What is Laminate Flooring?

Laminate flooring has been around for decades but has taken a backseat to newer styles over the years. Luxury vinyl flooring and engineered hardwood have surpassed laminate in terms of sales, but new types of laminate flooring perform considerably better than the planks you’ll find in older homes.

If you’re looking for something affordable and sturdy that resembles wood, laminate should be on your radar. Before you start browsing shades and styles, it’s a good idea to know what laminate flooring is and understand how it’s made.

Laminate Flooring Explained

Fused flooring is nothing new in the flooring world. By using high heat and intense pressure, manufacturers can make a wide range of flooring, and that’s the general process behind laminate planks as well. It’s a multilayered product, but contrary to popular belief, it’s not made from plastic. There are a lot of misconceptions with laminate flooring, and knowing how it’s made can clear up confusion quickly.

Backing Layer

Also referred to as a balancing layer or back layer, it’s found on the bottom of each plank and helps protect your floorboards from moisture. It adds dimensional stability, and depending on the material used; it can also help dampen noise.

Core Layer

The middle of each laminate plank has a core, and it’s the thickest part of the board. High-density and medium-density fiberboard are usually combined with resin for the core layer. This layer provides durability and additional moisture protection. There are also “waterproof” cores made from synthetic material.

Photographic Layer

This is another layer that goes by many names, so it could be called an image or design layer depending on the manufacturer. It’s a printed design that gives laminate the look of wood or stone, and the higher quality the print, the more realistic your flooring will be. Finishing techniques and our next section can play a part in that as well, however.

Wear Layer

Whereas the backing layer protects your plank from subfloor issues, the wear layer provides protection from daily abuse. From UV rays, to scuffs and scratches, a good wear layer can be the difference in how long your floors retain their “new” look. Aluminum oxide is the most popular option with manufacturers, and something you’ll find on other types of flooring as well.

With any quality product, you will be able to find specifications for the wear layer. Thicker wear layers are ideal, but it can increase the price. You should also be able to obtain information on the backing layer and core, two areas we advise you to look into before settling on a brand. This will give you a rough idea of how laminate is produced.

How is Laminate Flooring Installed?

Laminate is one of the easier styles of flooring to install, but that wasn’t always the case. Older types of flooring often used glue, and we’ve seen plenty of boards tacked into place by uninformed installers that ran into a tricky spot at the end of a run.

In our experience, over 80% of modern laminate flooring is installed through a click-lock system. How it actually works will vary from one manufacturer to the next, but it makes installation incredibly easy. That said, a bead of glue can go a long way to securing boards in place, and is required by some brands.

Tools needed for laminate flooring installation are minimal, and you can read more about those in our guide. The important thing to remember is laminate is thick and tough, not like plastic-based flooring that you can score and snap with a knife, so you’ll need powered saw and should be comfortable using one.

Laminate Flooring Pros and Cons

One of the big advantages with laminate flooring is the fact it can give you the look of wood in your home at a fraction of the cost. That’s not the only perk of laminate flooring, especially the new varieties, which include water-resistant planks. With that in mind, we’re going to take a look at the pros and cons of laminate flooring.

Laminate Flooring Pros

  • The price – Laminate flooring is among the cheapest styles you can install in your home. In fact, you can find some budget-friendly boards around $1.00 per square foot. On average, prices range anywhere between $0.99 to $3.25 per square foot for laminate flooring. Higher quality boards will cost more but are well worth the investment.
  • Easy to clean – Do you suffer from allergies or have pets in your home? If so, laminate flooring could be the perfect solution. The design makes the surface easy to clean with a sealed surface that gives dirt and dander no place to hide. A vacuum cleaner or mop will make extremely short work of dirty laminate flooring.
  • DIY-friendly – As long as you are comfortable using a powered saw, you shouldn’t have a problem installing laminate flooring throughout your home. Click-lock systems will make life easy, and even using glue along the edges is not difficult. You can install other types of flooring over laminate, and it’s easy to remove as well if you decide to change your floor plan.
  • Durability – Hardwood is known for its durability, but laminate is surprisingly resilient as well. The compressed layers can take some abuse, and as long as the wear layer holds, laminate can outlive other types of hard flooring. When properly maintained, even budget-friendly laminate flooring can last 20 years.

Laminate Flooring Cons 

  • Moisture – While plenty of homeowners install laminate flooring in kitchens or other areas where spills can be a concern, moisture can ruin laminate flooring. If there’s a leak and water gets beneath a board, mold can become an issue along with subfloor damage. Some companies that offer water-resistant or waterproof laminate, but you’ll want to take that lightly.
  • Designs – Are you interested in laminate? Well, we hope you like wood as most of the styles are designed to look like wood. How realistic they actually are depends on the brand and techniques used by the manufacturer. Even the best brands won’t fool someone up close, nor will it increase the value of your home.
  • Damage – If you damage any type of flooring, whether it’s carpet, hardwood, or laminate, it can be a problem. Some are easier to fix, but laminate isn’t one of them. Want to refinish your floors to remove scratches? That’s not an option with laminate. Once your wear layer goes, the board isn’t far behind, and they are not easy to replace.


Q: Do I need underlayment for laminate flooring?

A: Yes, and it’s highly recommended as it can help with minor imperfections in subfloors and fight moisture. Some laminate will come with underlayment pre-attached.

Q: Is laminate safe in bathrooms?

A: We do not recommend installing laminate in any room with moisture, which includes bathrooms. Even if the manufacturer says it’s okay, proceed with caution.

Q: Are VOCs a problem with laminate flooring?

A: They used to be, but the industry has clamped down on VOCs. Any reputable brand should have certified flooring available that meets the standards for indoor air quality.

Q: Can I wet mop a laminate floor?

A: Spray mops are okay, but pouring liquid directly on your floor is a bad idea. For tips on cleaning laminate, refer to the product’s manual or check out our cleaning guide.

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