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Vinyl vs. Laminate Flooring: Which Is Right for You?

by Nick Marr on Sep 29, 2020

When looking for a new floor covering that's durable and more affordable than hardwood, the main two options are vinyl and laminate flooring. You can install both yourself, and they come in a wide variety of aesthetic options, meaning that the main difference between the two is the material they are made from.

Differences in material

Vinyl flooring is 100% synthetic and comes in both sheets and tiles, with the base layer being made from coated fiberglass with a print layer on top of it, and then several layers applied on top of this to help with durability. Laminate flooring is like vinyl planks in how they look and are installed, but are made from treated wood with a print on top. Both types of flooring are very versatile where you can install them, with the main difference being that vinyl flooring is superior in withstanding moisture, so it's a better option for use in bathrooms.

Appearance

Laminate flooring is designed to replicate traditional wooden floors, stone or ceramic design, and a realistic look in the design and manufacturing process. Vinyl can also look realistic, and the more luxury options can look very convincing, but laminate flooring can generally be created with a more genuine looking finish, so it's the best if you're trying to find the best alternative to a more expensive option.

Heat and water resistance

Laminate flooring is usually made with a fiberboard core, and because it's made out of wood, it may not retain its shape if exposed to a significant amount of water, which can cause it to warp and swell. Exposure to water can also impact the top layer of fiberboard panels, rendering the design to peel away, meaning that the panels will need to be replaced if they are damaged by water. For this reason, it's recommended that laminate flooring isn't used in rooms where they may be exposed to a significant amount of moisture, like bathrooms and shower rooms. Still, rooms where small spills are likely, such as the kitchen, will generally be okay.

Older vinyl flooring was often made with fiber backing, making it unsuitable for use in rooms with significant amounts of moisture. New manufacturing techniques mean that this is no longer the case, and vinyl floors are made from 100% polymer. High-end vinyl flooring can be fully submerged in water with no issues, meaning that they aren't just water-resistant, but completely waterproof. For this reason, they are perfectly suited for use in bathrooms and basements that may become damp and should be used in these rooms rather than laminate flooring.

Care and cleaning

For the same reason, that laminate flooring shouldn't be installed in rooms that get too damp, it's also important not to clean them with a mop that's too wet at the risk that the boards will become damaged. Instead, use a dry mop or broom to do most of the cleaning, and then if some moisture is needed, you can use a slightly damp mop that's wrung out enough so that it won't drip. Vinyl flooring is straightforward to clean, and you can use a wet mop to clean the floor quickly if there are any spillages. You can even scrub it clean if needed, making it simpler to clean than laminate flooring, but both take minimal cleaning when compared to carpet.

Durability and maintenance

Laminate is a low-maintenance and durable flooring option, with more expensive options lasting over 15 years if properly looked after. The only issue you may face is water damage, or if acute damage is done to the top layer as this can't be repaired and must be replaced. Both low-quality vinyl and laminate flooring will wear faster than their more expensive counterparts, so keep this in mind when choosing either floor type. When compared, vinyl is the more durable of the two flooring options, even when a cheaper alternative is used and will endure high footfall and lots of use.

Installation

Vinyl and laminate flooring are both popular due to the ease of installation, making it possible to install both yourself without the need for a professional, which is generally necessary when laying carpet. Laminate floors come typically in panels that click and lock into place, and then either an electric saw or hand saw can be used to change the panels' length, so they properly fit into place. Vinyl flooring can also come in a similar click and lock design, but are even easier to install as they can be cut down to size using a sharp knife. Other vinyl floors come in a single sheet that can be more challenging to fit yourself, as it needs to be cut into the specific dimensions of the room you're covering. If you'd like to fit your floor yourself, then both laminate and vinyl panels are good options.

Cost

Laminate and vinyl flooring are comparable in price, with 7-mm thick laminate planks starting at around $1 per square foot and thin vinyl at the same price. Thicker 12-mm laminate can reach $5 per square foot, which is about equal to the top-end vinyl options. In most cases, the cost won't be the deciding factor between the two options, and instead, the style and functionality will be the main differentiator.

Lifespan

Both laminate and vinyl flooring will last for a long time, and depending on the quality, you can expect 10-25 years from both. The only caveat is that laminate flooring will take some additional maintenance compared to vinyl to last as long.

Impact on the environment

As the core of laminate flooring is made from wood, there's the option to reuse and recycle it at the end of the floor's life. The top layer is made from treated plastic, though, which can't be recycled, and the production of this sheet isn't exceptionally environment-friendly. Vinyl flooring can't currently be recycled. It doesn't compose, which means that it's worse for the environment than its laminate counterpart, and if this is important to you, it could significantly impact your decision.

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