There are an abundance of low-cost flooring options available on the market today. Laminate flooring has always been a popular choice, but luxury vinyl flooring has gained popularity in recent years. That means many consumers find themselves torn between the two styles, especially given they share more similarities than differences.
If you have been on the fence and find yourself torn between laminate vs. vinyl flooring, our guide has all the answers. We’re going to break down these two materials in all the key areas, including cost, construction, and durability.
A multi-layered flooring material with a printed image and wear layer
Similar construction to laminate, but with PVC
Warranties from 5 to 30 years depending on the quality, resilient flooring
Handles daily abuse better than laminate, lifetime warranties available
Paw and pet-hair friendly, just don’t let anything that can stain sit for long
Easy to clean, low-maintenance if you own pets
Made to replicate the look of materials like wood, stone, tile
Printed image layer can mimic a variety of materials, more realistic than laminate
Easy to maintain, difficult to repair and replace
Easy to maintain, difficult to repair and replace
The Green Factor
Look for certified products, not easy to recycle, potential for VOCs
Not eco-friendly but certified products are available
Highly water-resistant flooring is available
Made from plastic, waterproof flooring is an option
DIY-friendly and very easy to install
DIY-friendly and very easy to install, suitable for any room
$1.00 to $3.50 per sq. ft.
$2.00 to $5.00 per sq. ft.
This synthetic form of flooring has been around for a while, and it’s still largely made in the same fashion today aside from a few key differences which we’ll address shortly. All laminate flooring is comprised of four layers with a base, core, image, and top layer. The first two provide structure and support, while the image layer is where your flooring gets its style. This high-quality print is covered by a wear layer, which protects the image from daily abuse.
Vinyl comes in two forms, with luxury vinyl tile and luxury vinyl planks. Both are made from plastic and have layers just like laminate flooring. The bottom layer is usually cork or another mold-resistant material which is followed by the core. The top layer is a printed vinyl layer which is also covered by a wear layer. They are both made in a similar fashion, but that’s where the similarities come to an end with these two products.
There are more durable materials on the market that laminate flooring from a structural standpoint. It’s sturdy, but can be gouged so it’s not something you’ll want to be too rough with. It handles foot traffic with ease, however, and is highly resistant to stains and scratches as well. Just how resistant varies depending on the quality of the product, so you’ll want to check the warranty if stains or fading is a concern.
By comparison, vinyl is more durable than laminate, and it can handle heavy foot traffic with ease. There’s a reason it’s used in decks as PVC is much sturdier than it looks. That means it won’t scratch easily and dents or dings shouldn’t be an issue. Heavy furniture is the biggest problem with luxury vinyl; especially if something gets caught in a seam.
Top-quality products have comparable warranties for vinyl, and laminate flooring, except some products come with a limited lifetime guarantee. On average, you can expect around 15 to 20 years or more from most high-end planks while budget and mid-range boards may only last for 5 to 10 years. Regardless of the warranty, once the wear layers go, the flooring is usually not far behind.
Do you have a messy dog that can’t quite make it outside when it’s time to do their business? How about a cat with razor-sharp claws? Neither of those animals can harm luxury vinyl planks, as they don’t scratch easily and aren’t prone to spilled water bowls or accidents like hardwood. Aside from potential traction issues, it’s an excellent all-around option for pet owners.
Laminate boards can handle urine or any other messes your pet makes, and hair is easy to clean up as well. Razor-sharp claws and furry paws won’t cause many problems, but you will need to clean up spills or water in short order. Some forms of laminate are billed as waterproof, but that isn’t always the case, and seams can still be an issue. Pets get a little more traction on laminate flooring, but the difference is negligible to many consumers.
Considering both laminate flooring and luxury vinyl products have a printed image, this area comes down to personal taste. You can find luxury planks and tile that mimic a variety of materials, and some companies do an excellent job of texturing their boards to provide depth as well. With that in mind, it’s still a printed image and only capable of fooling folks from a distance.
The same general designs are available with laminate flooring, so you can get wood look laminate boards representing over a dozen species. High-quality laminate flooring is about as realistic as vinyl, but we feel LVP and LVT products provide a bit more depth. With either style, it all comes down the overall quality of the boards along with the image under the wear layer.
Durable flooring is usually easy to maintain, and that’s the case with laminate planks. You can use a broom or dust mop to keep them clean as needed, and most spills can simply be wiped up. There are products you can buy that will liven up your floor as it ages, but you should only use products recommended by the manufacturer, or you could damage your floor.
Luxury vinyl tile and planks are simple to clean and maintain as well. No special equipment is required, and wet mops are generally safe depending on how the floor is rated. You will want to stick to recommended cleaning products for stains or deep cleaning, but overall they are extremely low-maintenance.
The Green Factor
Vinyl is not the most eco-friendly material, and PVC-based products have been known to cause problems in the past. Despite its luxurious title, boards and tiles made from vinyl can emit volatile organic compounds, otherwise known as VOCs. While these levels are monitored and regulated by various agencies, it’s something to keep in mind. Vinyl can also be difficult to recycle, so it’s far from sustainable flooring alternative.
Laminate boards are greener in the sense that they are often made with wood by-products. Adhesives and resins from the manufacturing process can still be an issue; however, so there is a potential for VOCs with this flooring as well. You can find certified laminate flooring products through FloorScore and NALFA, the North American Laminate Flooring Association.
Laminate flooring isn’t known for its ability to repel water, but it can handle moisture better than other forms of flooring, including engineered hardwood. New forms of laminate are considered waterproof by some manufacturers although it’s a claim we haven’t put to the test. Simply put, with the proper rating and a good guarantee from the manufacturer, you shouldn’t have to worry about the occasional spill or water in general.
While laminate flooring can be water-resistant, it’s not built to deal with water like a good luxury vinyl floor system. Most luxury vinyl tiles and planks are geared for any room, including bathrooms, laundry rooms, and kitchens. It doesn’t always mean it’s a wise idea, but it’s certainly an option. Unless the backing or bottom layer is made from something organic, these planks are essentially submersible – just don’t put that to the test.
Luxury vinyl flooring is easy to install, but so are laminate planks. The biggest difference between the two is the installation method, although there are similarities in that area as well.
Floating floors have become increasingly popular in recent years, and that’s partly due to how easy they are to install. Both styles of flooring can be installed with a floating floor system, but there are also “peel and stick” planks along with ones that use glue. It varies by product line, but a floating floor is usually the easiest for most homeowners to install themselves.
Neither method should require a contractor, and the tools you’ll need are minimal. Vapor barriers and underlayment can be tricky depending on your subfloor but can make a major impact with noise control and insulation. Given the water-resistant nature of both these products, we feel they can be installed in any room as long as you choose flooring with the right rating and pay attention to the underlayment.
Luxury Vinyl and Laminate Cost
We’ve put laminate up against various flooring materials like hardwood, and it’s known as a budget-friendly material. Even the best laminate flooring won’t break the bank as you can find plenty of styles for a reasonable price.
Prices on laminate flooring start at around $1.50 per square foot if you want something cheap, but you can find flooring even cheaper at times. The cost of mid-range laminate flooring is between $2.00 to $3.00 while top-quality laminate planks are a bit more. You can get a better idea of what to expect price-wise from our laminate cost guide.
Luxury vinyl lives up to its namesake as it’s more expensive than laminate flooring, whether in the shape of tile or board. Thickness and quality play a part in the price point with LVT and LVP just like they do with laminates and other styles of flooring. On average, luxury vinyl plank flooring will cost $2.00 - $3.50 per square foot for mid to high-quality options. That said, we have seen planks in the $5.00 range as well along with cheap vinyl flooring at around $1.50 per square foot.
When considering the cost of either of these flooring materials, remember to keep supplies like underlayment in mind. It’s also a good idea to expect the unexpected if you have an older home and don’t know what’s beneath your current flooring.
Both laminate and luxury vinyl are excellent options if you need resilient flooring for your home. Each brings something different to the table, and while luxury vinyl is a clear winner in many areas, laminate flooring is cheaper and has several unique advantages as well. If you’re interested in something a little more eco-friendly, bamboo flooring or heart pine may be more suitable for your needs.