You’ve finally decided it’s time to revamp your living room’s rickety, haggard floors. As you embark on your search for “the best wooden floors,” you’re teleported into the wonderful world of laminate and vinyl flooring. They’re a durable, attractive and affordable alternative to hardwood floors—and you can install them all by yourself (for the most part). But when it comes to laminate vs. vinyl, which is the better option? Read on for a breakdown of each, plus some key differences to keep in mind before you start that DIY renovation.
Get the look: Wayfair ($3.65 per sq. ft.)
WHAT IS LAMINATE FLOORING?
Laminate floors are manufactured with an inner core of wood byproducts that are sealed with resin. The base is then topped with a printed design layer that’s coated in hard, translucent plastic to simulate the appearance of natural hardwood.
Realistic wood appearance
More affordable than luxury vinyl plank (LVP)
More comfortable to walk on
Cannot be repaired if damaged
Requires special care and maintenance
Get the look: Wayfair ($2.19 per sq. ft.)
WHAT IS VINYL FLOORING?
Vinyl floors are composed of 100-percent synthetic materials. All vinyl sheets, planks and tiles are created with a fiberglass base layer that’s coated with PVC vinyl and a plasticizer. Their design layer is finished with multiple coatings of no-wax polyurethane, making it 100 percent waterproof. In recent years, a riff on vinyl, known as luxury vinyl plank (or LVP), has been growing in popularity. It’s just as moisture resistant, though it’s a bit sturdier and it has interlocking edges like laminate.
100 percent moisture-resistant
Can be repaired
Doesn’t require special care
Has luxury design options
More affordable options available
Can have a less realistic appearance
Cold and not as comfortable
Usually requires installation
LVP can be expensive
WHAT COSTS MORE, LAMINATE OR VINYL?
Both laminate and vinyl materials will typically fare anywhere from $1 to $5 per square foot. However, the prices will vary depending on installation and each plank’s size, style or thickness (see below). It’s also worth mentioning that LVP can cost up to $14 per square foot when installed.
WHAT ARE THE DIFFERENCES?
Both laminate and vinyl flooring have a layer of realistic, three-dimensional embossing that’s meant to mimic the appearance of real hardwood floors. But before we can even get into the laminate versus vinyl debate, we have to explain the difference between LVP and standard vinyl tiles.
Traditionally, standard vinyl sheets or tiles are intended to imitate the appearance of ceramic and stone. While there are some wood-inspired options available, they’re often very thin, and the “cracks” between each tile can look synthetic or manufactured. LVP, on the other hand, is intentionally crafted to simulate the appearance of hardwood floors. The planks retain the same materials and composition as standard vinyl, but they have multiple wear layers to add thickness and shine for a more realistic appearance.
So, in terms of laminate versus standard vinyl, laminate is a clear winner. Historically, laminate floors have been regarded as higher-quality options with more intricately embossed design layers. However, the latest LVP options expertly mirror the appearance of real wood; you’ll just pay more for it.
2. Water and heat resistance
While laminate floors can aptly feign real hardwood, they’re not at all water resistant. When its inner core is exposed to moisture for extended periods, it swells and softens (and never reverts to its original size). Furthermore, the design layer tends to peel away once the core becomes waterlogged.
As we mentioned before, vinyl uses synthetic materials that make it 100 percent waterproof. Both laminate and vinyl floors can be placed over radiant heat systems, but vinyl is the clear winner when it comes to moisture resistance.
3. Care and Maintenance
The care and cleaning process for laminate flooring is somewhat delicate, given its hypersensitivity to moisture. Most manufacturers recommend using dry cleaning methods, like a broom or unsoaked mop, to avoid damaging its inner core.
Yet, one of the most attractive qualities of vinyl is that it’s beyond easy to clean. It can be wet-mopped or deeply scrubbed (with the right cleaning products), and you’ll never have to worry about its layers peeling away.
Most often, vinyl and laminate floors will use a floating installation method. Basically, this means that the planks or tiles simply “float” over the subfloor (as opposed to being glued or nailed down). While some vinyl floors can be glued down, most prefer to use floating planks.
If you’re a DIYer, laminate is your go-to. Its planks can be cut with a standard saw, and it’s relatively light. Vinyl is more cumbersome and harder to cut precisely. It’s best to hire a professional installer if you’re going with the latter.
5. Lifespan and Durability
ICYMI: Laminate is not waterproof, and unless you have cat-like reflexes when it comes to cleaning spills, you’ll run the risk of permanently damaging your floors. Plus, once the top layer of this material is scratched, it can’t be removed or replaced. However, if you’re prepared to give your floors some extra TLC, laminate planks can last anywhere from 10 to 25 years.
Vinyl is typically an extremely durable material that’s referred to as resilient flooring in the industry. It can easily withstand high-traffic areas in the home, and it has a lifespan of up to 20 years. For those factors, vinyl takes the cake.
Both vinyl and laminate are sharks at dodging stains. Their clear outer coatings are both engineered to be stain and scratch-resistant, so you’ll never have to worry about spilling a bottle of wine or olive oil in the kitchen.
7. Comfort and sound
Simply put, neither laminate nor vinyl will perfectly mimic the feel and sound of authentic hardwood floors. But laminate does a pretty good job of replicating its warmth—especially when it has a layer of dense foam padding underneath. Not only does this make it more comfortable to walk on, but it significantly reduces the sound of hollow, laminate planks. Otherwise, vinyl emits about the same noise level and typically feels cold and hard on the feet (particularly in winter months).
8. Resale value
While quality laminate floors may slightly increase your home’s resale value, it won’t be by much. Quite honestly, most people will have a hard time distinguishing laminate from LVP; they’re considered one and the same in the real estate world. If you’re thinking about upgrading your floors, solid hardwood tends to be the most popular with potential homebuyers.
9. Environmental impact
Let’s get something straight: Both laminate and vinyl materials are bad for the environment. But if we’re talking about which one’s worse, we’d have to go with vinyl. Because it’s composed of 100 percent synthetic materials, it’s ultimately non-recyclable and won’t decompose in landfills. Plus, it emits harmful chemicals into the atmosphere when its materials are burned during assembly.
Laminate is by no means “eco-friendly.” However, because its core is primarily wood-based, it’s considered a more sustainable option. Furthermore, it can be recycled and broken down after use. But, just like vinyl, it releases harsh chemicals when its resin is burned down to create its hard, plastic top layer.
Get the look: Home Depot ($3.49 per sq. ft.)
WHICH OPTION IS THE ULTIMATE WINNER?
Luxury Vinyl Plank flooring (with laminate a close second)
Look, we have nothing against laminate flooring. But we’re not prepared to live our lives in fear as we wait for our kids to (inevitably) spill something. Not only is LVP flooring extremely durable, but it has nearly the same design qualities as laminate.
Today’s iterations are “seriously so similar to the look of wood, it's hard to tell the difference,” says HGTV’s Jasmine Roth, who uses LVP in all of her television projects and names it as her number one flooring choice in her upcoming book, House Story (available October 12).
That said, if it comes down to laminate versus standard vinyl, we’re going laminate all the way. While it may be harder to care for, we’ll gladly put in some extra work if it means we won’t have cheap-looking floors. “Just like with any project, there are all different levels of material quality,” Roth says. “It's important to check the thickness of the vinyl and also how thick the underlayment, or padding, is. I always recommend reading reviews if you're purchasing online or talking to a knowledgeable salesperson [if you’re unsure].”