Laminate Flooring in the Kitchen: Installation Solutions

Kitchen with laminate flooring
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Should you install laminate flooring in the kitchen? Some kitchen flooring decisions are clear-cut: ceramic tile and all types of vinyl flooring, for example, work well in the kitchen. Other types of flooring—solid hardwood, for one—are not recommended for kitchens.

But the issue of installing laminate flooring in the kitchen is more of a gray area. Unlike some materials that are perfect for kitchens, laminate flooring walks a fine line. Detractors claim that laminate is not appropriate for kitchens 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.

What is the truth?

  Issue Solution
Moisture Water is laminate flooring's worst enemy. Eventually, water will find its way to the core. Install the laminate flooring with tight seams. Make sure that edges are sealed.
Wear Laminate flooring can wear poorly when subjected to heavy stress. Laminate's wear layer is surprisingly durable for such a thin surface. Keep floor clean to avoid fine scratches.
Maintenance Static can plague laminate. Static, while a problem, is controllable by keeping the floor clean. 

Kitchens and the Potential of Water Damage

Water is the enemy of 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 through seams. 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 through the grout.

The only truly water-impermeable kitchen floor is sheet resilient flooring (or, sheet vinyl flooring) because the vinyl itself is non-porous. As long as the water stays away from sheet vinyl's extremely limited number of seams, water will remain pooled on the surface until it is mopped up or it evaporates.

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.

As long as you address the overriding concern of moisture, you can install laminate flooring in the kitchen. If you want to eliminate 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-percent waterproof.

Laminate's Surface Must Remain Sealed

If the laminate flooring has a weak area, it is the edges. While the top is sealed with the wear layer and the bottom is coated, laminate floorboard's 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. In theory, water cannot reach the core. In practice, water usually will find its water to the laminate core, given enough time.

Laminate's Core: Limited Water Resistance

One criticism leveled at laminate is that it is pressed board, not unprocessed natural wood like solid hardwood. Yet the fact that laminate flooring's core is processed wood can be a strength. These lignocellulosic fibers (or, dried wood pulp) are combined with synthetic resin as a bonding agent. The addition of these non-organic resins helps promote dimensional stability. 

To some degree, these additives help the laminate core maintain its shape when subjected to water—but only a limited amount of water. Laminate flooring has only moderate resistance to water. Time is always of the essence when laminate flooring is subjected to water. Aim to mop up pooled water immediately, or it will eventually work through the seams and down to the core.

Laminate Flooring Scratch Resistance

Laminate flooring is a sandwich composed of the core substrate, the image layer, and the wear layer. This clear melamine wear layer protects 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 the laminate is run through a Taber testing machine that 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 Flooring Lifespan

One of the best things about laminate is that sections can easily be replaced. As laminate flooring 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. With slight variations, red oak is red oak and 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. Even if a close match cannot be made, staining the wood can help bring two different floors into close alignment.

But since laminate is a branded, man-made artificial product, it has a color and texture that is all its own. Once you buy a certain brand of laminate flooring, the only acceptable replacement is from the same product line. Laminate flooring cannot be stained or otherwise altered to align it with the appearance of another type of laminate flooring.