Hardwood versus Laminate: The Ultimate Guide

Adding the rich, warm look of wood to your home is not as clear cut as it seems, especially when there is laminate flooring to consider. Laminate floors have some definite benefits that make it a good choice for some homes. (Plus, there is always luxury vinyl plank flooring to consider.)

Wood floors also comes with some pros and cons, making the choice harder for homeowners. To make it easier, this list breaks down the pros and cons that can make one floor the right floor for your home.

Construction

Before delving into the pros and cons of wood and laminate floors, it’s important to know the difference in construction. Wood floors are exactly what they say; hardwoods are wood planks that can be sanded down and refinished several times over the life of the floors. The exception is engineered wood floors, which are wood planks on top of a layer of plywood.

Laminate floors are composed of layers. The visible layer looks like wood and is mounted on top of a layer of wood. The innermost layer of layer makes this floor incredibly stable. Both layers are topped by a wear layer that protect the flooring and makes laminate floors incredibly durable.

Look

Wood Laminate
Wood looks the best because well it IS wood.   High-quality laminate floors resemble the look of wood so incredibly well that it can be hard to tell the difference. Low-quality laminate floors do not always look like wood as well, but they are a low-budget wood flooring option.  
Homeowners can choose between oak, Brazilian cherry, cork, and other wood floor option. Wood floors are available in wide- and narrow-plank, and a variety of light and dark stains. Laminate floors are available in all colors and widths.

Durability

Wood Laminate
Hardwood floors have held up in older homes for years. Some softer wood floors are prone to scratching. (Talk to a professional if the room is high-traffic and if there are pets in the room.) If there is too much damage, floors can be sanded down and refinished.   Laminate floors are incredibly durable and can hold up in high-traffic areas.  

Water

Wood Laminate
Sitting water can permanently damage hardwoods, which makes it unsuitable for high-moisture rooms (i.e. bathrooms, laundry rooms, etc.) There are waterproof hardwoods available for homeowners worried about water damage.   Laminate flooring can be damaged by sitting water, especially if it gets between the boards. To prevent damage, water should be wiped up immediately.  

Basements

Wood Laminate
Most hardwood floors should not be installed in basements. Because of the unique construction, engineered wood floors are suitable for basements that aren’t prone to flooding.   Most laminate floors are not right for basements because of the porous moisture that seeps through the concrete slab.  

Installation

Wood Laminate
Most wood floors are nailed down, which is a more difficult installation. Engineered wood floors are installed as a floating floor (without nails but with these engineered wood flooring installation tips) and are an easier do-it-yourself project.   Laminate floors are installed as a floating floor, and can be snapped together (similar to a puzzle). Floors should be brought in to acclimate before installation, and the surface should be prepped for a flat, level surface.  

Cost

Wood Laminate
Wood floors typically cost more than laminate floors.   The cost of laminate floors fit any budget, with the cheapest styles sometimes coming in at just a few hundred dollars for small rooms. High-quality floors typically cost more than low-quality laminate floors; some high-quality floors can cost as much as wood.  

Cleaning and Care

Wood Laminate
Wood floors are easy to keep clean with regular sweeping and dry mopping.   Laminate floors only require a regular sweep and/or vacuum (with a vacuum selected with these tips) to remove debris that could scratch floors.
Hardwoods should be cleaned with a manufacturer-approved cleaner (and these tips for cleaning wood floors). Homeowners should never use only water, leave puddles, or steam clean wood floors. These deep-cleaning errors can permanently damage wood floors. Laminate floors need an occasional deep-cleaning with a manufacturer-approved cleaner. Just as with wood floors, water should not be left on laminate floors.

Pet-friendly

Wood Laminate
Though wood floors are durable, some floors can be damaged by pet claws. (Ask a flooring pro about wood floors that are pet-friendly.)   Laminate floors are fairly hard, making them incredibly durable even in high foot- and paw-traffic areas.  

Value

Wood Laminate
Hardwood floors may increase home value.   Laminate floors do not add value to a home.  

Longevity

Wood Laminate
Hardwoods can be sanded down and refinished multiple times, meaning that wood floors can last for many years.   Laminate floors cannot be refinished and may only last 10-15 years. The cost of two laminate floor installations (over many years) may be equivalent to a wood floor install.  

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