When choosing a new floor for your home, deciding between bamboo vs hardwood flooring is difficult. Both options look and feel great; sometimes, at first glance, it is difficult to tell the difference. It is often more difficult to choose between very similar things than it is to choose between opposites.
There are a few key points that differentiate bamboo vs hardwood. Bamboo is a notoriously eco-friendly material compared to traditional hardwoods. It has greater durability, hardness, and water resistance. In many cases, bamboo is also a more affordable material than other hardwoods.
This is not to say that hardwoods are a bad choice: they look beautiful, they are safe and natural, and they can be easy to install. These characteristics are also true of bamboo flooring, so your decision, in part, will boil down to personal preference. Our goal is to give you a comprehensive look into bamboo vs hardwood flooring. Once you understand the differences and similarities, you will be prepared to make an informed decision.
Of course, you should consider Ambient if you decide on bamboo flooring when the dust settles. Maybe I’m doing my job wrong by leaving the decision in your hands… but I digress. My integrity as a “journalist” comes before my obligation to push products. But seriously… choose Ambient.
Here we will take a detailed look at these two options and point out their subtle differences. We will score each on a scale of 1 to 10 to help you decide which is the best choice: bamboo vs hardwood flooring. Let’s dive in.
KEY DIFFERENCES: BAMBOO VS HARDWOOD FLOORING
HARDNESS (Resistance to Denting)
There are several different kinds of bamboo flooring. Each of them has a characteristic hardness as defined on the Janka scale – and industry-wide method of assessing bamboo and wooden flooring’s hardness. The higher the Janka score, the harder the flooring, and the higher its resistance to denting. For instance, strand woven bamboo has a Janka score of up to 4000. Similarly, there are several different types of solid hardwood flooring, and each of these has an associated Janka score. One of the most popular choices of solid wood flooring is oak, which has a Janka hardness of around 1360. The table below shows the Janka hardness for bamboo flooring and the more popular types of hardwood flooring. The hardest of all the flooring types is strand woven bamboo, which is over three times as hard as solid oak flooring, the most popular form of hardwood flooring. Thus, bamboo flooring scores 10 out of 10 for hardness, while solid wood flooring scores 7 out of 10.
ECO-FRIENDLESS / DAMAGE TO THE ENVIRONMENT
Bamboo is one of the fastest-growing plants on the planet. In fact, according to The Guinness Book of Records, one species of bamboo holds the record for plant growth speed, achieving a growth rate of 35 inches a day. There is nothing quite like bamboo for reducing the greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide, and atmosphere while pumping out life-giving oxygen. Bamboo’s green credentials are unquestionable. We can harvest it without damaging the local ecosystem; the plant is mostly free from pests and disease, and it requires relatively modest quantities of water. Of course, preparing bamboo flooring from bamboo plants does consume some resources, but the plant compensates for this. For eco-friendliness, it scores 10 out of 10; we would give it 10+ if we could.
Hardwood flooring is, of course, also a natural material. It comes from trees, so you might think that it has similar eco-friendly credentials to bamboo, but that isn’t at all the case. Although most hardwood used for flooring is produced from managed forests, deforestation remains an issue, as illegal logging. For more information on the environmental impact of deforestation, please view the video below. One problem is the relatively slow growth rate of hardwood trees. For instance, it can take 20 to 30 years for an oak tree to mature. There are worse flooring choices from an eco-friendly perspective than hardwood, but we can only score it 6 out of 10, significantly less than bamboo.
INDOOR AIR QUALITY, OFF-GASSING, & FORMALDEHYDE EMISSIONS
Many building materials can emit VOCs (volatile organic chemicals) and pollute your home with toxic levels of contaminants that can severely impact your health. Some of these, such as formaldehyde, are potentially carcinogenic, and even relatively small concentrations of certain VOCs can severely affect people who have asthma and other respiratory problems. Fortunately, the amount of VOCs is now severely regulated, so the situation is very much better than it used to be. However, it is essential to check that any materials you introduce into your home are VOC certified.
Bamboo flooring is one of the safest flooring materials you can use in your home. Bamboo itself emits such low levels of VOC’s; they can’t be measured. The only possible concern, and it is a tiny one, is that the adhesives used in the flooring manufacture might emit tiny quantities of VOCs. But this level is shallow and well below government regulations. Thus, we award it 9 points out of 10 for indoor air quality.
Hardwood flooring is also substantially free from VOCs. While wood naturally contains formaldehyde and other VOCs, the amount that it is likely to emit in your home is extremely small and highly regulated. You can feel safe about using hardwood flooring in your home, so just like bamboo, we give it 9 points out of 10.
COMFORT FOR WALKING / WARM UNDERFOOT
Do you ever walk barefoot in your home? If you don’t, then give it a try – your whole body will benefit from the exercise. Of course, you need a comfortable floor, and bamboo or hardwood flooring is a perfect choice. Walking barefoot on a bamboo floor puts your feet back in touch with what they were designed for. It stimulates blood flow to the feet, ankles, and legs: it also provides valuable exercise for your toes, and the sensation of bare skin on bamboo relaxes the body and the mind… so much better than wearing shoes and socks. Both bamboo and hardwood flooring are naturally warm underfoot and really comfortable for walking on, with or without shoes and socks—both score 9 out of 10.
Bamboo flooring is reasonably water-resistant. You can spill water on it, and as long as you mop it up within twenty hours, you shouldn’t experience any problems. But it is not waterproof. If you allow a pool of water to remain on the floor for a long time, it can soak into the planks and cause noticeable damage. We recommend you wipe up spills as soon as they occur and avoid installing bamboo flooring in areas subject to frequent wetness. It is OK to install it in a kitchen, but it probably isn’t the best shower room option. It’s also advisable to remove wet shoes and boots before walking on the floor. We rate the water-resistance of bamboo flooring at 8 out of 10.
Hardwood flooring tends to be less water-resistant than bamboo. If you allow any water spills to soak into the wood, you will almost certainly damage it, and it is almost impossible to rectify the damage without replacing that section of flooring. It is important to wipe up spills as they occur and avoid walking on them in wet shoes. Certainly, you shouldn’t install it in areas subject to frequent wetness. We rate the water-resistance of hardwood flooring at 7 out of 10.
PRICING & AVAILABILITY
People choose bamboo rather than solid wood flooring because it is much cheaper than hardwood. Bamboo plants are grown and harvested economically and take only five years to mature, so the raw material is naturally inexpensive. We give it 9 out of 10 for pricing.
Hardwood costs were considerably more than bamboo. The main reason is that it takes much longer to mature. Typically, it would help if you waited twenty years before you can harvest an oak tree. Also, be prepared to pay up to four times more for a hardwood floor than you would for bamboo. We give it 6 out of 10 for pricing.
ORGANIC, NATURAL MATERIALS VS SYNTHETIC
It almost goes without saying that both bamboo and hardwood are natural materials. We score them both 10 out of 10.
NATURAL VARIATION IN THE GRAIN – LOOK AND FEEL
Both bamboo and hardwood flooring exhibit beautiful, natural variation in the grain with a superb look and feel that oozes quality. Both are available in a wide range of styles and are highly versatile, equally suiting traditional homes, ultra-modern decors, and anything in-between. We give them both 10 out of 10 for natural variation in the grain.
EASE OF INSTALLATION
Bamboo flooring installation should not be too challenging for anyone who is reasonably skilled at DIY, but it is important to prepare the subfloor before you begin carefully. You should also acclimate the flooring planks for at least 48 hours before you start the actual installation. There are several installation options, so you need to choose the recommended option for your project. The easiest and fastest is the floating method; the nail-down method is the most common and the most inexpensive, while the glue-down method is the most labor-intensive but also the most stable. If you are unsure about doing the job yourself, any carpenter or handyman can do it as long as they can read the installation instructions. We score bamboo as only slightly more difficult to install than hardwood due to its hardness and its weight, but the difference is negligible for installation purposes. For ease of installation, bamboo flooring scores 8 out of 10.
Solid Hardwood Flooring
Installing solid wood flooring should be within the capability of a reasonably dextrous DIY enthusiast, or if you are willing to pay a little more, you can readily find a qualified hardwood flooring installer. If you are installing the floor yourself, there are a few basics to consider. It is necessary to acclimate the planks for several days, ensure the subfloor is sound and dry (moisture content below 6%), and carefully follow the manufacturer’s instructions. For ease of installation, solid hardwood gets 9 out of 10.
EASE OF MAINTENANCE
Both hardwood and bamboo flooring are easy to maintain. Essentially you treat them both the same way. You should regularly sweep and clean them using a soft brush or vacuum cleaner, and every week, you should clean using a specialist wood and bamboo floor cleaner. Ensure that spills are wiped up when they occur. Also, we recommend that you:
- Remove your shoes and boots before walking on the floor.
- Protect from scratches with felt pads placed under heavy furniture.
- Don’t be tempted to use a wet mop or steam mop.
- Never use any furniture polish.
For ease of maintenance, bamboo flooring and solid hardwood flooring both score 8 out of 10.
THE FINAL ANALYSIS
We hope that after reading this, things are a little clearer. And you are beginning to see the wood despite the trees. In many ways, the comparison of bamboo vs hardwood floors is a close-run thing, but bamboo wins on hardness, eco-friendliness, and price, while hardwood has a slight edge on installation ease. Here are the final scores: Bamboo: 91 points Solid hardwood: 82 points