Not all flooring works well with water and moisture. Moisture is the number one killer of flooring materials if your floor isn’t built to handle it. So, choosing the right flooring for wet areas in your home, such as bathrooms, showers, laundry rooms, or even the basement, is crucial. Additionally, your kitchen floor can get wet spills frequently enough to damage it — calling a need for floors that are built to deal with it.
Must-have Characteristics of Flooring for Wet Areas
The flooring in wet areas gets in contact with water in two main ways – direct spills and water vapor or moisture. When you leave standing water on the floor for an extended amount of time, the water soaks through porous materials and gets absorbed. Eventually, the flooring rots and deteriorates. The flooring can even swell and warp due to water damage. Mold and mildew growth is another critical issue in flooring for wet areas.
Moisture or water vapor is similar to leaving water on the floor. However, one major difference is you can prevent the water from getting through the material by sealing it with water-resistant coats. In contrast, the vapor can still get through the joints and grout lines and damage the flooring despite the protective coating. Once the moisture reaches the subfloor underneath, it can cause structural damage to the floor.
It is also essential for the flooring in wet areas to be slip-resistant for safety purposes. COF rating, or the coefficient of friction, is an objective standard to measure how slippery an item is. Look for a higher COF rating when choosing flooring for wet areas. Also, organic and inorganic materials are essential to consider here. Inorganic materials are more suited to humid conditions as organic materials quickly decompose when subjected to moisture. However, no flooring is entirely organic or inorganic. The ratio of organics to inorganics affects their ability to handle water significantly.
Four characteristics to look for in flooring for wet areas are –
- Water-resistant or waterproof
- Fewer grout lines
Best Flooring for Wet Areas
Porcelain tiles are popular for showers, bathtubs, pools, and other pure-water areas. Porcelain tiles are arguably the best choice for damp locations due to having a water absorption rate of 0.5 or less. It is made from refined clays and fired at a higher temperature, giving it the rigidity to stand water and vapor for an extended period.
Depending on the COF rating, porcelain can be safe when wet, even though it is usually more slippery. Even though porcelain is waterproof, keep in mind that the tile grouts are not waterproof. The grouts allow moisture to seep through, promoting mold growth and damaging the subfloor. You need to repair your tile grout frequently to preserve the water resistance of your tile floor.
Ceramic tiles are the next best thing to tackle puddles and standing water. The main difference between ceramic and porcelain is their porosity. Ceramic tiles are porous, meaning they have small holes along the surface that can absorb small amounts of liquid. So, it is more water-resistant than waterproof — it can resist water but only to a certain extent.
The slip resistance of ceramic depends on its COF rating. But generally, tiles are more slippery than other flooring materials. Depending on the PEI rating, which indicates the durability of tiles, ceramic tiles can be durable enough for areas that see standing water regularly. So, aim for a higher COF and PEI rating in ceramic tiles for damper areas.
Concrete is incredibly hard and robust — ideal for spaces where you expect the floor to take a beating. Although concrete wasn’t popular for residential uses, it is now becoming popular for creating a contemporary look. Sealed concrete is water and stain-resistant. Its extreme durability makes it the right choice for water-prone areas. However, one important thing to remember is that concrete is very hard and can become slippery when wet — which imposes safety concerns.
The vinyl itself is an excellent choice for bathrooms and other wet areas — and the sheet version is even more so. The wear layer that sits on the top prevents any water from seeping through the vinyl. However, in plank and tile vinyl, water can penetrate through the seams and reach the subfloor, which can rot the subfloor and cause mold growth. Sheet vinyl is entirely waterproof, leaving no gaps and joints for moisture to penetrate.
Vinyl is slip-resistant and comfortable. Although the slip resistance depends on the type of finish you get, it still performs better than most tiles. In fact, this is one of the leading reasons many prefer vinyl for bathrooms over ceramic tiles.
Luxury vinyl tiles and planks
Luxury vinyl planks and tiles are excellent choices for wet areas because they possess a number of qualities to battle excess water and moisture. Luxury vinyl is water-resistant. So, you can clean it with water. It is becoming an increasingly popular choice for bathrooms as it offers a softer and warmer underfoot compared to ceramic tiles or stone flooring.
Luxury vinyl is also incredibly durable and does not damage easily. The tongue-and-groove installation provides a tight seal against water, which is crucial to prevent water from seeping through the joints. One incredible thing about luxury vinyl is that the entire floor is waterproof, down to the core, unlike laminate or engineered hardwood.
Vinyl tiles and planks
Vinyl tiles and planks are incredible for damp areas. Similar to vinyl sheets, the wear layer sitting on top prevents any water from seeping through the surface. However, the seams in the tiles and planks let through a small amount of water over time. So, you cannot leave standing water for long on vinyl tiles and planks. But they are fine for damp areas where the spills are cleaned up quickly.
Acceptable Flooring for Wet Areas
Engineered hardwood performs better than solid hardwood and laminate in wet areas because of its durability and comparatively better resistance against water. The plywood core adds to the durability of the material. It is made of multiple layers that are perpendicular to each other that tightly seal the wood. It doesn’t expand or shrink with moisture, making it more stable and durable. However, engineered hardwood is not waterproof. It will not stand up to puddles for long but can handle occasional spills and humidity fluctuations.
Although some manufacturers warranty protection against moisture, you need to clean up spills immediately. Also, you cannot clean it with wet mops, but a damp mop is safe. It is also not scratch-proof. But depending on the finish, it is mostly slip-resistant, even under wet conditions.
Laminate flooring performs better than solid hardwood in moisture and is thus referred to as a moisture-resistant product. But that doesn’t mean you can use it regularly in areas puddled with water, as it is not waterproof. Its fiberboard core swells and blisters if it comes into contact with water. Any water through the seams can ruin the installation. So, even though it comes with a protective seal on the top surface and is often marketed as water-resistant, you still need to be cautious with spills and splashes and will have to clean them up immediately.
Bamboo flooring is typically more water-resistant than solid hardwood. That being said, it is still a natural material. Even though it is water resistant, the organic structure of bamboo can still give way to warping if exposed to excessive moisture. One noteworthy fact about this natural material is it is a naturally hostile environment for mold. It slows mold’s ability to grow under normal circumstances. For wet or moist areas, go for a high-quality bamboo floor, as it will typically provide spill protection in case of accidental puddles.
Although linoleum is not waterproof or built to handle standing water, it still has some water-resistant properties, making it an “okay” choice for moist environments. Its top coat protects it from spills. It needs to be sealed regularly to protect it against liquid penetration. However, if flooding occurs, the installation can be ruined. Excessive humidity can sometimes cause individual tiles or the corners of sheets to warp or curl. Since the color and pattern are not just printed on the surface but through the entire thickness of the material, it hides wear and tears better than vinyl.
Even though the natural wax makes cork inherently water-resistant, the high-density fiberboard (HDF) layer that typically stiffens floating floor planks and forms their click-and-lock fastening system can still absorb moisture that seeps into the seams between the planks. This is why it is crucial that you choose a waterproof click-together cork that replaces the standard HDF structural layer with one made from cork impregnated with high-density polyethylene (HDPE) plastic.
Worst Flooring for Wet Areas
Solid hardwood is notorious for being super sensitive to moisture and liquid. It cannot be used in wet areas such as bathrooms or even sometimes the kitchen if you spill on the floor regularly. Humidity fluctuations are also a massive concern for hardwood floor owners. You need to maintain optimal humidity levels throughout the year to protect hardwood from warping, cupping or cracking. Therefore, regardless of how expensive your hardwood is, it is not suitable for basements, laundry rooms, any humid part of the house, or areas that regularly see spills.
It’s no surprise that carpets are bad for bathrooms or other wet areas. Carpet holds on to moisture and, therefore, promotes mold and mildew growth. Even though you can waterproof a rug, it is still not recommended in semi-wet and wet areas since there are so many better floorings for wet areas.
What’s your biggest concern about flooring for wet areas? Comment below and let us know!