For the record, I’m against sealing my wine cork bath mat. I mean, corks are exposed to the moisture of wine for decades and seem to hold up fine, right? But several readers insisted cork needed to be sealed, so I did some research on sealing cork. It seems the best option is probably a sealant that’s made for protecting the cork footbeds of sandals such as Birkenstocks. I bought a 2oz. jar of Sure Foot’s Cork Renew for $5 at my local shoe repair shop. Other brands include Birkenstock Cork Life, Kelly’s Cork Renew, or U-40 Cork Seal, which is designed to prolong the life of cork fishing rod handles.
Today I started applying the sealant one row at a time. I didn’t like the glossy, tacky feel of the sealant, so I was hesitant to keep going. My compromise: I painted the cork sealant on only half the bath mat, and I’ll compare the results in a few weeks. After letting it dry for a day, I’ll start the test on Monday and keep you posted with the results.
UPDATE 4/2010: It’s four weeks later, and the unsealed side of the bath mat looks and feels like new. The sealed side started out quite sticky. Gradually, the tacky feel went away—only because everything stuck to that side. It acted like a giant lint roller. The sealed side isn’t sticky anymore, but it’s darker than the unsealed side (the difference is more noticeable in person). Btw: This photo was taken after I vacuumed as much of the stuck debris away as I could. I rotated the bath mat halfway through the trial to be fair to both sides.
UPDATE 8/2010: Still going strong. One cork popped off the corner. Hot glued it back on. Good as new.
UPDATE 9/2011: I recently tossed out the bathmat because the sealed side got too gross (with lint and debris sticking to it) and because the corks started popping off more frequently. No sign of mold. It lasted 18 months. Not bad. I plan to make another (unsealed) cork bath mat with better glue soon.
CONCLUSION: Unless you are in the habit of creating a swamp of your bathroom floor every time you shower (and you know who you are), unsealed wine cork bath mats can be expected to hold up as well as most store-bought bath mats. Because common sense isn’t as common as one might hope, I’ve put together a mini tutorial for keeping your bathroom floor dry, and thus lengthening the life of your bath mat.
1. Towel dry off before stepping out of the shower. Why anyone needs to wander the bathroom soaking wet before grabbing a towel is beyond me. Towel not within reach? Install a simple hook just outside the shower for that purpose.
2. Place a towel or cloth bath mat on top of your cork mat before stepping on it wet. If you don’t, a puddle of water (and the potential for mold) might start building up underneath the mat. Simply drape the towel over the edge of the tub to dry after each use.
3. Open the bathroom window or turn on the exhaust fan while showering. Yes, even in the dead of winter. If you don’t, your ceiling will drip, and mold will start growing.
If you follow these easy tips, your significant other/roommate will thank you. Trust me.