Vinyl Plank vs Hardwood Flooring

Vinyl Plank vs Hardwood Flooring

You’ve decided to update your flooring, and you’ve narrowed it down to the final decision: vinyl plank vs. hardwood. Both are flooring options that add a touch of elegance to any room, but which is superior?

While vinyl plank and hardwoods look similar, there are benefits and drawbacks to each flooring type. Whether you have pets and kids and want the most durable flooring or you’re on a tighter budget and want the most cost-efficient option, we’ll break down the pros and cons to find the best flooring for your home.

In this guide, we’ll review six attributes to help you make the wisest floor purchasing decision.

Side-by-Side Comparison

 Vinyl PlankHardwood
DurabilityCan rip or tear. Can dent in areas underneath heavy furniture or appliances. Can be scratched, dinged, or dented. Harder woods and engineered woods are more durable than exotic woods.
WaterproofYesNo
CleaningCan be cleaned with no-wax cleaners. Can be wet mopped, vacuumed, or swept with a broom or dust mop. Must be cleaned using products designed for hardwoods. No wet mopping.
MaintenanceShine can be restored using a no-wax polishCan be waxed to restore shine. May require refinishing over time.
Pet-FriendlyYesYes, but softer woods can be scratched.
StylesA variety of styles mimicking the look of real wood availableMany different species of wood available, from traditional to exotic
DIY InstallationYesProfessional installation is recommended
Prone to FadingYes, when exposed to sunlightMay fade over time. Looks more natural. Can be refinished if needed.
SizesWidths from 6 to 9 inches, lengths up to 60 inchesWidths from 2 to 10 inches, lengths up to 7 feet. Custom sizing also available.
ColorsWide variety of colors, including cherry, white and ebony Many different colors available. Unfinished flooring can also be custom stained.
Flooring GuideVinyl Plank Flooring GuideHardwood Flooring Guide

Durability

Many parents with kids and pet owners love the look of hardwoods, but rough play, long claws, and heavy traffic is a concern. After all, who wants to spend hundreds or even thousands of dollars on flooring that’s going to be easily ruined? This is why durability is such a big factor when comparing vinyl plank flooring to hardwoods.

Scratches, chips, and dings aren’t a concern with vinyl plank. It doesn’t have to be refinished like hardwoods, which is a big advantage for budget-minded homeowners.

However, vinyl plank isn’t completely immune to damage. Because it is created using soft vinyl, this flooring can tear. Though it isn’t a common occurrence with everyday use, dropping something hard or sharp or dragging furniture or other heavy items can result in rips.

Because it is a soft flooring, it can also be prone to dents. This is especially true in areas underneath heavy furniture and appliances.

Pets or people can scratch hardwood flooring over time. moving furniture, or doing other activities. You can also chip or otherwise damage floors if you drop something heavy.

However, the true durability of hardwoods depends upon the species of wood you select. For example, common hardwood flooring like oak, maple, and cherry are popular because they are more durable. While exotic woods are beautiful and unique, they aren’t as hard and are thus more vulnerable to damage.

You can repair, replace, or refinish damaged hardwood floors. However, all of those options come at an expensive cost. However, with proper care, hardwoods can easily last for many years and are one of the most durable types of flooring on the market.

Engineered hardwood flooring, which features a real wood veneer over another wood like plywood, is also an option to consider. This flooring is more durable than solid hardwood flooring. The drawback is that you can only refinish it once or twice throughout the life of the flooring.

Even though people can scratch or damage it, hardwood flooring is overall the most durable. However, homeowners who have children or pets or don’t want to worry about the expense of refinishing floors over the years may be better with vinyl plank flooring.

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Water Resistance

One of the best things about vinyl plank is that you can get it wet without fear of damage. Vinyl plank flooring is completely waterproof, making it a great choice for any room.

You can truly install vinyl planks anywhere. Users can use this flooring in kitchens and bathrooms, where floors may get wet after using the bathtub or washing the dishes. You can also install it below-grade in basements.

You won’t damage vinyl plank flooring with spills from the kids or from wet-mopping the floors. Unlike other types of hard flooring, you won’t buckle, warp, or ruin vinyl planks with water or other liquids.

On the other hand, you can damage hardwood flooring if you expose it to water. Do not use wet mops, and wipe up spills promptly. Never install hardwood in rooms where moisture accumulates.

When people expose hardwood floors to water, it can completely ruin them, leading to costly replacements. In some cases, you can save hardwoods. The process is time-consuming and professionals should handle it. They can do the job correctly and ensure there is no harmful growth of mold.

Because vinyl plank is waterproof and you can install it in any room, it is superior to hardwood flooring when it comes to water resistance. Anyone looking for an option for basements, bathrooms, kitchens, or other rooms where hardwoods shouldn’t be installed will be pleased with the performance of vinyl planks.

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Color & Style Selection

One of the reasons that vinyl plank is growing in popularity is because there are so many different styles that mimic the look of hardwoods. From cherry to oak or even exotic cedars, manufacturers are introducing new vinyl flooring products that look more realistic than ever.

Today’s modern printing methods give beautiful details to every vinyl plank. With different patterns and unique textures, planks can often look and even feel very similar to wood flooring.

Vinyl plank comes in a variety of different sizes. Typical widths range from about 6 inches to over 9 inches, while lengths vary from around 36 inches to about 60 inches. Thicknesses vary from 2 millimeters to over 4 millimeters.

Most vinyl planks are rectangular, similar to other types of flooring such as laminate and hardwoods. However, some manufacturers also create square planks. Vinyl plank comes in a variety of different colors as well, from whitewashed to ebony.

Hardwood flooring comes in many different varieties. Different species include walnut, maple, hickory, ash, birch, and pine – just to name a few.

You can purchase hardwoods in many different colors and finishes. A variety of glosses and textures are also available. Hardwoods come in both modern and traditional styles.

Unfinished hardwood floors are also an option for anyone who wants a custom color. You can apply a stain to this flooring for a unique color unlike any other. This is also a great idea for matching new floors with existing wood floors.

Hardwood flooring is available in a variety of widths from 2 inches to 10 inches. Traditionally, 5 inches to 8 inches are the most popular widths. Lengths vary from 1 foot to 7 feet.

Most hardwood floor planks are ¾-inch thick. However, in recent years, manufacturers have come out with a “thin-profile” glue-down hardwood flooring that’s about 5/16-inch thick.

Though both have a wide variety of choices, hardwood has the edge over vinyl when it comes to colors and styles. With so many wood species to choose from, many different sizes, and the ability to custom stain flooring, hardwoods are the most versatile when compared to vinyl plank.

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Ease of Installation

There are two types of vinyl plank flooring. Fortunately, both types are fairly easy for homeowners who have the right tools and a little bit of time to install the flooring.

You install the first type of vinyl plank as a floating floor. A tongue-and-groove design means that you snap the planks together without the need for nails or glue, similar to installing laminate. Because this flooring is soft vinyl, you can easily cut it to size using a utility knife or scissors.

The other type of vinyl plank flooring is peel-and-stick planks, a type of flooring that even the beginner can install themselves. Simply peel off the paper backing, and stick the plank onto the subfloor below. This method takes very few steps, including measuring, lining up each plank, and cutting to size with a utility knife.

On the other hand, hardwood flooring isn’t so easy to install. While it isn’t impossible for a homeowner to take on the task, it requires more work from start to finish. You will need more tools. and this job can take days or even weeks, compared to vinyl plank that you can install in just hours.

With hardwood flooring, you must properly prep the subfloor, which takes time and know-how. You must install a vapor barrier before the flooring is even put down. Then, measure the flooring and cut it using a saw, then nail it to the floor.

You must take other considerations into account when installing hardwood flooring. This includes installing the flooring in a way that takes into consideration the expansion and contraction that occurs with wood. Failure to properly measure and install can result in buckling and damage to the floor.

Because there are so many steps involved and it can be very time-consuming and easy to make a very costly mistake, most homeowners opt to pay a professional to install their flooring. This adds additional costs to the total price of the project, which isn’t ideal for anyone sticking to a strict budget.

In this category, vinyl plank is the clear winner. Most people are able to easily install it using just basic tools, whereas hardwood installation requires more tools, time, and expertise.

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Care & Maintenance

Vinyl flooring is a great choice for the low-maintenance household. For daily vinyl plank cleaning, a broom, dust mop, sweeper, or vacuum cleaner can be used to clean up dirt, crumbs, and dust. For deeper cleaning, you can use a wet mop.

Floors that look dull over time can get back their shine with polishes specifically for vinyl floors. The only special consideration to take is to make sure you select a no-wax cleaner. Vinyl flooring does not require wax, and using polishes or cleaners containing wax can result in buildup.

Vinyl can fade over time or when exposed to sunlight, so it’s important to use rugs in very sunny areas or to use shades and blinds. If the flooring fades, there is no way to restore it other than to simply remove the planks and replace them.

Hardwood flooring has several special considerations. Because it can’t get wet, you should always immediately wipe spills up. You should never use wet mops on hardwoods.

You can perform daily cleaning with a broom or dust mop. Users can use a vacuum, but it’s important to choose a model the manufacturer designed for use on hardwoods that does not have a beater bar, which can scratch and damage floors.

You can do heavier cleaning using a product designed specifically for hardwood floors. Over time, hardwoods may lose their shine and luster, so they may need waxing.

Hardwoods will also fade naturally over time. While hardwood flooring can easily retain its beauty for years, heavy traffic, scratches, or just wear from age will begin to show. When this occurs, a professional can refinish the flooring.

Overall, vinyl flooring is the easiest to care for on a daily basis. However, for the long term, hardwoods go the distance and with proper care and maintenance can look good as new for many years.

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Pricing

When shopping for new flooring, most consumers have a budget in mind. New flooring can be expensive, but which is the more budget-friendly option when comparing vinyl plank to hardwood flooring?

The cost of vinyl plank flooring ranges between $2 per square foot and $7 per square foot, on average. When compared to other types of flooring, this is certainly one of the most affordable options. Since vapor barriers, nails, and adhesives aren’t required, no additional expenses are typically added to this cost.

Since many people install vinyl tile themselves, this is an extremely cost-efficient option. However, homeowners that don’t want to tackle this task themselves can expect to pay around $1 to $4 per square foot for installation.

Hardwood flooring is one of the most expensive flooring types. Traditional mid-grade woods cost approximately $5 to $10 per square foot. Exotic woods may cost as much as $15 or even more per square foot, which is a dramatic price difference when compared to vinyl plank.

Since many people don’t have the tools or knowledge to install hardwood flooring themselves, they often pay a contractor to complete the job. This adds, on average, an additional $5 to $8 per square foot for the installation of the floor.

It’s easy to see that vinyl plank flooring is the more cost-efficient option, offering the beautiful look of wood at a fraction of the cost. However, it’s also important to note that hardwood flooring can easily last for decades, whereas you will have to replace vinyl plank more often. Over the long-term, hardwoods may be the smarter option.

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The Verdict

Vinyl plank flooring and hardwoods each have their benefits and drawbacks. Vinyl plank is the more affordable option that could be the best choice for homes with kids and pets, or homes where the owner doesn’t want to spend hours on care and maintenance. This type of flooring is also best for bathrooms, kitchens, and other rooms where moisture is found.

On the flip side, hardwood floors are extremely durable, even though people can scratch, ding, or damage them when exposed to water. They come in a variety of colors and styles to fit any home. Though they are more expensive, with proper care, they can easily last a lifetime.

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Nikki Seppala

About Nikki Seppala

Nikki is an experienced writer and editor and has worked in industries that range from home improvement to entrepreneurship. For over 10 years, she's used her unique talent and love of the written word to uncover the stories that people want to read.

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