The Pros and Cons of Bamboo Flooring

Bamboo flooring has been touted as the environmentally-friendly choice — but is it really green?

By: John Riha

Bamboo flooring has gotten a lot of attention since it was first introduced a couple of decades ago. Although it’s typically referred to as a hardwood flooring, bamboo is actually a grass that’s highly processed to produce flooring and other home improvement products.

All bamboo flooring is engineered, meaning the strands of grass are sliced and shredded, then pressed back together with heat and glues to form the flooring boards.

  • Vertical bamboo has a uniform, striped look.
  • Horizontal bamboo shows the “knuckles” in the grain pattern that’s commonly associated with bamboo flooring.
  • Strand woven bamboo mixes the grass fibers together so that they’re interlocked — it’s the hardest and most expensive type of bamboo flooring.

Because bamboo is naturally light in color, it may be “carbonized” to darken the surface. Carbonized bamboo flooring is softer than natural bamboo.

The cost of bamboo flooring is $5 to $8 per square foot, which is about the same as most common hardwood flooring types. Installing bamboo flooring means gluing or nailing to a subfloor. Pro installation adds $3 to $5 per square foot.

When it comes to pros and cons of bamboo flooring, there’s some controversy about whether or not it’s a sustainable material. On one hand, it’s a fast-growing plant that’s available in vast quantities, so it’s a rapidly renewable resource. Also, using bamboo takes pressure off other wood species, especially exotics.

On the downside, most bamboo flooring is made overseas where oversight of the manufacturing process is sketchy. That means some brands may contain adhesives and formaldehyde that emit toxic VOCs. Also, because most bamboo flooring comes from overseas, the cost of shipping contributes to the material’s carbon footprint (and it’s price).

If you’re concerned, look for bamboo flooring products from companies that have been certified by the Forestry Stewardship Council (FSC) for their harvesting and manufacturing practices.

Bamboo Flooring Pros:

  • Top-quality bamboo flooring is as durable as traditional hardwood flooring. However, not all bamboo flooring is created equal. Look for flooring with a substantial warranty.
  • For those who prefer modern décor, bamboo flooring has a clean, contemporary look.
  • Properly finished bamboo flooring cleans easily with a mop and mild soap.
  • Like other hardwood flooring, bamboo may be refinished, depending on the thickness of the planks.
  • Laminated bamboo flooring, with a top layer glued to multiple sub-layers, is DIY-friendly.

Bamboo Flooring Cons:

  • Inexpensive bamboo flooring is susceptible to scratches and dings.
  • Bamboo grass readily absorbs water and is susceptible to damage from water and excessive humidity.
  • The contemporary look of bamboo doesn’t fit with all décor.
  • Bamboo flooring is limited to a few tonal shades.
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