Natural flooring: Cream of the crop or Cropped out?

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So. You’ve seen it in a magazine or online and want to know if natural flooring is for you. There’s some pretty useful information to follow but for those that like to get down to brass tacks:

Pros:

Natural floorings are beautiful, really beautiful.
They are eco-friendly.
Sisal, particularly, is very hardwearing.

Grey Area:

The feeling underfoot often splits opinion.

Cons:

Natural flooring reacts badly with moisture.
It can be pretty tricky to clean.
Installation is a tad costlier than regular carpet.

Now, to expand.

In the showroom we house a large collection of natural floorings and I’d be lying if I didn’t say that we’re really fond of our plant based floors. However, let’s not beat around the bush, my intention is not to lead you up the garden path – like these botanical puns, any favoritism has been nipped in the bud. In good, old-fashioned FAQ style, here’s the low-down on natural flooring.

What are natural floorings made of?

Natural floorings are formed from various sustainable materials from all over the globe. The main types of natural flooring are sisal, seagrass, coir, jute and even paper! Sisal (Agave) is a plant that produces strong fibres. It is the most popular natural flooring due to the available colour options and designs. Seagrass is woven from plants that are grown in Asian coastal meadows. Jute is hand harvested vegetation that is spun into a fine yarn. Coir is the coarse, crafted material made from coconut husks.

They look pretty robust, are they hardwearing?

In a (coco)nut shell, yes. Sisal is the most durable, with the right amount of care it can last for ages. Coir and seagrass come a close second and jute is quite capable too. It’s true that jute is not as tough as the others but you’ll know that as soon as you feel it, as it is softer to touch than its natural counterparts.

Can it be used on stairs?

Yup! Well, mostly. Nearly all sisals can be used either close cover (wall-to-wall), or installed as a stunning stair runner. Jute is also a good option too. It’s not quite as hard wearing as sisal but we’ve not had any issues with it. Whilst It’s probably durable enough, my advice would be not to install coir on the stairs. Seagrass doesn’t bend, so that rules that one out. There seems to be an urban myth that these types of flooring are slippery, again, I’ve had no trouble with it. I would say that natural floorings probably are less slip resistant than traditional carpet, but more so when compared to wooden cladded stairs or concrete steps.

I’ve read that it’s hard to clean, is this the case?

Okay, so here you’ve got me. This is pretty true. Seagrass is the exception to most of what I’m about to write as it is naturally stain resistant. Sisal, coir and jute on the other hand are not so easy to keep spotless. My argument has always been that it’s always best not to spill stuff in the first place. I mean no one really tries to ruin whatever flooring they have, do they? However, pragmatically, it happens. Be prepared to pay accidents attention at the drop of a hat, (or whatever else was dropped). There are cleaning products available. I’ve always found them to be hit and miss but apparently, this carpet dry cleaning kit is as good as they get. It’s worth keeping in mind that most suppliers suggest using vacuum cleaners without beater bars, such as those happy little Henrys.

If you are especially concerned by staining, it’s probably worth considering the addition of a protective coating. Intec stain treatment is a polymer coating that can be added to most floorings from as little as £3m2. It basically gives you longer to get to the stain as the moisture will rest on top of the flooring rather than soaking into it.

Natural floorings only need a little more love than typical carpets but otherwise just your regular, realistic maintenance should be absolutely adequate.

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And it’s a ‘green’ product…?

Yes again. These natural products are eco-friendly and obtained from renewable sources. In being a vegetable, a plant or a nut, (I know, technically not a nut) and backed with a natural latex, these products are fully biodegradable. Not only is that good for the ‘getting rid of’ bit, but the manufacturing of biodegradable products is better for fuel efficiency, using less oil and therefore causing less pollution too. Some say that the greenness factor is reigned in a little by the carbon footprint, obviously, it’s still got to get here.

The Marmite bit.

We often refer to this as the estate agent bit due to the cosy/small, vibrant/noisy jargon thing they do. (No disrespect intended – I know some really lovely agents!) With natural flooring, there are a couple of things that split opinion. Firstly, the feel. It’s important to acknowledge that it just isn’t as soft and luxurious as a traditional carpet. Although, as my other half’s brother said when he was twelve(ish), “but Mum, it’s softer than the floor boards I have now”. Nailed it. Kids are so simple. One man’s ‘coarse and scratchy’ is another’s ‘beach hut feel’.

The other thing that can divide opinion is the discrepancies in the weave. In most cases, the flooring’s texture, rogue strands, and flecks will not be entirely even. Much like the knots in a wooden floor, this is what truly gives the product it’s own unique, rustic, charm. The overall look will be consistent but if you are particularly fastidious there may be the odd niggle to induce your OCD. That said, there are some products that are more perfect than others.

The million-dollar question, is it expensive?

The product itself isn’t too pricey. Sisal is the most expensive of the materials with floorings usually between £30m2 – £40m2. Jute products tend to be around £30m2. Seagrass and coir are the most affordable, available from £15m2 – 25m2.

The installation is notably costlier than a traditional carpet. This is because natural floorings are fully adhered and require two visits. The first visit it to cut the product to shape, it is then left to acclimatise for 24-48 hours and finished on the second visit. The best way to install natural floorings is to fit an underlay and blank gripper, adhering the underlay to the floor and then the flooring to the underlay. Installing in this way allows for a neater finish and some comfort underfoot. It can be adhered directly to the floor without underlay and gripper if you wish.

If possible, it’s best to avoid seams. Whilst joining isn’t a durability issue, they’re just not that good-looking. We’re more than happy to measure up and plan the job for you, just drop us a line.

What else do I need to know?

So, a minor negative: Moisture is an issue. Sisal and jute can watermark, being plants they sort of soak things up. Mostly, these watermarks show as dark patches and will fully dry over time but it can take a while! If you get these products too wet, then they can shrink or in coir’s case, expand.

If you think that a completely natural flooring is a step too far, you might want to take a look at some other options. There are wool and synthetic hybrids that capture the essence of natural flooring, paying homage to the textures and shades found in natural ranges. We have had a good amount of interest in our Pavilion flatweave range, it’s being branded as a ‘sisal-look’ carpet but it’s made of 100% polypropylene, meaning that it’s stain resistant and bleach cleanable, softer than sisal and fitted in a traditional method.

And finally…

In the words of Marvin Gaye, ‘There’s nothing like the real thing’. Natural floorings boast a metallic-like sheen that really pictures don’t do justice for. I would say that the majority of people who have purchased these appealing products have bought them because of their beauty. After all, they’re in the interior magazines for a reason.

Thanks for taking the time to visit us and reading this.

M.