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Good news: The best bargain in flooring is also one of the best-looking. high gloss laminate flooring
There’s a reason sales of laminate flooring are surging. Once the ugly duckling of residential flooring — flimsy, cheap, unattractive — today’s laminate looks better than ever and is also some of the toughest flooring to pass through the Good Housekeeping Institute Home Improvement & Outdoor Lab's rigorous testing. "The winners from our latest laminate flooring tests proved to be extremely stain and scratch resistant, in patterns that are easy to mistake for real hardwood flooring," says Rachel Rothman, executive technical director of the GH Institute.
While the enhancements have driven up the cost of laminate a bit, especially at the higher end of the category, it’s still one of the most affordable flooring materials on the market. And it's as easy to install as ever, with tongue-and-groove planks that snap together over any smooth, stable surface. While wood-look is the clear favorite, if you prefer stone or tile, most major brands carry laminate in those designs as well.
Once you’ve taken a spin through our list of winners, read on for more about how we test flooring and advice on laminate flooring, including installation costs and the best places to shop.
While most laminate flooring is durable, Bruce’s TimberTru Landscape Traditions proved to be exceptionally hard-wearing in our tough abrasion tests, which are designed to simulate years of foot traffic, from people and pets alike.
This flooring also excelled at stain and water-resistance, making it a great fit for any room in the house, even basements. We tested the Tranquil Taupe and Valley Trail styles, both of which boast convincing grain patterns and not-too-much repetition (a tell of cheaper laminate) across their 8-inch-wide, 47-inch-long planks. In terms of sustainability, the TimberTru line carries FloorScore certification, so it meets strict limits on formaldehyde and other volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that can off-gas into the home.
Costing about $1 per square foot (not including installation), this oak-look laminate from LL Flooring shows just how affordable laminate flooring can be. Just don’t expect the same wear- and water-resistance of our top-performing pick.
"As a general rule, less expensive laminate flooring is better for dry, low-traffic areas of the home," says Rothman. The Dream Home flooring was excellent at resisting stains, thanks to its protective top layer, but it was a bit more prone to scratching in our abrasion tests. It also doesn't have a backing, so a separate underlayment will likely be required during installation. Its GREENGUARD Gold Certification means it meets industry standards for low emissions.
The classic hardwood design of this premium laminate from LL Flooring is matched by exceptional durability. The 12mm thick boards shrugged off our tough abrasion test, verifying its AC 4 rating, which qualifies the product for commercial applications. "Based on its stellar performance in our tests, we expect this laminate flooring to look good after years of service in busy kitchens and other high-traffic parts of the home," says Rothman. Its FloorScore Certification ensures low indoor air emissions of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) with potential health effects.
The laminate also aced our water-resistance test, so it's suited to wet locations and is safe for steam mopping, for easy upkeep and cleaning. The attached pad streamlines installation, though the manufacturer recommends installing a supplemental pad for maximum noise absorption and comfort underfoot.
GH's home design experts were blown away by the authenticity of this wood-look laminate flooring from Shaw, with its wavy grain pattern and color variegation. "The embossed texture is another natural touch that also enhances the flooring's slip resistance," notes Alec Scherma, a test engineer at the Good Housekeeping Institute.
In terms of performance, the laminate is up there with the best in terms of water and stain resistance, and it also held up well in our tough abrasion and fade resistance tests. The attached pad means it's ready to install over any clean, stable substrate and you won't have to worry about chemical off-gassing thanks to its GREENGUARD certification.
Superior water resistance makes this Pergo line an excellent choice for bathrooms and other areas that see a lot of water. It can even handle steam mopping — a no-no with many flooring materials, including solid wood and some engineered products (even low-quality laminates).
Our testers pushed the Pergo to the limit by allowing water to sit on the surface for more than one hour, with zero signs of penetration, thanks to its waterproof finish and water-tight joints between boards. Pergo’s laminate flooring also shrugged off the toughest stains in our tests. However, the Element planks with matte finish were slightly more susceptible to abrasion, so you might want to consider another one of our top picks for the kitchen or other high-traffic areas of your home.
With its handsome array of faux-wood patterns, Back Home laminate flooring from Hartco will look great in any part of the home. Our experts tapped it as the perfect fit for finished basements, thanks to its exceptional water resistance, plus the fact that it comes with an attached pad, eliminating the need for a separate underlayment.
This flooring was excellent at repelling stains in our tests, and it also came through our abrasion tests relatively unscathed. However, the 8-inch-wide planks are slightly more susceptible to fading, which is another reason why our experts like Back Home laminate flooring for basement applications.
We began this project by surveying the marketplace to identify the flooring brands and products that you’re most likely to find in stores and online. Next we deployed a range of tests to assess flooring performance in the Good Housekeeping Institute Home Improvement & Outdoor Lab.
To determine stain resistance, we slather mustard, chocolate, mud and other stubborn ingredients onto laminate flooring samples, then allow them to dry overnight. We then remove the sticky substances with paper towels and all-purpose cleaner. Most laminate flooring tends to be very stain resistant.
To measure water resistance, our experts pour two cups of water on an assembled laminate floor and let the puddle sit there for one hour. The best models show no signs of seepage, thanks to their water-tight joints.
The abrasion test is where our experts see the most range in results. We use an abrasion machine that delivers hundreds of passes with fine-grit sandpaper, simulating years of foot traffic, to measure wear and scratch-resistance. Flooring with thick wear layers, say 20-mil or more, tends to offer the best wear-resistance.
An impact machine is also used to determine flooring's ability to withstand dents and dings, like those from a falling cast-iron pan. Fade resistance is measured using the Lab's accelerated weathering machine, which uses intense UV light to simulate years of exposure to natural sunlight. Finally, our experts take into consideration ease of installation, including how easy the material is to cut, as well as the fit of tongue-and-groove profiles.
When shopping for laminate flooring, cheaper models tend to have a tradeoff in looks and performance. But that’s not always the case. Here are the other factors that will help you zero in on the perfect laminate.
✔️ Thickness: Generally speaking, thicker laminate flooring in the 10mm to 12mm range will hold up better than those that are 8mm-thick or less. There are always exceptions though, so it’s good to check the AC rating, short for abrasion coefficient. Based on a 1 to 5 scale, this industry standard measures a floor’s ability to withstand scratches. For high-traffic areas, like a kitchen or mudroom, look for an AC of 3 or higher. AC-1 and AC-2 are suited to seldom-used parts of the home, like a guest bedroom.
✔️ Underlayment: Better laminate flooring has an attached pad that can eliminate the need for a separate underlayment during installation (damp basement floors may still need an additional polyethylene water barrier). Whether made of foam, cork or rubber, the backing will help muffle sound, nice for laminate floors that are being installed on an upper level of the home.
✔️ Wood-look patterns: Most laminate flooring consists of a photo of actual wood that’s sandwiched between dense fiberboard and a clear-plastic protective wear layer. While the latest printing technology can result in incredibly authentic grain patterns, too much repetition can be a give away. Typical pattern repeat is every six planks, but some laminate flooring has a pattern repeat of 10 or 12, creating a more realistic variation across the floor.
If you’re a capable DIYer, the answer to that question could be zero, excluding the cost of tools and materials. That’s because laminate is one of the easiest flooring materials to install; known as a floating system, it features planks that simply snap together with a tongue-and-groove profile. It can be installed over any smooth, stable surface, such as concrete, wood subfloor or even an existing floor made of vinyl or tile. Don’t get us wrong — a lot of complex measuring and cutting is needed to get the flooring just right. But DIY is an option for some skilled homeowners.
If you don’t have the time or skill set, professional installation of laminate flooring averages $3,000, according to ANGI, the home services marketplace. If you’re only doing a single room or area of the home, expect to spend $3 to $8 per square foot (that works out to $600 to $1,600 for a 200 square-foot kitchen). The variation is due to several factors, including the quality of the laminate and the condition of the existing substrate.
Because laminate is a mass-market flooring product, it’s easy to find and you won’t have to deal with long lead times, unless you choose a specialty item. Here are some of the biggest retailers.
✔️ The Home Depot: With some 2,300 locations nationwide, the biggest home center carries a wide range of laminate floor products. It’s a big seller of Pergo, a reputable brand that performed well in our latest tests. The Home Depot also offers installation service and a certified technician will even come take in-home measurements, so you don’t have to worry about getting the order wrong.
✔️ Lowe’s: The country’s second biggest home center is another safe bet for laminate flooring. Its service offerings are even more robust, including in-home flooring measurements, design consults, professional installation and free shipping on flooring samples.
✔️ LL Flooring: Formerly known as Lumber Liquidators, LL Flooring has more than 400 locations across 47 states, plus an excellent website that makes it easy to find the right flooring and receive up to four free samples.
✔️ Floor & Décor: Though LL Flooring has the most locations, Floor & Décor sells the most flooring, so you’re guaranteed to find a wide selection of laminate floors at all price points. The site has an extensive library of virtual how-to clinics, for those looking to save by installing their flooring themselves.
Oak Wood Lumber Dan DiClerico has covered the residential flooring market for more than two decades. In that time, he has tested every major flooring material — not just laminate, but also vinyl, stone and all types of wood. He also written countless how-to articles on the installation and maintenance of floors, working closely with professional installers to understand the latest techniques and innovations. Dan is a regular at trade shows and industry events, where he keeps up with the latest trends in the marketplace. In his role at the Good Housekeeping Institute, Dan oversees all flooring testing, working closely with our team of engineers and product experts. He also manages any consumer surveys designed to capture homeowners' experiences with various flooring materials.