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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 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.


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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'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.

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