Laminate flooring and water have a complicated relationship.
A number of floor coverings are considered 100% impervious to water: 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 of bathtub: 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. If installed... according to manufacturer instructions, it has a decent chance of standing up against water.
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- Laminate flooring can get wet--with restrictions.
- The surface of the laminate planks is 100% waterproof. It is the edges that are the problem.
- It takes about 4 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 following precautions given by most laminate manufacturers.
- Installation in guest or half bathrooms without precautions is fine because water is not prevalent. These rooms do not have bathing facilities
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Precautions For Installing In Wet Areas
Follow these rules for laminate installation in places where excessive moisture may be present: in full bathrooms and near kitchen sinks, dishwashers and ice makers.
- Build Higher Underlayment Edges: Fold underlayment up against the wall 2 inches. After installing the flooring, excess underlayment will get cut to floor level.
- 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... the surface as the laminate pieces are locked together. After locking and folding the joint, wipe off excess glue.
- Add Waiting Time: All floor to dry for 24 hours before using.
- 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.
- 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. Alternatively to using molding, you can leave a 1/4" opening and fill that perimeter area with silicone caulk.
- 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" expansion area between the laminate and toilet flange.
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What Happens When Laminate Edges Do Get Wet?
ANSI Standards Section 3.2, Thickness Swell, dictate that laminate flooring should be submerged fully under water for 24 hours for a complete test. This test spanned 4 hours.
Laminate flooring with open edges will maintain its original dimension after about 2 hours of water exposure. After 4 hours, the laminate begins to soak up water.
- The test strip is soaked in room temperature water for two hours. After removal, the test strip has maintained its original 5/16" thickness. The... upper two layers of lamination--the wear layer and decorative layer--have not been affected. The bottom melamine layer is completely unaffected.
- After another 2 hours (for a total of 4 hours) in room temperature water, the test strip has darkened because it soaked up a little bit of water, but dimensions have not increased enough to be measurable. Upper layers and bottom melamine are still in good condition.
- After being subjected to temperatures ranging from 120 to 140 degrees Fahrenheit and constant water for 45 minutes, the laminate has finally given in. Thickness has increased from 5/16" to 7/16". Lamination is warped, with the edges curling and peeling off.
- 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.
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Wood Damage vs. Laminate Damage
Solid wood flooring, too, 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.
The difference between real wood and 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.