Vinyl Plank Flooring Ultimate Guide – Reviews, Pros & Cons, Best Brands 2019

This is a comprehensive vinyl plank flooring guide.

In fact, there is so much information here, we realize that not all of it might be relevant to your research goals.

That’s where the handy Navigation Guide below will help. Use it to jump to the information you want.

What is Vinyl Plank Flooring?

First of all, vinyl plank flooring has other names you’ve probably heard:

  • Luxury vinyl plank, or LVP
  • Luxury vinyl tile, or LVT
  • Luxury vinyl plank or tile flooring
  • Resilient vinyl planks or tiles
  • Engineered vinyl flooring

These all refer to vinyl plank flooring.

This image of Armstrong LUXE LVP with a Rigid Core center is a good example of vinyl plank flooring construction.

Vinyl Plank Flooring Construction

We’ll make this brief, but here is a layer-by-layer overview starting from the top.

1. Wear Layer

This is the tough, clear layer that protects the beauty of LVP.

  • Material: Most is polyurethane. Better brands add ceramic beads to the urethane for added resistance to wear and scratches. One brand, Armstrong, adds crushed cultured diamonds to its Vivero Better and Vivero Better lines.
  • Thickness: Wear layers start at 6 mils thick for cheap vinyl plank flooring. The best lines from most brands have wear layers of 20 mils or 22 mils. Shaw Floorte Plus has a wear layer 30 mils thick. BTW, 1 mil = .001 inches. A 30-mil wear layer is .03 inches thick.

2. Luxury Vinyl Layer

This is called the design layer or image layer.

Vinyl (PVC plastic) is a very versatile material. With it, remarkably authentic-looking designs can be produced to mimic wood, stone, ceramic tile and other materials. The designs are printed for outstanding realism.

The vinyl layer is waterproof and can be textured, for example, to give it a genuine woodgrain feel.

3. The Core: Wood or Stone with Polymers

There are two types of cores used: Wood-based and stone-based cores. The wood is often sawdust, aka wood flour, but Cali Bamboo uses bamboo powder. The stone is usually crushed limestone.

The image above shows a stone-based core.

Both wood (or bamboo) and stone are mixed with plastic polymers, so you will see WPC, wood/polymer core, and SPC, stone/polymer core, used in the literature when researching brands.

What’s the difference between WPC and SPC cores?

That’s a great questions for the FAQ section below, but it is worth answering here.

  • Wood/polymer cores are thicker and softer under your feet.
  • Stone/polymer cores are thinner and harder. They aren’t as comfortable to stand on, but don’t dent easily and are more stable under extreme loads like a car being driven into an automobile showroom or a fully loaded merchandise cart being rolled across the flooring.

WPC cores are often associated with residential use and SPC cores are thought of as commercial flooring.

But that distinction is blurred. Both types come with residential and commercial warranties – except really cheap LVP which does not have a commercial warranty.

4. Attached Pad

Most luxury vinyl plank flooring includes attached pad.

We prefer cork. It is used on most COREtec cabinet and NuCore LVP. It is soft and dampens noise. LifeProof and a few other brands use HDPE pad which isn’t soft and barely reduces noise.

A few low-cost vinyl plank flooring collections like COREtec One do not have attached pad. If there’s no pad, you might have to install underlayment before installing the LVP.

Installation of Vinyl Plank Flooring

There are four basic types:

1. Interlocking Edges:

Most LVP interlocks, like tongue & groove, to form a floating floor (it’s not glued down).

Most interlocking flooring can be glued, but the pieces have to be joined first. Gluing is usually only used in very large areas where a floating floor might be less stable or where the floor is subject to heavy, rolling loads.

2. Glue Down:

LVP with glue-down design has edges that align closely. The pieces are fully glued (called full spread), and set in place.

Most vinyl planks and tiles with a stone-polymer core (SPC) require glue-down installation.

3. Peel and Stick:

This installation type is usually associated with cheap carpet or vinyl tiles, but some LVP uses it.

For example, Armstrong LUXE uses a technology called FasTak, a tacky backing. Initially, the piece can be picked up and repositioned, if installed misaligned. LUXE is good-quality vinyl plank flooring in the $2.50-$4.00 per square foot range.

4. Loose Lay LVP:

This is small, niche category of luxury vinyl plank and tile flooring.

As the name implies, loose lay flooring has no fasteners or tongue & groove design and does not require glue. The pieces are simply laid on the floor.

Loose lay LVP is ideal for locations where the floor must be removed or taken up and reinstalled frequently.

Summary of LVP Construction

There are two basic types – Wood/polymer and Stone/polymer cores.

WPC flooring is usually associated with residential use because it is softer but less resistant to dents and heavy loads. However, it is suited to light commercial use like office space and light retail.

SPC flooring is mostly used in light to heavy commercial areas because it is harder, so it resists dents and other damage. But there’s nothing prohibiting its use in homes too.

Vinyl Plank Flooring Pros

A lot of homeowners and commercial business owners compare LVP with laminate, among other flooring types.

We’ve completed a similar Laminate Flooring Buying Guide with pros and cons that make for easy comparison.

Beauty and Style Options

Vinyl plank and tile flooring wouldn’t be a useful alternative to genuine wood or stone if it looked fake or “plasticky.”

The design layers of most LVP/LVT are very realistic in appearance. The molds used to make planks and tiles are formed from real wood and stone, so the flooring takes on that same character, the graining or texture of the real thing.

Colors range from off-white weathered wood looks to rich, deep browns. Stone and concrete styles are available too.

Cheap to Premium Price/Quality Options

Vinyl plank flooring starts at about $1.00 per square foot for the cheapest stuff. Most costs $1.85 to $3.50, with the most expensive costing $7.00+ per square foot.

Accessories and installation costs are extra. See our Luxury Vinyl Flooring Price and Installation Cost guide for complete details.

DIY Installation is an Option for Most

Did you know?

The majority of luxury vinyl plank flooring is installed without professional assistance.

We recommend reading the installation guide before deciding if DIY is for you. If so, then follow the guide closely.

Pro tip: Watching a few tutorial videos will be useful for learning tips, techniques and the tools you need.

Low Maintenance

LVP is easy to clean and doesn’t require sealing or other time-consuming and expensive maintenance.

A microfiber mop slightly damp with water or spray cleaner does the job for most cleaning. Wet mopping is fine too without worrying about water damage – that’s not something you can get away with on genuine wood or on most laminate floors.

Waterproof Construction

This is one area that luxury vinyl plank flooring has the advantage over wood

Did you know?

Even flooring with a wood/polymer core is waterproof because the core is encased in vinyl.

When the subfloor is wood, vinyl plank flooring will keep typical water spills from reaching it. If the floor is flooded and water remains on it for days, some subfloor damage might occur. But in that case, an insurance claim would be in order.

Over concrete, sheep vinyl or ceramic tile, the subfloor would be fine through a flood. Worst-cases scenario is that you might have to take the floor apart, if floating, and let everything dry before re-installing it.

Most Subfloors Work w/ Minimum Prep

Luxury vinyl plank flooring can be installed over any floor in good condition. This includes genuine wood flooring, OSB, plywood, laminate, concrete, sheet vinyl and ceramic tile.

This saves time and money because you don’t have to rip up old flooring (a huge expense when it is ceramic or stone tile) or install a new subfloor.

If it is clean and free of debris, it is ready for LVP.

Pro tip: Sand down cupped edges of a wood subfloor, and fill low spots with self-leveling concrete on a concrete subfloor.

Commercial-Grade Wear Layer

As noted, most LVP comes with a heavy-duty wear layer and is covered for both residential and commercial installation.

Low Volatile Organic Compounds

Check any LVP before you buy, but most of it is certified to be low-VOC flooring.

Vinyl Plank Flooring Cons

Keep these potential drawbacks in mind as you compare your flooring options.

LVP Can’t Be Refinished

Wood flooring, even most engineered wood flooring, can be refinished one to five times over the course of its life.

When the wear layer of vinyl plank flooring wears through or it becomes discolored, that’s it. Time to replace the floor.

It’s Not Impervious to Damage

No floor is. LVP/LVT can be punctured or dented. It’s not easy, but it can happen with a very sharp or heavy object.

The good news is that it is easy to replace floating planks and tiles that are damaged. It’s harder to replace glued-down flooring.

Sun Can Damage Vinyl Plank Flooring

This can happen in two ways.

First, direct sunlight will eventually discolor any type of vinyl flooring.

Secondly, sun heats up the floor. This can cause floating floors to expand with the heat, and that leads to the interlocking edges to come apart. It’s rare, but it happens.

Where direct sun is an issue, using blinds to block it out is essential.

Removing Glued Down Flooring is Tough

It takes a lot of time and effort if you do it yourself. You’ll might also have some expense in buying or renting a sander or buying glue solvent.

Pro tip: Keep in mind that solvent fumes are combustible, so do not use it around a furnace or water heater that might fire while you’re working with solvent.

Did you know? The cost of paying for glued-down floor removal exceeds $1.50 per square foot for most jobs.

Not Recyclable

If you’re looking for green, sustainable materials, vinyl plank flooring isn’t the best.

It’s mostly plastic, but there are too many other materials combined for successful separation and recycling.

As of now, most used LVP is disposed of in landfills.

Vinyl Plank Flooring Costs

The installed vinyl plank flooring cost is $2.00 to $9.00 per square foot, with $5.50 per square foot the average.

This is a summary of costs. Our Vinyl Plank Flooring Cost Guide has far more detail on material costs. It also includes sample project costs based on the factors listed here.

The cost of LVP is based on three factors:

  1. 1
    The cost of the planks or tiles
  2. 2
    The cost of accessories
  3. 3
    Labor costs to install the floor

Here are the details of each.

1. Plank and Tile Costs

The cheapest vinyl plank flooring costs about $1.00 per square foot. The most expensive sells for about $7.00 per square foot. Most styles range from $1.85-$3.50 per square foot.

WPC, or wood/polymer core, vinyl plank flooring has a higher average cost than SPC, stone/polymer core, planks and tiles.

Here is a summary table of cost for just the luxury vinyl flooring planks and tiles.

Other LVP cost factors are:

  • Quality of the material
  • Thickness of the wear layer and what it is made of
  • Whether pad is attached and what kind it is

2. The Cost of Accessories

This factor has the least affect on cost.

Accessories are items like matching trim, stair nosing or bullnose, underlayment if needed, glue for glue-down installation and transition strips between vinyl plank flooring and other types such as carpet or ceramic tile.

You won’t need all of them for your job – in fact, you might not need any of them if you’re reusing trim, there are no transitions or stairs and the floor is floating.

If you needed them all, their cost would add 75 cents to $1.25 per square foot to the total.

See our Vinyl Plank Flooring Price Guide for itemized accessory costs.

3. Labor Costs

This is where you can save up to half the cost of installed LVP – by doing the work yourself. It is relatively easy compared with laying tile or installing genuine hardwood. As noted, watch a video or two on installation before deciding if you want to do the work yourself.

If you hire a professional, the estimates you receive will depend on these factors:

  • Who you hire. Flooring contractors tend to charge a higher rate than handyman services. Make sure anyone you hire is licensed, insured and experienced installing the exact brand of LVP you have.
  • Complexity of the work. A wide-open floor means little trimming or obstacles. The work goes quickly, so installation estimates will be lower than if the flooring is being installed in small rooms with obstacles and lots of trimming.
  • Where you live. As with all consumer services, the cost of living in your area will affect LVP installation price.
  • Stairs. They are estimated not by the foot but by the number of stairs. A typical range is $50-$100 per stair based on how difficult they are to cover with LVP.

Certifications: What Do They Mean?

The certifications for LVP/LVT are about its environmental suitability. There are no certifications for hardness, as there are for laminate flooring.

Note: Not all flooring has all these certifications. They should be listed on the box or on the flooring’s website or product page.

FloorScore: FloorScore certification program was established by the Resilient Floor Covering Institute (RFCI) for hard surface flooring that meets strict indoor air quality (IAQ) requirements including those for LEED, California’s indoor air quality program for schools (CHPS) and the Green Guide for Health Care, plus many more.

CARB2: California Air Resource Board rating certifies the flooring has zero or low formaldehyde emissions.

GreenGuard: According to GreenGuard, “GREENGUARD Certification helps manufacturers create--and helps buyers identify--interior products and materials that have low chemical emissions, improving the quality of the air in which the products are used.”

Hypoallergenic: This means that the flooring doesn’t harbor allergens and irritants like carpet does.

Phthalate-free: While not a certifiable standard, many homeowners wish to avoid these plasticizers used to make vinyl more flexible and stronger. The science is mixed on whether phthalates pose a risk. Still, many of the leading brands are aware of consumer concern and do not use them.

Top Vinyl Plank Flooring Brands

There is comprehensive information in our Best Vinyl Plank Flooring Brands Guide, but here is an overview of the best brands.

Armstrong makes a wide range of styles, colors and construction types. There is a good selection of LVP for every project. We named Armstrong Vivero Best as the Best Commercial luxury vinyl flooring. Its wear layer contains crushed engineered/cultured diamonds, and the commercial warranty is the industry’s longest at 20 years.

Cali Bamboo was selected by our pros as the Best Brand You Might Not Know About. In other words, it is one of the best brands introduced in the last few years. Its WPC collection, Vinyl Plus, uses sustainable bamboo powder instead of wood. Cali Bamboo makes an SPC line too called Vinyl Pro.

COREtec is our Runner-up Best Overall luxury vinyl flooring. COREtec Plus (WPC) and COREtec Pro (SPC) both offer an attractive, diverse selection and durable construction. Most lines have attached cork pad that reduces noise and makes the floor more comfortable.

Home Decorators Collection is one of the best cheap LVP lines. If you want good quality for about $2 per square foot, this is a top option.

LifeProof is a Home Depot exclusive in the affordable to mid-price range. Selection is very good. The best feature is the 22 mils wear layer on its premium vinyl plank flooring.

Mohawk has the best selection of any leading brand. Both floating and glue-down lines are produced. Mohawk vinyl plank flooring is a good value, since cost is reasonable.

NuCore took the Best Value award. This means it is high-quality luxury vinyl plank flooring at a very fair price. Every style has a wear layer 22 mils thick.

Shaw is our Best Overall LVP brand. Selection, quality, construction and warranty – they are all very good. Floorte Plus is WPC flooring; Floorte Pro Plus is the SPC line.

Smartcore is made by COREtec and sold exclusively at Lowes. It is mid-grade vinyl plank flooring at an affordable price. The Ultra line is WPC; the Pro line is SPC, so all the bases are covered.

Vinyl Plank Flooring FAQs

Here are questions we often receive and their answers.

Is LVP with a wood core really waterproof?

Yes. Most comes with a waterproof and pet warranty against damage and stains.

The reason it is waterproof is that the wood or bamboo (Cali Bamboo LVP) core is mixed with plastic polymers and covered in waterproof vinyl.

Is it more waterproof than waterproof laminate flooring?

Yes. Most waterproof laminate warranties limit coverage to 24 to 72 hours. The water must be removed prior to that deadline, or the warranty is voided.

Most vinyl plank flooring does not give a time limit with the waterproof warranty.

What is the best way to clean vinyl plank flooring?

For light cleaning, a microfiber mop works well. It can be lightly damp with water – or a water and white vinegar solution – or used with a cleaner formulated for vinyl flooring.

A wet mop can be used too, if the dirt is heavier.

For spot cleaning of stuck messes, use a spray cleaner or a spray bottle with a 50-50 mix of water and white vinegar. Allow the moisture to soften the mess for a few minutes, and then gently wipe if off.

Are there any no-no’s for cleaning LVP?

Yes-yes!

Avoid scrubbing the floors with abrasive cleaners or pads. Scrubbing it will wear away the wear layer.

Scrubbing machines should be avoided too.

What about vacuuming vinyl plank flooring?

Only vacuum with a machine designed for resilient flooring.

DO NOT use a vacuum with a rotating brush (beater bar). On some vacuums the brush can be turned off. However, homeowners, kids, maintenance workers and housekeepers often forget, and damage can happen to the wear layer.

What about a steam cleaner?

While most brands do not forbid using a steam cleaner – it doesn’t void the warranty – we don’t recommend using them on any flooring that has seams.

Why is that so, if the flooring is waterproof? Water might penetrate the seams. While it probably won’t damage the floor, it might produce an environment that allows for the growth of mold and mildew.

Some brands recommend walk-off mats. What are they and why should I use them?

The term refers to mats at entryways of a home or commercial building. They help prevent dirt from being tracked onto flooring.

This is important because dirt on the floor is a little like sandpaper when it is walked on.

Can luxury vinyl plank flooring be installed over radiant heat?

Yes it can. Check the flooring information for the maximum heat allowed.

For example, Armstrong says, “Armstrong flooring may be installed over radiant-heated subfloors as long as the surface temperature does not exceed 85°F (29°C). Temperatures above 85°F (29°C) will cause the flooring to soften and increase the risk of irreversible indentation.”

85F is the maximum for most brands.

Is vinyl plank flooring green?

Yes and no.

On the ecofriendly side, most is certified to be low-VOC material that won’t contribute to indoor air pollution. Look for vinyl plank flooring certified by FloorScore or GreenGuard, two low-VOC certifications.

And most is phthalate-free. The flooring information on the box or brand website will have these details.

On the downside, it requires quite a lot of energy to produce and is not recyclable. Most of it is dumped in a landfill when removed.  

Can LVP/LVT be installed in areas that are not climate controlled?

Doing so will void most luxury vinyl flooring warranties. For example, Mohawk’s Smart Select flooring warranty says, “Smart Select Luxury Vinyl Flooring is warranted as indicated above in continuous climate controlled interior environments.”

Armstrong says its warranty does not cover, among other exclusions, “Flooring that is installed outdoors.”

Those exclusions are typical of all brands.

The problem is heat. It causes materials to expand, and interlocking flooring usually comes apart with major expansion.

What else is covered or excluded in LVP warranties?

Covered issues in most warranties:

Armstrong’s list is representative of most. The residential warranty says, “Armstrong warrants its floor products to be free from manufacturing defects. If installed according to instructions, the products:

  • Will not wear through
  • Will not stain from common household stains
  • Will not contain manufacturing defects
  • Will not rip or tear from normal household use
  • Will not permanently indent from normal household use
  • Will not bottom-up discolor from underlayment panels

Non-covered issues:

COREtec’s Smartcore flooring warranty has a typical list of exclusions. It’s long, so we’ll summarize. The warranty does not cover:

  • Damage due to punctures, scrapes, burns, lack of furniture rests or intentional misuses like roller skates and golf spikes.
  • Color variations due to UV/sunlight or age.
  • Non-compliance with installation instructions.
  • Flooring installed in “inappropriate” locations – though no examples are given.

How long will vinyl plank flooring last?

Cheap vinyl plank flooring lasts 5-10 years.

Better grades of LVP last 15-25 years.

  • From the flooring side, its quality and the thickness of the wear layer are the important features.
  • From the user side, the volume and type of traffic and how often the floors are cleaned are important.

For example, cheap LVP in a small household with no pets and a “no shoes in the house” policy can easily last 10 years. Probably longer.

On the other hand, luxury vinyl plank flooring with a lifetime warranty might need replacement at 12 years if it gets heavy traffic, dirty shoes are worn and there are a couple big dogs roaming the house.