Guide to Laminate Flooring, Water, and Damage Repair

Laminate flooring and water have a complicated relationship. A number of floor coverings are considered impervious to water, such as ceramic or porcelain tile, luxury vinyl plank, sheet vinyl. At the other end of the spectrum are floors you would never consider laying in a full bathroom next to a shower or bathtub. These include solid hardwood, bamboo, and engineered wood.

Laminate flooring can go in either direction. If inexpertly installed, it will be a disaster in high-moisture environments....MORE If installed according to manufacturer instructions, it has a decent chance of standing up against water.

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    The Basics of Laminate Flooring and Water

    Wet Flooring
    Wet Flooring. BanksPhotos / Getty Images
    • Laminate flooring can get wet--but only the top. Sides and bottoms can never get wet. It takes about four hours for exposed-edge laminate flooring to begin to swell. After soaked laminate has fully dried, it does not return to its original dimensions.
    • Mop standing water quickly, as water can migrate into laminate's seams. Edge areas of laminate are more of a problem, since edges are cut and exposed.  
    • If you install in a full bathroom, you must take the precautions given by most laminate...MORE manufacturers. Installation in guest or half bathrooms without precautions is acceptable because water is not prevalent. These rooms do not have bathing facilities. The only areas of concern would be around the toilet and below the sink. If at all possible, though, install according to manufacturer's set of precautions.
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    Precautions for Installing in Water-Prone Areas

    Follow these rules for laminate installation in places where excessive moisture may be present, such as in full bathrooms and near kitchen sinks, dishwashers and ice makers.

    1. Build Higher Underlayment Edges: Fold underlayment up against the wall two inches. After installing the flooring, excess underlayment will get cut to floor level.
    2. Glue Joints: Apply glue to the tongue portion of the plank, even for lock-and-fold type laminate planks. Do not flex the joints when applying glue. Glue must ooze to...MORE the surface as the laminate pieces are locked together. After locking and folding the joint, wipe off excess glue.  
    3. Add Waiting Time: Allow floor to dry for 24 hours before using.
    4. Fill Expansion Areas: Laminate flooring--wet or dry--always needs to have a perimeter zone around its edges. This is to allow for flooring and wall expansion and contraction. For flooring that you expect to get wet, this perimeter must be filled with silicone caulk.
    5. Add Wall Molding If Appropriate: Molding has to be applied to the base of the shower pan or bathtub, and this area, too, must be filled with silicone caulk. Alternative to using molding, you can leave a 1/4-inch opening and fill that perimeter area with silicone caulk.
    6. Remove Toilet First: Do not install laminate around toilet. Instead, remove toilet first, install laminate, and then re-install the toilet. Leave a 1/4-inch expansion area between the laminate and toilet flange.
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    Laminate Floor Water Damage and Possible Fixes

    It is important to remember that many floors are subject to damage when hit with enough water. Solid wood flooring will warp and swell when water-logged. Since wood fibers in real wood run lengthwise, the weak direction is sideways. When natural wood bends in this direction, it is called either crowning or cupping.  Even water resistant floors like vinyl can be affected if water works its way under the flooring and begins to degrade paper on the backing.

    The difference between real wood and...MORE laminate is that real wood can potentially be saved. Even cupped or crowned wood can be sanded down to flat. Laminate flooring cannot be sanded.

    Does that mean it cannot be fixed? No. Minor fixes are possible with laminate.

    Most installations use packs of laminate boards. Because there is a set number of boards in each pack, it is inevitable that boards will be left over. Store these boards flat in a cool, dry place. If an installed board is damaged, it can be replaced on a one-for-one basis. If the board is at the end, remove the baseboard and pull out the affected board. If the damaged board is at the center, cut it out, using a fine-finish blade on a circular saw.

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    What Happens When Laminate Gets Wet?

    Laminate flooring industry specifications dictate certain testing procedures for laminate and water. ANSI Standards Section 3.2, concerning thickness swell requires that laminate flooring should be submerged fully under water for 24 hours for a complete test.  

    Generally, laminate flooring with open edges will maintain its original dimension after about two hours of submerged water exposure. After about four hours, the laminate begins to soak up water; this is considered the point of no return....MORE Higher temperatures increase the rate of absorption. Boards that begin at 5/16-inch thick will swell to 7/16-inch thick, or close to half an inch.

    Slowly the image layer and wear layer begin to de-laminate from the top of the board.

    Because laminate is a dense fiberboard, it takes over 48 hours to dry.  Installed laminate flooring may take weeks to dry. After complete drying, the laminate remains swollen.  It does not return to its original dimensions.