Laminate Flooring Reviews
So, you’re finally ready to update your old flooring! We spent 27 hours researching everything there is to know about laminate flooring and testing to find the best brands on the market regarding durability, long-lasting quality, and price. No need for you to waste any more time weeding through the possibilities because we’ve already done it for you. All five of the brands we reviewed are loved by professionals and DIYers alike. Don’t wait any longer, check out the skinny on five of the top brands of laminate flooring below.
- Best Overall Laminate Flooring
- Best High-End Laminate Flooring
- Best Budget Laminate Flooring
- What is Laminate Flooring?
- Things to Consider
Laminate Flooring Buying Guide
What is Laminate Flooring?
Redoing your floors can be a big-ticket item when it comes to remodeling. However, the ‘wow’ factor is profound when you redo your floors, and you’ll be thrilled with the new, fresh, clean look they provide.
Budget is always a big concern, and flooring companies know this. In recent years there has been a surge in laminate flooring choices because they compete in price with solid hardwood planks. Manufacturers know that many customers want the look of hardwood without the high price that goes with it.
Laminate is a flooring product that is constructed of a dense fiberboard with a high-resolution wood grain image on top to simulate genuine hardwood boards. This image is covered with a protective clear-coat layer that is durable enough to resist scratching and can stand up to discoloration from sunlight. Often this clear-coat layer is stronger and therefore better than most hardwoods and standing up to wear and tear.
Laminate flooring is constructed in layers. The bottom-most layer is called the ‘backing,’ and it is designed to resist moisture that could damage or warp the boards.
The next layer up is the ‘inner core.’ This layer is made from a high-density fiberboard material that is held together with a resin that is designed to resist any further moisture issues or damage.
On top of the ‘inner core’ is the image layer. This is where the high-resolution, digital image of wood, metal, stone, or other material adheres. Often, higher quality laminates will also add a texture layer here to enhance the look of real wood further.
Finally, the top layer, the ‘wear’ layer, is applied. This layer is a clear coat layer that protects the product from scratches, fading, and everyday wear.
Each one of these layers can be manufactured with varying degrees of quality. It’s important to know what you’re getting and to choose reputable manufacturers that use honest marketing.
It’s also best to know the manufacturer’s AC Rating to understand the best-intended use for the board you’re looking at buying. In general, the higher the AC Rating, the more durable the boards will be over time.
Once the boards are manufactured, they are cut into varying lengths, and one side is grooved, and the other is slotted. This allows the boards to click, or snap together forming what is a bit like a large “puzzle” that floats above the subfloor.
Certain brands even have matching trim pieces to complete your remodel and make your new floor come together beautifully.
Things to Consider
AC Rating – The AC rating measures the durability of the surface of the laminate flooring. AC ratings go from AC1 to AC5. Less expensive floors often have a lower AC rating such as AC1 or AC2. However, for general residential use, it is recommended to use at least an AC3 rated floor.
|AC Rating||Usage||Best Usage|
|AC1||Light||Adult Bedrooms, Guest Rooms|
|AC2||Moderate||Living Rooms and Dining Rooms|
|AC3||General||Residential Kitchens and Small Offices|
|AC4||Heavy||Restaurants, Busy Offices, Hair Salons|
|AC5||Commercial||Department Stores, Grocery Stores, Public Buildings|
Width – Flooring comes in a wide array of sizes and shapes depending on the style you choose. Wood-plank laminate, for example, generally ranges from 4 inches to 8 inches wide. Ceramic tile laminate usually ranges from 12 inches to 15 inches and can either be square or rectangular. Be careful when making your choice and be sure to consider the size and look of your room. Wide widths and larger squares can overwhelm a small room, so select a size that works with the design of your home.
Thickness – Thickness is important because the thicker the flooring, the more it will sound like a natural hardwood floor. A thinner floor will remit more sound versus absorbing the sound as thicker, real-wood floor would do. Thicker floors also tend to be more durable than a thinner floor.
Locking System – Be sure that the flooring you choose has a quality locking system. Without a good quality system, you could be in jeopardy of the floor losing its long-term hold, moisture resistance. It will also be more difficult to install the flooring, which can be quite tricky as it is.
Gloss – Decide if you like a high-gloss or low-gloss look before choosing your laminate. Both options give a very different look to a room. Try to pick the finish that fits your décor and taste the best. Either way, the gloss should have very little effect on the durability of the flooring. The only exception would be that a low-gloss finish many hide small scratches better than a high-gloss floor.
Durability – Many laminate flooring materials are manufactured in a range of performance levels. At the highest performance level, you will find commercial grade products that can stand up to heavy wear and tear. Lower level products will be cheaper and only able to handle light and residential use. Know the amount of traffic you expect on your floor and choose your product accordingly.
Underlayment – The underlayment is a layer of protective product that you install on your subfloor before installing the laminate flooring. The underlayment layer will provide further protection from moisture and will dampen sound. This layer can also help your laminate sound like solid wood when you walk on it.
Cost – Laminate flooring can cost anywhere from $0.99 up to $8.00 and even beyond for custom, high-end products. However, most laminate will cost from $1.99 to $4.99 a square foot depending on design and quality. The cost also depends on the thickness and quality of the image and texture. Trust your eyes when choosing to pick a laminate that looks and feels like the real thing.
Warranty – Rest assured that laminate is durable and long-lasting. It was purposely designed with those aspects in mind and as an affordable alternative to hard wood. Be sure to check manufacturers’ warranties and know what all they cover. Many brands have products that are warranted for decades. Armstrong, for example, has laminate warranties that range from 20 years to lifetime, depending on which product you install.
Advantages of Laminate Flooring
Since its invention in 1977 by Swedish company Perstorp, laminate flooring has steadily climbed its way to becoming one of the top flooring choices of many builders and homeowners. It has risen so much in popularity that the first laminate flooring brand, Pergo, has had its name become synonymous with the product itself.
Laminate flooring is designed to be more water resistant than traditional hardwood flooring yet is designed to have the look of a natural hardwood floor. It is easy to clean and can stand up to a variety of cleaning products that can’t be used on hardwood floors.
One of the main reasons that laminate is so sought-after is its price. Laminate flooring is a fantastically durable material at about half the cost of genuine hardwood. All of this, along with a large scope and variety of options to choose from have made it one of the top products on the market.
One of our favorite advantages of installing laminate flooring is how simple it is to install! In fact, the installation is so simple that it’s like snapping together a jigsaw puzzle. Cutting the pieces to fit your room will probably be the most challenging aspect of the installation. The fewer obstacles and angled cuts you have, the easier and faster the flooring will be to install.
However, it’s still a project that can be completed by your average DIYer in a weekend or two – depending on the size of your room.
How to Install Laminate Flooring
For the sake of this guide, we will discuss installation starting from the point where you have cleared your floor of any past flooring. (Be sure to read How to Remove Laminate Flooring in this guide to complete this step). You will also need to have checked it for level across at least a six-foot span, and cleared the surface of any residual nails, tack strips or glue. These preparatory steps are essential to success and cannot be missed.
Also, please note you should always buy a bit more flooring than you’ll ultimately need. You’ll want to be sure you have enough in case of a mistake such as a miscut. Buy 10% to 15% extra, and you should be fine. This will also give you a bit extra if you ever need to replace a board in the future.
- Acclimate your flooring. Place your flooring in the room where you will install it and follow manufacturer’s instructions as to how long to wait. The generally accepted amount of time is two to four days. This will allow the laminate to settle into its new surroundings and take its permanent shape.
- Determine your layout. Measure the room and determine its longest wall. Flooring is generally laid parallel to the main view of the room which is usually along the longest wall. By laying the flooring in this direction, the room will appear larger. After measuring, you will also be able to determine how many rows you will need to install and how wide the last row will be. No row should be less than 2 inches, so plan accordingly and cut down your first row a bit if you need your last row to be wider.
- Prepare the door frames. Undercut your door frames and any location along the wall where you won’t be able to use shoe molding (the decorative trim used to cover any space between your base molding and the floor.) Undercut it enough so that your flooring can fit underneath and not leave any gap.
- Install the underlayment. Lay out your underlayment being sure to cover the floor completely. This step is critical for reducing both sound and moisture once the flooring is installed. Be sure
- to completely tape the seams and don’t leave any gaps.
- Lay out your first piece. Lay the first row completely without installing it to check how big the last piece in the row will be. Generally, you want the first row to have at least a 12-inch piece at both the beginning and at the end of the row. Trim accordingly to make sure this happens.
- Snap in your first row. Using a rocking motion, snap the tongue and groove of each end together by using firm, even pressure. Be sure everything is flush and flat, or problems will build up later during installation.
- Line up your next row. Being sure to stagger your joints, lay out the next row and snap the long end into place first, followed by tapping the short end into place with the use of a rubber mallet. It’s best to tap the mallet against a spare piece of flooring that is butted against the piece you’re installing. This will protect it from any dings or nicks and will keep the tongue and groove intact.
- Repeat installing rows. Continue following the same process you used in the last row and continue to install rows using a systematic and staggered pattern. Always lay out each row before snapping it into place to be sure you like the look and layout of each piece. Tighten each end piece by using a pull bar which allows you to strike away from the wall while still applying pressure to tighten the board. This will close any gaps you have in the row.
- Beware of tricky spots. Tricky spots can include small spaces that jut out from the floor or spots where you’ll need to make special cuts to get the flooring to fit. One example would be under a door frame.
- Finishing touches. Finally, you can reattach your baseboards if you removed them and install shoe molding if it’s needed. Finish by caulking and painting whatever is needed. Lastly, stand back and admire your work!
How to Clean Laminate Flooring
Laminate floors get their beautiful appearance from a high-resolution, photographic layer inside a layer of plastic. They may look a lot like wood, but because they aren’t, they can’t be refinished like wood.
Because of this, it will be well worth your time to keep them clean and free of damaging dirt and moisture. Be sure to keep floor rugs and mats in front of exterior doors, and runners in high-traffic areas such as along hallways.
Each laminate flooring company will have its own best methods for cleaning, and it’s best first to read the manufacturers suggestions. However, if you don’t want to go the traditional cleaning route, try one of these methods.
- Vinegar – mixing equal parts vinegar and water will give you the shiniest and cleanest laminate floors. Some companies, such as Pergo, say that vinegar is better used at a ratio of 1 cup of vinegar to 1 gallon of water. The mixture is not harmful, so play around and see what you feel is best.
- DON’T use Murphy’s Oil or Pine Sol – using these products is a common mistake because many homeowners tend to treat their laminate like hardwood. It is best to clean laminate without using a moisturizing cleaner as this could leave streaks.
- One product that is gentle but works well on laminate is baby shampoo. Baby shampoo can be an inexpensive option for cleaning laminate and is a great way to remove dirt, dust, and mud without hurting your floors. Just put two tablespoons of baby shampoo into one gallon of hot water and start mopping. Do not use adult shampoo which can leave residue on the floor.
- Be sure to dry your laminate floor after mopping. Also, wring out any excess water from your mop. Both of these steps are important because excess moisture can damage your wood laminate floor. In fact, a sponge mop is usually best for this job because it doesn’t hold too much water.
Although laminate floors do not stain easily, you may find yourself in a situation where something becomes hardened to the floor. First, try using a commercial cleaner that’s formulated for the stain/mark. If that doesn’t work then try the following:
- Candle Wax – Let the wax harden before trying to remove it. Once it’s cool and hard remove it with the edge of a knife or other flat, hard surface.
- Grease and Tar – Mineral spirits is great for removing thick, sticky stains.
- Ink and Crayon – Use rubbing alcohol
- Shoe Polish – Use rubbing alcohol
- Chewing Gum – Freeze the gum by placing an ice cube or another frozen item on top of the wad. Scrape it off with a knife once it’s hardened.
- Blood – Spray the dried blood with window cleaner then wipe if off with a damp cloth. Follow up with a dry cloth.
- Nail Polish – Use rubbing alcohol
- Heel Marks – Believe it or not, a pencil eraser works great for this!
How to Cut Laminate Flooring
Although it is rather simple to install laminate flooring, it can require some practice and skill to trim and cut the laminate planks to the correct length. First off we’ve listed a few of the tools that can help you get the job done easily.
Although it is possible to use a saw to cut the laminate, the most efficient way is to use a laminate floor cutter. Laminate floor cutters chop through the wood using a strong blade and a long handle to exert a tremendous amount of downward force – resulting in no sawdust, and no electric blade saw noise!
They can cost as little as $50 (but don’t expect it to last through more than one job) and as much as $500+ for professional models. An average price model for a basic job would run in the area of $175 – $250.
If you aren’t interested in purchasing a laminate cutter, you always have the option of renting one. Your local home improvement store or rental center will likely have a laminate flooring cutter in their inventory. Expect to pay $15 – $25 a day which you can see is a very affordable option compared to buying one of your own.
When making odd-shaped cuts to fit around pipes, poles, or other obstacles, you will need to use a jigsaw.
A jigsaw can also be used to cut boards to the proper width (which could be an angled cut since not all rooms are perfectly square) and it can also be used to cut lengths which mean you could use it instead of a laminate cutter if you only wanted to use one tool.
A jigsaw is also lighter than a circular saw, so it’s also a good option regarding weight.
Be sure to use the proper blade when using a jigsaw. Blade manufacturers offer blades specifically made for laminates. The proper jigsaw blade will cut on the downward stroke versus the upstroke like standard jigsaw blades. This will keep the face of your board intact without creating chips or breaks.
If you’ve ever installed any type of flooring before you’ve probably used a contour gauge, also known as a profile gauge. Profile gauges are used for cutting oddly shaped pieces, and they create an exact replica of the shape of cut you need to make. You will find this tool incredibly handy, and it will reduce loads of a headache when you’re trying to make perfectly accurate odd-shaped cuts.
Squares are a guide used by woodworkers, craftsmen, architects, and technical draftsmen to guide a straight line across a drawing or a piece of wood that needs to be cut. The basic steel square that carpenters use lays out a right angle along a piece of wood and ensures a straight cut. They are available as a T-square which is the most basic instrument used to create a right angle, or as a combination square that has multiple purposes in woodworking. The most common of which is laying out and marking right angles.
Cutting the Laminate for Length
- Measure the length you will need by using a tape measure
- Mark the board at the spot where you want to make the cut
- At the spot where you marked your cut, use your square and pen to draw a straight line across the face of the board.
- Use your cutting tool (hand saw, circular saw, jig saw) to make the cut slightly to the ‘waste-side’ of your mark and wipe off the remaining ink with a damp cloth.
Cutting the Laminate for Width
Cutting for width will be necessary for at least the last board that you install in the room as well as others if the room has obstacles. Always remember that you will need to allow room for expansion of the floor – a ¼ inch space will be sufficient to keep it from buckling during heat and humidity. This small gap can be hidden by your baseboard or shoe molding.
- Lay a full piece of laminate on top of the board that you are connecting to and push it flush against the wall or obstacle. This will allow you to measure the amount of overlap that you will need to cut off.
- Cut a guide piece out of a scrap piece of laminate that is as wide as the overlap plus ¼ inch to mark how much laminate you will need to remove.
- With your first piece still against the wall, lay this piece of cut scrap on top of it to mark your cut.
- Mark your board by using your guide and running you marking pen along the edge.
- Cut your piece a bit to the ‘waste-side’ of your mark and wipe off the remaining ink with a damp cloth.
Cutting Around Pipes
- Measure the width and length to the center of the pipe
- Mark your laminate where you want the center of the pipe to be
- Use a hole saw that is approximately ½ inch larger in diameter than your pipe diameter and cut a hole in the laminate for your pipe
- Cut the laminate in half right through the center of the hole that you just cut so that the two pieces of the laminate can now fit around the pipe.
- Slide the two pieces together around the pipe and glue together using glue that is suitable for laminate
Cutting Around Obstacles
- Use your contour gauge to replicate the profile of the obstacle
- Lay the contour gauge on top of the piece of laminate you want to cut and trace the profile onto it using a marking pen
- Use a jigsaw to cut out the shape you marked – again, always cut on the ‘waste-side’ of the marked line
- Lay the cut piece up against the obstacle and refine any cuts that need to be touched
How to Remove Laminate Flooring
Video on How to Remove Laminate Flooring
What are some of the reasons that you might want to remove your laminate floor? One reason is that you might just want to upgrade or replace your existing flooring. Another is that it might have gotten damaged or scratched and you need to replace it.
It is quite easy to remove a laminate floor since it is basically a floating floor that isn’t attached to the subfloor. In fact, laminate flooring comes apart as easily as it fits together: in a snap! Just remember that the edges of the board are fragile, but if you remove them carefully, you should be able to use the good boards again in another space.
- Remove all trim pieces – Trim pieces can include transition pieces, shoe molding (also known as quarter round molding), baseboards and the like. It is much easier to remove flooring of any kind if you first remove the baseboards. Start near a door and work your way around from there – slowly prying the baseboard away from the wall. Continue this until it has all been removed. In some cases, you might first have to use a utility knife to score a bead of caulking or paint that’s along the top of the baseboard holding it tight to the wall.
- Clean the base of the wall – Clear away any nails or debris that is left over from where the base board or other trim piece was attached to the wall. If nails are left behind, they can get in the way of pulling up and removing any of the floor boards.
- Pry up your first board – Under the baseboards, you should find a small ¼ inch expansion space along the perimeter of the room that will accept your pry bar and allow you to start removing the floor boards. Carefully wedge the pry bar (or a chisel) between the board and the floor and slowly lever it up until it’s at a 45-degree angle. At this point, the board should be able to unsnap from the piece next to it.
- Continue around the room – Work your way around the room, board by board, until you’ve removed the first row. Next, move on to the second row and repeat removing the boards one-by-one. If they are in good condition, save them for future use.
- Remove the under layer – Under each laminate floor should be an under layer of thin foam or plastic that protects the floor from any moisture. It shouldn’t be attached to the floor, but if it was installed properly, its seams would have been taped for added moisture control. Roll up and dispose of this under layer as it’s usually not suitable to reuse.
- Clean the floor – Clear away leftover dust, dirt, or debris to get the subfloor ready to receive its new flooring.
HELPFUL HINT: Mark the back of your trim pieces with a pencil telling you which wall you removed them from. That way, if you want to reuse them, you’ll know exactly where they go instead of having to guess where they go. Also, use this method to mark the floor boards if you are only taking out a section of the floor to replace a damaged piece. You’ll want your floor seams to line up properly the second time around too!
Dos and Don’ts
If you’ve installed flooring before, you’ve probably already learned these dos and don’ts by experiencing them yourself. However, it’s always good to refresh your memory and be sure you adhere to them all.
- Do buy 5% – 10% more flooring that you think you will need to complete the job. This will allow you room to make mistakes, and you might even end up with a few spare boards for future repairs.
- Do bring your laminate flooring inside for several days before you plan to install it. This will allow the boards to adjust for humidity and moisture. Laminate expands and contracts, so it will need time to acclimate to the levels in the house. If you skip this step, you could have flooring that pulls apart of buckles.
- Do include a ¼” expansion gap around the perimeter of the room. Again, moisture and humidity can expand and contract your boards.
- Do stagger the boards so that the seams do not line up. Not only will your floor be stronger, but it will be more aesthetically pleasing.
- Don’t forget to mark your trim pieces as to where they belong on the wall if you plan to reuse them. This is a big time-saver versus trying to remember which wall you removed them from!
- Don’t include the tongue in your measurements as it will disappear into the groove of the next or previous board when snapped in place. Start your measurement from the finished edge on top of the board.
- Don’t forget to cut the tongue off the first row of boards you install in the room so that those boards can lay flush against the wall. The tongue will already be cut off on these board if you cut them down so that the last row in the room would not be too thin.
It’s exciting to be considering a home remodel yet it can be frustrating at the same time. There can be so many criteria and specifications that you’ve never heard of or even thought of before, and so many questions. What do all those abbreviations and codes mean? What factors are important and which aren’t? How do I make the best cuts? How do I prepare my subfloor?
Don’t worry about researching how to start or even about what tools you’ll need. We’ve researched all this and more so that you wouldn’t have to spend your considering what to do. We then compiled our findings into this one handy guide – the most complete guide on the internet. Look no further than right here for the most comprehensive guide to everything about laminate flooring.