The Best Flooring for Every Room & Situation: Your Guide
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November 5, 2021
The best flooring: what is it?
Is it hardwood? Vinyl plank? Laminate? Sheet vinyl? SHAG CARPET??
Sorry, we got a little carried away there. But you get it—trying to find the best flooring is really difficult. There are endless types of flooring out there, and each one is great for certain applications.
Looking for the “best flooring” is like looking for the “best music”—the answer depends on about a million factors (namely, your opinion).
But: we’re here to make things easy for you. That’s why, after a whole lotta’ research and debating, we’ve put together this comprehensive guide to the best flooring for every room and situation.
First, we’ll break down all of the most popular types of flooring around, so you know what your options are. Then, we’ll answer the most important flooring questions buyers usually have.
After that, we’ll cover which flooring options are best for specific situations and rooms, so you can get a sense of what floors work best where. And finally, we answer a few more general questions on what makes the best flooring!
And remember: we’re going to be going over a lot of information here, so feel free to use the table of contents right here to find what you’re looking for 👇
Table of Contents
What Different Types of Flooring Exist?
From solid hardwood to hemp, there are so many different types of flooring contending for the best flooring title. Here’s what you need to know about each of them.
What makes solid hardwood solid? Each plank is 100% natural wood (i.e. one single piece of wood throughout).
Most types of hardwood flooring hold their value very well. Plus, in terms of looks, it’s pretty hard to beat the authenticity of real hardwood. You could probably say there was a time when hardwood was indisputably the best flooring choice available.
Additionally, unless you buy waterproof or water-resistant wood flooring, you also can’t get it wet. Many types can scratch easily. And solid hardwood can also be very susceptible to environmental factors like humidity.
But on the bright side, solid hardwood looks really, really good.
What is engineered hardwood? Instead of being one single chunk of wood, engineered wood is a high-performance material composed of two different types of wood fused together:
A veneer of real, solid hardwood to give the floor its gorgeous look.
You might be thinking that engineered wood can’t be as good as the solid variety, but this isn’t true. The best engineered wood flooring brands make floors that stack up very well (if not better) to their solid siblings.
A lot of buyers confuse engineered hardwood with laminate flooring, but they’re not the same thing. So: what is laminate flooring? It’s what you get when you want the look of hardwood, but not the price.
In particular, many people compare laminate vs. engineered hardwood because they both use a wood composite base, but that’s about where the similarities end. Laminate tops this base (which is usually made of HDF rather than plywood) with a photorealistic image layer as well as a protective wear layer—not a wood veneer.
Translation: engineered wood is real wood—laminate is not.
That said, laminate is highly durable and the best brands are extremely scratch resistant. On the other hand, some homebuyers don’t like the idea of having artificial floors that can’t be resurfaced or refinished.
Linoleum is another composite flooring option—in fact, people often compare linoleum vs. laminate—though it’s becoming less and less popular as laminate (and LVP) continue to eat up the hardwood alternatives market.
Anyway, linoleum has been around for over a century and it’s made of wood products and other (mostly) natural materials like pine rosin. So: it’s biodegradable, comfortable underfoot, and fairly inexpensive. But it’s also harder to find and tends to lack many options (including wood-look styles).
Suffice to say, linoleum still has a niche—but it’s far from the best flooring option available today. However,Marmoleum (by Forbo)—a hi-tech, modern version of linoleum that recently emerged onto the flooring scene—is starting to make waves as an environmentally-focused successor to the early 20th-century invention.
Like wood, there are a few different types of bamboo flooring, including solid and engineeredvarieties (check out the pros and cons of engineered bamboo flooring for more info on that). Most types of bamboo behave very similarly to hardwood, too—you shouldn’t get it wet, it needs regular maintenance (yes, you can refinish bamboo flooring), and it looks fantastic.
Cork flooring is a bit of a departure from other hardwood-adjacent floors for a number of reasons. The biggest? It looks, well, unique. This natural flooring is sustainably produced (though the need for shipping may make it less green) and looks oddly similar to plywood.
Otherwise, the pros and cons of cork flooring include a spongy, comfortable feel, excellent insulation, natural resistance to bacteria and mold, and renewable production—but it’s also at the complete mercy of water and heavy foot traffic. The disadvantages of cork flooring also include a hefty maintenance requirement.
One more note: we would avoid cork flooring from big box stores, like the cork flooring Lowe’s sells, because it tends to be lower quality.
Sheet vinyl was the first type of PVC flooring to hit the market. When it first came out, it was immensely popular as a budget alternative to hardwood and laminate. In fact, your parents or grandparents probably had sheet vinyl in their kitchen or bathroom.
However, the immense popularity of vinyl plank flooring has largely pushed sheet vinyl to the sidelines, though you can still find it sold nearly everywhere. These days, though, it’s more popular for basements and mudrooms than it is for kitchens and bathrooms.
In terms of construction, most sheet vinyl is made from a single layer of PVC (polyvinyl chloride), often with a cushioned backing—making it durable, relatively scratch-resistant, and perhaps most importantly, waterproof.
Vinyl Plank and Vinyl Tile (LVP/LVT)
Luxury vinyl plank flooring, or LVP, upgrades sheet vinyl with multiple layers and authentic looks and textures. It’s supremely durable, fully waterproof, and provided you don’t do anything weird to it, will last a long time. It comes in planks, just like hardwood (hence the name).
In terms of looks, just about every hardwood species has an LVP counterpart, including a full range of wood floor colors. Even better, LVP does an incredible job of mimicking the feel of real wood. Most buyers actually have a hard time telling the difference against high-quality products.
Also: you can also find luxury vinyl in tile form (i.e. luxury vinyl tile, or LVT), which more commonly mimics stone and ceramic tile flooring. Before you ask, any problems with luxury vinyl tile are essentially the same as the problems associated with LVP (it’s basically the same floor, just cut and patterned differently).
Best of all, quality vinyl plank flooring usually sells for around $4 to $6/sq. ft., although you can find plenty of options both north and south of that price.
Natural Ceramic & Porcelain Tile
There are a lot of different types of floor tiles, though most are made of either ceramic or porcelain. Ironically, porcelain tile is ceramic tile—both are made from superheated clay—except porcelain is more heavily refined and glazed.
Both options tend to be found in bathrooms and kitchens but you can actually put them anywhere, in theory. Despite this, porcelain and ceramic tile aren’t the best choices for bedrooms or living rooms because they’re not very comfy (e.g they’re usually cold and hard, which is why many prefer wood floors vs. tile for relaxed settings).
Of the two types, porcelain is probably the preferred option because it’s less porous than ordinary ceramic tile (i.e porcelain is easier to clean). However, it’s worth noting that either option can be installed outdoors.
But as far as styles go, the options are virtually unlimited. From wood-look tile to random geometric patterns, you can find tile flooring that fits anyaesthetic.
Natural Stone Tile
Stone tile behaves pretty much the same way that ceramic or porcelain tile does, except it’s made from various types of stone instead of clay. Sandstone and limestone are probably the most common, but quartz, granite, and onyx are also popular—if not more expensive.
If you only care about comfort, carpet is arguably the best flooring choice available. No other floor emphasizes coziness as much as carpet does (and this tends to be the deciding factor between carpet vs. hardwood and other non-fuzzy floors).
There are also quite a few varieties of carpet, ranging from expensive natural-fiber options to cheaper synthetic floors made of materials like nylon. Anyways, the soft texture of carpet is hard to beat. Cork flooring is probably the only common type of flooring that comes close, but even cork isn’t as soft.
Hemp — Hemp flooring is a super eco-friendly option that’s also incredibly durable. It’s fairly new and kind of pricey, but if you’re looking for something unique among the best flooring products, hemp flooring may be your answer.
The Most Important Flooring Questions
If you’re looking for the best flooring you can find, you probably have a list of criteria you want it to meet, right? Below we’ve compiled some of the most important questions buyers have on flooring (not to be confused with our FAQs section near the bottom of this article).
What’s the Most Durable Type of Flooring?
There are many ways you can measure a floor’s durability, but most people think about lifespan, scratch resistance, waterproofing, and something we’ll call environmental resistance (basically, how well the floor stands up against temperature and humidity changes).
You might think that a tough hardwood species like hickory would be the best flooring durability-wise—and it certainly will last a long time even without regular maintenance. But hickory flooring is not waterproof (see all the pros and cons of hickory flooring), and you can still scratch it up.
As it turns out, vinyl plank is probably the most durable flooring you can find. The best vinyl plank brands are hard to scratch, completely waterproof, and highly resistant to any kind of environmental conditions (so long as they’re installed correctly). And while high-end LVP probably won’t last as long as well-maintained hardwood, you can still get 2 or 3 decades out of it.
Honorable mention: laminate flooring.
What Flooring Lasts the Longest?
Building off the last question, the most durable wood flooring will likely outlive vinyl plank—even if most hardwood is susceptible to spills and excess moisture. But hardwood will generally last as long as it’s cared for.
Cool side fact: there are historical sites and homes with real ebony flooring that was crafted over a century ago.
Honorable mention: porcelain tile.
What Flooring Is in Style for 2022 and Beyond?
DIY flooring has seen its popularity rise during the ongoing pandemic, and few floors are as DIY-able as floating floors. What is a floating floor? It’s any surface that’s not connected to a subfloor. Rather, it rests on top of it.
In terms of styles, almost anything can be floated. And these days, it’s the default installation style for many hardwood alternatives like LVP and laminate.
What Type of Flooring Adds the Most Resale Value to a Home?
Remember when we mentioned that hardwood is an investment? Well, that applies to resale value! Estimates vary, but hardwood has a return on investment between 70 and 80% (as in, it can increase in value after it’s installed).
Honorable mention: stone tile flooring.
How Do I Choose the Right Flooring for Me?
Finding the best flooring for your home can be a challenge.
Generally speaking, we recommend figuring out styles you like and then determining your budget. Once you’ve done that, you can start looking at options that fit those requirements to narrow down your choices.
Oh, and we strongly recommend going to local top-rated flooring stores over warehouse or box stores because their products are generally much higher quality—and their sales reps and installers actually know what they’re doing.
Flooring Comparisons: The Best Flooring for Specific Situations
At this point, you’ve probably realized that there isn’t really a singular “best flooring” option, but different floors perform better than others in specific circumstances. Here’s how the best floors for specific situations and needs break down.
The Best Flooring for Dogs, Cats, and Other Pets
If you want the best flooring for dogs, cats, or other pets (looking at you Florida-man-walking-an-alligator-down-the-street), it’s pretty hard to look past LVP. It’s waterproof and scratch-resistant, which addresses the two biggest concerns pet owners have when it comes to flooring.
On the other hand, if you want the best wood flooring for dogs, we’d recommend a super-hard exotic like Brazilian walnut or something easily repairable like oak.
The Best Flooring for Renovations and New Construction
Once again, we’re going back to hardwood, LVP, and laminate. Why? LVP is the better choice for those who want easier installation and more durability (the cost to install vinyl plank flooring is also easier to digest), and the same goes for high-quality laminate. But those qualities come at the expense of authenticity and longevity.
So if you’re looking for a floor that’ll last the entire lifespan of your house (or at least, longer than LVP or laminate), hardwood is probably the way to go. It’s also better for resale value, as we mentioned before.
The Best Flooring for Second Floors and Upstairs Areas
Most homeowners like their second floors to be a little more cozy and relaxing. And of course, they need to avoid transferring noise to the floor (or floors) below. Translation: quiet and comfort are the priorities. Few floors score as high as carpet does in these categories, making it the best flooring for upstairs use.
Honorable mention:WPC flooring, a comfier version of rigid-core LVP.
That said, laminate with an AC4 or AC5 rating is comparable, as are tile options like granite, onyx, and porcelain.
The Most Fire-Resistant Flooring
Tile and concrete floors are probably the most fire-resistant flooring you can buy. However, it’s worth mentioning that these floors conduct heat fairly well, which may not be ideal in the event of a fire.
Loose-lay flooring that uses weighted planks and a rubber backing system to stay in place. Loose-lay vinyl plank flooring is probably the most common product found with this installation option, though other loose-lay floors do exist.
Surprise, surprise: LVP makes yet another case for why it’s a serious contender for the best flooring title when it comes to maintenance. Most LVP has no special care requirements. You can scrub it, vacuum it, use an ordinary bucket and mop, or anything in between (maybe with the exception of using certain harsh chemicals).
Waterproof laminate is a decent runner-up, but ordinary laminate—even high-end brands like Shaw laminate flooring (aside from their Repel line)—can’t be cleaned with plain ol’ water.
The Cheapest Flooring
The cheapest flooring is either carpet or laminate, or maybe a low-end LVP like Stainmaster luxury vinyl (which may or may not have been discontinued). Many types of carpet sell for less than $1/sq. ft. and certain types of laminate aren’t much more expensive.
However, we should note that the cheapest flooring and the best flooring are rarely the same.
The Prettiest Flooring
It’s hard to be objective about the “prettiest” flooring, though if we ran a poll we would expect the best hardwood floors to rank near the top. High-end LVP and the best laminate flooring would probably be up there as well.
Honorable mention: stone tile flooring.
The Best (and Most Resilient) Flooring for Kids
Don’t take this the wrong way, but the best flooring for kids is probably the same as the best flooring for pets. You generally want something waterproof and scratch-resistant, so LVP or high-quality waterproof laminate are solid options.
On the other hand, the softness of carpet may offer a little protection for falling children (you know, toddlers gonna’ toddle and all that fun stuff).
Any type of low-VOC flooring might be worth considering too because it’s safer for developing humans (and pets).
The Best Flooring for Radiant Heating Systems
Most radiant heating systems are designed for heating wood floors, but really, many modern floors (except for carpet) can be used with heating systems. It actually varies by brand more than the type of floor.
The Best Flooring That Can Be Floated
The best flooring options that can be installed in a floating style are as follows (in no particular order):
Either carpet, WPC flooring, or the best cork flooring (not budget cork) are ideal options for the disabled or elderly. These floors are much softer on joints because of their spongy feel, and real cork is antimicrobial to boot.
And, as always, we have to mention carpet—it’s cozy, it’s soft, and it’s easy on joints!
The Best Commercial Flooring
There are 2 ways of determining the best flooring for commercial spaces.
Concrete and other stone floors tend to be more economical, but high-end LVP and laminate offer great value for equally-great-looking floors.
Flooring Comparisons: The Best Flooring for Every Room
If looking for the best flooring by situation isn’t helpful for you, maybe looking at the best flooring for each room is better?
Honorable mention:teak flooring is naturally water-resistant (though not waterproof) if you want authentic hardwood in your bathroom that won’t disintegrate after a couple of small spills.
The Best Flooring for Kitchens
What’s the best flooring for kitchens? Again, fake wood flooring is the best option if you want a wood-floor look in spaces that might get wet. Although, waterproof hardwood flooring might be safe too (just remember that it’s not always 100% waterproof). And as always, natural stone tile is almost ridiculously beautiful (and great for kitchens).
The Best Flooring for Living Rooms
The best flooring for living rooms is super subjective, since there aren’t any hard-and-fast needs for living room floors. That said, wide-plank wood flooring is especially nice for smaller living rooms because it can make the space look bigger. Otherwise, any kind of wood-look flooring tends to look great, right?
The Best Flooring for Dens or Family Rooms
It’s hard to not recommend rigid-core luxury vinyl flooring over other types of floors when it offers so many benefits (durability, waterproofing, etc.). Authentic hardwood and laminate are also great options, as is carpet if you want a cozier space.
The Best Flooring for Bedrooms
One of the biggest flooring debates in existence is whether it’s better to have carpet or hardwood in a bedroom! In our opinion, this debate is easily settled by changing the debate to comfort (carpet) vs. looks (hardwood/faux hardwood). As in, it’s your choice!
Although, if you love wood-style floors you can always throw a rug over them if you want to capture some of the comfiness that carpet offers.
The Best Flooring for Entryways and Hallways
Stone and ceramic tile floors are among the classier options for entryways (plus they’re waterproof and usually easy to clean). Or, if you love wood-style floors we would recommend LVP or laminate vs. hardwood floors because they have better scratch-resistance (think about all the dirt that gets dragged in from outside).
The Best Flooring for Stairs
Wood or faux-wood floors are the go-to options for stairs. That said, some buyers like to have carpet-covered stairs because it’s easy on joints and more grippy.
The Best Flooring for Laundry Rooms
The best flooring for laundry rooms is pretty much whatever bears weight (and water) well. Low-end LVP and laminate can get dented by heavy washing machines, and carpet will turn into a mildewy mess. So: tile or stone flooring are probably your best choices, as are more durable waterproof laminate and LVP options (like SPC flooring).
The Best Flooring for Closets
Closets might be the one area where the cheapest flooring is the best flooring. Most closets see very little foot traffic, so the floors don’t need to be especially durable. Get whatever looks good and is comfortable to walk on!
The Best Flooring for Home Offices
Comfort is usually a priority for home offices, so carpet comes to mind. However, rolling chairs and carpet are also mortal enemies. So, this might be yet another instance where hardwood or faux-wood floors make the most sense.
Really, any of the above can work as long as you put down a protector. Otherwise, say goodbye to your security deposit (and your floor’s good looks).
The Best Flooring for Basements
Unless your basement is doubling as a den or bedroom, concrete makes the most sense. It’s cheap and durable, and that’s all it really needs to be. That said, this is one place where sheet vinyl is a great option—it’s waterproof, it’s inexpensive, and it can go over just about any type of subfloor.
The Best Flooring for Garages
Concrete again makes the most sense because it’s relatively cheap and gets the job done. However, there are plenty of companies that make garage-specific flooring, like specialized vinyl tile or rubber matting.
Bonus: The Best Whole House Flooring
The best flooring for an entire house is probably vinyl plank or laminate. And between the two, we’d probably say rigid-core LVP (sometimes called EVP flooring) offers the best total package.
You might be surprised to learn that the best outdoor flooring options aren’t that different from the indoor options we’ve covered so far.
However, we should note that it’s extremely important that you make sure your floor is rated for outdoor use before installation. For example, vinyl plank flooring is not designed for outdoor use and will rapidly fall apart in the elements (outdoor vinyl flooringis perfectly safe to use outside, of course).
Outdoors (Like Patios and Decks)
Hardwood is the most popular choice for patios and decks because it looks great and can survive the elements (with proper maintenance). However, stone or ceramic tiles also work great!
Outbuildings (Like Farms and Sheds)
Aside from concrete, hardwood’s the best flooring option for outbuildings.
Synthetic floors usually can’t handle changing temperatures or humidity and stone or tile floors may get dinged up quickly. However, like patios and decks, your choice of hardwood matters for outbuildings.
Softwoods like pine flooring may scratch easily but they also tend to handle environmental changes better than hardwoods like hickory or oak. In other words, your environment really matters.
Sunrooms can be approached differently from outbuildings or patios since these rooms are usually climate-controlled. So, laminate flooring is a good choice for sunroom flooring because of its’ solid UV resistance (some brands of LVP perform similarly).
That said, it may be safer to use real hardwood (solid or engineered) because it can handle swinging temperatures better.
Style-wise, we also recommend light wood floors over darker tones because they’ll reflect light better (since, you know, it’s a sunroom).
The Best Flooring for You: FAQs
Whew! We’re almost to the end! Here are just a few more answers to common questions about the best flooring.
Where’s the Best Place to Buy Flooring?
There are 2 main places you can buy flooring: independent flooring stores and big box stores like Home Depot. We strongly, strongly recommend local flooring stores over big box stores. Big box options like SmartCore flooring and NuCore flooring are decent floors, but only local stores carry the best flooring products.
When’s the Best Time of the Year to Buy Flooring?
Most people replace their flooring during summer or fall, so winter and spring tend to offer better deals and there’s less competition for contractors (check out our guide on how to replace flooring if you’re curious about the process).
How Many Types of Flooring Can I Put in a Single Room?
As many as you want! Seriously. As long as you add the appropriate transitions, there’s not a limit (beyond what looks good, of course).
What’s the Best Type of Material for Floor Moldings, Trims, and Transitions?
This depends on the type of floor. For transitions, hardwood is kind of the universal option because it can be used with nearly any type of floor. But, vinyl and laminate floors tend to come with their own transitions. Oh, and metal transitions are the best choice for concrete floors.
As for moldings and trims though, hardwood is the most common choice.
How Can You Tell Which Kind of Flooring You Have Already?
This is a fantastic question (and one that might be a lot more difficult than you’d expect)! Modern fake wood floors can be very convincing, even under close inspection.
Pulling up an air vent can be a clever trick because it lets you see all the layers of your floor; however, not all homes have floor-based air vents. Another option is to simply cut into the floor, but this is obviously pretty invasive (and may be hard to repair).
As such, talking with a flooring expert is probably the most effective method.
Conclusion: The Best Flooring Depends on Your Needs—Though, Certain Floors Are Better Than Others…
Okay, so maybe this isn’t the answer you were hoping for, but it’s true. The best flooring is an extremely subjective matter!
Determining the Best Flooring Is Hard to Break Down by Type…
Some buyers absolutely love hardwood floors and can’t stand the idea of substitutes, while others don’t see the point in investing thousands of dollars into hardwood flooring when they can have floors that look like the “real thing” for a fraction of the price. Oh, and then you also have tile and carpet!
Someone who only loves warm, comfy carpet doesn’t have a stake in tile vs. laminate or hardwood vs. LVP debates!
…But You Can Find the Best Flooring by Brand
Not all flooring brands are created equal. Straight up: even budget Mohawk laminate flooring is better than almost anything LL Flooring’s CoreLuxe brand can put out, and they’re completely different types of flooring!
Why’s this such an important point? Because it proves that you can’t break down the best flooring by type, but you can trust certain brands over others. And there’s no better place to start that discussion than your local top-rated flooring stores.
Nevertheless, we hope this article gave you a good idea of what the best flooring for you is! And if not—aside from being deeply saddened by the thought—maybe some of the articles below can help you find flooring ideas that work for you!
Christian is a freelance everything-writer, editor, & SEO guy. When he’s not writing about flooring and remodeling, he’s either writing news for the California American Legion or writing fresh content for his camping & EDC blog (or, you know, actually camping).
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