Laminate flooring is a solid and inexpensive alternative to a number of popular natural material choices due to the fact that it is low maintenance and easy to both install and maintain. However, in the bathroom laminate planks and tiles run into a number of issues, most having to deal with moisture and standing water. Because of this it is generally not a good bathroom flooring choice except in very specific locations.
Appropriate Uses for Laminate Flooring
Half bath: These small spaces consist of a sink and a toilet, but do not contain a shower or a tub. Because the only water in these rooms remains in contained and controlled areas, you don’t have as many issues with splashing. It’s also easier to keep the steam and humidity level down in a half bath.
Private bathrooms: In some cases, you may have a bathroom that is used by just one or two people. If you are particularly meticulous then you will be able to maintain a laminate floor in such a space. The use of rugs, dehumidifiers, fans, and open ventilation will also certainly help to cut down on mold and mildew issues.
As long as you choose a quality, waterproof laminate that is warrantied for use in the bathroom, then there are a number of benefits that this material can bring to the table.
- Most laminate flooring is installed with a very simple click together method that can be undertaken by even amateurs. However, other laminates will require a sealing process that is slightly more complex.
- The wear layer on a laminate floor protects the material from scratches and stains. This makes maintenance a simple matter of sweeping the floor regularly and tending to spot blemishes with a damp rag. However, you should never allow water to inundate a laminate floor.
Bathroom Problem Areas
The places where your laminate floor has the most potential to be ruined is anywhere that it comes in contact with a water-bearing appliance. This includes the toilet, the sink, the bathtub, as well as any pipes that may be running through the place. These features can all get leaks which may or may not be easily visible. Even small amounts of water leaking over time can have a devastating effect on a laminate installation.
- Solution: One thing that you can do to offset these dangers is to use hard tile accents around any water-bearing fixtures in the space. Then fill in the middle of the rooms where spills and leaks are less likely with waterproof laminate materials.
The inherent humidity in the bathroom will cause laminate floor tiles and planks to expand and contract over time. Because of this, they require a ¼” - ⅛” gap to be left around the room during installation. This can then be filled in with a waterproof silicone which will act as a grout line, sealing the floor while still allowing for the expansion of the materials.
Humidity: Laminates are comprised of a conglomerate of materials which are bonded together and then coated with a protective wear layer. Because they do not contain much, if any real wood, they are slightly more resistant to water and humidity problems than their natural counterparts. The wear layer will also provide some protection for the material against splashes and spills.
However, if moisture is able to penetrate down past the wear layer and get to the unprotected laminate core, it will, over time, cause the material to warp, plump, twist, and mold, just like it would with natural wood. This is a particular problem in bathrooms, which are often very humid and have air that is literally filled with water. This can seep down between seams in tiles and planks and quickly ruin a flooring installation.
Standing water: While humidity is an insidious problem for laminate bathroom flooring standing water is an overt one. Bathrooms are places where water splashes and spills, it’s the nature of the room. But with laminates, every spill turns into a puddle of danger, which can quickly seep down between seams and turn into a moldy, messy problem that you will have to deal with.
Slippage: Laminate flooring is traditionally a very slippery material, that can be quite dangerous when it gets wet. This is being offset to some extent by improvements in the manufacturing process, which are allowing laminate producers to create floors that have textured wear layers. This can dramatically cut down on the danger presented by these materials.
There are a few ways that you can offset the issues that a laminate floor will face in a moist bathroom environment. The most obvious is probably the use of rugs, carpets, and or floor mats. By coating the floor you will be able to add another layer of protection to it. However, you have to be careful to wash these mats and rugs regularly, as water and mold that develops within them can drain down to the laminate below over time.
The use of exhaust fans can help to clear out the atmosphere of the bathroom, pushing the moist air out and bringing fresh air in. A dehumidifier can also be employed in this space, to try and drain even more liquid out of the room. Other than that, vigilance and constant maintenance will be your best bet for keeping the floor safe.
Laminate flooring manufacturers and retailers will often offer some kind of warranty with their product. The problem is that most if not all of these warranties will be voided by installing the material in a bathroom. You need to read your warranty carefully, and decide if the low price of laminates is worth the risk of damage and replacement.
Installation: The one redeeming factor about laminate flooring in this space is the fact that it is quite affordable, costing around $1 per square foot. Laminates can also easily be installed, and uninstalled by even a moderately skilled amateur, cutting down on the cost of hiring a professional.
In most bathrooms, laminates should be considered a temporary solution. Even if you maintain the floor and keep it as dry as possible the humidity will degrade it over time. Luckily the low cost and low hassle aspect of these materials mean that you can then easily remove and replace them when the rigors of the bathroom finally catch up. Just beware the dangers of lurking, underfloor mold.
- Seams: The lines in between individual pieces of laminate material are going to be the weak points in the installation. Even seemingly perfect fits can have small, microscopic cracks that standing water will be able to seep down into. Some manufacturers suggest the use of a sealing agent which can be applied to create an invisible barrier over the floor, however, this should only be done if explicitly recommended.
The best thing to do if you have laminate flooring in a bathroom is to wipe up spills immediately. Rugs can also be placed in strategic places, in front of the bath, the sink, and around the toilet in order to catch any splashes that may splatter. A foam moisture barrier underlayment layer can also help to prevent water from penetrating down into the subfloor.
- Humidity: Water on the floor isn’t the only issue in this room. Humidity refers to water in the air. In a bathroom that gets heavy use, temperatures are going to fluctuate and there will be times when things get quite humid. This air can slip down into cracks in the floor that even liquids can’t, infecting the material from within, causing plumping, warping, and the growth of mold. This can be offset to some extent with a constant fan or dehumidifier.
- Slippage: Regular laminate flooring has a smooth wear layer surface which can be quite slippery when it gets wet. Anything that you choose to install in a bathroom should be specially textured to combat this effect.
Waterproof Laminate Flooring Prices: $2 - $10 per square foot.
As always you will get what you pay for. More expensive laminates will have a thicker wear layer, which will protect the floor for a longer period of time, giving you a greater return on your investment.