of a Bamboo Floor
Now that you know what to look for in a floor and what kind of costs to consider, how do you know if you really want a bamboo floor?
In addition to affordability, bamboo flooring has numerous practical benefits. It’s versatile, cost-effective and durable, for starters. But no material is perfect. Bamboo has some negative traits, too. For instance, it can shrink if not manufactured correctly. Let’s take some time to weigh in on the pros and cons of bamboo as a floor covering.
The many benefits of bamboo
Bamboo brings a clean and modern look to any room. It’s trendy, yet elegant and can make a space look upgraded almost instantly. While it’s like hardwood, it is distinctly different look makes it look more stylish, contemporary and hip. For those who enjoy a crisp, modern aesthetic, bamboo flooring is a perfect choice.
A high-quality bamboo floor will wear as well last like hardwood. Certain types of bamboo can be extremely strong, hard, and durable, such as the strand-woven type. Natural bamboo can be as durable as red oak when properly harvested and manufactured.
Bamboo does quite well in areas with high foot traffic or significant activity by people and pets. A bamboo floor can last decades with care and minimal exposure to abrasives and things that can scratch.
As with almost everything you buy, the characteristic of “high quality” is an essential element in the durability of a bamboo floor.
Natural, pest-resistant material
Bamboo flooring is made from natural vegetation, a grass. Bamboo naturally has few pests, and even repels some insects. It does not require extensive farming methods, fertilizers, irrigation, or pesticides
The use of natural materials is an important trend in the construction industry. People have grown more ecologically aware and demanding products that reflect their commitment to the environment.
Bamboo is generally thought to be more sustainable than traditional hardwoods. As a highly renewable and eco-friendly material, it is a famously fast-growing resource. Bamboo can grow up to 5 feet per year and is usually ready to harvest within 5 years. By comparison, a red oak takes over 50 years to mature.
Bamboo is relatively simple to clean and maintain, requiring a regular sweeping or vacuuming to remove small particle debris. A damp mop with a gentle hardwood or bamboo floor cleaner will do the trick when it’s time to wash the floor. No special treatments are required.
Bamboo floors are not waterproof. They are just slightly more resistant to water damage, stains, and warping than hardwood materials. But water is still a concern.
Over time, bamboo floors may become discolored or scratched. It’s good to know that they can be refinished. The floor can be sanded down and then recoated with fresh layers of finish.
Depending on the thickness and quality of your bamboo, you may want to call a professional for this part. If you want to achieve the look of new bamboo flooring, the additional cost of a professional refinish is money well spent.
Easy to install
Bamboo flooring isn’t difficult to install. With the proper tools and guidance, a novice DIY-er can tackle this project without much trouble.
Strand-woven bamboos are many times harder than hardwood flooring. Natural bamboo is light golden in color. To give a darker color to your floor, bamboo is carbonized. Stained bamboo can give abstract streaks to pale bamboo in a light, medium, or dark shade.
The cons of bamboo flooring
Volatile Organic Chemical (VOC) Emission
Bamboo planks are created by compacting the shredded stalks of bamboo with resin-based adhesives. Low-quality brands can emit toxic and volatile organic chemicals over time. Most bamboo floors have this adhesive, but the amount used will vary by manufacturer, as will the level of VOC’s.
Unreliable grading system
Yet, there is no effective or reliable grading system established to rate bamboo planks. When you see a grading of “A” or “B” on plants, it is just an arbitrary category, standardized by no one.
Work with a reputable dealer. Do a little homework. Go for “green” standard planks certified by the government. Taking time to figure out the quality of your planks will go a long way in the long run.
While bamboo definitely has some green qualities, it is still environmentally ambiguous in a lot of ways. Yes, it is a natural and renewable resource, but growing and using it are not without environmental concerns:
- The adhesive and its toxicity of interior space
- Deforestation for replacement with bamboo fields for commercial purposes
- Illegal harvest by irresponsible forestry practices. Look for FSC Certification.
The softness of some bamboo floors
If you go for the strand-woven bamboo flooring, you will have no issues with hardness. However, if you choose a horizontal or vertical bamboo floor, they can be quite soft and not very durable.
If bamboo isn’t allowed to mature and harden before being harvested, the flooring will look great at first but will be soft and weak later. Do research into your manufacturer and make sure their process includes proper maturation and hardening times.
Soft bamboo has a weak structure and can develop scratches easily. Soft, low-quality bamboo can turn out to be problematic.
While bamboo is more resistant to water damage than the average hardwood, it is still a natural material. Too much moisture will cause it to warp or allow mold to grow. A flood can severely damage a bamboo flooring installation.
That’s why we wouldn’t recommend using it in bathrooms.
Installation: DIY or hire a pro?
Bamboo floor planks can be nailed down, glued down or installed as floating bamboo flooring. How you approach the job will depend on the type of subfloor you have:
- Wood – nail-down
- Cement – glue-down
- Hard-to-remove subfloor – floating floor
The floating method is the easiest to install. No matter which method you chose, here’s a checklist of the supplies you’ll need:
- Pencil or chalk
- Safety glasses
- Pneumatic finish nailer
- Tape measure
- Pry bar
- Circular saw
- Hammer tacker
- Rubber mallet
- Knee pads
- Prefinished bamboo plank flooring
- Transition board
- Underlayment, if needed
Other installation considerations
Your flooring project will take planning. Key factors must be considered in your plan: the existing flooring, condition of the structure, and installation add-ons, for instance. These will all affect your bamboo flooring budget, whether you do it yourself or hire a pro. Here are a few of the most common installation considerations to keep in mind:
- Pre-existing floor:
Installation costs may include removal of the existing floors, especially if there are currently hardwood or tile floors in the home, as well as preparing the subfloor for installation of the bamboo materials. For example, certain subfloors may need to be sanded prior to installing the flooring, or holes and crevices may need to be filled to provide a flat surface.
- Replacing joists/plywood:
If the existing subfloor needs repair or replacement, this can significantly increase your bamboo floor installation costs. In some cases, the joists or plywood sheets that are already in the home cannot provide a solid foundation for the bamboo materials. It is important to note, however, that bamboo flooring can be installed directly on top of a solid concrete subfloor, meaning that the existing plywood may simply be removed prior to installation.
- Moldings and baseboards:
Having molding and/or baseboards in the home may result in higher labor costs, as the installers will need to prep the area in advance to ensure the boards are not damaged in the process. This also applies to kitchen islands and bathroom cabinets, as the professional installers must work around these obstacles and cut the bamboo flooring to size.
- Insulating underlay:
Some homeowners choose to install vapor barriers and/or foam underlays beneath the bamboo flooring, which can prevent moisture from getting into the floor and potentially toxic fumes from getting out.
- Stains and sealant:
Most bamboo floors require a coat of sealant after installation. Homeowners can also stain the floor to achieve a darker color. The cost can vary depending on the brand. An average bedroom or living room usually only requires one container, but larger spaces may call for two or more to adequately coat the bamboo floor.
If any sealants or stains are applied, you may need to remain outside the home for 24 to 48 hours to allow the bamboo flooring to dry completely. These products also produce toxic fumes, which can be hazardous when inhaled.
Finding the right flooring contractor
If you’ve decided to professionally install a new bamboo floor and you’ve chosen the materials you want and know your timeline and budget, it’s time to contact a contractor.
Not all contractors are equal, and a floor will have a significant impact on the look and feel of your home. It’s also a big expense. Choosing the right person to work with will help you feel good about this important decision.
10 Questions to ask prospective contractors
- Is the company licensed and insured?
- Are subcontractors covered by the contractors’ liability insurance?
- Does the company have worker’s compensation for anyone who enters your home?
- Has this contractor installed bamboo floors?
- What problems have they run into with bamboo flooring?
- What could go wrong that might cause the price to increase?
- Can they provide examples of their work?
- Can they provide three references from past clients?
- If hired, who will be at your home and who is supervising?
- What is the proposed timeline? If the job goes overtime, who pays?
While this is a lot of information, it doesn’t have to be an inquisition. Having an open and straightforward conversation can pay off big in the end. You want someone who can answer all these questions and offer thoughtful answers. As a bonus, you set expectations early and your contractor will appreciate that.