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Cork Soundproofing and Sound Absorption: 2nd Best to Rubber

Silent Home Hub Cork Soundproofing

Do you know that cork is the #2 best soundproofing material, second to rubber? People talk about how these two perform almost at the SAME LEVEL, but the latter seems to cost more.

As a middle-income earner, you’d prefer a cheaper product.

Cork soundproofing may cost you less than rubber, but it doesn’t mean it’s ineffective.

Today, we’ll tour you around so you’ll have an idea of the exceptional soundproofing characteristics of cork. 

Table of Contents

What is a Cork?

Composition

A cork is a bark harvested from cork oak trees, or its scientific name, Quercus suber. But to our surprise, even though it’s from a cork oak tree, that DOESN’T mean it’s wood!

This cork oak bark is actually a plant tissue that’s 100% natural and organic. It’s made up of microscopic cells which are primarily surrounded by gas — similar to the air we breathe!

This means it has A LOT of unallocated space.

They also come in the shape of hexagonal prisms. For better visualization, just imagine the bark as a beehive or honeycomb!

Wait- stop right there! Does this mean harvesting bark harms the cork oak trees?

Well, lucky for you, this cork oak bark is ENVIRONMENTALLY-FRIENDLY!

Stripping of bark doesn’t harm trees in any way! It’s just a bunch of dead cells piling up on the space of the outer layer of cork trees, after all.

Once you harvest the bark, the tree will just re-grow its outer layers with the same quality. It’s safe to harvest bark from trees up to 20 times. And you can only harvest them every 9 years.

Qualities That Will Convince You to Use It for Soundproofing and Other Activities

Cork is an IMPECCABLE interior soundproofing material for building your home and other buildings.

To sum it up, it is:

  • Fire and water-resistant
  • Resistant to rot and insects
  • Doesn’t absorb dust
  • Lightweight and feels soft
  • Durable and elastic
  • Recyclable
  • Safe for health
  • And is HIGHLY EFFECTIVE in sound insulation!

Let’s explain it a little bit more below.

1. Fire-Resistant

When we say it’s fire-resistant, we don’t mean it’s INVULNERABLE against fire.

Cork can be burned, but IT DOESN’T BURN EASILY like other types of flooring, ceiling, walls, and other interior building materials.

The flames will only damage the cork surface, but that’s it. Even when it’s burned, it won’t release any toxic chemicals.

Is cork good at resisting fire?

  • Don’t you worry! Any cork products can withstand fire up to 390°F / 198°C.
  • Until then, you have enough time to call for firefighters to rescue you and your burning house!

2. Water-Resistant

The same goes for water. All cork soundproofing products can get wet, but it WON’T ABSORB water as much as a sponge does. 

The one to be blamed for this impermeability feature of cork is its fatty substance, suberin, which makes up about 40% of the outermost layer of the bark.

IMPORTANT REMINDER: You should properly INSTALL and SEAL your cork flooring with 2-4 coats of water-based polyurethane to make sure your floors will be protected from being damped!

Is that really necessary?

YES, IT IS!

Especially if you are planning to install it in damped spaces such as the laundry room or bathroom.

You don’t have to worry about regularly recoating your cork floors too, like every few months (which will cost you more) because they can be MAINTAINED for every 3 to 7 years!

3. Resistant to Rot and Insects

Ever notice the cork seal in wine bottles? Have you ever wondered that why of all materials, cork is used as a wine stopper?

Aside from not letting liquids pass through, it’s also precisely because cork can STOP wine from spoiling!

Seems like suberin has a major role in giving cork unique qualities. It turns out it’s also THE ONE responsible for resisting mold and mildew!

4. Cork Doesn’t Absorb Dust

All cork products are also ANTI-STATIC, so it’s not capable of attracting specks of dust.

This will help you a LOT in effortlessly cleaning every space you see. Even the smallest corner of your room!

5. Soft and Lightweight

Remember how the honeycomb-structured microscopic cells of cork are mostly surrounded by gas similar to the air we breathe?

It’s mainly because of THAT why cork feels soft. And why the weight of the cork is light!

It’s so light that it can FLOAT on the water! Imagine that!?

If you decided to get cork walls for your room, it would be 100x easier to install because you won’t need to exert SO MUCH EFFORT anymore just to carry this!

They are SO light that even kids might be able to carry them.

6. Durable and Elastic

Cork may feel soft, but it’s HARD-WEARING. It has a mechanical strength of -80C and 140C.

Do you know that it’s highly resistant to wear, it’s even used to polish diamonds?

YES, DIAMONDS! One of the strongest materials on Earth!

Since it’s also exceptionally sustainable, you won’t have to worry about having medium to light heavy things placed over your cork flooring. It can strongly RESIST indents.

Cork can actually regain 90% of its original size in just 24 hours!

We know these all seem to be too good to be true, BUT REMEMBER! Every product has a limit.

Don’t expect it to carry a VERY HEAVY DUTY SOFA SET without permanently marking your cork tile.

7. Recyclable

What’s great about this is, all cork soundproofing products are 100% RECYCLABLE!

They don’t rot at ALL. So whenever you have some cork leftovers, you can save them for any future DIY soundproofing project.

8. Safe for Health

Cork doesn’t produce any toxic chemicals, even when it’s NOT burned.

Other soundproofing materials, such as solid rubber, tend to release noxious fumes and linger on space after years of installation. This causes homeowners with respiratory ailments to suffer EVEN MORE.

But if you try to get into using cork, these allergy sufferers will be TOTALLY safe!

They are free to inhale as much air as THEY WANT without ever worrying about the harmful environment.

9. Soundproofing Properties

The most important quality of all — it WORKS WONDERS on sound reduction!

This is mostly because cork is made up of a cellular structure that is naturally EXCELLENT in providing acoustic properties and sound insulation properties.

You can surely use this material to create DIY acoustic panels for your home studio or office.

#1 Sound Absorption

We’re sure by now you still remember suberin from cork’s inner cell structure.

Suberin is a fatty substance. And fatty acids are naturally packed tightly. Since cork has suberin in its cell walls, this makes the cells consist of sealed elements. And having sealed elements make it greater for ACOUSTIC INSULATION and even thermal insulation.

Sealed elements are capable of TRAPPING and ABSORBING sound.

In short, suberin is mostly responsible for noise reduction!

Also, lignin is another constituent of cork. It makes up about 22% of cork.

One study says that it’s also ASSOCIATED with soundproofing and thermal insulation!

#2 Echo Noise Reduction

Since cork has a lot of space on a molecular level, it’s not as solid as the other soundproofing products.

It’s precisely because of this why cork is CAPABLE of reducing echo or airborne noise. It doesn’t let the sound waves bounce off in your room AT ALL.

Cork for soundproofing just absorbs the noise and that’s why it can reduce sound.

#3 Sound Transmission Class (STC)

STC is a rating used to determine how much a soundproofing material can block airborne noises to reduce sound.

The HIGHER the STC rating, the BETTER. This is especially if you’re planning to do overall sound reduction for important spaces like offices and recording studios.

But how thick does cork need to be for effective soundproofing?

A 55-rating is recommended for rowdy rooms. And 60+ would be ideal. But if you just want an average noise-free and peaceful environment, 45-rating should work.

Most cork for soundproofing underlayments with 6mm or 1/4″ thickness have 50 STC.

If you try to double its thickness (12mm or 1/2″), you’ll be able to get 50% of that 50-rating from the former underlay — all for twice the power of soundproofing!

This would mean that you’ll get a WHOPPING 75 STC rating the more you go for thicker underlay.

The THICKER, the BETTER soundproofing!

#4 Cork Noise Reduction Coefficient (NRC)

NRC has the same purpose. But, it’s measured only between 0 and 1.

How does this work?

Let’s have noise reduction cork bricks as a sample material. This natural soundproofing material has 0.15 NRC. This means it’s capable of soundproofing ONLY 15% of the typical human voice.

But there’s a reasonable explanation for this — NRC rating VARIES on the density of a material.

LESSER dense material means it’s MORE effective in soundproofing.

Bricks are dense because they are heavier. That’s why they are ineffective in absorbing sound.

But if we’re talking about cork floors or panels, it’s another story.

These products are much LIGHTER compared to bricks.

In fact, a 1″ cork wall tile has 0.7 NRC. It absorbs 70% of the bouncing noise or sound in your room.

Sprayed cellulose fiber and fiberglass might be more effective because they both have an approximately 0.75 NRC, but do you know that a cork wall tile product is the SECOND among all soundproofing materials to have the highest NRC?

No, right? Well, here you go. Now you know why cork is an EXCELLENT natural soundproofing material.

#5 Impact Isolation Class (IIC)

This rating works the same as STC. But it’s more associated with impact sound absorption.

Typical sound ratings for residential areas are between 35-55.

So basically, if you want COMPLETE soundproofing, you’ll need to go for 50+ IIC.

Some cork underlay products with 6mm or  1/4″ thickness have 50 IIC. It’s average. But if you add another and double it, you’ll get 71 IIC. And that’s pretty much MORE than enough already.

Types of Cork as Building Material

1. Cork Underlayment

If you’d like to be in ‘rock n roll‘ mode and you don’t want your neighbors to know this side of yours, then you SHOULD consider soundproofing by getting cork underlayment for your FLOORS and WALLS.

As we all know now, cork for soundproofing can EFFECTIVELY absorb and reduce noise.

But do you know that with just 12mm of cork underlayment, you can already reduce noise by up to 48 dB?

To think that the average home noise is 40 dB… this just means that if you have walls with cork underlay, you’ll BARELY hear your neighbors exchange gossip about you.

Just kidding. Hopefully, they’re not talking behind your back.

Ultimately, floor underlayment can also REDUCE sound transmission between levels of homes.

Best Cork Underlayment Product

With cork underlayment, what type of flooring should I get?

If you are planning for complete soundproofing, then we recommend using double cork products — as an underlayment and your actual floor.

But if you want to use a different floor, you can go for any type as you wish — be it vinyl tiles, engineered hardwood, carpet, and other more types of flooring.

Just MAKE SURE they are completely compatible with the type of floor you are planning to get. NEVER IGNORE the manufacturer’s installation instructions.

What cork underlayment product can you suggest?

The QEP 72003Q is the BEST deal.

This cork for soundproofing is easy to cut and install. You can use it on walls, floorings, bulletin boards, and even as cabinet/drawer liners! It’s YOUR CHOICE.

With dimensions of 25′ x 4′ x 1/4″, it’s capable of covering 100 sq ft/roll.

It will produce 51 IIC / and 52 STC if combined with a 6″ cement slab.  And 61 IIC / and 60 STC if it’s with a suspended ceiling.

How to Install:

2. Cork Flooring

As we mentioned earlier, cork flooring also exists.

Cork flooring comes in different proprietary blends, but polyurethanes and acrylics are the MOST common.

If you want your floor to have a sturdy, hard surface, use polyurethanes. Though this is usually oil-based, so your floor will tend to become dark yellowish over time.

What do you mean by yellowish?

Cork can turn yellowish when it’s EXPOSED to any light for a very long time. You have NO control over this.

Oil-based adhesives will worsen its color quality. It’s also one of the biggest drawbacks to using cork. It’s not exactly the most appealing, right?

If you want to slow down its color aging, you’ll need to use a water-based finish.

This is where acrylic comes in. They are often WATER-BASED.

Acrylic is ACTUALLY just polyurethane but without oil.

Earlier, when we said to look for a water-based polyurethane seal, we were actually talking about acrylic. 

So if you want to preserve the color and provide better water resistance, go for ACRYLIC CORK FLOORING.

Best Cork Flooring Product

The cork product that you might want to choose is APC Cork Cronus Natural.

It has a matte finish with a smooth square edge style.

These cork tiles also have GREAT slip resistance. You won’t have to worry very much about your kids slipping. With these tiles installed, let them run as many times as you want!

A single carton has a 12″ width x 36″ length with 11mm thickness. Each carton covers 21 sq ft.

AND once applied, it will reduce roughly 58 dB.

Combine it with your cork underlay, and people won’t hear any unwanted sound from your room anymore. Great acoustic properties!

How to Install:

3. Cork Wall Tiles

Using acoustic cork wall tiles is a GREAT CHOICE if you want to keep the noise isolated from your other rooms.

And also, if you want to keep the room temperature balanced! Cork is a great heat insulator.

You’ll definitely find it COZY to live in a space with all these wall properties when you use cork wall tiles for soundproofing.

Best Cork Wall Panels Product

The BEST ONE we can recommend is JOCAVI Acoustic Panels QCK004.

Why? Well for starters, it doesn’t physically look like your normal cork tiles. It has a ROCKY design which is quite stylish for a home.

If you’re planning to get cork flooring (your typical brown-colored cork) and want to install cork tiles as well, it won’t look bland at all with JOCAVI.

The size of each tile is 9.8″ x 9.8″ x 1.6″. And once installed, it will give you an NRC of 0.42 and –52 dB!

DON’T FORGET that underlayment ISN’T only for flooring — you can install underlay products under your cork panels too to double its soundproofing effectiveness.

For your soundproofing project, here’s how to install cork wall tiles:

4. Cork Ceiling Tiles

It’s 2 AM, and you’re in the mood to watch a movie in your spacey theater room. You want to blast off the sound out of your huge speakers to recreate the cinema feeling.

But you don’t want to wake up your upstairs neighbors as they’ll name you “the noisy one.”

Using cork ceiling tiles for soundproofing is your BEST SOLUTION.

Best Cork Ceiling Tiles Product

We’re going to have to go with JOCAVI Acoustic Panels SPL60a again.

Don’t worry, we’re not biased. It’s just that its properties are SUPERB that we don’t think it’s worth ignoring!

They both have the same qualities, but these cork tiles are bigger than what we recommended above.

It has a size of 19.7″ x 39.4″ x 2.4″, but it offers -50 dB only.

But is 2 dB really that much of a difference, though?

Despite their few differences, you can use the two products interchangeably because they are both COMPATIBLE with the ceiling and walls anyway.

This how-to-install video may not be about actual cork tiles, but it still has the same process for installing ceiling tiles.

You’ll most likely need Wakol D3540 Cork Adhesive to glue down your cork tiles.

Disadvantages of Using Cork Soundproofing

Pets Are a Threat

You’ll need to make sure your pets’ nails are trimmed at ALL TIMES because they can damage your floor.

Cork can resist indents. But once your dog digs up a hole on your floor, you won’t be able to see your floor go back to its original structure anymore.

You’ll need to find ways to make sure your pets aren’t a threat to your cork floor.

Poor Soundproofing Performance on Low Sound Frequency

Cork soundproofing only works adequately on sound frequencies between 125 Hz – 4000 Hz. Cork is usually most effective on high frequencies.

If you can still hear the sound from large trucks even when you’re inside your corky soundproofed room, it’s because truck noise falls BELOW 125 Hz.

More low-frequency sound includes airplane engines and other more heavy equipment that produces below-average noise.

Should You Really Go for Cork?

Is cork good for soundproofing? YES TOTALLY!

Cork soundproofing is proven to work flawlessly.

It may have a few disadvantages, but that won’t hinder its entire capability of reducing noise inside your home.

Besides, you’ll get a lot from it anyway — from the cost, quality, properties, and EVEN health benefits!

You should TOTALLY USE cork material if you are looking for these characteristics:

  • Multi-quality
  • Cheaper price
  • Environmental-friendly

Changelog:

July 8, 2021 – removed affiliate links, updated external links

June 4, 2021 – added changelog, optimized content

About the Author

andrea_adams

Andrea has always been bombarded by the hustle and bustle outside her home. Living in the city doesn’t get any quieter. The never ending noise from construction, traffic, and dogs barking on the streets day in and day out drove Andrea to a breaking point.

For 3 years, Andrea committed herself to studying DIY hacks, performing soundproofing experiments, and installing noise-free solutions. Now, she lives a quiet life free of the stress from noisy environments.

She hopes to share this knowledge so that others don’t have to endure the noise reigning in their ears and live a peaceful, stress-free life.