Laminate floors gained popularity when it was first introduced in the market in the 90s for creating natural floor aesthetics without breaking the bank. Since then, laminate has made its own identity as a durable, DIY-friendly flooring option. However, homeowners are constantly looking for laminate floors suitable as flooring for wet areas since the typical ones don’t hold well against water — and that is where waterproof laminate floors come in.
But are waterproof laminate floors actually effective in holding up against puddles and regular spills? Or is it only water-resistant laminate being marketed as waterproof laminate floors? Let’s look into it.
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Is Laminate Flooring Waterproof?
Laminate flooring is generally not waterproof and is highly susceptible to water damage. To understand why water and moisture are such significant issues to laminate, you must first understand the material inside and the layers.
Laminate floors have four main layers: the wear layer, the print layer, the core layer, and the backing. The problem water creates in laminate does not stem from the top or the bottom layer but from the core that gives laminate its stability. The center of the laminate floor is made of high-density fiberboard (HDF), which is basically fused wood pulp. If you have observed how particleboards and fiberboards behave when they come in contact with water, you already know how they swell up and disintegrate in water. It is the same case with laminates.
Additionally, laminate floors use click-and-lock installation, exposing the seams. Even though the wear layer and the backing prevent the water from penetrating and reaching the core, water can seep through the seam gaps to get to the fiberboard. The moisture eventually swells and delaminates the entire floor.
Waterproof Laminate Floors VS Water-resistant Laminate Floors
If you are in the market for waterproof laminate floors, you should clearly understand the difference between waterproof laminate and water-resistant laminate. Some brands falsely claim their laminate to be waterproof when it’s, at best, water-resistant. And if you install them in wet areas without knowing the difference, you will be looking at a hefty floor replacement bill in the not-so-distant future.
Waterproof laminate floors
If a laminate is truly waterproof, it means that water will never be able to penetrate, regardless of how much time has passed. Although it is questionable whether a flooring material can be truly waterproof, any floors claiming to be waterproof should be able to withstand water for a considerable period.
Water-resistant laminate floors
The water-resistant laminate usually means that the top layer (wear layer) and sometimes the backing can resist and repel water. Meaning if you cannot get to a spill right away, this water resistance quality will buy you some time before the water penetrates through the material. But as the seams aren’t completely sealed, the water will eventually reach the core, which is not built to handle water.
What Are Waterproof Laminate Floors?
Waterproof laminate floors are an upgrade of traditional laminate flooring that can resist water damage. For a long time, what brands marketed as waterproof laminate floors were actually water-resistant laminate floors. However, innovative technologies have transformed laminate flooring to better resist water damage.
Waterproof laminate floors typically endorse the following properties:
- Waterproof seal: All the laminate surfaces feature a water-repellent seal that prevents moisture from reaching the core.
- Waterproof joints: Laminate planks are locked tightly to prevent water from seeping through the seams. Some waterproof laminate floors even feature bevels that wrap over the edge of the plank for even better moisture protection.
- Water-resistant core: The core layer features compressed high-density fiberboard (HDF) with resins, making it less susceptible to swelling and improving its water-resistance properties.
Waterproof Laminate Floor Layers
- Wear layer: This is the top layer of laminate that protects it from scratches and other surface damage. It features a waterproof seal preventing water from reaching the layers underneath.
- Print layer: The image or print layer holds the pattern or print of your floor, giving the laminate its realistic wooden or natural stone look.
- Core layer: The core layer is made of high-density fiberboard (HDF) that gives laminate durability and stability. As this layer is most susceptible to water damage, this is where waterproofing comes into play. The fiberboard in waterproof laminate floors features resin that makes it more resistant to moisture and less likely to swell and disintegrate in water.
- Backing: The backing layer provides stability for the laminate and also keeps water from penetrating the flooring from underneath. It also seals off the core from subfloor moisture.
Advantages of Waterproof Laminate Floors
The biggest advantage of waterproof laminate flooring is that it is resistant to water damage. Unlike traditional laminate flooring, which is prone to moisture damage, waterproof laminate is designed to withstand exposure to water and other liquids. It is an excellent choice for areas prone to spills or moisture, such as kitchens, bathrooms, and basements. Since it is highly water resistant, you can also clean it with water.
The waterproofing properties also make waterproof laminate extremely durable. It is not susceptible to moisture damage, so it outlasts traditional laminate flooring. The water-resistant coating on the top layer protects it from scratches, dents, and general wear and tear. Additionally, waterproof laminate floors are designed to resist fading from UV light exposure, making them an excellent option for areas with lots of natural sunlight.
Easy to maintain
Traditional laminate or other floorings that are not water-resistant or waterproof cannot be cleaned with water. If you ever spill liquid on these floorings, you need to clean it up immediately and dry the area thoroughly to avoid moisture damage. A premium quality waterproof laminate will resist spills even if they go unnoticed. You can easily clean them by sweeping or vacuuming and follow that up with mopping using a damp cloth. Typically, wood-safe cleaners work well with laminate.
Easy to install
Homeowners love laminate floors because of how easy they are to install. But until recently, water damage to laminate flooring was a big concern, especially in damp and wet areas. So, homeowners opted for ceramic tiles or vinyl in these areas. But waterproof laminate provides ease of installation as well as protection against water. The click-and-lock installation is a breeze for mid-level DIYers and also saves money on labor costs.
One major reason behind the popularity of laminate flooring is how realistically it can imitate wood or natural stone floors. But laminate could not be installed in kitchens, bathrooms and other damp locations without waterproofing properties. Some waterproof alternatives, such as vinyl, might look too plastic-y in these areas. But with waterproof laminate, you get the best of both worlds. You get abundant choices in color, finishes, and textures to create whatever look you have in your mind without worrying about moisture-caused problems.
Limitations of Waterproof Laminate Floors
More expensive than traditional laminate
Waterproof laminate is slightly more expensive than traditional laminate flooring. Waterproof laminate averages $4.50 per square foot, while traditional laminates average $2.50 per square foot. However, since waterproof laminate has a longer life expectancy than standard laminate, it makes up for the added cost in the long term.
Might not be fully waterproof
Most brands put a water-repellent coat on top of the traditional laminate, label it as waterproof laminate floors and call it a day. Therefore, it isn’t easy to come by genuinely waterproof laminate floors that will withstand water and moisture. Even the ones branded as waterproof might only be water-resistant. So, you need to read the fine prints and find if they have waterproofed the laminate following all three methods mentioned in this article.
How Much Do Waterproof Laminate Floors Cost?
Waterproof laminate floors cost between $3 to $5 per square foot, with the industry average standing at $4.50 per square foot. In comparison, the average cost of standard laminate is at $2.50 per square foot. Waterproof laminate’s close competitor, luxury vinyl planks, costs $2.50 to $5 per square foot, while standard vinyl costs $0.50 to $2 per square foot.