Laminate vs Vinyl Flooring
Some of the most misunderstood and often confused options on the flooring market are laminate and vinyl. Learn the difference between vinyl and laminate, the pros and cons of each and how to make the best decision for your home with Laminate vs Vinyl Flooring.
It’s true, if you’re not in the flooring industry or really up-to-date on house and home projects, you probably wouldn’t be able to pick our laminate or vinyl in a flooring line up. I mean tile, wood, even cork…they’re easy to pick out in a crowd, but these new wood-look next gen flooring options are trickier and, often, misunderstood.
Laminate has started to get a name for itself, but poor vinyl is the misunderstood red headed step child that has is secretly bright, brawny and beautiful. Okay, so if they both look like wood and aren’t wood, then what is the actual difference between vinyl and laminate flooring?
What is laminate flooring?
Laminate flooring is a synthetic (man-made) floor that made a splash on the flooring market in the 1970’s. The first man-made alternative to natural wood, laminate quickly gained popularity as manufacturers created increasingly realistic looks that could easily pass for real hardwood.
Laminate was kind of the pioneer for realistic wood-look flooring, and other types of flooring have caught on and have begun releasing their own realistic wood looks, but more on that later. Laminate planks are solid without give and movement, similar to traditional hardwood.
Layers of laminate flooring
Laminate flooring is typically comprised of 4 layers.*
*Can vary between manufacturers.
This is the backbone of your laminate plank.
Base layer: HDF or MDF core
HDF stands for high-density fiberboard and, unsurprisingly, MDF stands for medium density fiberboard. Higher quality products come with an HDF core, so if you’re getting a smokin’ deal, check out that layer – could be the reason why! The HDF core is moisture resistant, which gives you more options and less fuss than traditional hardwood.
The print layer is what most people will ooh and ahh over – it’s the design, the spectacle, the wow! Or, sometimes, it’s the deal breaker, ya know, if it’s ugly. Ain’t nobody got time for ugly.
The print layer makes the laminate look like wood (or, now, stone, metal and more!) and can include rougher, more natural looking scrapes and knots just like the real deal. That’s right, it’s literally a photo (a really sweet, high-res photo) or the material being printed on your floor and, if you ask me, it is shockingly convincing.
The wear layer is what protects your laminate floor. It’s the reason that 10 years from now, after the wear and tear of everyday life, your laminate will still look great.
Related content –> 2017 Laminate Flooring Trends
What is vinyl flooring?
Now for something completely different! Vinyl flooring is also man-made with looks resembling natural materials (wood, stone, etc.), but it’s a completely different animal with a whole lotta varieties. For the sake of comparison, we’re going to stick to the wood-look vinyl planks that people typically mistake for laminate.
Vinyl had a bad rap for a long time, but it is quickly taking over the market with luxury vinyl planks looking more realistic than ever. Vinyl is even less high maintenance than laminate (as far as moisture and cleaning) and, if you ask me, it is that dark horse that is, slowly but surely, pulling ahead in the race.
Layers of vinyl flooring
The layers of vinyl are actually really similar to laminate, just using different materials. Vinyl is also typically comprised of 4 layers*
*Can vary between manufacturers.
Related content –> What is WPC Vinyl Flooring?
Again, the backbone of your plank.
Solid vinyl core
The solid vinyl core accounts for most of the flooring. This high-density core layer is moisture resistant, durable, and built to last.
Printed vinyl layer
Similar to laminate, this is where you get your gorgeous photo imagery that makes the vinyl look (nearly) identical to natural materials like stone and wood. As technology improves, you will see even more interesting vinyl looks, including leather, pebbles, chevron and more! For a long time, vinyl wasn’t able to produce anything that looked even remotely as realistic, beautiful or expensive as laminate, but times they are a changin’!
Just like with laminate, the wear layer is like your bodyguard; it helps protect your floor from dents, scratches, etc. The thicker the wear layer, the buffer your body builder, you feel me? Thicker wear layers offer more protection, so make sure when you’re looking at vinyl flooring to look not just at plank thickness, but wear layer thickness as well.
Related content –> Vinyl Flooring Trends
Okay, cool, but which one is better?
So the real deal is this: there is no one size fits all answer. The “better” option is mostly a matter of opinion. However, we can totally break things down on a point by point basis, so you can decide what is best for you.
Related content –> Linoleum vs. Vinyl Flooring
Honestly…it depends. I know…rude, right? Well, there is a wide range
Well, there is a wide range for both laminate and vinyl products. However, I will say that for the top end luxury vinyl, you may pay a little more than for the top end of laminate. That is because the highest quality luxury vinyl often includes a waterproof core** and ultra thick wear layer.
For the middle of the road, beautiful and good quality options, they are honestly pretty comparable, and I would say that vinyl has a wider range on both ends of the spectrum. It is also important to discuss installation costs with your installer. One may cost more for the install and that could alter which flooring is less expensive in the long run.
**Fun fact: there was a little experiment conducted with our luxury COREtec vinyl planks. They were submerged in water for six months and the flooring did not swell at all!
Look / Feel
As far as looks go, you can find ultra realistic wood looks in both laminate and vinyl. The feel? That is a different story. Laminate, when installed poorly, can also create a hollow, empty sound which can be a deal breaker for many homeowners.
Most laminate is installed as a “floating floor” which means you don’t need any glue, tape, etc. – you just lay it right on top of your existing floor, making it super DIY friendly.
Vinyl, on the other hand, ranges and has several installation types including peel & stick, glue down, floating and loose lay, at varying difficulties. If you are gluing down, it will definitely be more challenging than laminate.
Laminate is great for places that won’t see a lot of moisture. Full bathrooms and basements prone to leaks and flooding are not recommended. Kitchens are okay, but the floor will need to be treated more carefully when it comes to spills. It is not nearly as resistant to moisture as vinyl.
You can install vinyl literally anywhere! Bathrooms, kitchens, basements, you name it! Vinyl definitely wins points in the versatility department, particularly where moisture is concerned.
Like all things, not all laminates and not all vinyls are created equal. However, high end for high end, laminate and vinyl are both very durable floors with a long shelf life.
For a long time, laminate was thought to be much more durable but, if you ask me, vinyl can now do everything laminate can do and handle water!
Effect on Environment
Okay, okay, so I know vinyl got a bad rap for a long time, but nowadays, vinyl and laminate are actually equally eco-friendly, so you don’t need to feel guilty about choosing one over the other! Some products are even Floor Score certified for indoor air quality, and some are Made in the USA!! You’re welcome.
Related content –> Vinyl Planks Basics