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What is Laminate Flooring: Laminate 101

April 29, 2020

You’ve seen it everywhere, from home improvement blogs to Home Depot’s website—laminate flooring as far as the eye can see. But you still don’t really understand—what is laminate flooring, exactly?

It’s a question we hear all the time. Simply put, laminate flooring is a composite flooring material. It’s composed of multiple layers, it’s been around for about 50 years, and it’s designed to add style and value to your home while withstanding wear and tear. Most often, it’s designed to look like wood (but not always).

But that’s really just the tip of the iceberg. These days, there are tons of different kinds of laminate flooring—each with its own unique pros and cons. And while it’s often written off due its comparatively low price point and formerly-artificial appearance (xoxo the 1980s), laminate flooring has really come into its own as a strong, attractive, economical, and low-maintenance type of flooring

Below, we’re going to give you the 411 on all things laminate. We’ll talk about what laminate is made of, laminate flooring’s price, it’s durability, where you can install it, how to install it, and even some pros and cons.

What is laminate flooring? Let’s find out together, friend.

What is laminate flooring made of?

Broadly speaking, laminate flooring is composed of three layers. From the bottom, they are:

  1. A dense core layer of high-density fiberboard to give the material strength and stability. This base is the same one used in many of the best engineered wood flooring products. 
  2. A high-resolution, photo-realistic image layer. Again, this image layer usually mimics wood—but you can find stone-look and even metal-look variants.
  3. A protective wear layer to provide hardness and protection. This layer is extremely tough, making laminate one of the most durable flooring options around.

Some types of laminate also come with a backing layer below the base to promote moisture-resistance or add soundproofing qualities, but it depends on the specific product.

What styles does laminate flooring come in?

Your options are endless when it comes to choosing the look of laminate flooring. Advances in high-resolution printing mean that there are very few types of flooring that laminate can’t imitate these days. For example, if you’re keen on installing some intricate wood floor designs but conventional hardwood doesn’t fit into your family’s lifestyle, laminate offers a phenomenal fake wood flooring alternative. 

Where can you install laminate flooring?

what is laminate flooring's ideal room?  There is none—you can install laminate flooring anywhere. This living room has laminate flooring.

Laminate is great for hallways, entryways, dining rooms, and living rooms (because its super-durable wear layer means it can stand up to heavy foot traffic and scratches). But its excellent visuals also make it totally suitable for bedrooms, family rooms, and even kitchens in some cases. 

Laminate’s durability is really important to take into account when choosing a floor—especially if you’re comparing the pros and cons of laminate vs. hardwood floors. Laminate can often be the more durable option.

But: while some manufacturers now claim to make waterproof laminate, the material isn’t conventionally a waterproof flooring option. For a similar material that’s entirely waterproof, consider looking into vinyl plank—it’s one of the best types of vinyl flooring on the market. Or go a more conventional route and check out some different types of tile.

It’s all about finding the best floor for the job. If you’re weighing the pros and cons of putting bamboo flooring vs. laminate in your front entryway, you may decide that laminate is the way to go. But if you’re deciding between tile vs. laminate to replace the flooring in your laundry room or bathroom, tile may be the wiser option. 

How durable is laminate flooring?

In a word: very. If your floors need to endure a lot of wear and tear, laminate is one of the best flooring options you can buy. Because what is laminate flooring if not super-tough?

Laminate flooring resists stains and scuffs.

Water bottle, weights, and apple on laminate floor super durable.

Maintaining new floors isn’t easy (even if you don’t have kids or pets). Laminate, however, is one of the toughest floors around. Its durable wear layer is difficult to penetrate, so it’s hard to stain or gouge.

Like we said before, laminate is great for high-traffic areas—especially if you’re not a shoes-off house. Whether you’re coming home from a long day in your work boots or whether you’re dragging in your Amazon Pantry box from the porch, scuffs and scratches are a part of life. Laminate stands up to wear and tear so you can keep your floors looking newer, longer. 

Again: If you’re comparing types of flooring like carpet vs. laminate, this is a huge advantage to Team Laminate. 

Is laminate flooring kid-friendly? Is laminate flooring pet-friendly?

Does your dog come barrelling around the corner at the mere crinkle of a food wrapper? Are your kids prone to spontaneous juice spills and glitter explosions? Laminate is here for you. 

We love our kids and pets… but not every type of flooring does. When you’re deciding which floors to place in your home, you’ll want to know how well they’ll work for all the members of your household. 

For new puppies or kids who are slightly older, you’ll love laminate flooring’s high durability and easy-to-maintain surface. But remember: more durable floors are usually harder floors, and laminate is no exception. Do you have a youngster learning to walk or an aging pup who could benefit from a softer surface? You may want to explore your best cork flooring options or even the peel-and-stick carpet tiles Home Depot sells by the crate. 

Is laminate flooring waterproof?

Laminate is water-resistant, especially when liquids are cleaned up quickly. But like we said before, it’s not a totally waterproof floor. Again, some companies now claim to offer laminate products that are completely waterproof, but it’s unclear how valid these claims are.

You see, laminate’s wear layer is durable and resists moisture, which is great for the occasional minor spill or pair of wet rain boots. However, if water seeps between the planks and is absorbed into the core layer, swelling and warping is possible. 

Is laminate flooring comfortable?

What is laminate flooring’s comfort level? Like all floors, it depends on a lot of factors—including product, price range, underlayment, and installation.

Underlayment can increase laminate flooring’s comfort.

Much of the comfort level of any flooring has to do with how it interacts with the subflooring beneath it. Laminate is no exception. What is subflooring, you may ask? It’s the flat surface that covers your floor joists that’s usually made out of concrete or plywood.  

To achieve an incredibly comfortable floor, an underlayment can be added between the subfloor and the finished surface. Some laminate flooring types come with a built-in plastic underlayment to protect against moisture. Others come with foam or felt underlayments to provide padding, reduce noise, and limit the physical impact of your footfalls. It all depends on the product you buy!

If the type of laminate you choose does not come with a built-in underlayment, you may want to consider adding one. Talk to your local flooring expert for more recommendations on how to use underlayment to increase the comfort of many types of flooring.

Is laminate flooring easy to install?

Worker installing laminate flooring with a click-together floating floor

Yes! This type of flooring is one of the simplest to install, whether you already know how to replace flooring or whether you’re having your floors installed by a professional.

Laminate can be installed just like hardwood flooring

If you’re looking for a conventional installation, laminate has you covered. It can be nailed down, stapled down, or glued down—just like most types of wood flooring! But… 

Laminate can also be installed as a click-together floating floor!

Behold the wonders of click-together flooring. Many types of laminate are sold as click-together or “click-lock” floors. These floors have interlocking grooves that snap into place like puzzle pieces—meaning you don’t have to attach them to a subfloor. That’s why they’re called “floating floors”!

Floating floors offer a ton of advantages. They’re quicker and easier to install (meaning you’ll pay less to install them), they can be installed over existing surfaces (so you don’t have to rip up your old flooring) and it’s easier to replace individual planks if they’re damaged.

Just remember: floating floors aren’t perfect for everyone. Some disadvantages of floating floors may include increased noise and the potential to trap moisture. That said, many (if not all) of these disadvantages can be avoided with proper underlayment and installation.

Fun fact: flooring manufacturers have even found a way to produce snap-together tile flooring! Science, man.

Can I install laminate floors myself?

Want to try your hand at do-it-yourself flooring installation? Laminate may be a good place to start. 

We’re not saying you have to install laminate on your own. There’s a reason professional installers do what they do. It’s a lot of physical work, frankly, and it takes some technical know-how. But if you’re up for an exciting challenge and the reward of a job well-done, laminate may be a good way to go.

How much does laminate flooring cost?

Back in the day, laminate used to be considered “cheap” or low-end—but that’s a relic of another time. These days, technological advances have made this material both stylish and affordable. 

The wear layer is no longer the plasticky-looking high-gloss you may remember from laminate’s early days (it was invented by Pergo back in 1977), and its price point varies widely. Incidentally, Pergo still makes some of the best laminate around—check out some Pergo reviews for more info.

How much does laminate cost per square foot?

You can find laminate flooring at almost any price point. Prices start as low as $1 and range up to $10 or more per square foot. This wide range accounts for the many design options available to you. 

When you compare this to wood flooring costs, where exotic species can go for over $15 per square foot (before installation), you’re looking at saving a great deal of money when you opt for laminate. And with its authentic-looking image layers, laminate makes it really hard to tell the difference. 

How much does professional laminate installation cost?

What is laminate flooring’s installation cost? It depends. The cost of professional laminate installation largely varies based on the type of job, the installation method, and your location. Average costs range between $1 and $5 per square foot. 

Laminate needs to be replaced over time. 

While you’re thinking about costs, don’t forget about the longevity of your flooring, as well. For example, when you’re looking at the pros and cons of hardwood, one of the drawbacks is a high up-front cost. However solid hardwood can last a lifetime—sometimes 75-100 years when properly maintained. 

Laminate has a shorter lifespan than hardwood, ranging anywhere from 10-30 years. The broad range has a lot to do with how the floors are installed and how well they are maintained. Once their durable coating layer has worn away, laminate floors will need to be replaced. They can not be refinished.

Pros and cons of laminate flooring

There’s no single perfect flooring choice for everyone, and we’re here to help you make an informed decision. There’s no right or wrong here—some people prefer carpet vs. hardwood, you know? We believe that all types of flooring deserve a fair look. And now that we’ve taken you through the ins and outs of laminate flooring, let’s summarize the pros and cons. 

Advantages of laminate flooring

What is laminate flooring’s greatest strength? Hard to say—there are a lot of things to love about laminate! It’s a great flooring choice for growing families because it’s durable and easy to maintain. 

Laminate can duplicate the look of natural floors, and it’s more versatile and moisture-resistant than some other options. It can be used in some rooms that wood flooring cannot, like kitchens and mudrooms. 

On top of all of this, installation is relatively easy and laminate can be an affordable alternative to buying hardwood floors

Limitations of laminate flooring

We love laminate flooring, but in the interest of fairness to the other flooring types, we should mention that there are some drawbacks as well. 

Laminate isn’t totally waterproof, so you shouldn’t place it in moisture-prone areas of the home, like the bathroom or laundry room. 

Wet-mopping is also not ideal for laminate, as water may seep between the planks and cause warping. When installed as a floating floor, laminate can be noisier than some other flooring types (for secret spy-level quiet footsteps, check out the pros and cons of cork flooring). 

Finally, nothing lasts forever and laminate floors will need to be replaced after a decade or three. Unlike solid wood, they can’t be refinished.

Conclusion: what is laminate flooring—and is it right for you?

Do you like the look of natural flooring but not the cost or the pesky drawbacks? Do you like low-maintenance, stress-free living? Then laminate could be a great fit for you! 

While it won’t last as long as some other options (yes, some of the best hardwood floors can last three times as long), it can also fit better into your budget and lifestyle. Want to know more about your options when it comes to flooring? Let us help you find a flooring store near you. And for more information on everything flooring, check out:

About The Author

Kelly Pitts

Kelly is a freelance lifestyle and wellness writer. Her guilty pleasures are coffee and celebrity gossip. When she’s not hard at work creating content, you can find her traveling the world, being a crazy fish mom, and cooking vegan food.

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