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Vinyl Plank vs. Laminate Comparison: Which is Better?

November 5, 2020

Vinyl plank vs. laminate flooring: what the heck is the difference, anyway? And which one is better than the other?

If you’ve spent any amount of time looking into different types of flooring, you’ve probably asked yourself these questions more than once. And the truth is, both vinyl plank and laminate are fantastic fake wood flooring options. 

They both offer loads of advantages over real wood at an attractive price point. And they can both mimic wood floor patterns with almost unbelievable accuracy and beauty. 

But that said, these two options are a bit different when it comes to the way they’re constructed. And they’re best-suited for different uses, too. 

That’s why we’re going to show you a side-by-side comparison of vinyl plank vs. laminate flooring. We’re going to show you what they’re made of, how much they cost, their advantages/disadvantages, and more. 

Basically, we’re going to show you everything you need to know about vinyl plank vs. laminate—so you can choose the right one for you!

Table of Contents

What is Luxury Vinyl Plank Flooring?

Wood-look vinyl plank flooring waiting to be installed
Vinyl plank ready for installation

In the mid-20th century, sheet vinyl was introduced as an affordable, waterproof flooring option for use anywhere in the house. It’s made of PVC, a type of plastic. It could last for years with normal upkeep, but it was weirdly sticky and was prone to losing its luster quickly.

Since then, vinyl flooring has advanced like crazy. Nowadays, luxury vinyl plank can compete in look and feel with many types of tile and types of wood flooring. Seriously—it can be hard to tell which is which!

In fact, the only similarity between the sheet vinyl of yesteryear and the vinyl plank of today is the fact that both are made primarily out of vinyl.

Vinyl Plank is a Multi-Layer Floor 

When comparing the makeup of vinyl plank vs. laminate, you’ll find some pretty big similarities—and some pretty notable differences. Here’s how modern vinyl plank breaks down:

  • A core or base layer (made of vinyl) provides the floor’s foundation and underfoot feel. This can be flexible or rigid, depending on the product.
  • A pattern or design layer (also made of vinyl) mimics the look and feel of tile or hardwood.
  • A wear layer (made of a super-hard transparent plastic), offers protection from water damage, scratches, and so on.

Some vinyl plank products also come with an attached underlayment or extra topcoat, but it totally depends. Pergo’s vinyl plank line (known as Pergo Extreme), for instance, comes with an attached underlayment cushion. And according to the Pergo Extreme reviews, people seem to love it. 

LVP (Luxury Vinyl Plank) vs. LVT (Luxury Vinyl Tile): What’s the Difference?

Before we dive any further into the vinyl plank vs. laminate debate, we have to explain the difference between luxury vinyl plank (LVP) and luxury vinyl tile (LVT). Because we know how confusing all these names can get! 

When we talk about luxury vinyl, we’re talking about the multi-layer planks we just explained above. There are endless names people use to describe these floors (usually for marketing purposes). These days, “vinyl plank” and “LVT” are the most general terms.

However: technically speaking, LVT refers to luxury vinyl that looks and feels like tile. And vinyl plank looks and feels like wood

Composition-wise, there’s little or no difference. Still with us? Great!

SPC vs. WPC: What Are They and What’s the Difference?

We know, we know—when it comes to the vinyl plank vs. laminate debate, there are so many acronyms. 

But if you’ve spent any time comparing vinyl plank vs. laminate flooring, you’ve probably run into the terms “SPC” and “WPC”. What do these mean? And what’s the difference?

  • SPC stands for Stone Plastic Composite. It’s a type of rigid-core vinyl plank flooring that uses some ground-up limestone in its base layer to enhance stability and durability. 
  • WPC stands for Wood Plastic Composite. It’s a type of rigid-core vinyl plank flooring that uses some—you guessed it—ground-up wood for more or less the same reason.

So what’s the takeaway here? Not much! These vinyl plank options vary slightly in their makeup, but the core ingredient—vinyl—is the same. 

So why the different names? Marketing, mostly. Companies want to convince you they make the best types of vinyl flooring around, so they give them new names to stand out. At the end of the day, it’s all vinyl plank flooring, more or less. And when we compare vinyl plank vs. laminate, having that knowledge matters!

What Thickness of Vinyl Plank Flooring Is Best?

Another important factor to consider in the vinyl plank vs. laminate debate: plank thickness. Vinyl plank generally measures between 2mm and 8mm thick. But again, it entirely depends on the product. 

Just remember: high-traffic areas will probably benefit from thicker vinyl flooring because there’s more material to absorb impact—but it also depends on the wear layer. Our advice? Stop into a flooring store near you and chat with an expert about your specific needs.

What is Laminate Flooring, Exactly?

Worker installing light laminate flooring in a herringbone parquet
Installing laminate flooring in a herringbone parquet pattern

We’ve covered vinyl plank, so what is laminate flooring? Like we said above, the makeup of vinyl plank vs. laminate isn’t so different. 

The simple answer is that while vinyl flooring uses PVC as its core ingredient, laminate flooring uses HDF (High-Density Fiberboard). This isn’t necessarily a bad thing—there’s also HDF in some of the best engineered wood flooring products out there. 

It just makes laminate feel different underfoot. Additionally, laminate has a printed image layer rather than an embossed vinyl design layer.

Laminate has been around since the 1970s. So while it may have gotten a bad reputation for looking cheap or fake a few decades ago, modern laminate flooring is durable, affordable, and gorgeous. 

Vinyl Plank vs. Laminate Construction

Like vinyl plank, laminate is usually made of 3 different layers:

  • A core or base layer made of high-density fiberboard (or in some cases, plywood) to provide foundation and underfoot feel.
  • A photorealistic image layer to give the laminate its characteristic appearance.
  • A hard plastic wear layer to protect the floor from damage and fading.

Again, some companies may offer another one or two layers, depending on the product. 

Are Laminate and Engineered Wood the Same?

No. While laminate and engineered wood may sometimes have fiberboard layers, they’re completely different types of flooring. Engineered wood sports a thick veneer of real solid wood—essentially kicking it out of the fake wood flooring club.

One of the disadvantages of engineered wood compared to laminate is that it tends to be a bit pricier—because it is a real wood floor.

Vinyl Plank vs. Laminate: What Are the Similarities?

In many ways, vinyl plank and laminate floors are quite similar. Both vinyl plank and laminate are fantastic fake wood flooring options. Additionally, both are generally cheaper than solid wood. And they’re both relatively easy to install without professional assistance. Here are some other similarities:

Vinyl Plank and Laminate Are Often Less Expensive Than Real Wood 

There’s no way around it; if you want wood floors, you’re going to have to pay for them. That’s true whether you’re buying expensive hardwood surfaces like teak flooring and ebony flooring, or more affordable softwood options like Douglas fir flooring

Vinyl Plank and Laminate Are Relatively Easy to Install (& Perfect for DIY Projects)

Both of these faux wood floors are relatively easy to install. Why? 

Without getting too technical, they can often be glued down or installed as click-together “floating floors”. These Lego-like planks snap together and “float” over your subfloor—hence the name. 

Floating setups make vinyl plank and laminate two of the easiest types of flooring to install, which is great for DIY-ers. 

Of course, you should know the basics before installing any laminate or vinyl products if you want to avoid the classic disadvantages of floating floors (like squeaky footsteps). Suffice to say, if you’ve found yourself wondering “what is subflooring?”, something like peel-and-stick carpet tiles might be more in your wheelhouse. 

Both Options Are Easier to Care For than Hardwood

As far as hardwood floor alternatives go, luxury vinyl plank and laminate floors are much easier to care for. Laminate is a little fussier, but neither choice comes close to how difficult it can be to properly care for real wood. 

Which Type of Flooring Adds More Resale Value to a Home? It Depends.

Manufacturer, maintenance, and more all go into the resale value that laminate or vinyl plank adds to a home. High-end luxury vinyl plank flooring is much more likely to add value to a home than low-end laminate, but the opposite is also true.

Vinyl Plank and Laminate Come in Endless Colors and Patterns

Finally in our list of vinyl plank vs. laminate similarities: colors and patterns. Specifically, both products come in a wide variety of tile and wood floor colors, patterns, and styles. 

What Are the Advantages of Vinyl Plank vs. Laminate?

Woman texting on laminate floor
A laminate surface

Now: let’s talk about differences. Both of these fake wood flooring types have advantages over each other, and these are the advantages of vinyl plank when compared to laminate.

Vinyl Plank is Often Waterproof; Laminate is Not

Because of its entirely synthetic construction, vinyl plank is often completely waterproof. If you want the look of a wood floor bathroom without all the hassle, vinyl is a great option.

Of course, water can seep into the seams of certain vinyl plank floors, and you should still try to clean up spills promptly to maintain long term viability—but vinyl won’t show water damage after a bit of soak time.

Again: Most Laminate Flooring Is Not Waterproof 

Most laminate flooring is susceptible to water damage because of its HDF core. Laminate’s internal layers are known to expand when exposed to water, which can warp and mangle it. When it comes to the vinyl plank vs. laminate debate, that’s a big downside.

This means that laminate probably shouldn’t be placed anywhere you might find a lot of water. That being said, certain specialty laminate products like Mohawk’s RevWood now offer waterproof qualities as well.

Is Vinyl Plank Better than Laminate for Dogs and Other Pets? It Can Be!

Even though laminate and vinyl plank are both extremely scratch-resistant flooring choices, vinyl might be the better floor for pets. Why? Again, waterproofing! Water bowl spills, accidents, even drool—none of them can phase vinyl plank.

Laminate Can Go in Most Rooms but Vinyl Plank Can Go Anywhere 

Sure, laminate can go in most rooms—but if you want a water-resistant wood flooring alternative that can go anywhere, vinyl plank is the way to go. Mudroom flooring? Sure! Heck, you can even use it as an outdoor flooring option

Some Laminate Can’t Take as Much Punishment as Vinyl Plank Can

Don’t get us wrong—laminate flooring is super durable. But as laminate ages, its wear layer degrades, leaving it more vulnerable to scratching. That being said, both options are, as we mentioned before, incredibly strong. They can both go head-to-head with even the most durable wood flooring.

Of course, this isn’t as much of an issue if you’re debating between carpet or hardwood in the bedroom, for instance. But it’s definitely something to think about if you’re comparing tile vs. laminate for an often-used hallway, you know?

What Are the Disadvantages of Vinyl Plank vs. Laminate?

While vinyl is an all-around great type of flooring, it’s not perfect. Here are the disadvantages of vinyl plank when compared to laminate. 

Vinyl Plank Is Not as Environmentally Friendly as Laminate

If you’re looking for eco-friendly flooring, vinyl might not be your answer. Most types of vinyl flooring aren’t made with sustainability in mind and very few options can be recycled. 

Worse, vinyl releases toxins when it’s burned. Now, you’re probably thinking, “well, I’m not going to set my house on fire. Why does this matter?” The problem is that once your vinyl flooring lives out its usefulness, it’s often sent to an incinerator or left to sit forever in a landfill. 

That said, there is one thing that vinyl has going for it in terms of eco-friendliness: because it’s so durable and long-lasting, it doesn’t usually need to be replaced. It’s kind of like this: would you rather buy not-great-for-the-environment flooring once, or something that’s ok for the environment two or even three times?

Laminate Flooring Can Release Fewer VOCs than Vinyl Plank

When it comes to the environmental impact of vinyl plank vs. laminate, laminate is often the winner. And that’s not just because of vinyl’s inability to be recycled. It also has to do with its off-gassing of VOCs. 

When new floors are installed, they can off-gas volatile organic chemicals (VOCs) which are harmful to both people and pets. While both laminate and vinyl go through an off-gassing period, it’s generally a bit easier to find non-toxic laminate flooring than it is to find low-VOC vinyl flooring (notice that we didn’t write “no-VOC” or “non-toxic” about vinyl).

All in all, neither of these floors is generally going to be as healthy or sustainable as surfaces like hemp flooring, sustainable wood flooring, or even cork flooring (seriously, the disadvantages of cork flooring are few and far between). You can even look into the pros and cons of engineered bamboo flooring for another great alternative!

Laminate Flooring Is Quieter than Vinyl Plank

Thus far in our vinyl plank vs. laminate flooring discussion, we haven’t talked about laminate’s stealthiest advantage. Because of its construction, it absorbs more noise than vinyl! 

This might not seem like a big deal, but trust us, there’s a payoff here. The better sound-dampening qualities of laminate will be appreciated anytime you slip away for a midnight snack or to use the bathroom without the dog trying to watch!

The difference probably isn’t astronomical (especially if you’re comparing a super-soft material like carpet vs. laminate), but it’s certainly enough to be noticed. 

Is Vinyl Plank Flooring Cheaper Than Laminate? Not Always.

Vinyl and laminate are priced pretty similarly, but laminate may be a little bit cheaper than vinyl on average. 

  • Laminate flooring costs can run anywhere from $1 to $10 per square foot.
  • Luxury vinyl planks often cost between $1 and $14. 

While the base price of vinyl plank vs. laminate is relatively similar, high-end vinyl plank can cost a good deal more. Keep in mind that some of the best hardwood floor brands also make laminate and vinyl plank, so costs will vary depending on the manufacturer. 

That said, the cost to replace carpet with laminate or vinyl plank will almost always be much less than the cost to replace carpet with hardwood, so it’s all relative.

Vinyl Plank vs. Laminate Flooring: Key Differences Summarized

Pink gym bag and shoes on wood-look resilient floor

By this point, you should have a decent understanding of vinyl plank vs. laminate flooring’s differences. Here are some of the key differences:

  • Vinyl can be used in basically any room since it’s waterproof, while laminate owners should do their best to keep it dry. 
  • Laminate is more eco-friendly than vinyl, but neither option is environmentally ideal—even a semi-endangered wood option like ash flooring may offer greener qualities.
  • Both floors are very durable and relatively easy to clean, but vinyl nudges out laminate as the winner here as it typically has no special care requirements.
  • Both floors are sold at a relatively similar (and affordable) price point, but vinyl can sometimes get a bit more expensive.

Conclusion—Which is Better: Luxury Vinyl Plank or Laminate?

We’re down to the conclusion in our vinyl plank vs. laminate comparison! So which type of fake wood flooring is better? The upsettingly vague answer: it depends

Our take? Go with the specific product that best fits your circumstances. Rather than broadly comparing laminate vs. vinyl plank flooring, look at the differences between specific brands and products. Each individual product has something special to offer, so don’t write off laminate or vinyl plank just yet!

You can even use this flooring stores near me tool to find a local flooring retailer to work with. They’re the real experts on all things flooring and can give you incredible advice on your particular situation! Or take your research further with more of our articles below. Either way, good luck on your vinyl plank vs. laminate adventure!

About The Author

Christian Southards

Take any subject and there’s a good chance Christian has written about it. From marketing and international relations to wildlife (hobby!) and sports, Christian writes, edits, or helps publish just about everything that’s resigned to written form. His love for home design and remodeling began with his first job working for his uncle’s property management business.

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