There have been criticisms that bamboo flooring isn’t as hard as claimed, that after a short time the floor is dented and scratched and looks awful. What say we?
Some of these criticisms are well founded – suppliers advertise their flooring being as hard as Maple flooring, or harder than Oak flooring, trying to sell bamboo flooring based on it’s hardness alone (there are tons of other reasons to buy bamboo flooring). So what are the facts about the hardness of bamboo flooring?
To summarise the criticisms we’ve heard about:
- Bamboo scratches, dings and dents far too easily.
- Comparing bamboo to Maple is unfair, because Maple tends to show damage easily when compared to other hardwood floors.
- Carbonised bamboo hardness should be compared to Black Walnut – a soft wood.
As we traveled to many factories in China (we call it the Chinese hinterland because once you leave the cities, westerners become rare sightings & English communication virtually impossible – not to mention the interesting food options), we have visited the lowest possible grade factories, to top class modern factories. When witnessing this first hand, it becomes immediately apparent that not all bamboo flooring planks are the same. This is the real reason for these criticisms.
Often, in order to save costs (and maximise profitability), factories source immature bamboo (it’s cheaper than mature poles). This bamboo has not had enough time to harden, so is softer. The vast majority of the scratching and denting complaints by consumers can be directly attributed to them receiving product manufactured with immature (read: softer) bamboo.
Bamboo needs time (5-6 years) to mature and harden during the growth cycle to achieve the hardness properties commonly advertised.
Regards the scratching complaints, there are three main causes for these;
- To save costs, some factories pre-finish the floor surface with a lower quality coating (no AL2O3 hardener either). Typically using products that are not designed for floor surfaces and are therefore not resistant to scratches.
- When a floor is coated with Aluminum Oxide hardener, whilst adding scratch & chemical resistance to the flooring surface, it leaves a white powdery mark when it’s surface is penetrated. These “scratches” rarely penetrate the bamboo itself, and are easily removed by wiping the scratch with Teak Oil (available at your local supermarket) or for the deeper scratches, rubbing the scratch out with a soft cloth dipped in Turpentine or Thinners.
- Unrealistic expectations of the consumer (sometimes set by unscrupulous or over eager sales staff). Bamboo, like all solid wood floors, will dent and scratch if heavy, hard & sharp objects (take a stiletto shoe heel [known enemy of all wooden floors] which concentrates the full weight of the wearer into a few square millimeters) are directly exposed to the floor. If “Auntie High Heels”, gets into a mood and stomps around on the floor or one drags a piano with a damaged wheel across the floor, you can expect the floor to get scratched or dented.
The irony of this issue, is that many regard the denting and scratching of a solid wood floor over time as adding “character” to the floor. They consider this a plus.
How does one check that they are not buying a product that is made of the immature bamboo trees?
- One quick test is to try to dig your fingernail into the sample plank’s surface, softer bamboo’s will leave a larger & noticeable mark. If it dents easily, think twice.
- Check with your supplier if the surface coating contains Aluminum Oxide hardener, this will greatly enhance the floors resistance to scratches.
- Buy from a supplier that can prove their raw bamboo is harvested in managed forests (e.g. FSC Certified), and manufactured according to internationally (externally verified) accepted standards (e.g. CE mark & ISO Certifications).
So is bamboo “harder than Oak”? The answer is yes, if correctly harvested & manufactured according to industry accepted standards, laminated solid bamboo is “harder than Oak” and one can expect the floor to perform similarly to a solid Oak floor.
When it comes to strand woven bamboo flooring, this floor is exceptionally hard with an equivalent performance to Brazilian Teak flooring.