Laminate vs Hardwood Floor (Which One is Better?)

Laminate and hardwood floors have a similar appearance and offer similar features. But, what’s the difference between these two floors?

Hardwood floors are cut from trees like oak and maple, while laminate floor is made from recycled wood fibers. Since hardwood is cut from trees, the boards and thicker. On average, hardwood floorboards measure a thickness level of 3/4 inches, while laminate planks are less than 12mm thick.

Laminate floors are installed using the locking mechanisms, while hardwood floors are installed by nailing and gluing the boards on the subfloor.

Hardwood Flooring vs Laminate 

Before comparing both floors, let’s check how they are created and their individual features:

Hardwood Flooring

Hardwood Flooring

Hardwood flooring is a wooden floor formed by nailing or gluing the boards to a flat subfloor. The boards are cut directly from trees like maple, oak, and hickory. After cutting the trees, the wood is shaped into hardwood flooring boards.

Since the boards are cut directly from trees, this floor is strong and durable. Also, they are larger and heavier than regular floorboards. On average, hardwood floorboards measure up to a 3/4-inch thickness level.

Most hardwood flooring boards are unfinished, and you must manually apply a sealant (varnish) over them. You can also leave them unfinished. Hardwood flooring is affordable, strong, and durable, making this floor ideal for busy areas.

You can use hardwood:

  1. On commercial floors.
  2. On busy and outdoor floors. 
  3. To get a real wood appearance.

Laminate Flooring

Laminate Flooring

Laminate is a floating floor gotten by assembling several planks side by side using a tongue and groove locking mechanism. The tongue and groove system makes each plank slide perfectly into the next. The planks are assembled on a layer of foam, cork, felt, or rubber padding known as underlayment.

Laminate planks are designed to mimic the appearance of hardwood floors. But, the planks aren’t as thick as real hardwood planks; most are less than 12mm thick. Also, the planks aren’t waterproof, and since they aren’t glued (or nailed) on the subfloor, water can get underneath them and damage them.

You can use laminate planks to:

  1. Mimic the appearance of hardwood flooring.
  2. Add a touch of class to the home.
  3. As a temporary floor. Since the planks aren’t glued or nailed down, you can remove them if you decide to switch floors.
  4. In low to medium-traffic floors.

The Appearance

What does the flooring look like?

Hardwood Flooring

Hardwood flooring has the appearance of real wood. This is because the boards are one piece of wood and not a combination of several wooden materials glued together. Since the floor is made of real wood, you can see the wood grain on the boards.

You can apply a sealant to change the appearance (or color) of the boards. The sealant will deepen or lighten the color (depending on the sealant), and make the floors waterproof.

You can use polyurethane or spar varnish to finish hardwood floors. If you want a deeper color, you can apply wood stain and seal itwith spar varnish.

Laminate Flooring

Laminate planks have the appearance of a hardwood floor (traditionally they are designed to mimic it). However, today they mimic the appearance of different floors, including ceramic floors.

Winner:

Hardwood floor has a better appearance than laminate flooring. That’s because laminate appearance is a mock-up or mimic of hardwood flooring, and a mock-up can never look as good as the real floor.

Water Resistance

How well does the flooring repel moisture or water?

Laminate Flooring

Laminate flooring isn’t waterproof, but the flooring has good moisture resistance. Moisture (or water) won’t penetrate boards easily because they have a wear top layer made from waterproof plastic. This wear layer repels moisture and prevents them from penetrating the planks. 

However, water can get underneath the boards through the locking mechanisms and the gaps. If water gets underneath, the boards will get damaged. So, laminate planks shouldn’t be used in high-moisture rooms, such as bathrooms or kitchens. 

Hardwood Flooring

Hardwood flooring isn’t waterproof and has low moisture resistance, especially if the boards aren’t sealed. Since the boards are cut from real wood, the floor is porous. If exposed to constant water, hardwood boards will absorb the water causing the floor to swell.

If the floor is finished with a waterproof sealant, it will have better moisture resistance, but won’t be waterproof because water can get in from the sides and bottom of the floor.

Winner:

Laminate floors offer better moisture resistance than hardwood floors. This is because they are finished with plastic sheeting or a wear layer that repels moisture. On the other hand, hardwood floors are porous and aren’t finished with a top coat. So, you must finish (seal) it with a sealant to make them water-resistant. 

However, both floors aren’t waterproof. 

Strength and Support

How strong is the flooring?

Hardwood Flooring

Hardwood boards are thick and sturdy, making the floor strong enough to support heavy furniture and traffic. The structure of the floor can support the weight without planks pulling apart because the boards are glued and nailed on the subfloor. 

Laminate Flooring

Laminate flooring is strong and offers good support. But, it has a weight limit of 350 pounds per square inch. If you place items heavier than 500 pounds per square inch over it, the floor will separate and crack. Also, since laminate is a floating floor, the floor cannot carry heavy furniture for too long.

Winner:

Hardwood flooring offers more support and strength than laminate flooring due to its rigid and thick structure.

Durability

How well does the flooring withstand wear and tear?

Laminate Flooring

Since laminate planks are sealed with plastic sheeting (wear layer), the floors offer good durability. The wear layer is durable and prevents dents on the planks. 

However, the wear layer will fade over time and become jaded, meaning the planks will be affected by dents and scratches. This happens 10 years after installing the floor. 

Hardwood Flooring

Hardwood floor isn’t durable because the unfinished boards are prone to scratches, dents, and marks. That’s because the floor is 100% wood. 

However, if the floor is sealed, it becomes durable. The sealant will form a glossy layer over the floor, protecting it from scratches and dents. If the existing sealant becomes jaded, you can sand it off and re-finish the floor to help it last longer.

Winner:

A laminate floor is more durable than an unfinished hardwood floor. However, a sealed hardwood floor is more durable than laminate floors.

Installation Method

How is the flooring installed?

Laminate Flooring

Laminate flooring is installed by arranging planks side-by-side. Each plank is designed with a tongue and groove mechanism that allows the plank to slide into the next. These planks are arranged over an underlayment to make them even and protect them from underneath water. 

Hardwood Flooring

Hardwood flooring is installed by nailing or gluing the boards to the subfloor. Though hardwood floors have a locking mechanism too, the locking mechanism isn’t strong enough to hold the boards in one place. So, you must nail and glue them to the subfloor. 

Winner:

Laminate planks are easier to install than hardwood flooring. This is because you can install them using the locking mechanism, while you need to nail and glue the hardwood floors.

Cleaning and Maintenance

How easy or difficult is it to clean and maintain the flooring?

Hardwood Flooring

Finished or varnished hardwood flooring is easy to clean and maintain. This is because the sealant or varnish on the floor prevents stains from sticking. So, you don’t need much cleaning, and when you do you can use liquid cleaning products. 

However, cleaning can be tough if the hardwood floor isn’t finished because you can’t use liquid (wet) cleaning methods on unfinished boards. So, you are limited to scrubbing, scrapping, and wiping stains off, which can easily wear the floor. 

Laminate Flooring

Laminate planks are easy to clean and maintain because the wear layer prevents stains from sticking. Also, you can wipe off the dust from the wear layer easily. However, you shouldn’t mop them because water can get underneath and damage the floor. 

Winner:

Both laminate and sealed hardwood flooring are easy to clean and maintain, so this is a tie. However, don’t use too much water while cleaning these floors as they aren’t waterproof. 

Thickness and Weight

How thick and heavy is the flooring?

Laminate Flooring

Laminate flooring measures a thickness level between 6mm and 12mm or 1/4 and 1/2 inches. Because of their thin nature, the planks weigh less than 1.5 pounds per square foot. Since the planks are thin and light, the floor is easy to install.

Hardwood Flooring

Hardwood flooring is heavier, larger, and thicker than regular flooring. Although on average, hardwood boards measure a thickness level of 3/4 inches or 19mm, some boards are over 25mm in thickness. Because of their thick nature, the boards weigh more than 1.5 pounds per square inch.

Winner:

Laminate flooring is lighter and thinner than hardwood flooring. You’ll need 3mm or 4mm thickness of laminate planks for your home. Most hardwood planks are thicker than that.

The Price Tag

How much does the flooring cost?

Hardwood Flooring

Hardwood flooring is costly because of its natural formula (100% wood). On average, a hardwood floor costs $6-10 per square foot. However, the tree that the flooring is made of determines the price. Some trees are rare and have better features than others, meaning the boards would cost more. 

Laminate Flooring

Laminate flooring isn’t expensive; it costs less than $3 per square inch, depending on the type. The wear layer and the thickness of the plank determine the price tag.

Winner:

Laminate flooring is cheaper than hardwood flooring.

Best By Room:

Here is a chart that identifies the ideal spaces and rooms to install laminate or hardwood floors:

 Hardwood FlooringLaminate Flooring
BathroomNoNo
KitchenNoYes; with proper care and maintenance
Living RoomYesYes
BedroomYesYes
OfficesYesYes
StairsMaybe, depends on the size of the treadsYes
Outside FloorNoNo

Final Words

Laminate and hardwood floors have a similar appearance but have different features. For instance, hardwood floors are 100% made of wood, while laminate floor is made by compressing different wood fibers together.

Laminate planks have a wear layer that makes the planks water and scratch-resistant, while hardwood floors come unfinished. So, you must seal (finish) them manually. 

Laminate planks are thin and light, while hardwood boards are thick and heavy. To install laminate, you can use the locking mechanisms. But, to install hardwood floors, you must nail and glue them down in a subfloor. 

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