Are you considering a new floor for your home or business? Studies show that hard surface flooring like laminate and vinyl can improve health by reducing the level of allergens, indoor dust and asthma-aggravating particulates. Enhance the beauty and air quality of your space with an attractive, affordable hard flooring update.
At a glance, luxury laminate flooring and high-quality vinyl look similar — so what is the difference between laminate and vinyl flooring? To help you understand the key differences and determine which flooring type is the best investment for your lifestyle and budget, check out this comparison guide.
What Is Laminate Flooring?
Laminate flooring is a synthetic and wood byproduct hybrid-material surface. It is made of a resin-fused fiberboard base topped with a decorative image and a transparent protective finish.
Laminate is composed of four distinct layers:
- Melamine-reinforced base: This foundational layer keeps the flooring stable and adds moisture resistance.
- Fiberboard core: The solid fiberboard center stabilizes the flooring and increases durability and impact resistance.
- Decorative image: This detailed decorative layer transforms laminate with an authentic wood, stone or ceramic look. The photographic quality elevates the fiberboard core to a realistic-looking work of art.
- Protective top layer: The final transparent layer, made of melamine and aluminum oxide, is a hard plastic protective coating that shields the flooring from wear and tear.
Laminate floors have come a long way since their origins in 1977 when the Swedish company Perstorp developed laminate flooring that spurred a new company and product called Pergo. This product was made using wood byproducts, pressure, heat and binding chemicals. It inspired the new approach to synthetic and hybrid flooring now seen in commercial buildings and residences worldwide. Today, several manufacturers offer attractive and durable laminate floor options, including Armstrong Flooring, Chesapeake Flooring, Carolina Home, Mohawk and Shaw Floors.
What Is Vinyl Flooring?
Vinyl flooring is an engineered, synthetic surface that is durable and waterproof.
Vinyl flooring traditionally comes in sheets or tiles, and it has the design versatility to resemble wood, stone, tile and other materials. Wood plastic composite vinyl (WPC) flooring uses a glueless plank system for installation. Even though it has “wood” in its name, this material is made of plastic composites or a mixture of wood pulp and plastic. WPC flooring features four layers:
- Base layer: This backing layer of cork or foam provides softness and sound absorption.
- Waterproof core: The high-density core is entirely waterproof.
- Printed vinyl layer: Printed photo imagery mimics the look of natural materials.
- Wear layer: This coating protects the floor from wear.
Rigid core vinyl flooring, sometimes known as stone plastic composite (SPC) flooring, is solid. This option is less comfortable underfoot than WPC flooring — but its durability makes it ideal for high-traffic or commercial spaces. This resilient floor’s core is enhanced to provide optimal performance. Rigid core vinyl has four layers:
- Backing layer: The underlayment creates the base for the core and top layers.
- Enhanced rigid core: This ultra-dense, waterproof core is made of either wood plastic or stone plastic composite, depending on the floor type.
- Printed vinyl layer: This layer features detailed photo imagery to make the vinyl look like natural materials and bring the surface realism to life.
- Wear layer: This final protective layer is the clear, hardworking buffer between wear and the printed layer.
Both WPC and SPC rigid core flooring styles are waterproof. Their cores will not warp if they come into contact with water. WPC and SPC are also interlocking systems that float on top of a subfloor with no glue required.
What Is LVP?
Luxury vinyl plank (LVP) is a flexible, water-resistant composite flooring that uses 3D printing technology to replicate the appearance of hardwood floors.
Luxury vinyl tile (LVT) replicates the look and physical texture of stone. The differences between WPC and SPC rigid core flooring and LVP flooring include that LVP:
- Is more flexible.
- Offers touchable similarity to natural materials, like the depth of hand-scraped wood or the striations of wood grain.
- Is sometimes water-resistant instead of fully waterproof.
- Does not float or interlock.
- Is permanently affixed to the subfloor using glue.
Luxury Vinyl Plank (LVP) vs. Laminate Flooring
Laminate and LVP are generally comparable in appearance, as they both offer dimensional embossing to mimic the textures of natural wood. Laminate flooring is designed to click together and float, making it ideal for quick, glueless installation, and LVP flooring requires adhesive. While LVP may not be completely waterproof, it is more water-resistant than laminate flooring, making it a longer-lasting option against moisture and spills.
Which Is Better — Vinyl or Laminate Flooring?
Advances in synthetic home finishes are getting better all the time, and flooring is undoubtedly proving its value. According to a floor industry review by Floor Covering News, installation of resilient flooring like vinyl and laminate has increased more than 185% since 2010, holding more than 22% of the total flooring market in volume thanks to advances in luxury products like LVP.
When it comes to differentiating vinyl plank versus laminate flooring, their looks and installation methods are similar. The critical difference is found in their cores. Laminate is made from wood byproducts, making it susceptible to water, while vinyl is made from 100% synthetic material, resulting in moisture-safe planks.
12 Differences Between Laminate and Vinyl Flooring
Get the flooring results you seek and increase your return on investment by exploring these 12 differences of luxury vinyl versus laminate flooring.
Vinyl and laminate offer similar looks in photo printing and texture, so you really can’t go wrong with either option. Laminate offers photorealistic imagery of natural materials and deeper 3D wood textures, like aged or hand-scraped hardwood planks. This may give laminate an advantage over vinyl in the appearance category if you want your flooring to look as realistic as possible.
Vinyl flooring certainly can trick the eye with its photographic image layer. Thicker, higher-quality vinyl options like LVP can more closely mimic the feel of natural wood as the thickness allows for deeper embossing.
While both laminate and vinyl are durable, vinyl is known for its toughness. It can stand up to high traffic demands, making it an excellent choice for homes, work studios and even commercial spaces.
Laminate is a low-maintenance, durable flooring option. Over time, laminate can delaminate, especially if it’s exposed to water. Laminate is water-resistant but not waterproof, so its durability lessens in damp or spill-prone areas. While scratch-resistant, scratches and chips can happen. If minor scratches occur, you can fix the laminate with a floor repair kit.
Over time, self-stick vinyl tiles can shift or loosen. Lower-quality vinyl could delaminate in high-wear, moisture-prone areas if not installed or maintained correctly. Heavy furniture can cause denting, and heavy objects should be lifted and never dragged across the floor. Vinyl is exceptionally resilient to wear and scratches — if durability is your top priority, vinyl is a superior flooring surface.
3. Stain Resistance and Maintenance
Both vinyl and laminate floors are durable and easy to maintain. While vinyl can handle standing liquid spills better than laminate, both flooring surfaces are extremely stain resistant.
Laminate flooring uses aluminum oxide in its protective top layer for superior stain resistance. Laminate doesn’t need waxing and generally retains its beauty and shine. If the surface does dull over time with wear, you can use laminate-specific products to restore shine. You can fill chips and scratches using laminate putties and other repair products.
The top layer of vinyl flooring is coated with durable, clear urethane to resist stains and wear. There is no need to use wax or polish on vinyl floors, which can cause a dull surface with buildup. Regular cleaning with mild cleaners will maintain vinyl’s shine.
4. Water Resistance
While laminate is water-resistant, vinyl is waterproof. Keep this in mind when selecting flooring options for different parts of your home or business. For damp or spill-prone areas like basements and bathrooms, vinyl flooring may be a safer option.
Because laminate flooring uses a wood product as its core, it can swell and soften if exposed to extreme humidity, water or other liquid spills. Once dried, the fiberboard may not resume its original dimensions and can remain permanently warped. Clean up water and other liquid spills immediately, as laminate cannot tolerate standing pools of water.
Some older vinyl flooring used a felt backing that wasn’t waterproof. Today’s advanced flooring is made from 100% polymer materials. New vinyl flooring options are truly waterproof — they can be fully immersed in water and dried out while remaining completely unaffected.
Laminate and vinyl are both pet-friendly options. Vinyl flooring’s waterproof and scratch-resistant qualities make it the practical choice to withstand the long-lasting wear and tear of animals in the home.
While durable, laminate can be scratched from pets with claws. If your pet is known for spilling water during feeding times or is prone to accidents, be prepared to closely monitor and clean up any liquid spills immediately to prevent permanent damage to the flooring.
The scratch-resistance of vinyl makes this flooring tough enough to withstand the long claws of dogs and evening zooms of cats. As a pet-friendly choice, luxury waterproof vinyl plank flooring is safe from water dish spills and pet accidents, even if you don’t catch them right away.
6. Ease of Cleaning
Laminate and vinyl floors are easy to clean. Protect laminate floors from moisture using dry cleaning methods instead of wet mopping. Avoid steam cleaning both flooring options to safeguard any flooring adhesives from the heat. Remember that water can cause damage to laminate flooring, so address any liquid spills immediately to prevent damage.
Surface clean laminate floors as much as possible using dry methods like a vacuum or broom. To more thoroughly clean laminate floors, use a slightly damp, almost dry to the touch mop with mild, laminate-safe cleaning products. To remove difficult stains, carefully use acetone.
Vinyl is easy to care for and clean. Because vinyl is waterproof, you can use a wide array of dry or wet cleaning methods — sweep with a broom, vacuum, scrub difficult spots and wet mop with safe cleaning products.
While some homeowners opt to install laminate and vinyl themselves, having a professional handle your installation process ensures proper steps are taken to uphold warranties, extend the life span of your floor and create a polished final product.
Laminate flooring uses a click-and-lock method of installation. The tongue of one flooring plank fits into the groove of an adjacent plank, coming together with a folded-down clicking action. Vinyl planks also use the click-and-lock method. Sheet vinyl and LVP are different, as these options may require adhesive.
Compared to natural hardwood floors, which require diligent cleaning and waxing to protect and maintain their beauty, vinyl and laminate flooring options are affordable in material cost and upkeep. And with modern advances in image quality and believable texture, you can experience the look and feel of a wood floor for less money, leaving room in your budget for other home improvements.
The price of laminate flooring depends on the material thickness and design style. Installed costs range from $3 to $7 per square foot. Sheet vinyl flooring is an economical option, costing as little as $1 per square foot for thin, glue-down vinyl flooring material. For installed flooring, vinyl ranges from $2 to $6 per square foot.
Both laminate and vinyl flooring are long-lasting materials. Depending on the location, flooring chosen and installation method, laminate and vinyl can last a decade or longer with proper care. As long as laminate flooring is safe from water and moisture, when properly cared-for and professionally installed it can last between 15 and 25 years.
The life span of vinyl flooring depends on style and installation type. Interlocking vinyl floors can last from 10 to 20 years, while glue-down vinyl flooring can last much longer — potentially up to 50 years if well maintained. Vinyl is also unaffected by moisture, making this a longer-lasting option for bathrooms and basements.
10. Sound and Comfort
Standing on laminate and vinyl will feel rigid and less warm than hardwood floors, but material and installation choices can help create that comfortable feeling. When combined with a felt or foam underlayment, laminate floors can provide a more comfortable, quiet experience to walk on.
Unlike the sound-absorbent effect of walking on hardwood, walking on laminate floors can produce an empty, hollow sound. A high-quality underlayment can reduce this hollow sound and enhance warmth retention. Unlike hardwood, you can also install laminate over radiant heating systems.
Vinyl flooring is often installed on top of ceramic tile or concrete, making the surface feel hard on the feet, especially glued-down vinyl sheet flooring. Because vinyl is installed without an underlayment, it is colder on bare feet than laminate. With proper installation, you can incorporate radiant heat under vinyl flooring.
11. Resale Value
While vinyl and laminate are regarded as lower cost than natural materials, professionally installed laminate and vinyl floors, especially LVP, are desired by homebuyers depending on their lifestyles and aesthetic preferences. Well-chosen laminate and vinyl floors are stylish, easy to maintain and add considerable resale value to your home or investment property.
New, high-quality laminate flooring is beautiful and durable. As long as it’s in good condition, in style and installed correctly, laminate floors can lend extra resale value to a home.
Vinyl flooring is esteemed for its resiliency and practicality by families with pets or young children. With resale in mind, avoid installing low-quality, thin vinyl flooring, which home seekers may consider an immediate home-improvement project. Instead, stick with premium LVP to wow prospective buyers.
12. Room Consideration
When it comes to choosing flooring material by room, consider the use of the space and how much moisture it will encounter. Vinyl can be used throughout the entire home, while laminate should be limited to moisture-free areas.
Laminate flooring is warmer and more comfortable underfoot than vinyl, so laminate is an excellent choice for living rooms and bedrooms. Use laminate in spaces where there is little to no risk of spills, dampness or moisture. Avoid bathrooms, laundry rooms, mudrooms, basements and potentially kitchens.
Waterproof vinyl flooring can stand up to heavy foot traffic, damp environments, spills and splashes. Due to its rugged, waterproof nature, vinyl is ideal for bathrooms, mudrooms, laundry rooms, basements, entryways and more.
Vinyl vs. Laminate Flooring Pros and Cons
Trying to decide whether vinyl or laminate is suitable for you? This condensed pros and cons list can help:
Vinyl Flooring Pros and Cons
Some of the pros of vinyl flooring include:
- Realistic style you can see and touch: This isn’t your grandmother’s flooring. Today’s manufacturers offer vinyl styles that convincingly mimic natural materials. Luxury vinyl provides the surface details found in distressed or hand-scraped wood planks and textured stone.
- Super durable: There’s a reason vinyl is a popular choice for high-traffic, commercial spaces — it can take a beating and keep looking beautiful. Vinyl floors are scratch-resistant, stain-resistant, waterproof, resilient and made to last.
- Fully waterproof: Vinyl is completely waterproof — so you, your pets and your kids can splash and spill to your heart’s content. Vinyl provides peace of mind knowing your floors are moisture safe, especially in bathrooms, laundry rooms and basements.
- Pet-approved: The paws and claws approve — vinyl can handle your pet’s turned-over water dishes, long nails, playtime and accidents.
- Easy to clean and maintain: Vinyl is easy to clean with a quick pass of the broom, vacuum or mop. Since it’s waterproof, you can use various cleaning methods to keep your vinyl looking new.
Vinyl flooring cons may be:
- Texture depth and feel: Vinyl has a distinct feel, different from solid hardwood, and some homebuyers prefer that touchable quality. While vinyl can mimic the texture and look of wood floors, laminate is slightly more capable of duplicating deeper wood textures like hand-scraping, aged planks and embossing.
- Comfort: Standing on vinyl installed over concrete or tile for lengths of time can be hard on the feet and body. And without underlayment, vinyl is a cold surface underfoot.
- Inferior quality options can dent and scratch: Even though vinyl is recognized for its rugged durability, keep product quality in mind when evaluating vinyl options. High-quality planks with thicker wear layers will live up to the material’s known resilience, but low-quality thin options can be susceptible to wear and tear.
Laminate Flooring Pros and Cons
Laminate flooring offers several advantages, including:
- Realistic texture and look of natural materials: With deeper embossing capabilities, laminate can capture the dimensionality found in distressed hardwood, hand-scraped planks and aged wood at a greater depth than vinyl planks. Unlike natural hardwood, the quality control of manufactured laminate provides consistency across all boards.
- Scratch and stain resistance: Quality laminate with a thick wear layer protects against dents, chips, wear, stains and scratches.
- Radiant heat compatibility: Unlike hardwood, you can install laminate planks above a radiant heating system.
- Easy cleaning and maintenance: As long as you use dry cleaning methods and prevent contact with wet mops and water, cleanup for laminate is a breeze.
- Laminate maintains its shine without the need for wax, and if it does dull a little over time, you can restore luster and fix minor scratches with laminate-specific products.
- Comfort: With a thicker underlayment, laminate feels warmer and more comfortable to stand on than vinyl.
Cons you may want to weigh include:
- Water damage susceptibility: While laminate is water-resistant, water exposure can damage its core. Once laminate flooring swells due to moisture, it will remain warped permanently.
- Impracticality for bathrooms and basements: Laminate’s vulnerability to water limits the areas where you can safely install it in your home. Since bathrooms encounter splashes, plumbing leaks or possible flooding, a waterproof floor is a safer option. Depending on moisture exposure, laminate may need to be excluded from laundry rooms, mudrooms, basements and entryways if you live in a wetter climate.
- Acoustics: With a nonexistent or thin underlayment, laminate floors can sound hollow and louder than hardwood. A quality underlayment and professional installation can make for a quieter floor.
Vinyl or Laminate Flooring: Which Is Best for You?
The best flooring option comes down to your budget, lifestyle, preferences and priorities. Both laminate and vinyl options are cost-effective, stylish alternatives to hardwood and other natural flooring choices. Cost is relatively comparable between the flooring materials — you can find vinyl pricing lower than laminate and vice-versa depending on style and quality level.
Consider your household’s lifestyle:
- Are you a parent of young, active children?
- Do pets regularly run through your home and knock over water bowls?
- Do you live in a wet climate or mountainous terrain and regularly trek in mud and rainwater through your entry?
- Are you an artist with a home studio who occasionally spills paint on the floor?
- Do you need a long-lasting floor for your small business’s shop floor? If you need a tough, forgiving floor that is durable, waterproof and has a long life span, vinyl is likely an ideal choice for you.
Vinyl is also the right choice for bathrooms, basements and other spaces where you need protection from moisture.
Your space might not require water-resistant flooring, and style and comfort could be top priorities for you. Evaluate the main criteria for your floor preferences by considering these factors:
- Are you concerned about the flooring’s impact on your feet and body when standing for long periods?
- Are the acoustics of the flooring surface important to you?
- Do you prioritize the look and feel of flooring, desiring for the overall appearance to closely resemble real hardwood?
- Is warmth underfoot a top consideration for your comfort level?
If moisture isn’t a factor, and if it is paramount that your floors are comfortable and believably look and feel like the texture of natural hardwood, laminate may be an excellent choice for you.
Contact Metro Flooring Contractors to Install Your Laminate and Vinyl Floors
Are you ready to dive into your flooring project, or do you need a little help making final selections? Serving homes and businesses in Virginia, Maryland and Washington, D.C., the experts at Metro Flooring Contractors are ready to answer all your flooring questions.
As a family-owned business with over 25 years of experience in flooring installation, Metro Flooring Contractors is committed to providing superior service at an affordable rate. With our price-match guarantee on major brands, convenient financing options and fast installation turnaround, you can trust us with your flooring investment.
Schedule your free in-home appointment today to discuss your project ideas. We’ll send one of our professional contractors to your home to bring the showroom to you and measure and review flooring samples.