Laminate vs Vinyl Plank Flooring: What’s the Difference?

There’s a phrase commonly used in home design circles: “A wood look is a good look.” In other words, the unique look of wood flooring can help improve the overall appearance of just about any room, making it a style choice that’s almost a no-brainer. But with so many different types of products on the market all offering a similar appearance, your main challenge will be deciding which wood-look flooring option is the right one for your home. Whether it’s durability, easy maintenance, or affordability you’re after, you need a flooring type that best matches the needs of your household. 

For a wealth of reasons, laminate and luxury vinyl plank are among the most popular choices for wood-look flooring. But, what’s the difference between these types of floors? Keep reading for our full comparison of the two products, and to learn which may be the best choice for your next project. 

Laminate vs Vinyl Flooring: The Similarities 

While we’ll be focusing mainly on the differences between laminate and vinyl flooring, it’s important to note that there are also quite a few similarities between these two flooring types. Let’s do a comparison of those first. 

Both Alternatives are More Affordable than Genuine Hardwood 

Genuine hardwood has a timeless appearance that can add long-lasting style and warmth to any home. But it’s not without its disadvantages, and cost is at the top of that list. Real wood floors will typically be significantly more expensive than wood-look alternatives. So, to get the look of wood without the price premium, many customers opt for either laminate or vinyl plank flooring. If you have a tight budget but are hooked on the hardwood look, these two flooring options will be your best options. 

Lower Maintenance and Fewer Worries 

Both laminate and vinyl flooring are stain-and scratch-resistant. This means they’ll be easier to clean than hardwood floors, and you’ll probably be a lot less stressed next time something is spilled or dropped on your floors. Of course, it’s still possible to damage both laminate and vinyl flooring with very heavy wear, so we wouldn’t suggest you try testing the limits of either material’s durability! 

Another advantage offered by both vinyl plank and laminate flooring is that each is available in fully waterproof options. That’s right—you can enjoy the look of genuine hardwood flooring, even in water-prone areas of your home, like your bathrooms, kitchen, or laundry room. Some of these products are even rated for installation directly onto a concrete slab, making them suitable for the basement. Even if you select an option that isn’t 100% waterproof, most laminate and vinyl floors today are water-resistant, making them less susceptible to damage from light exposure to water and moisture. 

coffee spill being cleaned from 100% waterproof vinyl plank flooring

Realistic Hardwood Visuals 

Today’s wood floor alternatives have evolved to closely mimic the look and feel of genuine hardwood. When it comes to laminate vs vinyl flooring, most people can’t tell the difference between the two, and without close examination, they often won’t even realize that the floors are not actual wood. The grains, textures, and looks of laminate flooring and vinyl plank flooring have been designed with incredible detail, giving homeowners the real feel for less cost—and with less long-term worries. 

Differences Between Laminate and Vinyl Plank Flooring 

Laminate vs Vinyl Flooring Construction and Appearance 

Homeowners tend to choose vinyl plank flooring or laminate flooring for the same primary reasons: they want wood-look flooring but need a product that’s more affordable and durable than genuine hardwood. Both alternatives offer water resistance, resistance to mold and mildew, scratch and stain resistance, and are durable enough for high-traffic areas. But although they offer similar advantages and a similar look and feel, each product is crafted from very different materials. 

So how do laminate and vinyl plank differ when it comes to achieving their realistic wood looks? Let’s break down what the two are made of: 

Laminate flooring is built on a core of dense wood composite (also known as hardboard or high-density fiberboard). This wood composite core gives laminate flooring its impressive durability, and when compared to vinyl plank flooring, it provides more of a wood “feel” when you walk or knock on it. Atop the core is the photographic grain image, which looks nearly indistinguishable from the grain of a real plank of wood and allows laminate flooring manufacturers to reproduce the appearance of nearly any wood species. The final component of wood laminate flooring is the wear layer. This clear topcoat gives laminate its resistance to staining, scratching, fading, and overall wear, helping it look great for years to come. 

Vinyl plank flooring is constructed in similar layers but with one key difference—its core is made of dense vinyl, a type of plastic. But vinyl flooring is also finished with a realistic wood look top layer that closely mimics the look of real hardwood. Plus, vinyl plank flooring often features a textured surface that matches the wood grain pattern, offering a convincing replica of the real thing. 

In the past, laminate was the gold standard for mimicking the genuine looks and textures of hardwood. However, with updated technology, vinyl plank styles now also achieve a look and feel that is very close to real hardwood. As a result, when pitting laminate vs vinyl flooring in a battle of aesthetics, the result is essentially a draw. 

Vinyl Plank Has Better Durability 

Long-term durability is often at the top of shoppers’ wish lists when searching for new flooring. Overall, both vinyl plank and laminate flooring are highly durable and built to stand up to the traffic typical in a busy home. And within each category, different products will offer different levels of durability. Many laminate and vinyl plank floors are covered by limited lifetime warranties for staining, fading, wearing, and more.  

However, overall, vinyl plank is commonly considered to be more durable than laminate flooring. If your household is consistently filled with the sounds of active kids, energetic pets, and a generally dynamic atmosphere, vinyl plank flooring will probably be the better option for long-term durability.  

Water Resistance Can Make a Difference 

This is one area where vinyl plank truly shines. While laminate flooring is often water-resistant, and there are even some waterproof laminate styles now available, you’ll find a deeper selection of water-resistant or fully waterproof flooring if you choose vinyl plank. An important point to consider is that it’s not just surface water that can be harmful to flooring, but also the moisture in the air. In fact, because the core is made from a wood product, some laminate products can swell and buckle in extremely humid environments. Vinyl plank’s non-porous synthetic core is more likely to hold its shape when exposed to excessive moisture. 

This means that vinyl plank floors are usually the superior choice for moisture-prone areas, such as humid basements, bathrooms, laundry rooms, and kitchens. And if you live in a high-moisture area of the country, vinyl will probably be a better choice—unless you select a waterproof laminate. 

100% waterproof grey laminate in a laundry room

Care and Maintenance

Both laminate and vinyl plank are known for being easy to clean. It’s one of the top reasons that homeowners have increasingly been opting for these products over solid or engineered hardwoods. 

However, when it comes to cleaning wet messes, each flooring material requires slightly different care. While cleaning laminate flooring, you generally need to be more mindful of how wet a mop you use, because even water-resistant laminate can still be damaged by excessive water buildup. It’s recommended to use only a damp mop and never let any liquids stand on a laminate floor. You should also use specific laminate flooring cleaners to ensure you don’t damage the topcoat. For more flooring care and maintenance tips, see our laminate flooring care page. 

Since vinyl plank is inherently more resistant to water, you can use a slightly wetter mop for cleaning. But you should still be careful to not totally soak the floors because water can seep underneath the planks and deteriorate the adhesives. Additionally, vinyl plank floors generally don’t require special cleaners, which makes vinyl plank slightly easier to maintain. Just remember not to use ammonia, bleach, detergents, or abrasive cleaners, as these may leave a dull film on your flooring. For more vinyl flooring tips, check out our page on vinyl flooring maintenance and care. 

Where Can They Be Installed?

Laminate or vinyl plank floors are both prized for their versatile installation capabilities. Both can be installed on stairs, below grade, directly onto a concrete slab, or over a standard subfloor material. The wealth of water-resistant and waterproof options means that there are laminate and vinyl products appropriate for the bathroom, laundry room, or basement.  

Wrapping It All Up

We hope this was a helpful comparison of laminate and vinyl plank flooring options. If you’re looking for a more affordable and versatile alternative to hardwood floorings, you’re on the right track. And if durability and ease of cleaning and maintenance are of high importance to you, then laminate or vinyl plank may be great choices worth looking into. For even more personalized recommendations we welcome you to schedule a free in-home consultation, and a flooring professional will come and talk you through all your options. 

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