Can You Install Laminate Flooring in the Kitchen?

Kitchen with laminate flooring
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The question of laminate flooring in the kitchen is a complicated one.  Detractors claim that laminate is a kitchen pariah because moisture--a fact in kitchens--can harm it.  Advocates argue that laminate is one of the better floor coverings for kitchens because moisture can be controlled.

Unlike some materials that are perfect for kitchens, laminate flooring walks a tight line between loved and feared.

 What is the truth?

 AgainstFor
MoistureWater is laminate flooring's mortal enemy.  Eventually, water will find its way to the core.Only the laminate core matters.  With precautions, water can be kept away from the core.
WearWears poorly, as the only surface cushioning the fiberboard core from abrasion is a wear layer.Laminate's wear layer is surprisingly durable for such a thin surface.
MaintenanceStatic plagues laminate.  When a laminate plank wears out, replacement is the only option as it cannot be resurfaced.Static, while a problem, is controllable.  Plank replacement is relatively easy since floor is floating.

Bottom Line

As long as you address the overriding concern of moisture, you can install laminate flooring in the kitchen. 

If you want no worries about moisture, install sheet vinyl or luxury vinyl plank (LVP).  In terms of appearance, LVP is a close contender with laminate and it is 100% waterproof.

Water Damage: A Matter Of Concern But Overrated

Water is a bad thing for most floors.  Even ceramic and porcelain tiles, as water resistant as they are, have water absorption limits. If water sits on ceramic tile long enough, the tile will absorb water.  

Grout is a far more porous substance than the surface of fired tile.

 Grout sealing is an imperfect business, and if water infiltrates tile, its avenue will be grout.

The only perfectly impermeable kitchen floor is sheet resilient flooring (sheet vinyl) because the vinyl itself is non-porous and it has practically no seams.

With those considerations, laminate flooring is on more of an equal footing with other types of materials such as solid hardwood and engineered wood.  

At some point, you will get your laminate wet in either of two ways:  from ordinary use or from a catastrophic event.  Ordinary use means that you slosh water out of the pasta pan onto the floor and quickly mop it up.  Catastrophic event means that your dishwasher supply line leaks and you do not discover the mess for three days.

Laminate's Surface Must Remain Sealed

If laminate has a weak area, it is the edges.  While the top is sealed with the wear layer and the bottom is coated, edges are raw and thus prone to soaking up water.  

Yet a properly installed laminate floor has seams on the top that are so tight that they are practically non-existent.  The perimeter is covered with baseboards or quarter-round.  Theoretically, water cannot reach the core.

Laminate's Core Has Some Water Resistance

One frequent criticism about laminate is that it is pressed board, not "real wood."  

Yet the fact that it is "fake wood" can be a strength. These lignocellulosic fibers (i.e., dried wood pulp) are combined with a synthetic resin as a bonding agent. The addition of these non-organic resins help promote dimensional stability.  

In other words, they help the laminate core maintain its shape--to some degree--when subjected to water. Laminate has moderate resistance to water when it is cut and its core is soaked in water for as long as two hours.

Superior Scratch Resistance and AC Ratings

Laminate flooring is a sandwich composed of the core substrate, the image layer, and the wear layer.  This clear melamine wear layer serves only one function:  to protect the more fragile image layer from abuse.

Wearability is measured by the Association of European producers of Laminate Flooring's (EPLF) AC rating system.

 Most laminate floors for residential use have an AC-3 rating. A sample of laminate is run through a Taber testing machine which revolves the sample against a piece of sandpaper. To achieve an AC-3 rating, the sample's wear layer must stand up to 2,000 revolutions.

If durability is a major concern for you, you can even find laminate rated for AC-4 levels. AC-4, formerly just for commercial use, is now permeating the residential market.

Laminate's Short Lifespan Is Both a Plus and Minus

One of the best things about laminate is its planned obsolescence. Should a section need to be replaced, it can be removed and replaced with little fuss. As this is a floating floor, it is not connected to the substrate and usually boards are not permanently joined to each other.

Your biggest concern would be where to find replacement boards. Unless you had the foresight to purchase an additional carton or two, you may not be able to find the laminate on the market any longer.

With natural solid red oak hardwood flooring, this is a product that is perennially available. Red oak is red oak; knotty pine is knotty pine.  While it is true that runs of natural wood will vary, it is still possible to find a close match.  

But since laminate is a branded, man-made artificial product, it has a color and texture that is all its own. Once you buy Shropshire Tavern Oak Laminate the only thing that can replace it is the exact, same product.

Because manufacturers introduce and pull products as often as car makers cycle automobile models in and out, it is doubtful that you will find it three years from now. Your best bet is eBay.