When it comes to laminate flooring versus hardwood, there are several key differences. Both are popular floor coverings, but each excels in different areas. Laminate is a good fit for basements, kids’ spaces, and moisture-prone rooms where hardwood will not perform well. Hardwood is a more expensive but higher-quality flooring than laminate, and it can usually lead to a higher resale value, especially when cared for properly.
In this article:
What Is Hardwood Flooring?
Producing hardwood starts with harvesting mature trees. It’s then milled, sanded, and either stained and finished in the factory or installed unfinished, then stained and sealed. There are many popular types of hardwood flooring, ranging in color from the pale blonde of white oak to the deep brown-black of ebony.
You can also choose different hardwood floor finishes, which can affect the floor’s performance in your home. For example, moisture-cured urethane is hardwearing and great for busy homes with pets and kids.
What Is Laminate Flooring?
Laminate is a synthetic composite product. It has a moisture-resistant stabilizing base layer topped with synthetic fiberboards that provide volume and strength. On top sits a photographic layer that gives the plank its design and color, along with a clear resin to make it more durable.
Laminate flooring and wood often feature similar appearances. However, hardwood is known for its more organic, textural appearance.
HardwoodLaminateNatural texture with unique grain patternsSynthetic material that can mimic the look of hardwoodCan take on different stains and finishesMany style possibilities extend beyond a hardwood appearanceVulnerable to scratches and discolorationSynthetic wood grain can look unrealistic on laminate
Hardwood flooring is beloved for its warm, natural texture and unique grain patterns that ensure every hardwood floor is one of a kind. However, hardwood can scratch more easily than laminate and might fade or discolor when exposed to too much sun.
Laminate can look like hardwood flooring depending on the photographic layer, but it doesn’t always look very realistic. Laminate also doesn’t offer the unique texture and look that hardwood offers. However, it can come in many different styles extending beyond wood.
It’s always a good idea to weigh laminate versus hardwood costs before making a decision. If you’re on a tight budget, laminate flooring is the better choice since it’s usually a fraction of the cost of hardwood flooring. However, hardwood usually lasts much longer than laminate, potentially saving you some money in the long run.
HardwoodLaminateCosts between $6 – $12 per sq. ft. without installationCosts between $0.70 – $2 per sq. ft. without installationExotic woods cost more than domesticPrice depends on the thickness and the quality of the print layer
Hardwood flooring is typically much more expensive than laminate, ranging from $6 to $12 per square foot, not including installation. Exotic woods tend to cost the most, as do very strong types of wood. Refinishing hardwood floors costs between $3 and $8 per square foot
Laminate flooring is definitely the budget-friendly choice compared to hardwood flooring. However, you can’t refinish damaged laminate flooring; you’ll have to replace it. Laminate flooring costs between $0.70 and $2 per square foot. Generally, thicker laminate with higher-quality print layers costs more than thinner laminate with lower-quality layers.
With high-quality finishes, laminate and hardwood are relatively easy to keep clean. However, each has advantages and disadvantages when it comes to maintenance.
HardwoodLaminateEasy to clean by vacuuming or sweepingEasy to clean with a light vacuumingRefinishing is possible if it’s scratched Requires replacement if damaged Sensitive to moisture, so you can’t mop it with too much water Can mop it with water Cannot tolerate abrasive cleanersCannot tolerate standing water
Hardwood is relatively easy to clean using a vacuum or broom. However, water can warp hardwood, so it’s best not to mop this flooring with lots of water. And while scratches can appear on hardwood, you can refinish them to remove the scratches rather than replacing the whole floor. You can also use furniture pads to help prevent scratches.
Laminate is easy to clean with a vacuum, broom, and mop. It won’t typically warp when mopped with excessive water like hardwood. However, standing water can stain it, so it’s best to wipe up any spills as soon as they happen.
Both hardwood and laminate flooring do a good job of enduring lots of foot traffic for a period of time. However, hardwood is more prone to moisture damage, while laminate has a shorter lifespan.
HardwoodLaminateNot as resistant to scratches, stains, and dents as laminateResistant to scratches, stains, and dentsDurability varies by speciesYou’ll have to replace damaged planks
Prone to moisture damage and warping if not sealed regularlyStanding water can cause it to warpToo much sun exposure on certain species can cause discolorationLess likely than some wood species to fade from sunlight but more likely to stain
Hardwood flooring can last a lifetime, depending on the wood species and how well it’s maintained. And if it does start to deteriorate, hardwood flooring can often be refinished to restore its original appearance, unlike laminate, which needs replacing when damaged. Additionally, hardwood floors are more likely to fade from sunlight.
Repairing hardwood floors costs between $450 and $1,550, but it can go as high as $3,000 or more. Expect to pay $2 to $25 per square foot on average.
Laminate flooring doesn’t last as long as hardwood, but it’s more resistant to scratches, stains, and dents. However, you will need to replace damaged planks rather than refinishing them. Laminate can also change appearance in the event of standing water, and it stains more easily than hardwood, so it’s best to clean up spills as soon as possible.
Prices to repair laminate flooring range from $360 to $1,790 but can go as high as $3,000. Repairs usually require removing and replacing damaged boards.
Whichever flooring material you choose, it’s best to hire a flooring contractor in your area to install it. But let’s take a closer look at the installation process for each.
HardwoodLaminateMore difficult to install than laminateEasier for DIYers to install than hardwoodPrefinished hardwood flooring reduces installation time and costComes prefinished, no need for sanding or sealingCustom stains and finishes are availableCan emit volatile organic compounds that may negatively impact your healthTongue-and-groove hardwood planks make DIY installation easierCan be installed below grade and over existing floorsThe dust and odor of the finish are not safe to inhaleNew installations have strong scents that take days to dissipate
Hardwood flooring is usually more challenging to install than laminate flooring, especially for DIYers. However, opting for tongue-and-groove hardwood planks can make installation easier. You can also choose prefinished hardwood flooring instead of unfinished if you want to reduce your installation time. This will also reduce installation costs if you hire a local hardwood flooring specialist to install it for you.
Laminate is the easier of the two flooring types to install, and you can install laminate flooring over your existing floors or below grade. Laminate flooring also comes prefinished, so there’s no need to worry about sanding or sealing. However, you’ll need to be precise when cutting laminate plank flooring to ensure proper installation. Also, laminate might emit volatile organic compounds, which can pose a health risk
One of hardwood flooring’s biggest benefits is that it can last a lifetime. Laminate, however, usually has a lifespan of 15 to 25 years.
HardwoodLaminateLasts 30 – 100 yearsLasts 15 – 25 years
Hardwood flooring can last anywhere from 30 to 100 years or longer, depending on the wood species and how well it’s maintained. Also, you can often refinish it to extend its life rather than replacing it.
Laminate flooring typically lasts 15 to 25 years when properly maintained. However, improper maintenance, like letting spills sit for extended periods, can reduce that lifespan considerably. Laminate flooring also can’t be refinished like hardwood, so once it loses its luster, you’ll have to replace it with new flooring.
When it comes to being eco-friendly, hardwood flooring is the better choice. However, many laminate floors are recyclable, slightly reducing their environmental impact.
HardwoodLaminateMore eco-friendly than laminateLess eco-friendly than hardwoodBiodegradable85% of laminate flooring is recyclable
Hardwood is among the few environmentally-friendly flooring choices, provided it’s sustainably sourced. This is largely because it’s recyclable and completely biodegradable, so it won’t contribute to the overflow of landfills.
Since it’s a synthetic material that won’t biodegrade, laminate is decidedly less eco-friendly than hardwood flooring. However, around 85% of laminate flooring is recyclable, which minimizes its environmental impact. Additionally, most laminate flooring these days is LEED-certified. LEED certification indicates that the flooring manufacturer meets sustainability standards set by the U.S. Green Building Council.
Adding new flooring of any kind often boosts the resale value of your home. However, hardwood flooring tends to increase resale values more than laminate.
HardwoodLaminateHigher resale valueLower resale value54% of homebuyers would invest more in a home with hardwood flooringIts shorter lifespan makes laminate less of a draw for potential homebuyers
Due to their longer lifespan, hardwood floors usually offer a much higher resale value than laminate floors. In fact, 54% of homebuyers are willing to invest more money in a house if it has hardwood flooring.
Due to its shorter lifespan, as well as its appearance compared to hardwood, laminate flooring won’t typically increase your resale value as much as hardwood flooring. However, it also costs much less to install.
Even if you’re not installing new floors in a kitchen or bathroom, your floors will likely encounter moisture at some point, so it’s helpful to know how these materials tolerate water. When it comes to wood floors versus laminate, the latter tends to be more moisture-resistant.
HardwoodLaminateThe denser the wood, the more water-resistant it is The top layer is moisture-resistantNeeds regular resealing to maintain moisture resistanceStanding water can damage itCan grow mold if exposed to constant moistureLess likely to develop mold than hardwoodUntreated wood is more susceptible to moisture damageWater can seep in and damage the boards underneath if the seal and top layer are damaged
Hardwood flooring requires regular sealing to ensure it’s resistant to moisture. But even when sealed, it’s generally more vulnerable to moisture damage than laminate, so you shouldn’t mop this flooring with a lot of water. Opting for a dense wood species will give you better moisture resistance.
The top layer of laminate flooring is more resistant to moisture than hardwood. Laminate flooring is also less likely to develop mold than its hardwood counterpart. However, standing water can cause laminate flooring to bubble and warp. And if the floor’s top layer is damaged, water can seep underneath and damage the floorboards.
In colder climates, radiant heating can keep your home comfortably warm. But hardwood flooring tends to be better for radiant heating systems than laminate. Laminate or hardwood radiant floor heating costs about $15 to $20 per square foot.
HardwoodLaminateThin boards are better for radiant heat than thick boardsRadiant heating requires specialized laminateBest to use a wood species that can adapt to humidity changesOften doesn’t conduct heat efficiently
In general, hardwood flooring is better than laminate flooring when it comes to radiant heating since it’s better at distributing heat. However, you want to make sure you choose a wood species that can adapt well to humidity changes. Thinner hardwood planks are also better at distributing radiant heat than thicker planks.
You usually need specialized laminate flooring for radiant heating. But even specialized laminate won’t work as well with radiant heating as hardwood floors. Laminate doesn’t do a great job of conducting heat, and temperature changes can cause it to expand and shrink, creating gaps in the floor.
Pets and their little toenails can take a toll on your flooring. If you have four-legged family members running around your house, consider the advantages and disadvantages of these two flooring types.
HardwoodLaminateProvides better traction for pets than laminateMore resistant to scratches than hardwoodEasy to cleanAlso easy to cleanCan refinish scratchesPet waste can soak into the floor and cause odorsSpilled water bowls could cause moisture damageMore slippery for pets than hardwoodHardwood floors can sound loud if pets race aroundPets’ toenails won’t sound as loud on laminate compared to hardwood
Hardwood flooring is more likely to get scratched from your pet’s toenails than laminate. However, you can remove scratches by refinishing the floor without needing to replace it. Hardwood also provides better traction for pets, making it easier for them to walk and run around. But little pet steps tend to sound louder on hardwood than laminate.
Laminate flooring won’t scratch as easily when little toenails run across it as hardwood, but when it does get scratched, you can’t refinish it. Your pets might also have a harder time walking and running on laminate since it’s more slippery. And when your pet spills their water bowl, and you can’t clean it right away, the water can warp the floor, but this is also true for hardwood.
Is Laminate Flooring or Hardwood Flooring Better for Your Home?
Laminate and hardwood are both viable flooring options for your home. The right choice depends on your priorities, such as price, look, and durability.
Natural lookManufactured lookCost
$6 – $12 per square foot$0.70 – $2 per square footLifespan
30 – 100+ years15 – 25 yearsInstallation
Harder to installEasier to installEnvironmental Impact
Biodegradable and recyclableNot biodegradable but often recyclableDurability
More durableLess durableRadiant Heating
Best for radiant heatingNot ideal for radiant heatingResale Value
Higher resale valueLower resale valueMoisture Resistance
Less moisture resistantMore moisture resistant
In the bathroom, laminate flooring is the better choice as it’s better at resisting moisture than hardwood and doesn’t require extra sealing or special precautions. For other flooring options for this room, check out the best bathroom flooring materials.
For kitchens, hardwood is preferable to laminate. If properly sealed, it’s durable, warm, and beautiful. Hardwood is also easy to keep clean and less slippery than laminate, and it’s better for radiant heating. Just be sure to wipe away spills quickly to avoid moisture damage.
There are various kitchen wood flooring types, including reclaimed wood planks, solid unfinished or prefinished planks, and specific wood species, like hickory, oak, ash, maple, and cherry.
Hardwood is an excellent choice for living rooms. The living room is usually the biggest, most-used room in the home, so if you spend money anywhere, this is a good room to invest in. Hardwood is attractive, comfortable to walk on, and can provide your living room with lots of welcoming warmth.
High-traffic areas need floors that can endure regular use. Choose laminate for bathrooms and utility areas that withstand lots of wear—muddy boots and wet laundry won’t impact good laminate. Hallways and other high-traffic areas might benefit from dense, durable hardwood like ebony or Brazilian cherry. These woods are hard enough to withstand a lot of foot traffic yet beautiful enough to add value to your property and leave a good impression on visitors.
Hardwood and Laminate vs. Other Materials
There are many types of residential flooring, with hardwood and laminate being two of the most popular. Let’s see how they stack up against other wood-look floorings.
Engineered wood flooring costs less than laminate but is on par with hardwood. While not solid wood, engineered wood flooring does have a thin veneer of natural wood laid over a dense plywood or fiberboard base. Good quality planks are indistinguishable from solid hardwood. They’re also suitable for use with radiant heat. Unlike laminate, you can usually refinish it a couple of times, but it still doesn’t have the longevity of solid hardwood floors.
Vinyl floors cost about the same as laminate. While it looks like wood, vinyl can mimic tile or stone or have completely different designs. It won’t add long-term value to your home, but vinyl is a great budget-friendly choice that is moisture-resistant, comparatively simple to install, and easy to clean.