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Bamboo Flooring:Pros and Cons

Updated on March 7, 2013
Marye Audet profile image

Marye Audet-White is an internationally known food writer, food editor for Texas Living, cookbook author, and food blogger.

Bamboo  Image:Morguefile.com
Bamboo Image:Morguefile.com

Bamboo Flooring

Sustainability and eco-friendliness aside, what are the pros and cons of bamboo flooring?

There is just something wonderful about the look and the feel of wood floors. They can add a warm, country ambiance or contemporary flair. The concern has been for the loss of so many trees. It takes approximately 100 years for a hardwood tree to mature to the point it can be used for floors. There has to be a solution that is better than toxic fake wood, right?

Many people feel that there is. While it take a lifetime for hardwood to mature it typically takes bamboo only about 3-5 years to reach a size that can be used for the manufacture of wood flooring. It is a grass and there is no need to replant it. Bamboo regenerates readily from the rhizomes left in the ground. It does not even require pesticides to do well.

In addition, many people in third world countries rely on the bamboo industry to support their families.

Sounds like the perfect, earth-friendly alternative to wood, but is it?

Installing Bamboo Flooring

Bottom Line-Is Bamboo Flooring Durable?

In comparison the darker bamboo is similar to black walnut and the lighter colors can be compared to maple. These wood varieties, although hardwoods, are considerably softer that oak. They are easily dented and scratched by heavy furniture, high heels, and normal use. Bamboo is much the same. It is not more durable than conventional hardwood, nor is it easier to take care of.

The color variations in bamboo floors are created by heating the bamboo. The lighter the floor is the less it has been heated and the stronger it is. As bamboo is heated it gets softer and more easily marred. The boiling and heating process that created the carbonized color softens the wood by approximately 30%. The bamboo strips are finished with an aluminum oxide finish, however this does not seem to add as much durability as manufacturers would have you think.

The bottom line is that bamboo floors are easily scratched, dented, and chipped, just like many other woods. If you are looking at bamboo flooring press a fingernail or a coin into the wood and see how much, and how easily, it dents. This will give you an idea of what will happen at home.

Types of Bamboo Flooring

The bamboo is naturally hollow, with thin walls. It is very different from conventional wood in the way that it is formed. Strips of the bamboo are laminated to make the desired size of flooring. Some floors are termed "horizontal". This means that the bamboo strips are laminated together so that the top shows the natural growth rings. This makes the wood look like short, choppy rows. Some manufacturers offer three foot lengths while others make bamboo flooring in six foot lengths. Most people prefer the longer lengths because it seems to just look better once it is installed. When bamboo is described as "vertical" the strips are laid on their sides and laminated to create a look of long, thin rows of wood.

Engineered bamboo flooring is not 100% bamboo. This type of bamboo is more durable than other types, however, and resists cupping and is ultimately more stable than pure bamboo. If you live in an area with very high humidity the increased moisture resistance of engineered bamboo flooring may make this a good choice for you. Engineered flooring is described in terms of plies. The number of plies indicated more stability due to the layering of the bamboo.

Stranded bamboo floors are created with bamboo fibers. These fibers are shredded and blended with an adhesive and pressure treated. This is probably the most durable of the bamboo floors. Because of the density of the flooring it is also the hardest to install properly.

Management? Fair Trade? Eco-Friendly?

One of the many problems with bamboo is that large areas of natural forests are being cleared to grow bamboo for export. Large amounts of chemical fertilizers are being used to increase bamboo yields.

The practice of clear-cutting is creating large amounts of erosion. Tilling, pesticides and chemical weeding practices are increasing soil loss and toxicity. Because of these practices biodiversity in these areas is on the wane. There is a resulting loss of native plants and animals due to the changes in the habitat.

There are no bamboo companies that have credible environmental certification. Other woods can be certified by the Forest Stewardship Council but most bamboo products have no certification.

In spring of 2008 Smith and Fong Plyboo earned FSC certification on it's bamboo flooring. Other companies are begining to do this as well. This means that the bamboo from these companies is certified to be grown in a sustainable and responsible manner.

Other issues of concern to consumers that are interested in earth friendly products are:

  • There is not a Fair Trade certification for bamboo.
  • The vast majority of bamboos have formaldehyde binders in the adhesives.
  • It can't be locally sourced
  • It can bleach in areas that receive direct sunlight
  • It will stain easily if not sealed properly

Benefits of Bamboo Flooring

There are benefits to bamboo flooring. Many of the benefits of bamboo are the same as conventional wood:

  • Easily cleaned
  • Non-allergenic
  • Long lasting

It also has some benefits over wood floors:

  • It costs up to 50% less than conventional flooring
  • Bamboo floor can be easily installed over many types of subfloor.
  • Bamboo flooring can be nailed, floated, or glued.
  • It is environmentally friendly in that it is quickly renewable.
  • Some companies are using safer resins with low formaldehyde emissions.
  • It is fire resistant

Should You Choose Bamboo Flooring?

The decision whether to choose bamboo or conventional wood flooring should be made after considering all of the facts and choosing what works best for you. Do not be swayed by what they tell you are the store, or by claims by manufacturers.

As with everything do your homework and ultimately buy what appeals to you the most.

Comments

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    • EcoFriendlyFloor profile image

      EcoFriendlyFloor 5 years ago from Madison, Wisconsin

      I think the main problem with end user experiences with bamboo flooring is perhaps--matching expectations with performance of the product. When sales personnel with little knowledge, experience, or expertise with bamboo flooring attend to a customer--it is likely that you will end up with the wrong product. This happens all of the time.

      For example, a customer enters a flooring showroom with a vision for very dark bamboo floors for their home. The sales person who wants to make a quick buck, will gladly pass over the carbonized horizontal bamboo floor, take the credit card, and move on to the next one. The customer will install this new flooring in their home, and their children and dogs will do their "usual." Within a couple of days, the customer will likely have buyer's remorse. Why? If the sales person had asked the customer about their home environment (pets, kids, sun exposure, shoes worn in the home) the sales person could have warned about the effects of these elements on the floor and perhaps steer the customer to a floor which would be better wearing to the realities of her home. Or, the customer could have said "no problem--I get it, I still want the dark floor, thanks for letting me know."

      So, there needs to be at least a short conversation about how/where the bamboo will be installed, with someone who has experience with bamboo, so that you can make the most informed purchase decision. Indeed, some customers may not be candidates for bamboo flooring.

      Keep in mind, buying bamboo flooring is like buying a chair. They are both manufactured products. You can buy a chair at Walmart for $10, and you can buy a chair at Design Within Reach for $2000. Both serve the same function, but there will be major differences between the quality of ingredients, manufacturing standards etc between them. Not all bamboo is created equal. Bamboo flooring is not a commodity product like Hardwood with a universal grading system of (select and better, #1 common, #2 common). It is a manufactured product, like a chair.

      As the author points out here, it is important to do your due diligence. Have a conversation with a knowledgeable sales person prior to making a purchase of bamboo flooring. It is very important to match your expectations with the proven performance of the floor. This advice is coming from someone who has sold and installed bamboo flooring for over 10 years.

    • profile image

      ct 5 years ago

      you forgot a HUGE pro to bamboo flooring...it's termite resistant!! It's not actually a tree (it's actually in the grass family), so it's not wood, so termites and other wood-destroying insects won't even bother to attack it.

      And regarding SD's comment - the bamboo flooring I got from Lowes a few days ago had the FSC logo----(unless they were lying about it...)

    • profile image

      SD 5 years ago

      Not at all to be critical but bamboo is a weed and the FSC does not want to be any part of certification of something that grows fasted than the periodic visits of FSC personnel to check plantations. There are no bamboo plantations, places where bamboo grow have a hard time keeping it cut back.

      In fact the FSC has done both good and bad things. Especially since the FSC started as a marketing campaign by companies excluded from the original Good Wood Book in the 1980's. Some of the FSC personnel came around Asia preaching how white guys from the west knew more about taking care of hardwood forests than the locals who had thousands of acres of sustained growth hardwoods as old as 150 years. The FSC started requiring a $15,000 fee, per year, be paid for certification. I ask you, what kind of a certification is it that requires a payment of that amount before approval? Some countries paid at first and then five years later the FSC decided they could extort even more money from government agencies tasked with managing the hardwood forests. Instead of wanting $15,000 a year, FSC demanded that same amount for each separate forest area. Some countries had as many as 20 forest areas which would have required a $300,000 a year payment.

      When countries like Indonesia refused, they lost their FSC certification and Chinese merchants moved in, literally over night, and stole over 50,000 hectars of 100 year old hardwood.

      Bamboo on the other hand, the FSC did not even want to discuss, as they classify it as a WEED. The result of FSC actions is loss to the world of 150 years growth of teak and ignoring the uncontrolled growth of bamboo plants.

      GREAT Job Mr. Donovan.

    • profile image

      SRoss, Houston, TX 5 years ago

      We are considering bamboo flooring for our house. My question is that we have a diabetic dog who cannot always make it through the night or wait until we get come before he has to use the restroom. How well does bamboo hold up against dog urine. We've put down the wee wee pads but because he is old he doesn't use them.

    • profile image

      Joe 5 years ago

      We installed bamboo flooring 7 months ago and overall I am not satisfied, but the problem may be that we got a very dark stain.

      We don't have warping or scratches, but there are chips on the edges of some of the planks. Since it is a very dark stain we have, the chips are very visible. When our cat threw up on the bamboo it stained the bamboo and I just don't know how we can restain it at any point in the future. Bottom line, I just can't imagine the bamboo lasting decades that a thick hardwood floor will last.

    • profile image

      achu cyprain (fruachu52002@yahoo.com) 5 years ago

      Greetings and wellcome to Bamenda Cameroon.

      I am the president of the north west craft association (noweca)

      and we are looking for buyers of bamboo from Cameroon

    • profile image

      Engineered timber flooring melbourne 5 years ago

      When we have done renovations to install timber flooring in apartments for our clients, we have double checked with the body corporate and they usually have a requirement to use acoustic (sound insulation) underlay instead of the standard foam stuff. Most flooring outlets will be able to give you an indication of the price of that type of underlay.

      Engineered timber flooring melbourne

    • profile image

      Steve 6 years ago

      If anyone is considering installing Bamboo flooring please do NOT install:

      GOODFELLOW STRAND BAMBOO

      sold by Home Depot and Rona it literally is about as durable as a Bamboo skewer.

      The installer laid the floor and my 20 LB dog sat down and got up and she splintered and cracked the surface through the stain and the terrible finish (her nails are short)

      When the Goodfellow rep came out to my home to inspect the flooring he was smug and rude telling me it is performing as it should. When I asked him about 2 other Goodfellow products he said they were GARBAGE.

      Seriously - this is a terrible product and the company has the worst customer service in Calgary - AVOID!

      If you plan to buy bamboo flooring ask the following questions and do not go on the word of the salesperson:

      1. What is the age of the Bamboo used in this product?

      2.What is the species of Bamboo used in this product?

      3.Where is the bamboo harvested? (Country and region)

      4. Is the factory of production and milling ISO certified?

      5. What type of adhesive used?

      6. Is the bamboo kiln dried?

      7. Is your product LEED accredited?

      8.What is the Janka Hardness rating of this product and what lab was used?

      9. Does your company have FSC certification?

    • profile image

      Vitrified 6 years ago

      It is very interesting about bamboo flooring. One of disadvantaged about bamboo is age, It is not more durable than conventional hardwood or other materials for floor, nor is it easier to take care of. What is about Engineered bamboo flooring? May be this is the right choice for permanent floor

    • The Dirt Farmer profile image

      Jill Spencer 6 years ago from United States

      Excellent and thorough! Thanks.

    • profile image

      Carol 6 years ago

      We had Morning Star strand bamboo installed about 1.75 years ago and we still absolutely love it. Keep in mind that you CANNOT use steam cleaners, buckets of water, etc. on it. We had it professionally installed and it was nailed down over that heavy paper stuff that we had to purchase. No squeaks, no sounds, no warping, looks gorgeous! Couldn't be happier. I did get one small scratch on the floor moving furniture and then quickly put felt pads on the bottom of all furniture and now move it all around with no issues. I use the spray soy cleaner to clean the floor.

    • profile image

      Chris 6 years ago

      Bottom line, this was our 8,000 mistake. We installed the carbonized stranded-woven bamboo. After 6 months we are throwing in the towel. Our tear-out will be great contribution to our landfill. Eco that! Do your research as stated above. If your application is for a floor that you need to walk on, don't buy BAMBOO!

    • profile image

      Helen 6 years ago

      Great info!!!

      Does anyone know of a brand which makes a charcoal colour in bamboo?

    • profile image

      buddylee 6 years ago

      Cupping is an issue with an hardwood floor. The material should be placed on site for a minimum of three days to aclimate to the humidity of the home it being installed in. This should be done with any wood flooring material as well as any wood trim. Thats why trim in most houses shrink and crack. The moisture content must be low before it is cut and installed. As far as the hardness of any particular wood, the same species hardness will vary greatly depending on the quality of the wood harvested and the manufacturing process. Always compare the hardness values of similar brands before purchasing.

    • whitton profile image

      whitton 6 years ago

      Nice Hub. I never knew that Bamboo Flooring had all those benefits.

    • profile image

      Bellevue carpet cleaning 6 years ago

      Bamboo flooring is fit for dance studios or gyms. There are people who are worried about the durability of bamboo flooring because they think that it will be easily damaged when it gets wet. Some people who install bamboo flooring in their home put a carpet on it because the carpet can absorb water and dirt, so it is useful to maintain cleanliness of your home. However, you must still clean it because it's not good if the carpet accumulates a lot of dust.

    • profile image

      georgie1918 6 years ago

      I understand that humidity is an issue with bamboo floors. We just talked to a flooring vendor and he said that almost all of his customers are experiencing "cupping" due to humidity. He has tried all state of the art ways to put a vapor barrier but no success. He said many of his customers had to go and have their floor resanded flat which was not cheap...once that was done, the cupping did not happen again. Has anyone else experienced this? We really want to put in a bamboo floor but are now having second thoughts.

    • profile image

      Richard 6 years ago

      All good information. I installed the .625 inch bamboo hardwood from Lowes last year in the front room. The house is a 1920s bungalow. The original hardwood floors were long since destroyed by water and termites. The carpet was destroyed by the cats. The contractor was pleased with the ease of installation of the product. The existing floors are not level so the strength of the product via the thickness of the product better accommodated without extensive work to level the floor. The bamboo was the natural color and so 30% stronger as noted above in the article (a fact I was not aware of previously). And next week the same contractor will be installing the same bamboo flooring in another room so yes I am pleased.

    • profile image

      Ronald Hart 6 years ago

      I have been hearing more and more about bamboo flooring. Can you tell me if it is better quality than hardwood flooring? I have always been a hardwood fan and I think it would be very interesting to have a comparison of the two.

    • GmaGoldie profile image

      Kelly Kline Burnett 6 years ago from Madison, Wisconsin

      I must add to question the marketability of this flooring. I had beautiful bamboo flooring - sadly a number of people thought it wasn't real. I could have had a bigger impact with something more traditional. It did work wonderfully with two large dogs and I loved the look but felt it wasn't appreciated to the degree of the dollars expended when I went to sell my home.

    • Petstrel profile image

      Petstrel 6 years ago from Slovenia

      Are bamboo floors recommended for a somewhat humid apartment?

    • profile image

      Bert Platt 7 years ago

      One aspect of Bamboo production not often mentioned is that the bamboo "forest" itself is not as eco-friendly as a hardwood forest. Bamboo habitat does not support a wild flora or fauna diversity as does a traditional forest. Even though the bamboo grows more quickly to harvest quality, the hardwood forest provides wildlife a better home.

    • profile image

      TheGirl 7 years ago

      How does bamboo flooring fare with pets? I am considering bamboo but I have 3 dogs. Thanks!

    • JonSterling profile image

      Jon Sterling 7 years ago from Houston Texas - United States

      I love bamboo floors - We had in two thirds of our last house, and we are looking forward to installing in our current home soon.

    • stephhicks68 profile image

      Stephanie Hicks 7 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      Excellent hub! I love bamboo flooring as a green and sturdy home improvement material

    • profile image

      Don 7 years ago

      Reading this board you would think White or Red Oak flooring would not ding or scratch as easy as bamboo flooring, hogwash! I have had both and the Bamboo is as resiliant as wood. If you drop something on any wood floor, bamboo included, you'll get a ding, scratch, etc. The name of the game is take care of your floors; clean them, put down rugs or protective mats where needed (like roll around chairs for example. I think all of these wood floors loog grat, but so far I like the Bamboo the best. :)

    • profile image

      Big Kat 7 years ago

      many thanks for all the earlier comments i am slowly getting it. must shop round. love the look love the eco ness. but need to get the right stuff . so FSC is ok now and Compressed is the hard stuff. I love the satin finished coffee coloured stuff. Any one know a good UK retailer or supplier.

    • profile image

      MikeM 7 years ago

      Numerous manufacturers source bamboo from FSC certified forests - I guess a lot happened in the last two years!

    • KKalmes profile image

      KKalmes 7 years ago from Chicago, Illinois

      Hello Marye, very useful hub... my son wants bamboo in his entire apartment, bamboo everything and this floor info is great.

    • profile image

      kriss 7 years ago

      This was written 2 years ago, and bamboo technology has improved immensely. Keep away for vertical or horizontal. The new compressed bamboo is extremely strong. harder than any wood on the market.

    • altemoebel profile image

      altemoebel 7 years ago

      Bamboo is good stuff, defenitely better than crappy lamination!

    • reiseberichte profile image

      reiseberichte 7 years ago

      Thanks for sharing these informations with us.

    • profile image

      LHackaday 7 years ago

      I had estimates given to me on a white oak floor and a bamboo floor. I thought I would be saving money PLUS helping the environment. The bamboo floor was almost the same price as the oak, $20 higher in fact. PLUS, I don't know that I am as convinced that I am helping the environment, if I end up having to replace it. Your comments have given me a lot to think about.

    • Glenn Stok profile image

      Glenn Stok 7 years ago from Long Island, NY

      Thanks for all this detailed info. I was considering it but bow I know I need to do more homework.

    • profile image

      Marla 7 years ago

      My husband and I are doing a Hawaii them sunroom and back yard and wanted the theme for the floors to. Thanks for all of your advise. It is really helping me make a decision.

    • profile image

      Brendon 7 years ago

      I have bamboo flooring in my house - it is harder than native timbers - i've had it for about three years and it looks amazing still.

    • profile image

      bmconn 7 years ago

      We installed bamboo flooring one year ago. It looks nice but is so loud and squeaky with every step. I can even hear my one pound cat approaching my room. I have to walk slow and tiptoe in the morning so as not to wake up my kids. I would never get it again!

    • GojiJuiceGoodness profile image

      GojiJuiceGoodness 7 years ago from Roanoke, Virginia

      The flooring looks impressive! Thanks for making this hub; great info.

    • profile image

      Brandy 7 years ago

      We put Bamboo flooring down and it was very beautiful for about a year but it has warped! Making a huge hump in my hallway. Stay away from Bamboo and Home Depot who won't fix the crapppy job that they did! Carpet Pro's were the installers and they basically told me to go jump off a bridge when I wanted it repaired. We are going to rip it out and put in tile! We have spent 10,000 bucks now on floors! Do your reasearch,sure as hell wish we would have!

    • profile image

      Stephanie 7 years ago

      Bamboo loses its shine and scratches appear everywhere. What;s up with those tiny invading holes? Spent way too much money - laminate look and wear better than bamboo

    • Maddison81 profile image

      Maddison81 7 years ago from California, USA

      Iev always wanted bamboo flooring on our balcony, but ive always been afraid of how to will stand up to the sun and whether it would warp. Thank for a very informative article.

    • profile image

      teragrenbamboo 7 years ago

      nice info very informative. been doing a lot of researching on bamboo flooring and this is one of the most informative

    • profile image

      Chan 8 years ago

      I have bamboo flooring in my whole home - and love it. It does tend to dent if you drop somethign heavy on it or scratch furniture across it, but the same is true of mostly any hardwood. I love the look and texture, and the fact that it's sustainable. It's true though that many of the bamboo flooring products are not FSC certified...It would be lovely to have some more fair trade/FSC choices available!

    • profile image

      alan 8 years ago

      we just installed it two days ago and it is terrible!!!! It already has a lot of scratches and even gouges. I think it is softer than pine.. steer clear of this stuff, i am tearing it out and reinstalling something else next weekend

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 8 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Very informative hub. Sad to hear that it is being clear cut in places. As with everything, we have to be better stewards of this earth so that plants and animals can continue to co-exist.

    • Frieda Babbley profile image

      Frieda Babbley 8 years ago from Saint Louis, MO

      We put in bamboo flooring in our front rooms about 5 years ago. I have to say I love it. It is getting a bit more expensive now in certain areas where it's more in demand. People tend to be frightened of it, but I love it to pieces! It was the best move I ever made.

    • dannykeyes profile image

      dannykeyes 9 years ago

      That is a detailed explanation about bamboo flooring. Thanks!