How Laminate Flooring is Different from Vinyl Flooring?
Updated: Jun 6
Laminate and vinyl are similar flooring materials – both are considered durable, and cost-effective and allow designers to imitate more expensive flooring products for a fraction of the cost.
Both are composed of four layers of material, and both feature an “image” layer carrying the likeness of wood, stone, ceramic or other materials. However, they each have some pros and cons that can affect your choice of product for your floor.
The Differences Between Laminate Flooring and Vinyl Flooring
Vinyl flooring is a composite product, meaning it is composed of different layers of material. A piece of vinyl flooring is made up of:
At the bottom, the thick ‘backing layer’ of vinyl
The ‘design layer’, chosen to resemble your flooring material of choice
A translucent layer of clear film to protect the design
A thin coating to prevent scratches and scuffs
Laminate flooring has a similar makeup, also having four layers. Each piece of laminate flooring is made up of:
At the bottom, a backing layer, usually core or foam
The “core layer”, made out of plywood
A design layer with an image of your choice
A thin coating to prevent scratches and scuffs
As you can see, both products have similar construction. There are also many other similarities–vinyl and laminate have very similar costs, difficulty of installation, and lifespan (for products of similar quality).
It's important to understand the differences between these products. These are the differences in material, durability, and water resistance.
Vinyl and laminate have two important differences in material–the image layer and the core layer.
Core Layer: The core layer of vinyl flooring is manufactured from PVC, whereas the core layer of laminate flooring is plywood. This is important, as it determines the water resistance of both products, which we’ll discuss later.
Image Layer: The image or design layers of both products are responsible for giving them their appearance. The image layer of vinyl is a 2D photographic image laid over the vinyl core, whereas the design layer of laminate is 3D and can be embossed for a better appearance. This leads to laminate flooring having a finer overall appearance and being a better imitation of wood.
Vinyl is typically considered the winner for durability. Laminate flooring comes in different variants, which have different levels of durability depending on the “AC” rating of the product. However, for most home applications only a lower level of AC rating is appropriate. The other challenge is that the floor can “delaminate” over time, with the different layers splitting off from each other. This happens less frequently with vinyl floors.
Overall, both products are considered very durable, and many variants come with 15+ year warranties.
Floor Water Resistance
The most important difference between laminate and vinyl flooring is its ability to withstand water and moisture. Vinyl has a PVC core, which is essentially impervious to moisture, and will never warp, swell, or exhibit any of the negative reactions that are so common from wood. Vinyl is a truly waterproof product.
Laminate flooring has a plywood core. While laminate is more resistant to water than hardwood, it will still become damaged with exposure to moisture.
This means that a laminate floor is not a candidate for rooms like bathrooms, basements, or anywhere else with significant moisture exposure. It also limits the methods of cleaning available, as laminate flooring cannot be cleaned with a wet mop and bucket without risking damage.
That being said, there are some companies currently manufacturing laminate products that are truly waterproof. For example, Pergo produces specialized waterproof laminate flooring. However, these products are likely to be more expensive than normal laminate or vinyl for the foreseeable future, making vinyl the best choice for waterproof flooring.
Current Flooring Trends
As far as industry trends go, vinyl plank flooring is pulling into the lead. This is due to the popular “Luxury Vinyl Plank” product, which is affordable and easy to install with an attractive appearance. As the appearance of vinyl products improves, it’s likely that laminate will be sidelined, as the other advantages of vinyl, such as moisture resistance and durability, will win out.
Vinyl and laminate are both fantastic flooring options, which are affordable, durable, and can mimic the appearance of more expensive products at a fraction of the cost. Laminate is the product of choice for those who want a high-fidelity imitation of hardwood, but it is more vulnerable to moisture than vinyl. Vinyl is a great choice for moisture-prone areas and it can imitate other products better and better over time.
As both products have a similar cost and lifespan, your aesthetic choices and the moisture level of the room will determine which product works best for you.