While hardwood flooring has been a staple in homes for hundreds of years, consumers and manufacturers have often looked for unique alternatives. One of the more popular options in the wood flooring category has become bamboo, although it’s technically not a “wood” at all.
Bamboo is a resilient type of flooring, and one many homeowners turn to for durability, although it may not be the best choice for certain areas. In this guide, we’re going to discuss installing it in bathrooms and how water or humidity can affect this flooring.
Bamboo Flooring Explained
While not a native species to the United States, bamboo is something everyone will be familiar with. When you hear the word bamboo flooring for the first time, you may expect something leafy and green on the floor, but that couldn’t be further from the truth.
Bamboo is technically a grass and while you can see green leaves on it when it is growing, the culm or stalk is a commonly used building material. That’s partially because of its strength, but also due to the fact it’s a fast-growing renewable resource.
You can find bamboo used in a number of products today, including flooring where it’s known for its durability and unique style. As it’s not a true hardwood, it is also more resistant to moisture than Oak, Hickory, and other domestic species. It can still be damaged by water and extreme conditions, however.
It’s not uncommon for water to be used as part of a cleaning solution for bamboo flooring, but excess water can spot or damage these boards. They are organic, just like hardwood and engineered hardwood flooring, which means they can swell, crack or become damaged with excess moisture. If water finds its way between the boards and makes it to the subfloor, you will have a larger issue on your hands.
The Three Types of Bamboo Flooring
With some forms of flooring, things are pretty straightforward as it’s all in the name. When you hear the term solid hardwood, you know what you’re going to get, even if the species and color will vary. There are close to a half-dozen types of vinyl flooring, however, and three main types of bamboo flooring to choose from as well.
- Solid – Despite its name, solid bamboo flooring is not actually made from a single piece of bamboo. Instead, pieces are cut into strips and pressed together with an adhesive. There is both vertical and horizontal solid bamboo flooring, and they are the closest thing you can get to an authentic bamboo look.
- Strand Woven – Whenever you hear the term strand-woven bamboo, the first thing to keep in mind is durability. It’s a pressed form of bamboo flooring that’s known for its strength and is ideal for high-traffic areas in homes or commercial spaces. This flooring also has a unique style to go along with its high Janka rating.
- Engineered – Engineered bamboo flooring is the most popular form on the market today and is usually the most affordable as well. These planks come in a variety of sizes and colors but are made in the same fashion as traditional engineered flooring. Some even have rigid cores similar to what you'll find with LVP flooring.
While those are the three main types of bamboo flooring, there are variations on these products. You can read more about fossilized or carbonized bamboo in our guide, and get a better idea of what this flooring's strengths and weaknesses are.
Bamboo Flooring in Bathrooms
Bamboo flooring can be run through an entire home if you want a uniform look, but the place you are most likely to encounter an issue is the bathroom. The main problem with this area is humidity and water damage, which can come from some surprising places.
Is the shower in your bathroom enclosed or do you have a shower curtain? Enclosed showers provide more protection from water accidentally escaping the area and finding its way onto the floor. In either case, if you wipe up water quickly, no damage will occur. While that may seem acceptable, moisture is a different problem.
Unless the bathroom has ample ventilation, excess moisture and humidity created by hot showers will wreck hardwood. The same goes for bamboo flooring considering that neither is waterproof. For this reason, we do not recommend installing solid bamboo flooring in bathrooms – regardless of the ventilation or shower enclosure.
Bamboo Flooring in Kitchens
Next to bathrooms, kitchens are the most common place homeowners attempt to install wooden flooring. Kitchens can come in many shapes and forms, but most are considered heavily trafficked areas that are prone to spills and splashes.
Any type of flooring in kitchens generally needs to be cleaned more frequently than other areas of the home as well. While you won’t have to worry about excess moisture in the air from years of steamy showers, you will have to be cautious when cleaning bamboo floors with any type of wet mop.
They are easy to keep clean, but any standing water could spot the surface. The subfloor will be a concern as well if liquid finds its way through any cracks. Overall, bamboo isn’t the best choice for a kitchen, but it will perform better in these areas than in a bathroom.
Bamboo Flooring in Basements
The last real area of concern with bamboo flooring installation comes into play with basements and below-grade areas. Basement layouts can be just as varied as kitchens considering they can be finished, partially finished, or unfinished with dirt floors and exposed plumbing.
There are two things to be concerned with when considering using bamboo flooring in a basement. Below-grade rooms like basements and cellars can be prone to flooding and extreme temperature changes. This can damage bamboo in the same way it would in a bathroom if exposed to water or high humidity.
Plumbing leaks are also a concern in basements, even if the plumbing is not exposed. Water doesn’t run uphill but downwards so a leak in the kitchen can potentially end up in the basement. Condensation from ductwork that isn’t properly insulated can also be a problem. With that in mind, a certain type of bamboo has frequently been used in “finished” basements.
Waterproof and Water-Resistant Bamboo Flooring
Despite the fact that bamboo flooring is not a great fit for any area where water can be a concern, that hasn't prevented companies from trying to find ways around the issue. Because of this, we’ve seen an increase in bamboo flooring listed as waterproof and water-resistant. That may seem like the answer if you want to install bamboo flooring in a bathroom, but that is not the case at all.
Most bamboo flooring sold has no special water protection. A handful of brands sell bamboo flooring that’s listed as water-resistant, but all are engineered flooring. Cali Bamboo’s GeoCore planks have a composite mineral core, while LifeProof has a fairly large selection of affordable engineered waterproof bamboo flooring.
There are no “waterproof” bamboo floors, and while the water-resistant engineered boards can work in bathrooms, they may not be warrantied for those areas. Check the room rating to ensure below-grade rooms are covered when considering water-resistant bamboo as well.
Bamboo flooring is one of the more interesting alternatives to traditional hardwood, and the best choice for homeowners that want something durable yet unique. It’s not suitable for bathrooms, however, so we recommend using something synthetic in damp areas like luxury vinyl planks or tiles.