This article was originally published on January 17, 2019. It has been updated to provide current information.
When choosing a new floor for your home, deciding between bamboo and 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 from 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 , so your decision, in part, will boil down to personal preference. You can usually find bamboo flooring on sale at great prices, often at a fraction of the cost of hardwoods. 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.
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 greenhouse gas and carbon dioxide, and improving the 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 it has similar eco-friendly credentials to bamboo, but that isn’t 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 VOCs; 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.
PRICE OF BAMBOO FLOORING VERSUS HARDWOOD FLOORING
People choose bamboo rather than solid wood flooring because it costs less than hardwood. Bamboo plants are grown and harvested economically and take only five years to mature, so the raw material is naturally inexpensive. In addition, bamboo grows in China and other Asian countries. So, it doesn’t travel far before it gets to the factory to become beautiful bamboo flooring.
Hardwood costs considerably more than bamboo. Hardwood trees take much longer to mature. Typically, it would help if you waited twenty years before you can harvest an oak tree. Also, much of the hardwood flooring sold today is processed and manufactured in Asia. Trees that grow in Europe, North America, and South America catch a ship to China and other Pacific-rim countries to reach the factory for processing. All that travel gets expensive. Especially when converting wood grown in North America – those trees take a round trip! So, be prepared to pay up to four times more for a hardwood floor than you would for bamboo.
Because bamboo flooring goes down using the nail down or glue down method (the same as hardwood) the installation costs stay the same.
Total cost of ownership
Over the lifetime of the floor, bamboo floors cost less than hardwood floors. Bamboo floors are easier to maintain and offer limited moisture resistance. Water standing on hardwood flooring for a few hours is a disaster in the making. Water standing on bamboo floors for a few hours is just something to wipe up.
Both bamboo and hardwood planks can be sanded down and refinished. Because bamboo is harder than hardwood, it won’t scratch as easily or need refinishing as often. We bamboo 9 out of 10 and hardwood 6 out of 10 in a side-by-side comparison.
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 variations 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.
Engineered Bamboo Flooring Versus Engineered Hardwood Flooring
People often confused engineered and laminate floors. Laminate floors consist of plastic layers glued together. But engineered hardwood floors begin with a solid wood top layer glued to an HDF or multi-plywood substrate. A bamboo top wear tops the substrate with engineered bamboo flooring.
Engineered hardwood floors may include several wood layers or a top layer of wood with an HDF substrate. The thin top layer comes from a hardwood species and is glued to the lower layer. Since the top layer of engineered hardwood comes from real wood, these floors look the same as solid wood floors. Engineered hardwoods with a thick top layer may be refinished. The floating method of installation used for engineered floors allows planks to be snapped together like a puzzle without the need for glue or nails.
Maintain engineered floors the same as solid floors. Sweep regularly to remove dirt and other debris to prevent scratching. Wipe up spills immediately, and never use harsh cleaning chemicals.
Engineered Hardwood Flooring Pros
One of the benefits of engineered hardwood over solid hardwood floors is they have more dimensional stability and can be installed as a floating floor, including in basements. These floors are not as susceptible to moisture, swelling, or warping as solid wood floors. They’re also great for DIY’ers, cutting down considerably on installation costs.
And speaking of costs, the price of these floors is also a big selling point as engineered floors typically cost less than traditional hardwood floors, and since they use less wood, they’re often better for the environment.
Engineered Hardwood Flooring Cons
You’ll need to do a fair amount of homework to make sure you find a manufacturer who produces a “solid” product (pun intended!). Some producers manufacture planks with much too thin veneers, which won’t allow the homeowner to ever sand and refinish. This cuts down on the life of your floors significantly. Some manufacturers will also try and cut corners using inferior core layers made of regular fiberboard, not high-density. This can greatly compromise the stability of your floors.
Pros of Engineered Bamboo Floors
Engineered bamboo flooring provides all the pros of engineered hardwood flooring and then some!
The wear layer provides enough thickness to sand and refinish the floor twice. Ambient engineered bamboo flooring consists of a multi-layer core from highly durable eucalyptus and utilizes a click-lock profile for easy installation.
Because engineered bamboo flooring provides water resistance, below-grade installation is not a problem. Bring on the basement!
Not only does engineered bamboo flooring save the planet (it’s very eco-friendly) but you save money too. You’ll find engineered bamboo flooring priced much less than its hardwood counterpart.
Cons of Engineered Bamboo Floors
Shoppers must do their due diligence when buying engineered bamboo floors. Unfortunately, some inferior products provide an ultra-thin wear layer and cheap fiberboard layers underneath.
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