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What is Laminate Flooring: Laminate 101

Updated March 26, 2021

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 to 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, its 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 or base layer of plywood or 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.
cross section of a laminate flooring plank

Some types of laminate also come with an attached underlayment or 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. 

And these days, you can find a laminate option to match nearly any hardwood species. Love the look of hickory but don’t want to deal with the disadvantages of hickory flooring? Go with laminate. Want an ethically-sourced ebony flooring alternative? Laminate’s a great choice. You can get it in any wood floor colors you want; the sky is the limit!

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 can go anywhere hardwood can

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 thanks to its wear layer.

That means you can put it just about anywhere you’d be able to put hardwood—especially engineered hardwood. What is engineered hardwood exactly? It’s a multi-layer type of wood flooring that combines a solid wood veneer and a high-performance plywood core. This makes it more rugged and dimensionally stable (which is why you can now buy super wide-plank wood flooring).

Engineered wood can go where solid wood can’t—and laminate can too. But if you compare engineered hardwood vs. laminate, you’ll find that laminate is the more durable option.

And it can even go where hardwood can’t

While laminate wasn’t conventionally thought of as a waterproof option, that’s changing—quickly. Products like Mohawk’s RevWood have changed the laminate game by offering completely waterproof products

Translation: laminate can now go places even water-resistant wood flooring can’t, like busy kitchens and bathrooms!

In fact, the only other floors that can compete with waterproof laminate in this arena are waterproof vinyl flooring (although only the very best vinyl plank flooring products can match laminate’s realism) and some different types of tile. But again, only the best wood-look tile can match high-quality laminate’s realistic appearance.

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 types of flooring you can buy. Because what is laminate flooring if not super-tough?

Laminate flooring easily 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. Again, aside from PVC flooring or certain types of floor tiles, you’re not going to find a more scratch-resistant flooring choice anywhere.

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 for Team Laminate. 

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

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. The best wood flooring for dogs has nothing on laminate’s scratch-resistance.

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?

We discussed this a bit earlier, but yes—laminate can be a waterprofo floor. However, it entirely depends on what kind you buy!

Regular ol’ laminate is water-resistant, in the same way that engineered wood is water-resistant. When liquids are cleaned up quickly, you’ll have no problem. That’s because 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 gets absorbed into the core layer, swelling and warping are possible. 

But again, this is not an issue if you buy a specialty waterproof laminate product like RevWood!

Is Laminate Flooring Comfortable?

It absolutely is! Laminate’s fiberboard or plywood base layer gives it a great cushion-y feel underfoot. In fact, when it comes to faux wood flooring, the closest surfaces that can compare to quality laminate in terms of comfort are some super-high-end EVP flooring products (WPC flooring in particular).

However: like all floors, laminate’s comfort depends on a lot of factors—including product, price range, underlayment, and installation method.

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—and it’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.

…as can certain installation methods

Laminate can be installed in a wide number of ways, which we’ll discuss in a moment. Some of these methods can be more comfortable than others. Floating floors, for instance, can offer more bounce—but are sometimes said to feel a bit “hollow”. What is a floating floor? It’s just a surface that rests above your subfloor, rather than being attached to it.

Is Laminate Flooring Easy to Install?

Worker installing laminate flooring with a click-together floating floor

Yes! Laminate is absolutely some of the easiest flooring 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. 

If you compare that to the cost to install vinyl plank flooring, you’ll see the prices are about equal—which makes sense, given that the products can be installed in the same ways.

If you compare it to the cost to install engineered hardwood floors, though, you’ll find laminate to be the cheaper option!

Just Remember: Laminate Needs to be Replaced Over Time 

While you’re thinking about costs, don’t forget about the longevity of your flooring. 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.

However, there are several caveats to this

While the fact that laminate can’t be refinished (the way you can refinish hardwood flooring or refinish bamboo flooring) might sound bad, there are a couple of points to consider.

  1. The cost to refinish hardwood flooring can be super pricey. So depending on what product you choose, it might actually be cheaper to get all-new laminate than to refinish hardwood.
  2. One of the disadvantages of engineered wood is that, due to the thinness of its veneer layer, it may only be able to be refinished once—and sometimes, not at all. Which means laminate might be the cheaper option anyway!
  3. If you compare vinyl plank vs. laminate, you’ll find that neither of these floors can be refinished. So it’s not as if vinyl has the advantage over laminate here either.

All of that to say: don’t let the fact that laminate needs to be replaced periodically sour you—it’s still a fantastic product!

Is Laminate a Low-VOC Floor?

These days, low-VOC flooring is more popular than ever—and for good reason. VOCs—or volatile organic compounds—are harmful chemicals that can be emitted from many industrially-created materials, including flooring.

In fact, you may remember that not too long ago, Lumber Liquidators (since rebranded as “LL Flooring”) was caught selling toxic laminate products from China that made their customers sick.

Luckily, most laminate is not harmful. And thankfully, in the wake of the Lumber Liquidators scandal, non-toxic laminate flooring has become the norm. Our advice? Make sure your laminate is certified as low-VOC before you buy (shopping at a local high-rated flooring store rather than a big box store is the easiest way to do this).

Is laminate eco-friendly?

The answer to this question depends on your definition of eco-friendly flooring, but yes—overall, yes! Laminate is one of the more environmentally-friendly floors out there.

That’s because it uses organic materials (fiberboard or plywood) in its core layer, and only a very small amount of synthetic material in its wear layer. This means it’s largely recyclable.

Compared to vinyl, this makes laminate the much more eco-friendly choice. One of the biggest disadvantages of vinyl plank flooring is that it’s made entirely of plastic. This means that, with the exception of some smaller brands like Proximity Mills, it isn’t really generally recyclable.

The 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. 

The advantages of laminate flooring

What is laminate flooring’s greatest strength? It’s 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 super durable and easy to maintain. 
  • There are now of waterproof laminates out there, which means it can be used in some rooms that wood flooring can’t—like kitchens and mudrooms. 
  • Laminate can duplicate the look of natural floors, and it’s more versatile and moisture-resistant than some other options.
  • It’s comfortable to walk on.
  • Laminate is super easy to install, and you can do so in a ton of different ways.
  • It’s affordable to buy and affordable to install.
  • It’s a fantastic alternative to buying hardwood floors
  • Non-toxic laminate flooring is common, as is low-VOC laminate flooring.

The disadvantages 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. 

  • Low-quality laminate can sometimes look cheap or plastic-y.
  • Most laminate isn’t totally waterproof, so you shouldn’t place it in moisture-prone areas of the home—and waterproof laminates can be a bit more expensive. 
  • 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). 
  • Nothing lasts forever and laminate floors will need to be replaced after a decade or three. Unlike solid wood, laminate can’t be refinished.

Conclusion: What is Laminate Flooring—and Is it Right for You?

Do you like the look of natural wood 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. And compared to some of the best vinyl plank flooring, it can offer a more comfy, more realistic, and more eco-friendly alternative.

Now: ready to know more about your options when it comes to flooring? Find a top-rated flooring store near you. Local flooring retailers are the real experts, and they can help you out with anything and everything.

But if you’re not quite ready to shop, for more information on everything flooring, check out:

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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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