This post offers some innovative natural cork brands that have gone above and beyond the norm to create non-toxic and 0-VOC products.
Most cork flooring is click-together and made with a high density fiberboard (HDF) core which is usually made with formaldehyde glues.
Some cork flooring is cork all the way through.
The agglomerated cork of either type needs glue to hold it together. The cork is conventionally bonded with polyurethane glues, formaldehyde glues, and sometimes some polyvinyl acetate (though that is not the main glue).
Polyurethane and formaldehyde glues do have noticeable offgasding, and some can be quite high in odor. Note that cork itself has a fairly high natural odor at first, higher than wood, but faster to go down.
We want to look for extremely low or 0-VOC options, or the next best thing is to look for GreenGuard Gold certified brands.
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Why Go With Cork
- Cork is very environmentally friendly, the trees are not cut down to produce cork and animals can continue using the forest as habitat at all stages. Some brands are carbon negative.
- It can very healthy to the homeowner since a few brands come in at 0-VOC or close to 0-VOC.
- It’s always soft to walk on and feels warm to the feet.
- Can be used on the wall for the decorative effect and for sound reduction.
- Provides insulative value.
- Provides sound reduction between floors.
Non-Toxic Click-Together Cork
1. Amorim Wise Cork Wise
I got samples of the WISE Waterproof Amorim Cork flooring and I definitely think this is the healthiest brand out of all of the ones I have seen. I could pick up the offgassing slightly (it’s not zero-VOC but it’s close). It’s lower in offgassing than more other options and it made pretty good progress over time. Many sensitive folks like it.
It’s cork through and through. Polyethylene is the main binder, but it also contains some formaldehyde and BPA. It looks like they have not re-submitted their Declare label for 2023 but you can see the old one here. It is GreenGuard Gold.
The top coating is a BPA-free recycled PET (water bottles) coating Called HRT.
- Its PVC-Free/phthalate-free
- Waterproof, and pet-proof
- Residential or commercial
- It provides insulation and noise reduction
- Negative carbon balance
Amorim Woodwise which has a PET plastic (not vinyl) engineered top layer falls into this category as well. I consider that topcoat very safe. This is similar to a laminate flooring in that the top layer is a plastic faux food. Unlike laminate the cork/PET core makes it truly waterproof.
2. Amorim/Wickanders Cork Go
This is a click-together cork flooring with cork top layer, cork underlayment, and a high density fiberboard (HDF) core. The majority of click-together cork is constructed this way. However this one is different in its chemical composition.
The Cork Go line claims to not use polyurethane or formaldehyde glues in the product, including in the HDF layer. This layer is typically made with formaldehyde glues. Plus the cork itself is usually made with polyurethane or formaldehyde glues. The finish on top is a factory sealed UV-cured acrylic that is 0-VOC.
The installation is glue-less and you don’t need an underlayment over a wood subfloor.
The odor of Cork Go is mild.
Zero-VOC Glue Down Cork Tile
This type of cork is cork through and through and it’s a glue-down tile. The key thing to look for here is what kinds of glues are used to hold the cork together.
The best brands are zero-VOC. Some are high in offgassing from polyurethane and/or formaldehyde glues.
Cork tiles are soft underfoot and are one of the best insulators of sound and heat. A sheet with a thickness of 3mm to 12mm can dampen the sound by 10-40 decibels.
1. Forna Tiles
Forna cork tiles from Cancork/icorkfloor claims to be 0-VOC and be made without formaldehyde.
Some lines claim they are low-VOC.
This cork tile is a glue down tile that also needs to be sealed in house. They recommend Loba 2K polyurethane to seal the top and Wakol D 3540 water-based 0-VOC contact cement to glue them down.
More Conventional Cork Flooring
Most cork flooring is engineered cork which has a HDF core. It has a cork top layer and cork underlayment. The HDF core is usually made with formaldehyde and the cork is also compressed with glues including formaldehyde, polyurethane, and others.
1. Forna Click-Together
Forna click-together cork flooring from Cancork/icorkfloor claims to be made without formaldehyde though it’s not clear if they are claiming just the cork parts are made without formaldehyde or the HDF is too, it sounds like just the cork part. So be aware of that distinction which can easily be confusing.
Some of their floating (click-together) floors reveal that they are made with a glue that’s predominately polyurethane with some PVA adhesive. They say the HDF complies with the lowest formaldehyde ratings (which all of it does now).
2. Floor & Decor
Floor & Decor cork click-together plank floors have a HDF core, UV cured finish (that part likely has no offgassing). They don’t give any information on the glues used in the HDF or in the cork parts. They are GreenGuard Gold certified.
Floor & Decor also has cork flooring with a faux wood look on top (kind of like a laminate flooring) then a layer of cork, then HDF, then cork below. They also don’t give out information on the glues but it is GreenGuard Gold Certified.
3. Cali Floors
Cali Floors cork flooring with natural cork as the top layer was one I found to be the best a few years ago before Amorim Wise came along.
They now offer Pura CALI Cork Classic which has a cork top layer and HDF core. This looks like just a standard cork and HDF flooring, with standard glues.
Corinne Segura is a Building Biologist Practitioner with 8 years of experience helping others create healthy homes.
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