Carbonized bamboo is a common building material, used primarily for flooring and furniture, including cabinets. It's darker in color and softer than natural bamboo. Carbonized bamboo is considered and environmentally-friendly material -- a bamboo stand matures in about three years or so and will regenerate without replanting, compared to a 120-year maturity period for an oak tree. The color allows for more decorative possibilities and can be mixed with lighter, natural bamboo.

Bamboo flooring, full frame
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Carbonized bamboo varies in tone but is darker than its untreated counterpart.

Toned and Tough

Natural bamboo is a pale, creamy color called blond, unlike carbonized bamboo, which is darker, more amber in tone, and may even shade to deeper brown. A result of the carbonization process is a softening of the wood by about 20 to 30 percent on average. The bamboo fiber is treated for strength and compressed to form panels that compare favorably with some hardwoods for durability. However, carbonized bamboo is best used for flooring in homes, not in high-traffic public buildings.

Cooking the Bamboo

The carbonization process involves pressure heating or kiln drying. Both processes heat the sugar in the wood and result in a dark, amber color which may be either fairly uniform or variegated. Carbonized bamboo is not usually stained -- its color comes from its processing. It can be mixed with natural bamboo or blended with darker or lighter carbonized bamboo for different decorative effects.

Availability and Cost

Bamboo is technically a grass, and it is one of the fastest-growing building materials. Because of its relative abundance, it can be cheaper to install than a new hardwood floor. But import fees and the carbonization process increase the cost, and choosing a good quality bamboo floor, especially one from sustainably harvested natural bamboo, will also affect the cost. Other cost variables include the type of flooring -- solid, engineered or strand bamboo -- professional installation and finish. The same variables apply to cabinets that are custom- or ready-made from carbonized bamboo.

Care and Cleaning

High heels, dirt and excess moisture will take the shine off your carbonized bamboo floor and cabinets; bamboo furnishings and floors all do well with appropriate cleaning. A dry mop or a damp sponge will clean the surface without soaking it -- all wood exposed to water will absorb some. Never let water pool on a bamboo floor or table top and mop up spills that might stain and spoil the decorative carbonized finish. Walk-off mats are recommended for doorways and in heavily trafficked areas. A cushioned rug at the sink can prevent excess wear and protect the floor from spills. Furniture gliders will help to prevent denting. Scratches can often be sanded out and the protective sealer reapplied. A carbonized bamboo floor exposed to constant direct sunlight will fade without a UV-protective finish.

Environmental Concerns

The use of bamboo is most popular in the places where it grows: warm, tropical areas of Asia, Africa and the Americas. Most of the bamboo imported into the U.S. is grown and manufactured in China. The popularity of bamboo for floors and furnishings has resulted in some unhealthy environmental practices, such as clearing forests to grow and harvest bamboo, which causes erosion and a loss of biodiversity. Pesticides and fertilizers are not necessary to grow bamboo but they are used to boost production in some areas. The glue that adheres the panels to the subfloor may have formaldehyde in it. Do your environmental homework to find eco-friendly carbonized bamboo suppliers and installers.