How much do you know about natural flooring?
Although synthetic floors are currently a more common choice in modern homes, the organic, natural feel could be exactly what your home is missing – you may just not know it yet.
After reading this guide, you will know everything about natural flooring – the vast range of natural fibres suitable for it, the many benefits of it, the unique characteristics of it, how to treat and maintain it, and how to lay it.
Everything you need, is in the guide below.
Read on and discover why natural flooring is the perfect fit for your home.
Choosing the right type of flooring can be a tough task. The expansive range of styles can leave you spoilt for choice, but have you ever considered natural flooring?
Yes, ceramic tiling, synthetic carpets, and vinyl flooring may be what immediately springs to mind, but opening your home to natural floors can drastically improve your living space.
Any flooring made from 100% natural and renewable material is classed as natural flooring; different types of this flooring will suit certain rooms more than others.
There are two main types of natural flooring; these are:
Plant fibres are frequently used across the globe.
Your paper, cloth, rope and many other everyday materials have been produced by fibre plants grown as field crops.
But it doesn’t stop there. Plant fibres can produce a range of materials, the type of material that is produced, however, depends on the type of fibre that is cropped.
There are three main types of plant fibre, these are: seed fibres, soft (or bast) fibres and hard fibres.
Seed fibres are collected from seeds or seed cases. Cotton is the most common seed fibre and some would say it’s the most important fibre of all – it has the perfect properties needed to be spun into thread.
Soft fibres, also known as bast fibres, are found in the inner bark or cell walls of plants. These fibres are high in strength and durability so are best suited for fabrics, packaging and paper.
Hard fibres are typically collected from leaves or fruit, materials like sisal and coir are produced from these types of fibres.
You can categorise every plant fibre under either seed, soft, or hard fibres; the most common ones are listed below:
Sisal carpet is one of the most popular natural flooring choices; it can come in a range of styles, colours, and designs.
Whether your floorcovering is a rug or a wall-to-wall carpet, there is a sisal design that will suit your living space requirements. Due to its natural strength, sisal flooring is perfect for your hectic family household. But, even if you live in a calmer environment, its beautiful range of colours and designs will present an option perfect for your floor.
Deriving from the leaf of the Agave Sisalana plant, this fibre is traditionally used for rope manufacture. The leaves are crushed, washed, dried, and then the fibres are extracted and spun into yarn – the yarn is then woven into a range of weave designs.
As well as rope, the sisal material can be woven into beautifully designed rugs and even fully-fitted carpets.
Coir carpet is the perfect natural flooring solution for busy spaces. Made from the fibre taken from the husks of coconuts, it is incredibly strong, highly durable and textured. The raw fibres are carefully spun by hand to create distinctive rustic designs.
Coir flooring flawlessly suits both minimalistic and traditional room settings, able to withstand the high levels of traffic plus the wear and tear of modern life.
Although it can be fitted in many variations of room, avoid laying coir floors in high moisture areas like the bathroom or kitchen as water and other liquids can ruin the material.
Inherently strong and resistant, seagrass is better known for its uses in baskets and hats, but this is what makes it ideal for flooring.
Seagrass is grown in paddy fields which are flooded by sea water in the growing season. Once fully grown, the crops are harvested, dried and spun into a strong yarn suitable for weaving into products like bags, baskets, and natural woven flooring.
Again, it is not advised to use this type of flooring in wet areas, but seagrass carpets are suitable for every other room in your home – in the style of a rug or fitted wall-to-wall.
The jute fibre is long, soft and shiny and can be spun into highly textured, strong threads. It is produced from plants within the Corchorus genus.
The fibre is used to make burlap, hessian, cloth, and floorcoverings.
The jute collection provides the ultimate mix of aesthetics and practicality, which is one of the most popular combinations in the floorcovering industry – and the world!
The floor produced by this fibre is extremely soft to touch. Don’t mistake softness for weakness, though, as Jute is capable of withstanding heavy domestic wear and tear, too. This makes it suitable for most areas in the home, other than areas high in moisture.
This flooring is produced using the outer bark of the cork tree, a species which mainly grows in Mediterranean climates.
The natural cork material is highly beneficial for the planet and because of this, no trees are ever felled or removed when the material is being harvested. After they’ve been harvested cork trees regenerate quickly and can live up 200 years old.
Increasing issues with global warming have resulted in eco-friendly products being more popular and necessary than ever before; therefore, cork flooring could be the best pick for you. Cork trees can effectively retain large amounts of carbon, excrete warmth, provide comfort and absorb sound!
Cotton is one of the most popular fabrics in the world. There’s a good reason for it too, as a natural cellulose fibre it has lots of useful characteristics, such as: comfortability, excellent retention of colour, good absorbency, strength, and much more.
With these characteristics, it’s no wonder cotton is so frequently used all over the world.
Cotton is produced from plants of the genus Gossypium; it produces large white, creamy or yellow flowers that fall off to leave a large capsule that contains a mass of white cotton fibre along with the seeds.
The main fibres obtained from animals are wool and silk.
While wool is typically produced from sheep, goats, llamas, yaks, alpacas, and even camels, silk is derived from the cocoons of silkworm larvae.
Let’s discuss these fibres in more detail.
Viscose can be made using any raw scour of cellulose, but it is most commonly created from wood pulp. Viscose is, therefore, man-made and is known as a regenerated cellulosic fibre.
This product can dye easily, is naturally non-static, has a unique reflective brilliance, and best of all – it’s affordable! Yes, this product is inexpensive and, with cellulosic dyes, the fibres can be dyed into many beautiful colours.
As well as Viscose Rayon (its most generic name), you may also hear Viscose be referred to as faux or artificial silk – this is because its properties are similar to silk, just without the premium price!
In general, this type of fibre is very delicate and soft to touch due to its high absorbency. Where cotton has an absorbency of 8%, viscose’s moisture absorbency can be as high as 13%.
As we know, wool is produced from a range of animals, but it mostly comes from sheep. Wool was the first ever animal fibre to be spun into yarn, after some experimentation it was discovered that sheep’s wool provides the most warmth compared to other animals – hence why it is the most common.
Animals that can provide us with wool have a thick coat of hair (their fleece) which keeps them warm; this is what is obtained to produce the wool which we use for clothing, pure wool carpets, rugs, and many other products.
A sheep’s fleece is not ready-to-use as soon as it is sheared, the fibres need to go through a small process before it can be called wool.
Removing the sheep’s fleece. It is generally done in the warmer months as this is when the sheep don’t require their thick woolly coats to keep warm. Shearing is typically performed by hand with the help of mechanicals shears; the animals are not harmed during this process.
After scouring, the hair is sorted by different textures and types. Some parts of the sheep’s coat have better hair than others, so this separates the low-quality fibres from the high-quality ones.
This is where the sheared hair is thoroughly washed. The fibres are put in a series of large alkaline tanks where grease, dust, and dirt is removed by machines. Rollers will then squeeze excess water from the fleece, but the fleece is not allowed to dry completely.
The fibres are then passed through metal teeth which are used to straighten them. Carding will also remove residual dirt and the remaining particles of matter left in the fibres. The fibres are blended into silvers; these silvers are thinned and compacted through a process called drawing.
One strand of yarn is formed by spinning the fibres together; the strand is then spun with three or four other strands. The fibres easily stick and cling to one another, so it is not difficult to join, extend and spin the wool into yarn. This process is typically done with a spinning machine.
The spun yarn is then woven into fabric. There are two main weaves that are used: the plain weave and the twill. A plain weave produces fabric with a looser weave and a soft surface; twill weaves produce a more tightly woven fabric, usually better constructed and more durable.
After weaving, the wool undergoes a series of procedures to be finalised, these include: fulling (interlocking the fibres by dipping the fabric in water), crabbing (making the interlock permanent), shrink-proofing, and dyeing. Dyeing is not an essential step, and many manufacturers prefer to keep the natural colour.
In recent years, being more environmentally-friendly has become more important than ever. This can, however, be difficult in everyday life due to practical and financial restrictions.
You may be sceptical about many aspects of the global warming crisis, but if one thing is for certain, it’s that investing in natural flooring contributes to the solution.
Like everything, though, there are pros and cons to both natural and synthetic flooring. For instance, synthetic flooring is typically cheaper than natural flooring and can be more resistant to stains. On the other hand, it probably won’t last as long as natural flooring, it indirectly contributes to global warming, and can be bad for your health.
With natural flooring, however, the pros enormously outweigh the cons.
As they are natural products, all natural materials are completely biodegradable. This means the manufacturing process for all natural flooring is completely sustainable, disposing of the products will not add to global warming or pollution.
As well as making the world more healthy, natural flooring can also keep you healthy too. Many synthetic floors emit harmful toxins when disposed of, they are also filled with chemicals to create different colours and styles, and these could cause harm to both you, and the world.
Natural flooring is, well, natural so it does not carry harmful compounds and chemicals. Due to the lack of artificial substances, it is far less likely to trigger any allergies.
One of the best things about natural flooring is its lifespan. With the right amount of maintenance, these products can last a lifetime!
And why shouldn’t they?
These materials are extremely hard wearing, durable and strong; these attributes allow natural floors to hold their physical appearance, quality, and value.
A cork tree can live up to 200 years old, so what’s stopping its fibres from doing the same? Nothing.
In the wild, natural products have had to evolve to survive. Because of this, they’ve formed a general resistance to many particles and bacteria that would, otherwise, need to be artificially repelled.
Therefore, there’s less need to introduce additional toxins and chemical treatments to the natural materials as they will do their job automatically. This, in turn, reduces the flammability of natural floors and they will usually tend to burn out before spreading.
Most natural floors are anti-static, anti-bacterial, fungicidal, insecticidal, and they naturally repel dirt and dust.
Of course, natural flooring does have a few drawbacks such as the limited range of colours to choose from and its inability to withstand high moisture areas.
Like anything, different materials have different characteristics. Plastic, for example, tends to be waterproof, a good electrical insulator, and it isn’t biodegradable. Metal, on the other hand, is ductile, very strong, and a great electrical conductor.
The way to treat different materials will depend on the specific characteristics they have. For instance, metal is ductile so it can be stretched into wire – glass, however, is not ductile so if you tried this, it would just smash.
Just like any other material, natural flooring has its own set of unique characteristics and therefore needs to be treated and maintained accordingly.
Although many natural fibres possess different characteristics that set them apart from one another, the main fibres used for flooring do share a large quantity of the same properties.
Tufts, knots, and irregularities are expected characteristics for natural elements, and it’s no different for natural flooring. With this type of flooring, you will inevitably find small knots and lots of irregularities in the material; this characteristic can be both a positive and a negative.
If you’re a perfectionist who prefers things to be neat, tidy and organised, natural flooring could become a frustration. The irregularities, however, are part of the inherent beauty of the flooring, so appreciating this aspect will enhance the room’s natural feel and can be extremely therapeutic.
Natural flooring is perfect for any area that receives high levels of traffic as it is very resistant to wear and tear. Due to tightly woven fibres, most natural flooring is strong and durable which means it can withstand a lot of heavy wear without showing signs of damage.
It is important to note natural floorings are inherently anti-static; this mixed with tightly woven strong fibres results in quite a rough surface for some of the materials like coir and seagrass. Rough surfaces can be therapeutic, but it may not be suitable for areas where you walk around bare-foot or sit on the floor – it would be better suited for corridors, mats, and so on.
Some natural materials, though, are extremely comfortable under-foot. Jute, for example, is very soft and would be a brilliant choice for a bedroom carpet or rug. However, please note that jute is not as hard wearing as other types of flooring.
The only way to effectively clean natural flooring is with dry cleaning compounds. If water or any other liquid contacts any natural flooring type, there’s a high chance of damaging the material.
Most natural flooring materials will shrink after encountering liquid, but some will be affected further. Jute, for example, will stain even with the slightest contact with liquid, hence why it is only recommended in low traffic areas like bedrooms. Similarly, seagrass flooring can go mouldy after water application; this could also happen if it’s used in an area with high moisture like the bathroom.
If there is a spillage, however, not all is lost. There are ways to treat and maintain natural flooring.
All types of flooring, natural and synthetic alike, should be vacuum cleaned on a regular basis to keep dust and dirt levels to a minimum. Regular maintenance is the first step to keeping your natural floor looking its best.
Where you may apply normal cleaning products to synthetic flooring after a spillage, this will only make matters worse for natural products. When applying water and other liquids to natural products, the liquids will pull soils up to the surface of the floor which could permanently damage it.
There are ways to treat and maintain natural flooring. Protective layers can be applied to prevent long term damage from spillages, and specific cleaning compounds can be used to remove them quickly.
Essentially, stain inhibitors act as an invisible coating which shields all the natural fibres from spills and dirt. It is recommended that all natural flooring is treated with a stain inhibitor as this will prevent any spillages seeping through into the product’s fibres.
Although it will effectively prevent a lot of your accidental spills from seeping into the fibres, a stain inhibitor will not fully protect your material. Therefore, even with the protection of a stain inhibitor, you still need to be careful and act quickly if a spillage does occur.
It is very important to make cleaning natural flooring as simple as possible – the more complex it gets, the more chance of permanently damaging the material. Luckily, there are tailor-made cleaning products which are designed specifically for naturals.
Applying natural floor cleaning product is different to normal cleaning products. The unique substance has a specific process to be fully effective.
As soon as the spillage occurs, act on it. The quicker you can start the cleaning process the better. Grab a towel and blot the area with an absorbent towel until the surface is almost dry – don’t let the area fully dry.
Apply a handful of the compound onto the damp-dry area and work it into the stain from several directions. Remember not to rub the stain as this will push it deeper into the flooring and could distort the fibres.
It is recommended to leave the cleaning compound on the stained surface overnight; this gives it enough time to absorb as much of the stain as possible.
Come back to the, now dried, stained area and vacuum clean it. Ensure the area is completely dry before taking this step.
If the stain is still visible after following the above four steps, reapply a second handful of the cleaning compound and repeat steps 3 and 4.
If you have a stain inhibitor applied to your natural flooring, and act upon spillages with the required cleaning products quickly, that is usually enough to solve most problems.
However, spillages aren’t the only occurrence that need to be taken care of, there are other instances that make your natural flooring dirty.
For example, what do you do when you find mould on your floor?
The first thing you should do is discover and eradicate the reason why the mould formed in the first place – the most common reason is high room moisture or humidity. Once the cause of the mould has been dealt with, apply a small amount of diluted light bleach to the mould to remove it.
To remove mud or dirt, which you may commonly find on your natural floor, simply wait until it is dry and then brush it with a stiff brush – this will loosen the mud. Once the mud is loose, go over it with a vacuum.
All natural flooring carpets should be firmly stuck down all over the base. We would advise to stick the flooring down with an underlay, but it is acceptable to stick it directly to the floor if that is what you’d prefer.
We recommend the use of an underlay as this will promote resilience and extend the life of your floorcovering – especially for areas that withstand heavy traffic. The underlay used for natural flooring should be firm and durable, for the best results it should be rubber-based like the RC Eco 6.5 or Durafit Duralay 650 products.
Regardless of whether you choose to use an underlay or not, there are modern, clean, water-based adhesives available for your floorcovering.
To achieve the best finish to your floorcovering, use gripper rods around the edge of the room. Tucking the edges in the gap between the gripper rods and skirting hides them to create cleanest and neatest result.
Please note: this is not always possible with stiff materials like Seagrass. In these cases, the material has to be cut to exact measurements and fitted snug to the wall.
Natural flooring carpets should always be installed by a competent flooring installation specialists who has experience with this type of flooring.
Wool carpets can be installed in the "traditional way" know as "Stretch fitting." There is no requirement for adhesives, and the carpet is held in place by the gripper rods around the edge of the room.
Again, underlay is recommended to improve the feel and lifespan of the carpet.
Although wool carpets are not normally a specialist fit, it is recommended that a professional carpet fitter carries out the work.
While both synthetic and natural flooring have their similarities, they are extremely different in many ways. Yes, synthetic flooring may be the more convenient option due to its affordability and larger range of styles. But, if you want an eco-friendly, organic, lifelong flooring for your home, choosing natural flooring is the best option.
Natural flooring is everything from strong, durable and textured, to soft, versatile, and beautiful.
In this post, we have discussed the main fibres which form the best natural floorings, we’ve discovered the benefits, characteristics and maintenance methods for all natural floors, and we’ve learned how to successfully lay natural floors at home.
If this guide has made you think twice about natural flooring, please visit our main website and order a range of sample products to test and try out for free.