vinyl plank vs laminate flooring

Vinyl vs. Laminate Flooring – A Complete Guide

If you looking to learn about vinyl vs. laminate flooring, you have come to the right place. Both promise to be durable, affordable, and easier to maintain than hardwood, but how do they stack up against each other? Does either type compare to more expensive flooring, or do they fall flat?

We have thoroughly analyzed over 10 key buying factors to help you make the best decision.

Buying flooring is not a straightforward process and can leave customers very overwhelmed and confused. Our main goal at Floor Critics is to help lessen those obstacles by providing you with free educational resources and access to our experienced team and partner network of flooring experts.

If you have any questions as you read, please don’t hesitate to contact usOur in-house team of experts and our 2,000+ flooring partners are ready to help! 

In This Article

Vinyl vs. Laminate Flooring: Advantages and Disadvantages

Vinyl Flooring

Vinyl flooring is a terrific choice if you are looking for a floor that is durable, easy to install, and affordable. There are many types of vinyl flooring: luxury vinyl plank (LVP), wood plastic composite (WPC), stone plastic composite (SPC), luxury vinyl tile (LVT), and sheet vinyl. According to the Statista Research Department, vinyl flooring sales in the United States in 2019 were ~ $6 billion dollars which represented about 22% of the total floor covering market. Thus, vinyl flooring is much more popular amongst consumers when compared to laminate flooring which represents only ~3% of the total market. 

Advantages of Vinyl Flooring
  • Easy to install (most are click and lock)
  • Cost: quality vinyl flooring costs at least $3 sq. ft. (much less than real hardwood)
  • Easy clean and are low maintenance 
  • Variety of styles and designs that mimic the look of wood, tile and stone
  • WPC and SPC vinyl flooring is 100% waterproof (ensure the brand you choose is waterproof vs. water resistant)
Disadvantages of Vinyl Flooring
  • Buying a wear layer less than 12 mils may lead to increased wear and need for replacement sooner
  • As the material is 100% synthetic, public perception could lead to lower resale value vs. hardwood flooring
  • Some brands have a questionable environmental credentials (read below for more on Health & Safety)

READ NEXT: Vinyl Flooring Buying Guide

Laminate Flooring

While not as popular as other types of flooring, laminate flooring is a great option you should consider if you want the look and feel of hardwood, but at an affordable price point. According to the Statista Research Department, laminate flooring sales in the United States in 2019 were $898 million dollars which represented about 3% of the total floor covering market. 

Advantages of Laminate Flooring
  • Appearance mimics styles found in hand-scraped hardwood and burnished brick 
  • Cost: quality laminate flooring costs at least $3 sq. ft. 
  • After carpet, laminate flooring if a close second for comfort
  • Easy clean and are low maintenance 
  • Variety of styles and designs that mimic the look of wood, tile and stone
  • WPC and SPC vinyl flooring is 100% waterproof so it can be used in any room in the home
Disadvantages of Laminate Flooring
  • Not all brands are waterproof so laminate is not recommended in bathrooms or the kitchen 
  • Cannot be refinished 
  • Primarily require only dry cleaning methods
  • Lower return on investment (ROI) as it is less popular than vinyl flooring
  • Similar to vinyl flooring, some laminate brands have a questionable environmental credentials such as not being biodegradable (read below for more on Health & Safety)
  • Can be noisier than alternate options 

READ NEXT: Laminate Flooring Buying Guide

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Side-By-Side Comparison

 Vinyl PlankLaminate
Appearance & DesignLarger section of products and skus on the market.Better, more realistic appearance and styles.
DurabilityExtremely durable. Great for pets and high traffic areas.Extremely durable. Prone to scratching over time. May also chip at the corners with extensive wear.
Costs$1 sq. ft. to $6 sq. ft. or more (material only).$1 sq. ft. to $6 sq. ft. or more (material only).
WaterproofYes, better for areas with moisture such as bathrooms and kitchens.New waterproof products just hitting the market.
CleaningCan be cleaned using steam mops or wet mops. Non-abrasive, mild cleaners should be used. Can be cleaned with laminate-specific products (dry to the touch). Wet mops should never be used. Acetone can be used to remove difficult stains.
MaintenanceNo wax should ever be used on vinyl. No wax polishes can be used to restore shine. Laminate-specific product can be used to restore shine. Products can be used to repair scratches and chips as needed.
Health & SafetyMany made from phthalates (plasticizers); look for phthalate-free products Made from adhesives that release formaldehyde gas, look for low VOC products
Pet-FriendlyYes, better equipped than LaminateYes
StylesAvailable in a variety of wood styles, including oak, mahogany, and cherry. More realistic looking styles. Available in a variety of wood styles, including oak, mahogany, and cherry. Also available in travertine, ceramic, and stone styles.
Comfort & SoundCan feel cold if directly installed on subfloor without insulation.More comfortable than vinyl floor. Underlayment helps minimize sound.
InstallationFloating click and lock, peel-and-stick.

Best for any room.
Floating click and lock (need underlayment).

Avoid for bathroom, kitchen, and laundry rooms (if not waterproof)
Prone to FadingMore prone to fading.Less prone to fading.
SizesTypically 4-inches to 8-inches wide. Lengths typically up to 48 inches. Can be cut to size using a utility knife. Widths starting at 4 inches and can reach up to 16 inches. Lengths range from 36 to 48 inches. Can be cut to size using a handsaw or circular saw.
Top BrandsProximity Mills
Mohawk
COREtec Plus
Other brands
Quick Step
Mohawk
Other brands
Flooring GuideVinyl Flooring GuideLaminate Flooring Guide

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Appearance and Design: Which looks better? Which has more styles?

Vinyl flooring is plastic. The creation of vinyl planks does not involve wood. However, manufacturers have used the latest technology to give a realistic look to vinyl. This includes color variations, textures, and patterns that replicate the appearance of wood at a fraction of the cost and with all of the benefits previously covered.

Laminate is wood but its design is on top of it, on a photographic layer. Most laminate manufacturers utilize modern printing techniques to give their products a more realistic look and texture.

If your criteria is only appearance, our flooring experts give the edge to laminate flooring. With advancements in printing technology, laminate flooring has some very realistic looking styles and colors. While various colors and types of wood are available, laminate goes beyond just wood. Laminate designed to mimic the look of travertine, ceramic tile, and stone are also options with this type of flooring. 

However, if you are looking for the largest selection of products, vinyl flooring has the clear edge. On our team’s recent trip to a big box retailer, we found that vinyl flooring had 2X the selection of laminate flooring products. 

Vinyl-plank flooring is available in multiple lengths and widths. Planks are generally four to eight inches wide and between 36 and 48 inches long. Because it is soft vinyl, you can easily cut it into smaller sizes using a utility knife.

In terms of styles and colors, vinyl plank offers something for everyone. From whitewashed oak for the shabby chic interior, cherry or mahogany for a classic look, or even black for modern rooms, there is no shortage of styles and colors to choose from.

Laminate offers widths of about 4’’-16’’. Lengths vary from 36 to over 48 inches. Like vinyl plank, you can also cut laminate to size but because it is wood, it is not quite as easy to cut.

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Durability

Consumers often turn to vinyl-plank or laminate flooring to get the look of hardwoods without the risk of scratches, dings, and other flaws that can be time-consuming (and expensive) to repair. One of the primary benefits touted by both vinyl plank and laminate flooring is durability. How do these two types of flooring hold up when put to the test?

Durability

The winner here is vinyl flooring. The two main drawbacks of laminate flooring (susceptible to water damage and inability to refinish the floor if the top layer is damaged) can greatly impact its durability. 

Vinyl flooring, specifically, vinyl planks (WPC and SPC), are 100% waterproof and are less likely to scratch. If a higher wear layer is purchased (12 mils or greater), the vinyl flooring could last 20 years or more.  Vinyl plank is also a good choice for homes with children and pets. It is extremely resistant to damage and will not have to be refinished over time like traditional hardwoods. With both types of flooring, shades or blinds should be used in rooms with a lot of sunlight, and area rugs can also be used in brighter spots that may be more apt to fade.

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Cost: Which provides the best return on investment (ROI)?

Vinyl flooring will provide a higher ROI than laminate flooring for the following reasons:

  • Resale value/public perception: sales of vinyl flooring are almost 6X the sales of laminate flooring so consumer seem to prefer vinyl flooring
  • Durability: while both can last many years, laminate flooring has a greater probability of needing to be replaced sooner than vinyl flooring

Costs for both types of flooring typically range from $1 sq. ft. to $6 sq. ft. or more.

  • Bargain: <$1 sq. ft. (think peel and stick products)
  • Moderate: $1 to $3 sq. ft.
  • Quality: >$3 sq. ft.

Note the costs above are just material costs. Install costs can range from $2 to $5 sq. ft. and costs of removing old flooring sales tax, etc. would add on further. 

With the cost being about the same, the advantages above push us to give the nod to vinyl flooring. 

READ NEXT: See our detailed vinyl flooring and laminate flooring cost guides for more information.

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Warranty

Both vinyl and laminate flooring warranties are similar. Length varies by brand, but on average, bargain products like peel and stick will have a 1 year or less warranty while high quality brands will offer 20 years to lifetime. 

Many customers are upset to learn that a warranty does not cover some key items or can be voided. For example, deep scratches or dents caused by moving furniture or from high heels are not covered. In addition, not following proper cleaning instructions or issues caused by the installer can void a warranty.

Our advice is to do the following: 

  • Clearly read and understand the warranty (don’t gloss it over)
  • Use a trusted installer who has worked with the brand before (consider the cost savings of doing yourself vs. coding the warranty if something goes wrong)
  • Avoid very inexpensive products where the warranty is less than 10 years

Most product issues or customer complaints arise not from the product itself, but instead from the installation.

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Resistance To Water

One of the drawbacks of hardwood is that it can’t get wet or it will be completely ruined. Vinyl-plank flooring and laminate both offer the look of hardwood, but how do they compare when exposed to water?

Because vinyl flooring is virtually waterproof, it is the winner in comparison to laminate flooring in terms of water resistance. Note that many large brands such as Shaw and Mannington have now started to produce waterproof laminate products so the gap could be closing. 

Vinyl plank has grown in popularity because it is resistant to water. This means it can be installed in bathrooms, kitchens, or other areas where there’s moisture without the worry of warping or buckling. It is completely waterproof and will not succumb to damage, provided you have installed it correctly.

On the other hand, you should not expose laminate to water. Most laminate flooring is made of a fiberboard core that will change its form when exposed to water. Standing water or high moisture levels in a room can lead to buckling, gapping, separating, and warping.

While not a common complaint, some laminate owners have experienced mold and mildew, which was almost always because of exposure to moisture. This is not a concern with vinyl flooring unless you installed it in a home that had this problem prior to installation.

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Comfort and Sound

When comparing the two types of flooring, laminate is our winner when it comes to comfort.

Anyone who has stood on bare flooring for hours knows just how tough it can be on the legs, knees, and back. When installing new flooring, it’s important to consider just how comfortable the flooring will be.

Because you install vinyl flooring directly on a concrete subfloor, it’s often not the most comfortable flooring. It can also feel cold because there is no insulation underneath.

Laminate flooring, on the other hand, is traditionally more comfortable. It is much thicker than vinyl, immediately making it more comfortable. Using a foam underlayment underneath can also add to the comfort level and reduce the sound impact.

All bare flooring can get cold depending on the temperature of the room, but laminate – especially flooring installed with a thick underlayment – is warmer than vinyl. Underfloor heating systems can also be installed for an additional cost to further warm up these floors.

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Cleaning & Maintenance

Vinyl flooring is easier to clean as it allows for virtually all cleaning methods while laminate flooring is best done with dry methods.  

Many consumers opt for vinyl or laminate flooring because care and maintenance is so simple. After all, they don’t have to tackle refinishing (which is usually best left to the professionals) or take special precautions when cleaning the floor the way they would with hardwoods or other types of flooring.

Vinyl flooring is one of the easiest floors to clean. A wet mop can be used, but it’s important to note that pouring water or otherwise drenching the floor isn’t recommended on peel-and-stick planks because the water can get underneath seams and edges and break down the adhesive.

Harsh cleansers aren’t needed to clean vinyl planks. A mild cleanser will sufficiently clean up even the biggest messes. A traditional mop and/or a dust mop (but not a steam mop) can be used to effectively clean vinyl flooring.

Vinyl floors also don’t require waxing, as using wax will result in a buildup that requires stripping. While regular cleaning will help vinyl flooring retain its shine, you can easily restore floors that appear dull by using a polish or product designed for no-wax floors.

The biggest concern with vinyl flooring is dents caused by heavy furniture. You can purchase Floor protectors online or from a local big box home improvement store to prevent dents and damage to the floor. It’s also important to remember never to drag furniture or appliances, and instead lift when able or use plywood sheeting to prevent scuffs or scratches.

Laminate flooring is also easy to clean and maintain, but there are a few precautions to take to avoid damaging these floors.

For daily cleaning, a broom, dust mop, or vacuum cleaner designed for use on laminate floors can tackle everyday messes. You should always wipe up any water or other spills immediately.

You should never use a wet mop on laminate. Only use soap-free cleansers. In addition, always use products designed for laminate flooring. You can spray these on the surface and wipe them off with a cloth or dry mop. Note: Steam mops are generally NOT safe for use on laminate, with few exceptions.

You can tackle tough spots like oil, paint, markers, or inks using acetone or nail polish remover. These are generally safe for use on laminate, but consult with the manufacturer if you’re unsure.

Laminate flooring does not require waxing. It generally retains its beauty and shine over time. However, you can restore floors that look dull using products specific to laminate. You can also repair scratches and chips using specialty markers, putties, and other products.

Although both types of flooring are easy to care for, vinyl plank has the edge when it comes to ease of care and maintenance. You don’t need specialty cleaners. You can also wet-mop the floor. That makes it easier to care for when compared against laminate flooring.

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Health & Safety

Both vinyl and laminate flooring is made from materials that could be toxic to your health. It is worth spending some extra time learning about the product before you purchase.  

Vinyl flooring is made from phthalates (plasticizers) which make plastics more durable. Per the CDC, the exact effect on humans is not fully clear. When looking for vinyl flooring it is best to seek brands that advertise low VOC (Volatile Organic Compound) flooring that is phthalate-free. In addition, try to find flooring that is nail-down or that interlocks vs. glue down flooring which can emit VOCs.

Laminate is made from adhesives that release formaldehyde gas. According to the CDC, most humans don’t have any health issues when exposed to low levels. However, it could irritate the skin, nose, and throat. Similarly to vinyl floors, you should look for floors with low VOCs. You also look for products that are GreenGuard certified.

Reach out to our team of experts and they can help you make an informed decision.

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Installation

Many homeowners choose to tackle flooring installation themselves in order to save hundreds or even thousands of dollars on installation costs. With the right tools and a little know-how, homeowners can install both vinyl plank flooring and laminate, but which is easiest?

Ease Of Installation

When comparing vinyl flooring to laminate flooring, it is a close race as to which is easier to install. However, the installation of vinyl plank requires fewer tools and steps, so it is the superior choice in this category. Installing peel-and-stick vinyl plank flooring is easier than tongue-and-groove flooring, and even beginners can tackle this DIY project.

There are two ways to install vinyl plank flooring, depending on the type that you purchase. LVP flooring with a tongue-and-groove design easily clicks together. Because vinyl is a softer material, you can cut and score pieces by simply using a utility knife.

The other type of vinyl plank flooring is peel-and-stick. As the name suggests, this floor has a backing that is peeled off to expose adhesive and each plank is then applied to the prepared subfloor underneath. You can easily cut planks with a utility knife for the perfect fit.

Like vinyl plank, homeowners who like to tackle DIY projects can install laminate flooring. However, the installation of this flooring requires more tools, including a hand saw or circular saw to cut each piece. If you are going to install the laminate below-ground, such as in a basement, you will also need a vapor barrier to protect against moisture.

Before installing laminate, underlayment will need to be applied over the subfloor. This is a type of padding that is used to not only fix any minor deviations in the subfloor but to also improve acoustics. Some laminate comes with the underlayment already attached.

Similar to vinyl plank flooring, laminate has a tongue-and-groove design so that you can install it as a “floating floor” without the need for glue or nails. Installation can be time-consuming, but most homeowners can tackle a room in just one day.

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Best Laminate Flooring Brands

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Best Vinyl Flooring Brands

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Samples / Where to Purchase?

The Floor Critics team of experts can help you with questions for your flooring needs. Our in-house team of experts and our 2,000+ local flooring partners are ready to help and provide you with free, honest advice and connect you with the best local flooring store!

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FAQs

Is Vinyl Plank Flooring Better Than Laminate?

Vinyl plank flooring is considered the superior choice because of its durability. Since vinyl planks are made with 100% plastic, they are moisture resistant. Therefore vinyl flooring is ideal to install in bathrooms, kitchens, and basements.

Another aspect to remember is that there are three types of vinyl flooring: WPC flooring, rigid core, and standard vinyl. The WPC is a wood plastic and polymer composite. Rigid core planks are made with limestone powder, stabilizer, and polyvinyl chloride. The rigid core planks are more robust and are suitable for outdoor decking.

On the other hand, laminate flooring is not suitable for outdoor areas and isn’t as durable as vinyl. That said, homeowners tend to pick laminate flooring because they’re more aesthetically pleasing and come in more colors and designs.

You’ll also love how easy it is to maintain vinyl flooring. You can use steam mops, brooms, and any type of mop when cleaning your vinyl floors. Laminate flooring requires special cleaning aids and tools to keep the surface clean.

Which Is More Durable: Laminate Or Vinyl Flooring?

Vinyl plank flooring has a longer lifespan than laminate flooring and is less prone to getting scratched over time. This is ideal if you have pets with long claws. Additionally, vinyl floors hold up well under pressure so they won’t crack or split under heavy furniture.

You’ll appreciate how well vinyl holds up in areas with heavy foot traffic. Since vinyl is not affected by water you can install them anywhere in your home and they won’t warp or snap. The way you install your vinyl floors will have a major impact on durability, so ensure that you follow the instructions carefully.

Laminate flooring is also durable but the surface scratches easily. That’s why it’s important to select quality laminate planks from reputable brands such as Shaw or Mohawk. Some brands offer laminate flooring that has a high scratch-resistance rating.

Which Costs More: Laminate Or Vinyl?

Pricing is pretty similar for vinyl and laminate flooring. You can expect to pay between $1 to $6 per square foot or more.  This excludes installation costs, which will set you back an extra $2 to $5 per square foot if you’re hiring professionals.

Is Laminate More Scratch-Resistant Than Vinyl?

No, laminate flooring is not more scratch-resistant than vinyl. That’s why you need special cleaning tools and detergents to clean laminate floors– because the surface of the planks tend to scratch easily. You have to use microfiber mops and non-abrasive cleaning aids on laminate flooring.

One upside to laminate flooring is that they don’t fade as much as vinyl can. However, laminate may be more prone to fading when exposed to UV rays. So make sure you install your laminate floors in a room that doesn’t get a lot of sunlight.

Is Laminate Or Vinyl Better For Dogs and Cats?

While both types of flooring can withstand daily use, kids, pets, and heavy traffic, vinyl flooring is superior. Although scratches and chips can occur over time, its high resistance to fading and overall durability makes it the top choice for anyone looking for flooring that can last for years to come.

Are Vinyl And Laminate Floating Or Stick-Down Flooring?

Vinyl flooring comes in both floating and peel-and-stick installation types. Laminate flooring requires floating installation. Floating floors mean that the planks fit and lock together, similar to how puzzle pieces fit together. This prevents moisture from getting under the floorboards. This installation type is sturdier and creates an even surface. Peel-and-stick vinyl flooring comes with adhesive backing that allows you to simply stick your planks down. Most people don’t use peel-and-stick flooring because it’s difficult to remove when it’s time to renovate or replace your vinyl flooring.

Will Pet Accidents Damage or Stain Your Vinyl Planks Or Laminate?

Yes, dog or cat urine may damage your LVP or laminate floors if left for a long period of time. Just as you would with hardwood, be sure to clean up any accidents or spills as quickly as possible. Not doing so could lead to mold, mildew, or other damage to your flooring.

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Which is Better Vinyl or Laminate?

Vinyl planks and laminate each have their benefits and drawbacks. They are both also a cost-efficient alternative to hardwood and other types of flooring.

Laminate has a more realistic appearance. It comes in many styles and colors to perfectly complement any home. It is extremely durable. It will retain its beauty for many years when properly maintained. Overall, consumers will find it’s the superior choice for most rooms.

On the other hand, vinyl flooring is best in bathrooms or other rooms where moisture accumulates. Beginners looking to tackle an easy DIY home improvement project will also find that it’s easier to work with vinyl planks.

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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