Vinyl vs. Laminate Flooring Comparison Guide

Learn the key similarities and differences before starting your next project

Vinyl and laminate flooring

Margot Cavin / The Spruce

When you want a durable, economical, attractive floor covering for your home that you can install by yourself, two flooring options usually rise to the top: laminate flooring and vinyl flooring. They are equally easy to install, cost about the same, and they're both attractive. From a distance and at first glance, they look about the same.

Is there any difference? Yes. While vinyl and laminate overlap in many aspects, the crucial differences just might influence which type of flooring to buy and where to install it. Read on to find out the pros and cons of vinyl flooring and laminate flooring.

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Watch Now: 7 Things You Should Know About Vinyl and Laminate Flooring

Vinyl vs. Laminate Flooring: Major Differences

The ability of each type of flooring to stand up against moisture hinges on its materials. Vinyl flooring is all synthetic, so it can go anywhere. Limited moisture resistance dictates selective areas where laminate flooring may or may not be installed.

Vinyl Flooring

Item Purpose
UV Acrylic Coating Protects the floor from sun damage
Wear Layer Protects against scratches
Print or Image Layer The image or look of the flooring
PVC Layer Provides stability and support
Core The main body of the flooring made of PVC
Built-in Underlayment Soft layer helps with uneven subfloors

Vinyl flooring is a 100-percent synthetic material. In standard sheet vinyl and vinyl tiles, the base layer is usually fiberglass which is then coated in PVC vinyl and a plasticizer.

The resulting sheet is printed and embossed with a surface print layer. Over this, multiple wear layers are applied, along with a layer of no-wax polyurethane.

Not all plank vinyl flooring has built-in underlayment, though it's found on an increasing number of vinyl floors.

With vinyl plank flooring, the core layer is a thicker, multi-layer PVC vinyl. Luxury vinyl flooring comes in planks or tiles that interlock side-to-side to form a floating floor. The overall thickness for vinyl flooring ranges from 1.5 mm for sheet vinyl to 5 mm for luxury vinyl planks.

Laminate Flooring

Item Purpose
Wear Layer Clear aluminum oxide layer to protect floor against scratches
Print Layer The image or look of the flooring
Core Layer The main body of the floor, made of highly compressed wood fibers
Built-in Underlayment Soft layer helps with uneven subfloors

Laminate flooring is similar to luxury vinyl planks in its look and method of installation. The critical difference is that its core is made from wood byproducts bonded with resins. The top surface is a hard, transparent plastic wear layer that covers the printed design layer. The overall thickness for laminate flooring planks ranges from 6 mm to 12 mm.

As with plank vinyl, built-in underlayment is an option. But it's an option that's found on more laminate floors than ever as do-it-yourselfers decide they want to eliminate the step of rolling out separate underlayment.

Appearance

Laminate Flooring

Laminate flooring allows for deep, realistic three-dimensional embossing on its surfaces, with accurate images of the material being portrayed—wood, ceramic, or stone.

Vinyl Flooring

Many types of vinyl flooring can look realistic, especially luxury vinyl plank flooring. Thicker solid core vinyl flooring will look more like wood since deeper embossing is possible.

Best for Appearance: Laminate Flooring

While laminate flooring and luxury vinyl flooring are generally comparable in appearance, laminate flooring typically will more closely mimic hand-scraped hardwood, stone, ceramics, and other materials.

Laminate floor plank
Margot Cavin / The Spruce
Recommended Installation Areas
  Laminate Floor Vinyl Floor
Bathroom, Full or Partial No Yes
Powder Room Maybe Yes
Kitchen Maybe Yes
Dining Room Yes Yes
Living Room Yes Yes
Bedroom Yes Yes
Home Office Yes Yes
Mudroom No Yes

Cost

Laminate Flooring

Laminate flooring ranges from about $1.00 per square foot for 7 mm-thick planks to about $5.00 per square foot for 12 mm-thick planks.

Vinyl Flooring

Vinyl flooring can cost as little as $1.00 per square foot for thin, glue-down vinyl flooring. Vinyl costs rise to around $5.00 per square foot for luxury vinyl planks, and premium brands will cost more.

Best for Cost: Tied

Which is more expensive, laminate or vinyl flooring? It's a tie; laminate flooring and luxury vinyl flooring are roughly comparable in cost, although sheet vinyl does hold a slight edge. Both laminate flooring and vinyl flooring are usually less expensive than natural hardwood, engineered wood, and many types of ceramic or porcelain tile.

Water and Heat Resistance

Laminate Flooring

Virtually all laminate flooring uses a fiberboard core. Because this core is a wood product, it will soften and swell if it is exposed to water. The fiberboard core will not resume its original dimensions after it has dried. Additionally, the wear and design layers sometimes peel away after the core has become waterlogged. Severely water-damaged laminate flooring usually needs to be replaced; it cannot be fixed.

Properly installed laminate flooring, with tight seams and good baseboards or moldings, can tolerate pooled water, but only for a short period. For family bathrooms or other areas where standing water is likely, laminate flooring is a poor choice however, there may be newer laminate materials that are better at resisting water. If you can reasonably dedicate yourself to cleaning up occasional spills and puddles immediately, then laminate flooring may be used in areas of low moisture.

As far as heat resistance, there are two things to consider. The top layer could burn if you drop something extremely hot onto the surface. And, laminate does not tolerate constant temperature changes in a room because it will begin to expand and contract.

Vinyl Flooring

Older forms of vinyl flooring may have a fabric or felt backing that is not waterproof. But newer iterations of vinyl flooring are made of 100 percent polymer materials. Luxury vinyl flooring can be fully immersed in water for long periods, dried out, then reused, completely unaffected.

As with laminate, vinyl flooring can easily scorch if you drop a hot pan or appliance on the surface. However, temperature fluctuations do not affect vinyl flooring, unless it is extreme heat which can then cause the floor problems such as expansion and melted adhesive.

Best for Water and Heat Resistance: Vinyl Flooring

All types of vinyl flooring are not just water-resistant but are waterproof. Sheet vinyl, vinyl tile, and luxury vinyl flooring are usually made with materials that are 100-percent waterproof. In full bathrooms and damp locations such as basements, vinyl flooring materials excel over laminate materials. Sheet vinyl that comes in 12-foot wide rolls often requires no seaming, making it an excellent choice for a truly waterproof floor, and luxury vinyl flooring is a particularly good choice for basement remodels.

There's a fine line when it comes to which material beats the other out for heat resistance. Vinyl flooring potentially won't shrink or expand as drastically as laminate in extreme temperature fluctuations. But both materials somewhat tie in heat resistance since damage can be done to both under similar circumstances. You can also lay both materials over radiant heat flooring (provided you keep it to around 80 degrees Fahrenheit), but radiant heat may be a bit more effective under laminate flooring.

Tip

If you're looking for the best flooring option for pets, vinyl is the winner. In addition, laminate is slippery and may become very loud under the "click-click" of large pet toenails.

Luxury vinyl plank
Margot Cavin / The Spruce

Care and Cleaning

Laminate Flooring

Laminate flooring is best cleaned first with dry methods, such as with a dry mop or broom. If you need to wet-clean laminate flooring, you should use only a damp mop that feels almost dry to the touch.

Cleaning supplies for laminate floor
Margot Cavin / The Spruce

Vinyl Flooring

Vinyl flooring's strongest feature is that it is so easy to care for and clean. Vinyl flooring in good condition can be wet-mopped and, if necessary, it can be vigorously scrubbed with safe cleaning products.

Best for Care and Cleaning: Vinyl Flooring

While both laminate flooring and vinyl flooring are easy to keep clean, only vinyl flooring allows the entire span of cleaning methods, from sweeping with a dry broom to wet mopping.

Cleaning supplies for vinyl floor
Margot Cavin / The Spruce

Durability and Maintenance

Laminate Flooring

Laminate flooring is durable and low-maintenance. However, laminate flooring's many layers may eventually delaminate over time or if it is exposed to water for too long. Once the laminate's top wear layer is scratched or chipped, it cannot be repaired.

Once delamination starts to happen, the top layers begin to peel up and allow water to enter the lower layers.

Vinyl Flooring

Some vinyl flooring may delaminate. Thin plank vinyl flooring stands up better to water than more expensive, thicker vinyl flooring with a built-in underlayment. With the thin flooring, it cannot delaminate because it has no layers: it's a single cohesive layer of polyvinyl chloride (PVC). Thicker, more expensive plank vinyl flooring's soft underlayment is the weak link in its layering system.

Also, self-stick vinyl flooring tiles can loosen over time. On the whole, though, vinyl flooring is a tough flooring material that will stand up to high traffic demands.

Best for Durability and Maintenance: Vinyl Flooring

Vinyl flooring is a supremely durable, low-maintenance flooring, thus the industry term resilient flooring. Vinyl flooring is even used in commercial applications, where durability and maintenance are most important. If you're wondering what lasts longer, vinyl or laminate flooring, vinyl wins the race.

Standard vinyl floor plank
Margot Cavin / The Spruce

Installation

Laminate Flooring

Laminate flooring uses a click-and-lock installation method, where the tongue of one plank is fitted into the groove of an adjoining plank at an angle. Then the first plank is folded down until it is level with the other plank. This action draws the boards together and closes the seam. An ordinary circular saw or table saw equipped with a fine-tooth blade, or even a hand saw, is used to cut laminate planks.

Vinyl Flooring

Vinyl planks also use a click-and-lock method of installation. Vinyl flooring planks can be cut with a utility knife, as well. A score mark is first made, then the plank is bent back on itself and a second cut is made from the rear. Vinyl flooring does have its disadvantages: sheet vinyl can be a difficult material for do-it-yourselfers to install. The material is large, heavy, and unwieldy. Plus, it can be hard to make complicated cutouts from sheet goods. If you are installing sheet vinyl, professional installation is often your best bet.

Best for Installation: Tied

Both materials have advantages and disadvantages when it comes to the ease of installation. Vinyl or laminate planks are easier to DIY install than sheet vinyl. Vinyl needs fewer tools than laminate. Installing laminate flooring requires a saw and a certain skill level to use it correctly to cut down on the amount of waste.

Lifespan

Laminate Flooring

Laminate flooring warranties typically range from 10 to 25 years, but this is dependent on a rigorous maintenance schedule.

Vinyl Flooring

Warranties on luxury vinyl flooring often range up to 20 years.

Best for Lifespan: Tied

As long as laminate flooring is kept reasonably dry and is regularly cleaned, buyers may expect lifespans close to that of vinyl flooring.

Environmental Impact

Laminate Flooring

Some laminate flooring manufacturers offer products that qualify for LEED MR4 (Recycled Content) status. But laminate flooring still uses a plastic surface layer, and the melamine resins used in the creation of the core level are by no means green materials since they may off-gas chemicals.

Vinyl Flooring

Vinyl flooring has improved its green stature in recent years. Some vinyl flooring manufacturers now offer products that achieve a LEED credit EQ4.3 for Low-Emitting Material. Vinyl is a synthetic material that is known to produce toxic chemicals when burned. Vinyl does not decompose in landfills, and recycling it is usually not an option.

Best for Environmental Impact: Laminate Flooring

If using green building materials is important to you, laminate flooring has a small advantage, thanks to the natural wood content of the fiberboard core. Still, neither of these materials is especially environmentally friendly in the way that natural wood, linoleum, or bamboo floor coverings are.

Stain Resistance

Laminate Flooring

Laminate flooring is pressure-laminated with several layers, the top being a clear aluminum oxide layer that is superior for stain resistance.

Vinyl Flooring

Quality vinyl flooring is coated with a transparent urethane layer that provides excellent stain resistance.

Best for Stain Resistance: Tied

Good quality modern vinyl flooring and laminate flooring both receive wear layers treated with properties that do an excellent job of resisting stains.

Comfort and Sound

Laminate Flooring

Though laminate flooring does not feel like wood, it does have a warm feeling, especially when coupled with premium-quality underlayment. You can commonly hear people walking on laminate if they are wearing heels.

Vinyl Flooring

Vinyl floors of all types can feel cold or hard on the feet, especially when they are installed over concrete or existing ceramic tile floors. But walking with heels on vinyl flooring is typically quiet.

Best for Comfort and Sound: Laminate Flooring

Laminate flooring products can feel and sound somewhat hollow underfoot when compared to the wood floors they are supposed to mimic. But when combined with either foam or felt underlayment, laminate flooring may be quieter, softer, and more comfortable to walk on.

Resale Value

Laminate Flooring

Premium laminate flooring can lend extra resale value to a home, as long as it is relatively new and in good condition.

Vinyl Flooring

Major brand luxury vinyl plank flooring will bring decent resale value to a home. Inferior quality vinyl flooring will often be seen by buyers as a project-in-waiting once the house has sold.

Best for Resale Value: Tied

Quality laminate flooring and vinyl flooring lend a comparable amount of value to a home. Neither brings the high-value prestige of solid hardwood, engineered hardwood, designer ceramic tile, or natural stone floors. At the same time, quality laminate or vinyl flooring usually will not put off prospective home buyers.

The Verdict

If you're still asking what is better, vinyl or laminate flooring, it helps to know that one is not any better or worse than the other. Vinyl flooring is best for laundry rooms, wet bathrooms, and mudrooms. If you are installing flooring in those rooms, you'll probably want to choose vinyl flooring simply based on moisture resistance. For dry areas, laminate flooring works well. Buyers usually will find more style options with laminate flooring over vinyl flooring.

Top Brands

Laminate Flooring

Vinyl Flooring

FAQ
  • What is vinyl flooring?

    Vinyl flooring is a durable and waterproof floor that is easy to install as sheets, tiles, or as planks that connect to make a floating floor. It is great to use in bathrooms, kitchens, and any other room in a house.

  • What are the main differences between laminate and vinyl flooring?

    Laminate flooring is not waterproof, while vinyl flooring is 100 percent waterproof. Both floorings are stain-resistant and offer the option of underlayment, but are built a bit differently. Laminate uses a fiberboard core constructed of wood byproducts, and vinyl flooring is made from synthetic polymer materials. 

  • Is vinyl or laminate flooring easier to clean?

    Both types of flooring can be swept. Vinyl floors can be wet mopped, while laminate flooring should only be mopped with a mop that's almost dry.