Laminate flooring emerged on the residential flooring scene decades ago as an easy-to-install, attractive, and durable alternative to solid hardwood flooring. Its technology has advanced by leaps and bounds since that time, with sharper high-definition imaging, deeper embossing, better seaming mechanisms, and a host of other innovations. Yet no floor covering is perfect. In all of the major categories that touch on flooring—installation, cleaning, durability, and more—laminate flooring possesses both pros and cons.
Laminate installs fast and easy, allowing you to install hundreds of square feet in one weekend. Older types of laminate flooring required you to glue pieces to each other. Today's types of laminate flooring have a click-and-lock or fold-and-lock design that allows planks to fit together like puzzle pieces. Since the planks are constructed of particleboard, they can be cut with standard wood saws.
Laminate floors are easy to clean with a vacuum or broom. Mop with a slightly damp mop or better yet, laminate floor cleaner. No floor waxing is ever necessary for laminate floors.
Durability and Maintenance
Unlike wood, which can dent, laminate flooring is almost impervious to dents and scratches. Laminate flooring has a wear layer that protects the photographic layer underneath. Some manufacturers even issue very generous 10+ year warranties on the wear layer itself. Laminate flooring's tough surface resists stains. And if you do get a stain, it is easy to clean off.
While laminate can feel hard underfoot without an underlayment, most installations do include underlayment. This gives the flooring a slightly springy feeling, making it easier to stand on for long periods, such as when standing at a stove or sink.
Laminate flooring faithfully reproduces the look of wood, stone, and other natural materials. Unlike real hardwood, which comes with many imperfect pieces that need to be discarded or re-engineered, there are no defects in laminate flooring. Every board is of consistent quality and appearance. Deep embossing adds to the illusion of wood grain, as well.
Laminate flooring manufacturers have been working hard on improving the product. Micro bevels, deeper texturing, and better graphics reproduction are ways this product has improved, bringing it closer to the cachet enjoyed by solid hardwood and engineered wood flooring.
While laminate flooring is designed to be easy, the click-and-lock or fold-and-lock design often does not work as well as it should. The ends of the boards can be especially difficult to join with adjoining ends. Also, if you force boards into place, you risk curling up the top wear layer, compromising the floor's ability to resist moisture.
Excessive water can seep into the seams between boards, causing swelling. Thus, it is highly recommended that you use a special laminate floor cleaner or mop such as a Swiffer.
Laminate flooring will not tolerate standing pools of water, which often appear in bathrooms and sometimes kitchens and laundry rooms, or when there are water leaks. For heavy moisture, you need a very impervious surface like vinyl or porcelain tile.
Durability and Maintenance
The inability to sand and refinish is a major disadvantage of laminate flooring. If laminate flooring is heavily worn, deep scratched, or grooved, it cannot be sanded or refinished like solid hardwood: it must be replaced.
Traditionally, laminate flooring has been very slippery. More recently, though, laminate flooring manufacturers have been developing slip-resistant wear layers. Also, laminate flooring tends to create static electricity, though this problem can be reduced by keeping the floor clean.
Laminate flooring's faithfully reproduced appearance disappears when you look too closely at the flooring. More at issue is pattern repetition. For some brands, only five to ten differently patterned boards will be produced. Lower quality laminate flooring may only have three different board patterns. If the installation is not done correctly, you can end up with two of the same boards next to each other.
Hardwood and engineered wood flooring give you better value when reselling if you want to get top dollar for your home. While installing laminate flooring will usually not kill a real estate deal, it may affect the sale price to some degree.