Authentic Mid-Century style building materials and DIY kits for your home.

What Floor Should I Choose? (Part 6 – Rubber)

February 28, 2024

Rubber flooring became a reality for mid-century homeowners post World War II. Rubber came on the scene as the first resilient flooring option for homes before the development of plastics. The material was warm and forgiving underfoot, waterproof, and easy to clean. All of the qualities that made rubber flooring great for homes back in the day, remain great benefits for homes today.

History

Natural rubber was discovered as the sap from the rubber tree by the ancient Mesoamericans (including the Incan and Mayan cultures). Similar to the collection of maple sap for syrup, the rubber tree is tapped, and a method of collecting the white, viscous liquid that emerges from the cut is utilized for collection. In ancient times, the material was used for practical purposes such as waterproofing materials, but also for fun, creating balls for playing a sport similar to the current game of ulama found in Mexico.

Explorers found the rubber trees and their sap, taking rubber tree seeds with them and attempting to grow plants in non-native areas. The only areas where the rubber tree seeds took root were the Southeast Asian countries, including Malaysia, Singapore, and Sri Lanka.

Natural rubber's characteristics mean that it remains sticky in warm weather and hard in cold weather. That made the use of the material not as ubiquitous as we know it now. That was thanks to the discovery of the vulcanization process, a process by which natural rubber is treated with sulfur and heat, creating a material with the elastic qualities of natural rubber while increasing durability and removing the temperature-sensitive aspects of the material. Enhanced workability of the material was also a byproduct of vulcanization, which led to the ability to use the material for even more products, including rubber flooring.

Types

When you hear "rubber flooring" (or when you Google it, for that matter), you'll often think of black, recycled flooring that you might find in the weight room at your local gym. However, those are not the type we're speaking of when choosing an appropriate flooring type for a mid-century home. Those floors are often marbleized with a smooth-texture finish and come in a multitude of colors.

Rubber flooring has some wonderful, inherently eco-friendly characteristics, such as being a natural material. It is also easy to clean, antimicrobial, and easy on the feet. It can be waxed, or some modern types of rubber flooring have an integrated wax product that continually migrates to the surface to keep your rubber floor looking its best throughout the years. And we do mean years because this material can last quite some time if you take a small amount of time to maintain it by sweeping or vacuuming and the occasional wet mop.

Not all rubber flooring is made equally, though. Be on the lookout for synthetic rubber (which means plastic) if that's not the intention for your flooring. Some flooring will be virgin rubber, while other floors might be a combination of virgin and recycled, while others might be completely recycled. Do your research and read your labels.

Installation

We can keep installation short and sweet - this is most often going to be a hire-a-professional installation versus a DIY job. The majority of rubber flooring comes in either rolls or tiles and is typically installed with trowelled mastic on a prepared subfloor. While a really handy homeowner might be up for the challenge, the finishing details of the installation are decidedly not DIY.

One of the benefits of rubber flooring we mentioned earlier was being waterproof. However, that waterproof feature depends mightily on installation. A professional installer will be able to weld the seams and make your floor monolithic. You can also use rubber flooring to wrap up the base of walls to make an integral cove base - perfect for wet areas.

While rubber is a natural material, there is off-gassing that occurs. It should dissipate with time, but it is a definite issue to be aware of when installing rubber flooring.

Where to Buy

Rubber flooring is typically marketed towards the commercial market. However, with persistence, you should be able to find a distributor and installer willing to work with a homeowner to install these products. And with how beautiful these floors can be, a little persistence will pay off in spades!

Activa

Marble

Shown here in M19 Jean

Artigo

Kayar

Shown here in K01-M

Flexco

Marbled Colors

Shown here in Vintage Plum

Noraplan

Dariva

Shown here in 7170 Acai Berry

Roppe

Marbelized Colors

Shown here in M693 Butter Cup

Tarkett/Johnsonite

Minerality

Shown here in PB5 Woodside

And a hearty RIP to R.C. Musson, who apparently is no longer making the marbleized rubber flooring that they had been making since 1941. You can see (and weep) over the palette here.

Do you have original rubber floors? How have they been holding up for you? Do you love them? Hate them? Let us know in the comments below.

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Image Credits:

Langkawi, Malaysia: Rubber farming along Teluk Yu Road. CC BY-SA 3.0 DEED.
Gym floor mat. Cropped from an image by Julia Larson on Pexels. CC0.
Installing mastic. CC0.
Images of products by the individual manufacturers. Fair use.

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