How to Install Cork Flooring Material (8 Simple Steps)

A photograph of a cork floor halfway through installation with some cork tiles already laid and adhesive spread out on the subfloor ready for further tiles to be stuck to. In the bottom right of the image is a cartoon workman laying cork tiles, and across the top of the image are the words "How to Install Cork Flooring Material (8 Simple Steps)."

Ready to give your floors a stylish and sustainable upgrade?

Cork flooring is all the rage these days, and it’s not hard to see why. This eco-friendly material is not only beautiful and versatile, but it’s also durable, easy to clean, and provides natural insulation.

But wait, before you start picturing your lovely new cork floor, do you know how to install cork flooring material?

Following the right cork flooring installation process is essential for a successful floor makeover. Remember, you want to avoid a floor that chips easily or swells due to moisture accumulation within the subfloor.

In this article, I’ll discuss how to install cork flooring material. This step-by-step guide lets you know the materials and tools you need and how to properly install your new cork flooring.

A photograph of a cork tile with a cartoon man laying tiles.
Laying cork tiles must be done with great care to follow the manufacturer’s recommendations, which vary considerably.

A quick note before we begin:

There are some important nuances to the installation of cork flooring, especially concerning the application of the flooring adhesive. The method outlined below is the one I used after speaking to the cork tile supplier.

Different manufacturers and suppliers have different recommendations for the type of adhesive to use, so don’t make the mistake of using the wrong type or applying it incorrectly. Take care with this, or you could make an expensive mistake.

If you’d rather avoid the use of adhesives, I can recommend cork planks instead, which click together without the need for adhesive. “Floating floors” of this type are much easier and cleaner to install but must not be used in bathrooms.

If in any doubt, speak to a professional before embarking on a DIY project using cork. It’s a beautiful natural material but needs the right handling and care for the correct installation.

Now let’s get into the installation process.

Materials and Tools

First off, let’s gather all the necessary materials and tools. They include:

Tools are set out on a wooden floor with cork next to them. The tools include a hammer, spirit level, tape measure, and utility knife.
It’s important to ensure you have the right tools for the job.

Now that you have the materials and tools, put on your protective eyewear and mask and let’s get down to the nitty-gritty.

Step 1: Prepare the Subfloor and Underlayment

The subfloor must be sound, free from carpeting, clean, and dry. Make sure to remove the previous flooring before you begin the installation.

Use a vacuum cleaner to remove any dirt or debris. If there are any cracks, repair them with a suitable floor leveler or other means appropriate to the subfloor material. Imperfections can telegraph through to the cork surface.

Ensure the subfloor’s moisture content is within the acceptable limit of 3 pounds per 1,000 square feet area over 24 hours.

If you’re installing cork flooring over existing flooring or wooden floorboards, you’ll need to lay down ¼” plywood over the top and fasten it down securely before laying the cork tiles to provide a firm, smooth, flat base.

You can then put down cork underlayment for added insulation. Use a utility knife to cut it to size and roll out each piece parallel to the wall, leaving a 1/8-inch gap between the edges of the tiles and the wall.

Cut off any extra material that may overlap or stick out from the walls.

Step 2: Prepare the Cork Tiles

A scattered stack of cork tiles set out on a floor to acclimatize before installation.
It’s important to allow the tiles to acclimatize before installing them.

Allow the cork tiles to acclimate to the room temperature for 48 to 72 hours. Keep them away from direct sunlight or moisture.

Acclimation is necessary to minimize excessive squeaks, board movements, and gaps.

It’s worth mentioning that during the acclimation process, you should only unwrap the tiles from the plastics once you’re ready to install them to prevent curling.

The tiles must be installed within one to two days of opening.

Once everything is in order, apply flooring adhesive (preferably contact Wakol D 3540) onto the back of the tiles and wait for them to flash dry for 45 minutes to an hour before laying them.

Step 3: Determine the Center of the Room

It’s advisable to start your installation from the room’s center. This helps you to evenly space out all the tiles on both sides.

To find the center of your room, snap a chalk line or use a tape measure to determine the midpoint of two adjacent walls.

Draw a line from the mid-point of each adjoining wall to the opposite wall. The intersection of these lines marks the center of the walls, which will be your starting point.

Step 4: Apply Flooring Adhesive to the Subfloor

Cork flooring adhesive is applied to the subfloor with a notched trowel before laying the cork tiles.
Take care to follow the manufacturer’s recommendations for installing a cork floor. Otherwise, you might end up making a costly mistake.

Using an adhesive spreader, spread the adhesive onto the subfloor, starting from the center point. You need to cover the floor’s first quadrant as the starting point.

Allow the adhesive to dry a little. Depending on the room’s temperature, this can take approximately 45 to 60 minutes.

Step 5: Install the Cork Tiles

Start by setting a tile in the center of the room, then work outward, row by row.

Use tapping blocks to connect tiles, ensuring each consecutive tile is flush with its neighbor.

You must be careful when installing the cork tiles because the adhesive binds once it comes into contact with itself. When this happens, it becomes difficult to achieve precision adjustments.

Use a straight edge and utility knife, or saw to cut any protruding sections.

Make sure to stagger the tiles in different directions. This will give your flooring a unique look.

Once you install one tile, pat it down firmly with a rubber mallet for a tight fit.

Continue laying out the tiles until you complete the installation process, then seal all joints with caulk or wood filler.

Expert advice: Ensure you have a damp cloth nearby to wipe excessive adhesive from the surface before it cures to maintain an appealing look.

Step 6: Clean and Vacuum

Once everything is in order, gently clean or vacuum the floor to remove dust and debris.

Use a damp cloth to remove traces of excessive adhesive and leave the floor to dry for 24 hours.

Step 7: Apply Polyurethane

A photograph of a cork floor tile with a drawing of a pot of polyurethane and a paintbrush over it.
Polyurethane helps to protect cork floors from moisture and is essential for cork floors in bathrooms and kitchens.

Polyurethane coating is necessary to waterproof the cork flooring.

It’s advisable to apply the first polyurethane coat after 24 hours and wait for an additional 6 to 12 hours before coating the second time.

However, you should abrade the first coat manually (by hand using 180 grit or higher sandpaper) before applying the second coat.

After applying the final polyurethane coat, leave the floor to dry for another 24 hours. Once that is done, your cork flooring is available for light use, like walking. It’s not advisable to install furniture, pet beds, area rugs, and other heavy items on the floor at this time.

Wait at least five days before placing heavy furniture on the cork flooring. The waiting time can be longer, depending on the room and floor conditions.

Step 8: Clean and Maintain the Floor

Wait for the finish to cure for at least two weeks before damp-cleaning the flooring. Damp cleaning entails using a slightly wet mop or cloth – not dripping or completely soaking.

You can use a non-staining maintenance product like pH neutral hardwood floor cleaner to keep the floor looking beautiful.

Avoid wax-based products as they form a sticky film on the cork surface that can be hard to remove.

Bleached and ammonia-based cleaners are also a big no-no because they can damage the flooring’s finish.

With proper maintenance, your cork floor should last 40 years or more.

If you feel overwhelmed by these steps, watch the video below for a demonstration:

A screenshot of a video about installing cork floors. The image shows a worker laying a cork floor tile carefully onto the prepared subfloor.
Image courtesy of Forna Cork on YouTube.

Final Thoughts On The Best Way To Install Cork Flooring Material

Now that you know how to install cork flooring material, there’s no excuse not to maximize the potential of your floor space.

Take your time to go through the steps outlined above before embarking on the installation journey.

It’s also well worth speaking with the manufacturer or supplier of the cork flooring you intend to use to ensure you are aware of the details of the recommended installation method because this is critical to achieving a good finish and there are differences between manufacturers.

Moreover, don’t forget to use protective gear like gloves and goggles when handling cork tiles or adhesive materials.

Before you leave, here is a guide to installing an engineered wood floor, should you also be looking for advice on that type of flooring.

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