Every homeowner today can attest to the timeless class and poise that comes with vinyl and laminate floors. Their visual appeal can be so similar that many wonder how to tell the difference between vinyl and laminate flooring.
You’ve seen them in residential, commercial, and recreational spaces, flaunting their graceful allure, and you can’t wait to adorn your space with the same. But what is it exactly – is it laminate or vinyl? Are they the same, or is one better than the other?
Let’s set the record straight.
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How to tell the difference between vinyl and laminate flooring
Paying close attention to the flooring texture is one of the effective ways to tell the difference between vinyl and laminate flooring at first encounter. You’ll notice that laminate tends to have a bolder texture than vinyl. This means the patterns and textures on laminate flooring are more pronounced and realistic. Vinyl, on the other hand, exhibits more subtle embossing on the surface.
The material that makes up the flooring is also an accurate distinguishing factor. While vinyl is purely synthetic as it’s made of PVC, laminate flooring comprises high or medium-density fiberboard made of wood. This leaves you with thicker, denser planks for laminate flooring and thinner planks for vinyl floors, especially luxury vinyl. These and more aspects give vinyl and laminate their unique characteristics.
So, let’s unravel the mystery that lies underneath these flooring materials.
What is vinyl flooring?
Vinyl flooring is a synthetic material comprising polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and additional components to reinforce its durability. If you’re a modern homeowner seeking to achieve inherent durability, practicality, and aesthetic appeal at an affordable price, vinyl flooring is just that!
Today’s vinyl flooring comes in various forms for you to choose from, including vinyl sheet, vinyl plank, vinyl tile, and luxury vinyl flooring. As the name implies, vinyl sheets come in large sheets or rolls, offering easy installation and leaving behind a homogenous outlook. Vinyl planks and tiles, on the other hand, feature a design that resembles hardwood planks and ceramic tiles, respectively.
Despite their differences, all these types of vinyl flooring usually comprise similar materials. A standard vinyl floor often has four main layers:
- The backing layer – This bottommost layer enables you to install vinyl flooring even in the absence of a subfloor. It’s often made of foam or cork, serves as a sound absorber, and provides stability.
- The waterproof layer – This layer makes vinyl flooring ideal for moisture-prone areas in your home, including bathrooms and laundry rooms. It serves as a protective barrier against moisture, preventing warping and keeping mold and mildew at bay.
- The design layer – The decorative or design layer adds some character to your vinyl flooring. Whether your desired design is a wood grain pattern, tile, natural stone texture, or custom design, this layer showcases them all.
- The wear layer – This is the transparent top layer of vinyl flooring that protects the floor from wear and tear. Be it high foot traffic, heavy furniture, UV light, pet stains, or scratches, the wear layer handles everything you throw at it.
True to its name, luxury vinyl resembles high-end natural flooring designs, including tile, hardwood, and stone. It guarantees a more secure installation, enhanced durability, and sophisticated aesthetics. Aside from the standard vinyl flooring layers, luxury vinyl also features a clear top coat that improves durability. It also has a cushion layer that gives you more comfort and a luxurious feel underfoot.
- Vinyl floors are popular for their waterproof nature and superior moisture resistance.
- Vinyl flooring is highly durable and can withstand rigorous daily use for years.
- It’s a relatively affordable flooring option.
- It offers easy DIY installation.
- It offers a wide variety of designs, including customizable options.
- Easy to maintain as the flooring comprises low maintenance materials.
Resilient as it sounds, vinyl flooring isn’t immune to damage and includes some downsides. For instance:
- Constant exposure to sunlight could leave you with discolored vinyl floors, especially if you fail to use window treatments in areas with large windows.
- Vinyl flooring is synthetic, and some feature high amounts of volatile organic compounds, leading to pollution.
- Uninstalling vinyl flooring can be an uphill battle for you because installation involves using strong adhesives that harden over time, and separating it from the subfloor could cause damage.
What is laminate flooring?
Consider laminate flooring as a cheaper alternative to natural hardwood floors. It’s a synthetic flooring material that consists of multiple layers bound together through lamination. Laminate flooring mainly consists of byproducts of wood that feature a realistic design, enabling you to achieve the appearance of natural hardwood floors without breaking the bank.
Like vinyl, laminate flooring consists of multiple layers whose combination graces your floors with the utmost durability and elegance. These layers are bound together under intense heat and pressure, each serving a different role, enabling you to enjoy all the perks of laminate flooring. The layers include:
- The backing layer – At the base of the flooring is the backing layer, often made of melamine, to ensure stability and protect your floor against moisture from the subfloor.
- The core – This layer makes up most of the flooring. It’s made of high or medium-density fiberboards. The core layer ensures stability and offers resistance to impact and moisture damage.
- Decorative layer – As the name implies, this layer is why laminate flooring turns heads. It comprises high-resolution patterns or images that mimic the appearance of natural hardwood or stone. Today, endless designs can match your style, thanks to technological advancements.
- The wear layer is the topmost transparent layer that comprises aluminum oxide. It protects the underlying layers against stains, scratches, or discoloration.
These components are what make laminate flooring a sought-after alternative to natural hardwood. In addition to enhancing the perks of natural wood flooring options, laminate saves you some drawbacks that come with them. For instance, although not entirely immune to damage, laminate is less susceptible to moisture and impact damage compared to natural wood.
What’s more, you can install laminate wherever you would install natural hardwood. You can even install it in areas where natural wood wouldn’t suffice. With that said, let’s look at the advantages and drawbacks of laminate flooring.
- Laminate is a sustainable flooring option as it utilizes wood byproducts, preventing wastage.
- The multiple layers, especially the core layer, makes laminate a sturdy flooring option.
- It’s more eco-friendly as it utilizes waste wood.
- Laminate offers a wide variety of designs and patterns.
- It’s more affordable than natural hardwood.
- Laminate flooring today can mimic the design of almost all hardwood species.
- It’s easy to install.
- Laminate flooring isn’t entirely waterproof.
- It can be noisy as it doesn’t absorb sound effectively.
Laminate vs. Vinyl Flooring: How are they alike?
If you were to come across laminate or vinyl flooring and mistake one for the other, it’s no wonder. The two flooring materials are practically two peas in a pod, especially to the untrained eye. Both synthetic flooring materials stand united in their ability to counteract some of the drawbacks of natural flooring materials. That said, here are some reasons why you might find it challenging to differentiate between laminate and vinyl floors:
Both laminate and vinyl aim at gracing your floors with the natural outlook of either stone, tile, or hardwood. This means both feature a design replicating the appearance of natural flooring materials, making it difficult to tell them apart. Moreover, both come in a vast array of designs, and you can achieve your desired design with either. Whether you’re going for that textured, veined stone outlook or a rustic hardwood appearance, both flooring materials got you covered.
Both laminate and vinyl are affordable flooring options. The primary reason behind their invention is to provide a cheaper alternative to natural materials. This explains why you’ll notice a slight disparity between the price of laminate and vinyl when scouting for flooring materials. Standard vinyl or laminate would cost an average of three dollars, while more quality ones would cost about six dollars per square foot.
The two flooring materials exhibit a click-and-lock installation technique, making installation easy. The installation can be a DIY process, saving you additional installation costs.
Both vinyl and laminate materials comprise multiple layers to reinforce their durability, stability, and aesthetics. The layers are often the same for both flooring types as they include (from top to bottom): The wear layer, design layer, core, and backing. Although these layers comprise different materials for each type of flooring, they practically serve similar purposes in both cases.
Ease of maintenance
Whether you use vinyl or laminate, you are guaranteed hassle-free cleaning and maintenance. Both feature a wear layer at the top that reinforces the floor’s resistance to spills, stains, and scratches. For this reason, you won’t need to sweat to keep your floors clean, other than the occasional sweeping or vacuuming.
With all these significant similarities, are there any major differences between vinyl and laminate? Let’s find out.
Vinyl vs. Laminate Flooring: Major Differences
The components of vinyl and laminate floors give them their distinct features. Since they have different components, vinyl and laminate floors differ in terms of the following:
Vinyl floors primarily comprise polymers such as polyvinyl chloride (PVC). Their core layer is usually PVC to reinforce the floor’s longevity. The decorative layer lies above the core layer and is protected by the topmost transparent wear layer. Again, this layer is made of PVC, which explains why vinyl is a purely synthetic flooring material.
Unlike vinyl, laminate flooring isn’t purely synthetic. In this case, the core layer comprises a high or medium-density fibreboard (HDF or MDF) consisting of wood. On the other hand, the wear layer often consists of aluminum oxide, a synthetic material.
Vinyl floors offer a wide range of styles, be it wood, stone, or tile designs. If anything, this pool of options is increasing with technological advancements. The sole distinction is that vinyl floor designs are often more subtle and may not depict natural flooring designs as realistically as laminate flooring.
You can also go for laminate if you’re searching for variety, especially in natural wood flooring designs. Laminate flooring boasts a three-dimensional photographic layer that closely imitates the appearance of almost any wood species, stone, or tile floor.
Best choice for appearance: Laminate flooring
Vinyl floors tend to be pricier, with costs ranging from two to ten dollars per square foot, depending on the quality. Expect to pay more for luxury vinyl planks or premium brands. On the bright side, opting for quality vinyl with be worth your while since it’s more durable and waterproof. If you’re on a very tight budget but still want to go for vinyl, consider opting for sheet vinyl which could cost as low as $0.60 per square foot.
Laminate floors can cost anywhere between one to six dollars per square foot. The thicker the plank, the more costly it is, but it’s generally cheaper than vinyl unless you go for name-brand laminate floors, which can cost as high as eight dollars per square foot.
Best choice for cost: Laminate
Impeccable water resistance is one of the best if not the best, vinyl flooring features. Vinyl floors consist of plastic materials that can quickly dry up and remain intact after exposure to moisture. Vinyl is entirely waterproof; you can count on it for moisture-prone areas such as bathrooms and laundry rooms.
On the other hand, laminate flooring isn’t an ideal go-to if ultimate water resistance is your priority. The core comprises recycled wood, which can swell and permanently lose its structural integrity following constant exposure to moisture. Even the design layer can end up peeling and compromising the appearance of your floors if there’s significant moisture damage.
However, if you intend to install laminate floors in areas with minimal to no moisture exposure, go for it. Ensure you eliminate messes immediately to prevent water from pooling on the surface and eventually damaging the floor.
Best choice for water resistance: Vinyl
Durability and Maintenance
Vinyl flooring prides itself on the utmost durability thanks to its synthetic properties. Vinyl can withstand moisture and humid conditions and brave high-traffic areas. It is resistant to scratches, dents, and damage from liquid spills. With such resilience, vinyl floors can serve you up to 25 years.
The flooring material is also easy to maintain, primarily due to its waterproof properties. Everything goes when it comes to vinyl, be it sweeping, vacuuming, or even wet-mopping; vinyl floors can handle them all. If you have pets or kids, vinyl flooring is your perfect match.
There’s no doubt that laminate floors are sufficiently durable, only that their longevity depends on how well you maintain the floor. Their susceptibility to moisture damage makes laminate flooring relatively more challenging to maintain. For instance, wet mopping can damage your floor by exposing it to moisture, obliging you to use a slightly damp mop, and you’ll have to clean spills almost immediately to be safe.
Regarding maintenance, laminate limits you to sweeping, vacuuming or dry mopping. But, with proper maintenance and minimal exposure to moisture, laminate flooring can also serve you for up to 25 years.
Best choice for durability and maintenance: Vinyl
Owing to its superior qualities, such as prolonged durability, waterproof properties, and a wide variety of sleek designs, vinyl floors significantly maximize your home’s potential resale value. You won’t get much out of low-quality vinyl sheets or planks, but luxury vinyl can grace you with a substantial profit margin. While it can’t compare to natural options such as stone, designer ceramic, or engineered hardwood, you can count on luxury vinyl for a lucrative deal.
Due to its realistic designs that closely resemble natural hardwood or stone, laminate flooring can also offer a good resale value. The catch, however, is laminate flooring’s susceptibility to moisture damage and tedious maintenance. Preserving your laminate floor’s authentic design is nearly impossible without proper maintenance. Therefore, if you have used your laminate floors for a long time, the structural integrity could be compromised, ultimately affecting the resale value.
Best choice for resale value: Vinyl
Since vinyl flooring is purely synthetic, it often ends up in landfills because it barely comprises recyclable materials. Although technological advancements have enabled the production of vinyl flooring using sustainable materials, its sustainability levels fail to match those of natural options. It’s entirely plastic and therefore emits a higher amount of volatile organic compounds.
If you want to minimize your carbon footprint, laminate is your ultimate choice. Although not entirely environmentally friendly, laminate mainly comprises recyclable wood and emits less volatile organic compounds. Some even meet the LEED MR4 (Recycled Content) certification criteria, and these are ideal.
Best choice for environmental impact: Laminate
Ease of installation
There are many ways to install vinyl floors, including peel-and-stick, glue-down, or click-and-lock methods. The ease of installation depends on the method you use or the type of vinyl flooring in question. For instance, while you wouldn’t have difficulty installing vinyl planks as they feature a click-and-lock installation technique, you could sweat when it comes to vinyl sheets.
Vinyl sheets are large, and cutting them requires precision, especially in rooms with intricate designs. You’ll also need adhesive to attach it to the subfloor; if you’re a novice, the installation process will be challenging.
Laminate floors are floating floors that feature a tongue-and-groove locking mechanism. They should therefore give you an easier time snapping the planks together. You’re at a better place if you purchase laminate floors that feature an attached underlayment. All you need to do is prepare the subfloor adequately, and you’ll be good to go.
Best choice for ease of installation: Laminate
Whether you opt for vinyl or laminate, here is a video to help you get started on the installation process:
Which is the best flooring by room: Vinyl or Laminate?
The unique properties of vinyl and laminate determine whether or not the flooring is suitable for a specific room in your home. Knowing when or when not to use vinyl or laminate goes a long way in enabling you to prolong the floor’s durability while enhancing the room’s aesthetics. Let’s help you determine when or where to apply vinyl or laminate.
- Kitchen – Vinyl flooring is ideal for the kitchen owing to its superior waterproof properties. The kitchen floor is prone to spillage and moisture exposure, which can easily cause warping in laminate floors. However, if you anticipate intermittent moisture and your top priority is natural appearance, you could use laminate. Be sure to clean spills immediately after they occur to maintain the floor’s integrity.
- Dining room – Laminate and vinyl flooring should suffice in the dining room. They both offer various patterns and designs to match your dining room furniture. Both are scratch-resistant and durable enough to withstand high traffic in the dining room.
- The living room and bedrooms – Aesthetics and comfort should be a top priority for the living room or bedroom. Therefore, vinyl and laminate are suitable as they offer a wide range of designs depending on your style. Whether a stone, tile, ceramic, or natural wood design, laminate and vinyl offer various options to match the room’s décor, leaving the room feeling warm and cozy. Luxury vinyl is the ultimate go-to for that soft, luxurious feel underfoot if you value comfort.
- Bathrooms – You will want to opt for vinyl flooring for your bathrooms because it offers the ultimate water resistance. Laminate flooring can barely withstand the constant water pooling on the bathroom surface. On the other hand, Vinyl is low-maintenance and features sleek aesthetics that give your bathroom a high-end, indulgent design.
- Basement – Humid conditions and moisture damage often characterize basements. If this describes your basement, then you want to go with vinyl, in this case. Vinyl is purely synthetic and can, therefore, quickly recover from exposure to moisture, unlike laminate, which mainly comprises wood. Apart from withstanding standing water in the basement, vinyl can also brave the effect of moisture that seeps through the subfloor.
Ultimately, vinyl flooring can be the perfect match for any room in your home, especially moisture-prone areas. Laminate flooring is ideal if you’re a sucker for that authentic, natural vibe. However, vinyl flooring is your best bet if you anticipate excessive moisture.
Laminate vs. Vinyl Flooring: Which is best for your home?
The best flooring material for your home should tick all your boxes. It should be the one that matches your preferences, meets your flooring needs, complements the décor, and fits your budget.
For instance, if you prioritize natural aesthetics, laminate is your friend. Its close resemblance to natural stone or hardwood guarantees a more authentic outlook. Additionally, if you don’t want to compromise style yet are on a tight budget, laminate is the way to go.
On the other hand, if durability is your utmost priority, vinyl flooring is the best for your home. Vinyl flooring is the ultimate choice if you intend to install the flooring in a moisture-prone room. It’s also the best option if you’re searching for a low-maintenance floor. You can achieve your preferred design with either vinyl or laminate since both offer limitless possibilities. The material’s quality and ability to satisfy your home’s needs are essential.
Frequently Asked Questions
How can I tell if my floors are vinyl or laminate?
You can tell by feeling the floor’s texture. Vinyl flooring tends to be smooth, while laminate floors exhibit blatant embossing on the surface and are rougher. Alternatively, assess how the flooring material reacts to moisture exposure. If you notice any warping following exposure to moisture, the material is most likely laminate because it’s made of wood and is prone to moisture damage.
What is the difference between laminate and vinyl flooring?
The main distinction between laminate and vinyl flooring is the material that makes up the flooring. Laminate flooring’s core layer is primarily wood, while the wear layer comprises aluminum oxide. Vinyl, on the other hand, is purely synthetic, often containing PVC. Although this aspect makes vinyl more durable, especially where moisture is involved, the material is less eco-friendly than laminate.
Which is better, laminate or vinyl?
Neither laminate nor vinyl is a better flooring option since they have unique characteristics. For instance, if natural is your style, laminate is the better option because you’re likely to get more realistic stylish designs. On the other hand, vinyl is the better option if you’re dealing with high moisture levels. However, laminate is a better choice if you’re an eco-conscious individual. That said, each has its unique strengths and drawbacks depending on the context.
What is cheaper, laminate or vinyl?
Generally, you’ll save more with laminate flooring since you’ll spend anywhere between one to six dollars per square foot. On the other hand, vinyl can cost up to ten dollars, especially for luxury vinyl flooring. Note that the cost-effectiveness also varies depending on the material’s quality. High-quality name-brand laminate can be more costly, while sheet vinyl can cost less than a dollar per square foot.
So, Vinyl vs. Laminate – What sets them apart?
Ultimately, the material that makes up vinyl and laminate sets the two flooring materials apart. The synthetic aspect of vinyl gives it superior qualities, while the wooden laminate component adorns it with authenticity.
While vinyl prides itself on being a formidable force in terms of durability and water resistance, laminate showcases its budget-friendly elegance and realistic natural outlook. Therefore, with this array of possibilities, why not step into the arena and choose a flooring material that resonates with your style?