Carpet vs. Laminate: Choosing the Best Floor for You
Updated March 10, 2020
So you’re getting a new floor. Fun! But you can’t decide between carpet vs. laminate. Not fun! In all seriousness though, we get it—choosing between carpet and laminate can be a difficult, time-consuming process. At a relatively similar price point, both types of flooring offer great perks and stylish results. It’s the ol’ carpet vs. laminate debate.
Of course, the best choice will come down to your personal needs and tastes. So to make it easier, we’re going to compare the two flooring materials side by side—comparing their construction, installation method, durability, best uses, maintenance, and cost—to help figure out which one is the right floor for you.
Before we get into the nitty-gritty, let’s talk a little bit about the makeup and construction of both of these flooring materials (as we’re going to reference them later on).
You might think you know all there is to know about carpet, but trust us—you really don’t. That’s because flooring manufacturers are developing new styles and materials every single day, and the only way to really stay ahead of the curve is to talk to someone in your area who sells flooring professionally.
But broadly speaking, you’ve got three main types of carpet: cut pile, loop pile, and cut-and-loop pile. Cut pile stands straight up from the backing, whereas loop pile stands up, loops around, and returns into the backing. Cut-and-loop, obviously, is a mixture of both. Depending on the material, this generally makes cut pile the softer of the bunch and loop pile the most durable.
When it comes to fiber materials, you’ve got nylon (the most common), polyester, wool, and about a thousand other varieties. Again, the best carpet for you will be based on your needs and tastes. For more in-depth info on piles and fibers, learn all about carpets here.
Laminate flooring is made up of three layers: a base layer, a photo-realistic image layer, and a protective wear layer.
Similar to engineered hardwood, laminate’s base layer is usually composed of plywood or high-density fiberboard. It’s what gives laminate flooring its rigidity and underfoot feel.
But that’s where the similarities end. Unlike engineered hardwood, which has a thin veneer of actual wood over the base layer, laminate flooring has a photo-realistic image layer over its base.
And we mean photo-realistic. While some older and less-expensive laminate floors can look fake or tacky, advances in printing and production have made it extremely difficult to tell the difference between modern laminate floors and many types of wood flooring. Seriously!
Finally, laminate has a top wear layer to protect it from damage. Made of a transparent plasticate, wear layers have also become more advanced in recent years. These days, some wear layers even boast a textured finish to more closely match the realism of the image layer below.
How do carpet and laminate stack up when it comes to durability?
While it depends on the specific product and materials you’re using, carpet and laminate can both be extremely durable flooring choices.
Durability of carpeting
Because there are so many different types of carpet, durability can vary wildly. Wool carpet, for instance, is much more susceptible to damage than, say, polyester. Here’s how it generally breaks down:
Nylon usually makes for the most durable carpet fiber, followed by polyester and olefin. If you take proper care of it, a nylon carpet can last well over a decade.
Polyester is stain-resistant, but not quite as durable as nylon.
Wool is likewise stain-resistant, but it’s usually going to be much more expensive than a synthetic fiber.
Loop pile is generally more durable than cut or cut-and-loop pile (which is often used to make patterned carpets).
Often, the softer the carpet and the higher the pile, the less durable it’s going to be.
Durability of laminate
Thanks to its hard wear layer, laminate’s can be extremely durable. That means laminate flooring is often resistant against scratches, gouges, chips, dings, dents, and doofuses. Trust us on that last one.
Laminate wear layers are also UV-resistant, meaning your flooring won’t fade in the sun the way engineered or solid hardwoods sometimes will. And while laminate isn’t a waterproof flooring option per se (its organic core can warp if water seeps in), it is highly water-resistant.
On top of that, you can occasionally find manufacturers who offer fully waterproof laminate floors (though these are a bit rarer). Waterproof or not, though, laminate can be placed over underfloor heating systems and in humid areas, which is also a big plus.
Ease of installation
Here’s where the laminate vs. carpet debate gets interesting. When it comes to construction and durability, the pros and cons of laminate and carpet are almost entirely based on which specific brand and product you buy. But when it comes to installation, there are some big across-the-board differences to consider.
Generally speaking, carpet needs to be installed by a professional (and a good one at that). It’s a difficult, tricky task that involves measuring, cutting, nailing, etc. Just check out this guide to DIY carpet installation to see what we mean. It’s a doozie.
And a good carpet needs a good underlayment. Have you ever walked on a carpet laid directly on a concrete or wood subfloor? Probably not. Because it’s not very comfortable. Which means you need to lay an underlayment down too, and you need to know which one to use in the first place.
Our advice? Just have a professional do it for you. DIY carpet installation is almost never worth the trouble. And yes: carpet is probably going to be more of a hassle to install than it would be to install some other flooring options due to the necessity of having a skilled professional, but trust us—it’s worth it. Find a flooring store near you to feel out your options.
That said, if you’re intent on doing the job yourself (or if you just want to do it quickly and cheaply), think about investing in some peel-and-stick carpet tiles. You can buy them at Home Depot, Lowe’s, even online—and they’re a cinch to put down. Just peel and stick, like the name implies.
Laminate, on the other hand, is much easier to install. It’s usually sold as click-together flooring, meaning it’s composed of interlocking planks that don’t require any nails or glue to install. This also makes it a “floating floor”—meaning it can be put in directly on top of existing surfaces (again, because there are no glue or nails necessary). The pressure of the interlocking planks keeps it in place.
Of course, you can also install underlayments below laminate flooring if you’re so inclined. Certain laminate products even require it, whereas some types of laminate already come with an underlayment layer below the base. It all depends on the product you purchase!
All of that to say, installing laminate is a much easier DIY project than installing carpet. And if you have a professional install it for you (which, to be honest, we also recommend), it’s going to take them a lot less skill to get it down.
What are the best uses for carpet and laminate?
When it comes to carpet, you have so many choices—in pile, material, backing, underlayment, etc.—that it’s hard to talk about overall “best uses”.
You can really go in any direction you want. Looking for a super-soft floor in a low-traffic area? Think about going with a wool cut pile. Need to carpet a high-traffic, high-wear area like an indoor-outdoor hallway? Think about nylon or polyester loop pile. It’s all up to you.
Laminate is easier to recommend for specific applications. Because of its multi-layer construction, it can be used in humid environments—though as we said before, it’s not usually waterproof. Plus, the wear layer can get very slippery when wet, so it’s not great for mudrooms. For that, we’d recommend something vinyl (today’s best vinyl flooring choices can easily stand up to mud easily).
As we mentioned before, laminate is great for any situation requiring a really durable floor. High-traffic area like a hallway? Go with laminate. Have dogs or kids running around? Laminate. Have heavy furniture? Laminate will often hold up to it. Plus, it looks so good, it can even be a great flooring choice for living rooms or bedrooms.
Maintaining and repairing carpet and laminate
As with all things flooring, the maintenance needs of carpet vs. laminate depend on the specific products you choose. But overall, laminate is thought to be easier to maintain and repair than carpet. Laminate can be wiped clean, mopped, swept, you name it. Depending on your carpet of choice, though, you’ll have to vacuum or even steam it to get dirt out.
Similarly, laminate is easy to repair given that it’s a modular floor. If something gets damaged, you can often swap out a plank or two—whereas with carpet, you’d have to cut out and replace an entire section (or just replace the carpet as a whole). But again—and we know, we’ve said this over and over—it all depends on the specific product.
Carpet vs. laminate cost
For the most part, carpet and laminate are fairly comparable when it comes to price (one of the many reasons they’re both extremely popular). Laminate can run you between $1 and $10 per foot, which is relatively similar to mid-range broadloom carpeting.
Obviously, if you go with a super-luxury product, your bill is going to be much higher—though that’s more of an issue when it comes to super-fancy (and gorgeous) luxury carpeting.
Installation fees for carpet and laminate are fairly comparable as well. You might have to pay a bit more to install carpeting, but for the most part, it’s pretty even. And you can always get in touch with a flooring dealer in your area to find direct quotes.
If you were hoping for a definitive “x is better than y” when it comes to the carpet vs. laminate debate, we’re sorry to disappoint—but it all depends on you. What are you looking for in a floor? What qualities are more important to your space?
Whichever types of flooring you end up going with, though, we hope we’ve given you enough useful information to make an informed decision. Now go out there and purchase some new floors!
About The Author
Content Marketing Manager at AdHawk//FloorForce, Samuel is a former travel writer, reformed English teacher, and semi-professional trivia host. When he’s not creating content, he can be found doing crosswords, drinking coffee, and stalking the office dogs.
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