Earth is our most enduring flooring material, used since humans began building shelters. Traditionally in the American Southwest, homebuilders mixed ox blood with dirt for a durable floor surface, and in rural Japan, people poured bath water containing oil from bathers’ skin onto unsealed floors. In India, ghee (clarified butter) was used. Today, combining the wisdom of ancient traditions with modern building science, earth floors are again becoming a popular natural flooring option.
Today, traditional earth floors are made of a mixture of water, soil containing clay, sand and chopped straw, and are sealed with linseed oil. Mud masters Bill and Athena Steen offer instructions for making your own earthen floors in Feet on the Ground: Earthen Floors — or you can buy Claylin, a ready-mix earthen floor in a bag sold by From These Hands. Claylin is mixed and packaged in the Portland, Ore., area from local raw materials and contains no heavy metals.
The floor is sealed with a mix of linseed oil, tung oil, pine rosin, beeswax, citrus oil and dipentene for a durable, washable surface. You can customize your floor by adding color or texture, creating patterns or designs, or inserting tiles or mosaics.
The floors can be installed on existing concrete slabs or framed subfloors, making the Claylin floors appropriate for new construction and renovations where structural support is sufficient to accommodate the weight. Claylin can be installed with radiant heating systems, and incorporated into passive solar designs.
With regular maintenance, earth floors are durable and attractive. Claylin floors can be swept, vacuumed, mopped and occasionally washed with an oil-based soap to keep the surface glossy. A new coat of wax is typically applied every one to five years, and the floors can be easily patched if they are damaged.
Claylin materials start at $4 per square foot. To learn more, visit the From These Hands website.
Photo by Mike O’Brien