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The Most Durable Types of Wood Flooring

April 13, 2020

You’ve weighed the pros and cons of hardwood, and you’ve decided that you need some beautiful wood floors—but not just any types of wood flooring will do. You need the most durable wood flooring around.

Maybe you have kids; maybe you have overactive animals; maybe they’re one and the same (if so, we sympathize). Whatever the case, your hardwood floors need to stand up to abuse for years to come. So where do you go from here? How do you find out which types of wood are the most durable?

Rest easy, friend—we’re here to help. In this guide, we’re going to walk you through everything you need to know to choose the most durable wood flooring. We’re going to talk engineered vs. solid wood; we’re going to talk about the Janka Hardness Scale; we’re going to talk about finish options; we’re going to talk about the most durable wood flooring for dogs; we’re even going to talk about some of our favorite super-durable hardwood species. 

Basically, we’re going to help you find the most durable flooring options for your home. Because that’s what we’re here for! 

Which is more durable: solid or engineered hardwood flooring?

The first question to ask yourself when looking at hardwood flooring is whether you want engineered or solid wood. You probably know the difference already, but if not, here’s how it breaks down:

  • Solid wood flooring is made of a single piece of wood throughout. For installation purposes, it’s usually nailed, glued, or stapled to a subfloor. 
  • Engineered wood flooring is made of two parts: a plywood or fiberboard base layer with a thin veneer of solid hardwood on top. Engineered wood is often (incorrectly) thought of as fake wood flooring, but there’s nothing fake about it. It’s simply a different wood flooring type. It can be installed the same way as solid hardwood, or as a type of click-together flooring.

As far as durability is concerned, each has advantages over the other.

Engineered hardwood is less susceptible to environmental changes

If you’re looking for a hardwood floor that can stand up to big swings in temperature, moisture, or humidity, engineered hardwood is probably going to be your best bet. Unlike solid hardwood, which can warp and swell with these changes, engineered hardwood stays in place. 

But remember: while engineered hardwood might be the most durable wood flooring when it comes to environmental changes, it is not one of the many waterproof flooring options on the market. For that, you’d be better off looking into the best types of vinyl flooring or comparing the pros and cons of tile vs. laminate flooring.

Solid hardwood can be refinished almost indefinitely

If for you, durability is the same as longevity, then solid wood is going to be the most durable wood flooring. Why? It can be refinished almost indefinitely! Even the best engineered wood flooring options can only be refinished a couple of times (at most) due to the thinness of the veneer. 

Engineered or solid, your wood floor’s resistance to dings, dents, and scratches is going to come down to two things

Regardless of whether you go with engineered or solid wood, your floor’s surface-level durability—its resistance to dings, dents, and scratches—is going to come down to two things: wood species (the type of tree it comes from) and finish. Let’s talk about them both.

Use the Janka Hardness Scale to find the most durable wood flooring species

There are literally dozens of wood flooring types to choose from. How do you know which species will make the most durable wood flooring? Luckily, we have an industry-standard scale for measuring the hardness of wood. Hardness is an indication of how well that wood will stand up to surface-level wear and tear. It’s called the Janka Hardness Scale. Fun name, right?

The Janka Scale measures the pounds of force needed to shove a steel ball halfway through a piece of wood. The higher Janka rating, the more durable the wood flooring. Exotic woods tend to have the highest Janka rating. But of course, the higher you go on the Janka Hardness Scale, the higher your wood flooring cost is probably going to be.

Types of durable wood that rank high on the Janka Scale

Now that you understand what the Janka Hardness Scale is, let’s talk about some types of wood flooring that rank highly on this durability chart.

The Janka Hardness Scale is used to find the most durable wood flooring and the most durable bamboo flooring. It measures the pounds of force needed to push a steel ball halfway through a piece of wood. This Janka Scale was made by Broadlume.

Oak: The Industry Standard

When we talk about the Janka Scale, we often use oak as a reference point. That’s because oak is one of the most common wood flooring types in the US. And with its Janka rating around 1300 (White Oak rates at 1360 while Red Oak rates at 1290), it’s basically the middle ground when it comes to hardness. 

Hickory: A Bit Harder (but still domestically grown)

A few steps up from oak, we get woods like hickory and pecan. These popular woods are found almost everywhere in the world, but are often grown domestically for flooring purposes.

Hickory has a Janka rating around 1820, making it a good bit more durable than oak. It’s a unique wood with a wide range of grain colors. It’s one of the best hardwood floors for buyers who want a durable surface and a lot of personality in their wood. Seriously—some of the most beautiful wood floor designs use hickory to make them pop.

Santos Mahogany: An Exotic and Durable Wood

One of the most common exotic hardwood species for flooring, Santos mahogany is a super durable wood flooring option. Santos mahogany comes in around 2200 on the Janka scale and features a deep red color with a tight grain. Woods like Santos mahogany are probably where you’ll go if you want something a bit harder than hickory.

Brazilian Walnut: The Top of the Line for Durable Wood Flooring

If you’re looking for the most durable wood flooring there is, Brazilian walnut is going to be right near the top of the list. It’s not the hardest wood in the world, but as far as woods used for flooring are concerned, it’s near #1. 

Brazilian walnut boasts a deep color and a whopping 3680 Janka rating. Just remember: like a lot of exotic woods, Brazilian walnut has seen issues with illegal harvesting—so make sure to only buy Brazilian walnut from an FSC-certified retailer. 

How finish affects a wood floor’s durability

As we mentioned before, finish also affects your wood floor’s durability. How? Compare tile vs. wood floors, for example. Wood can be purchased with or without a finish, and tile can be purchased with or without a glaze. Glaze increases tile’s water-resistance, makes it harder, and decreases its porousness. And while not all types of tile are glazed, the ones that are are generally more durable. The same is true for a wood floor’s finish!

Common wood finishes and how they stack up

These days, a huge number of wood floors come pre-finished (especially at retail). That means you need to ask your flooring retailer about the durability of any finish you purchase. Some of the most common are:

  • Oil-based polyurethane—One of the most common finishes (and one of the most durable).
  • Water-based polyurethane—Another super-common finish, this one is a little less durable than its oil-based cousin. But it’s still a solid product!
  • Lacquer // Shellac—Two more traditional finishes, these are often used in woodworking rather than on floors. That said, they’re beloved for their glossy shine, so you do you.
  • Natural oils—If you’re going the natural oil route, keep in mind that you’re going to have to reapply your finish often if you want your floor to stay durable. That said, natural oils and hardwax can be extremely durable if maintained properly.
  • Aluminum Oxide—This chemical can be found in many pre-finished floors, since it protects against scratches and UV fading. Make sure you ask if there’s aluminum oxide in your floor’s finish for maximum durability!

Bamboo and Laminate: the two most durable wood flooring options… that aren’t actually wood

That’s right—two of your most durable wood flooring options aren’t even made of real wood! Bamboo and laminate both look like wood and behave like wood as far as installation and maintenance are concerned—but they’re not actually made from trees.

Bamboo is a ridiculously durable grass flooring 

Did you know that bamboo is actually a grass? Pretty cool, no? And that means—to the chagrin of gardeners everywhere—it grows incredibly fast. And it also means bamboo is a very sustainable, eco-friendly flooring option

If you’re looking for types of flooring that are environmentally green and super, super durable, bamboo might be a great choice. You can read more about the differences in our guide to the best bamboo flooring types, but here’s the breakdown:

  • Natural horizontal bamboo flooring has a Janka rating of 1700
  • Natural vertical bamboo flooring has a Janka rating of 2100
  • Natural strand-woven bamboo flooring has a Janka rating of 3000+

That’s right—natural strand-woven bamboo is almost 3 times as hard as oak, the industry standard. That’s the most durable wood flooring we can think of, really. And it’s not even real wood!

Pro tip: love the look of bamboo floors but don’t love the price tag? Look into the pros and cons of engineered bamboo flooring! It offers the same hardness, but often at a more affordable budget.

Laminate is an extremely durable composite flooring 

You’ve probably come across laminate flooring in your research, but if not, here’s the scoop: laminate is a composite flooring product made out of three layers:

  1. A rigid composite base layer
  2. A photo-realistic image layer
  3. A durable plasticate wear layer

Basically, laminate can be made to look like absolutely anything thanks to its photo-realistic image layer. And more importantly, that plasticate wear layer is extremely durable. Laminate flooring was invented in the 1970s by Pergo, who still produces it today along with a bunch of other manufacturers (you can check out some Pergo reviews here). At the higher end of the price range, laminate can be even more durable than many wood flooring options.

Honorable mention: cork flooring

Though it’s not particularly hard (in fact, it’s quite flexible), the best cork flooring products are super durable. Cork’s bend makes it self-repairing to a certain degree—super, super important if you’re dealing with paw gouges or an overactive child. Look into the pros and cons of cork flooring for more info!

The most durable wood flooring for dogs and other pets

Dogs are the best companions, but they can be a little rowdy (we’re looking at you, Jack Russell terriers). There are some dogs that’ll fetch you a drink and lay under your feet, while others will jump around, clawing at your delicate wood flooring. We speak from experience.

Finding the ideal type of wood flooring for dogs can be a challenge, as every wood can be dented and chipped. But if you paid attention above, you’ll remember that engineered wood can’t be refinished as much as solid wood can—if at all. And since pet urine, scratch marks, and slobber can all wreak havoc on your floor, you may end up refinishing your wood floors more often than someone without pets. And that means solid wood could be the better choice for you.

Think about it this way: if this were a comparison between bamboo flooring vs. laminate or even laminate vs. hardwood floors, you’d most likely want to go with bamboo or hardwood since they can be refinished whereas laminate can’t.

Conclusion: The most durable wood flooring depends on you

At the end of the day, the most durable wood flooring depends on you. Sure—if you’re judging based on the Janka Scale alone, strand-woven bamboo and Brazilian walnut are at the top. 

But we hope we’ve shown you that a wood floor’s durability depends on so much more than that! It depends on finish; it depends on whether it’s solid or engineered; it even depends on what “durability” means to you! 

But there is one thing we can all agree on: you’re going to need an expert to help you find the best wood floors. Our advice? Use this flooring stores near me tool to find a local retailer in your area. They can help you with everything. And for more information on all things flooring, check out:

About The Author

Fredrick Otto Jr.

Fredrick is a writer that loves providing a good story. If he's not on his couch working, he can be found gaming in his man cave.

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