Floors in kitchens, bathrooms, hallways or laundry rooms have to be easy-care, durable and environmentally-friendly – as they are particularly exposed to dirt and damp. Flexible floor coverings like rubber, linoleum, vinyl or PVC are potential candidates for this job. PVC is the least expensive and very easy to care for. However, many see it as a risk to their health and the environment, whereas rubber is a particularly attractive alternative.
Rubber Floors - Fashionable, Flexible Floor Coverings
Environmentally-friendly, easy to care for and robust – rubber floors are ideal for rooms with heavy footfall when sustainability is important.
Original material: natural rubber
Natural rubber (or caoutchouc, from the Native American for "Tribe of Tears") is produced from the milky sap of the rubber tree (Hevea brasiliensis) and primarily cultivated in East Asia, although the trees are originally from Brazil. The liquid is harvested by cutting the trunk diagonally to the direction of growth. The sticky sap (latex) runs out and is collected in a bowl.
When Charles Goodyear invented vulcanisation in 1839, that meant that plastic caoutchouc could be converted to elastic rubber and used to produce car tires, tubes and the first hot air balloons. Today, 60% of demand is met with synthetic rubber, as natural production is more complex and expensive. Rubber floor coverings are available as natural rubber, synthetic rubber or a mixture of both.
The demand for the extremely versatile material grew immensely in the early 20th century when the boom of the automotive industry began, increasing the need for alternatives. In 1900, Iwan Kondakow produced the first fully synthetic rubber, and Friedrich Hoffmann secured the first patent for manufacturing synthetic rubber in 1909. Since then, the market would be unthinkable without synthetic rubber, which can also be given certain properties that natural rubber does not offer.
Flooring expert Marcus Schmidt from Raumkultur explains: "Artificially produced rubber is more resistant to chemicals than rubber from natural caoutchouc. On the other hand, natural rubber is more suitable in areas where oils are handled. Also, some people are allergic to the natural product, with allergic reactions triggered by the proteins rubber contains. The industry has responded by filtering out the proteins in the manufacturing process."
Ideal applications for rubber floors
Flexible flooring is primarily used wherever floors must be easy to care for, non-slip and durable, i.e. in kitchens, hallways or bathrooms. Compared with tiles, rubber floorings have the advantage that they are warmer to touch and are more pleasant underfoot. Also, rubber floors do not shatter like tiles if you accidentally drop something heavy on them.
"Rubber floors are the ideal solution for kitchens and bathrooms thanks to their dirt and bacteria resistance. Anti-slip and sound insulating properties are further advantages. For swimming pools or saunas, no other floor coverings can compete with rubber floors. You can walk barefoot on rubber floors and there is no risk of slipping when they are wet," explains Marcus Schmidt.
The rubber floor is generally glued to a smooth, clean surface to cover the whole area. Make sure that the adhesives you use are solvent-free. The edges can be sealed either with welding cords (weld rods) or with a two-component sealant. That prevents moisture (such as washing water) penetrating through the seam edges. The connecting strips are almost invisible from the outside.
Synthetic or natural rubber floor coverings also have no harmful health effects and are environmentally friendly – provided they are free of toxic additives! Pure rubber does not contain any softeners or chlorine and therefore does not emit any poisonous vapors. It can be recycled and is easy to dispose of.
However, you should pay attention when buying floor coverings, as some have additives – which can be harmful – to give them certain properties (e.g. gloss or fire resistance). For example, they include halogenised fire retardants or stabilisers containing heavy metals. That is why you should always ensure that it is certified and free of harmful substances.
In the first few weeks, natural rubber and synthetic rubber will give off the typical "rubber smell". It is normal, in no way unhealthy and dissipates over time. However, some people find it unpleasant, which is why you should "test drive" the smell before buying.
Anyone who is allergic to household dust can breathe easy, as neither germs nor dust can gather on a rubber floor, unlike carpets. The surface is sealed and is very easy to clean.
Cleaning and caring for rubber floors
Rubber floors require relatively little care. The floor can be vacuumed or simply wiped with a mild detergent like neutral soap. It dries quickly afterwards.
Designs and surfaces
Rubber floors are now available in virtually all colours and structures. They can be pimpled, ribbed, structured or smooth. Additives (resins, sulphur powder, titanium oxide), colourings, chalk or ash can give the flooring different looks.
Rubber floorings with pimples are particularly suitable for areas that need anti-slip floorings, for example in bathrooms, children’s rooms and workrooms. On the other hand, smooth floors are better for kitchens which are cleaned often, and where food residue can easily fall to the ground.
How much does rubber flooring cost?
Rubber is relatively expensive compared with PVC, but roughly the same price as linoleum. The prices for synthetic rubber flooring "differ for tile or roll material and are roughly 50 and 100 Euros per square meter," says Marcus Schmidt. However, natural rubber floors are significantly more expensive than synthetic variants.