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Laminate Floor Buying Guide

Laminate flooring looks great and stands up to scratches and dents. It looks like real hardwood or tile flooring without the cost, and is available in a number of different styles including oak, walnut, hickory, maple and even slate.

Laminate flooring in a foyer

What is Laminate Flooring?

Laminate flooring construction illustration with wear layer, decor layer, core layer and backer layer.

Laminate flooring is a synthetic product made of several layers that are sealed together in the "lamination" process. Designed to be affordable and durable, laminate flooring consists of four distinct components: a wear layer, a decor layer, a core layer and a backer layer.

The wear layer is filled with aluminum oxide. This layer helps resist scratches from daily wear, creates an easy-to-clean surface, and maintains a fade- and stain-resistant appearance.

The decor layer is a printed image that recreates the natural look of wood, tile or stone.

The core layer gives laminate its structure and dent-resistant properties. Laminate flooring is much more resistant to dents than real hardwood flooring.

The final backer layer provides additional support and stability.

Laminate Flooring Options

Laminate flooring with a handscraped finish

Consider these key features to help you choose the right laminate for your home.

Laminate flooring is typically available in 7-millimeter, 8-millimeter, 10-millimeter and 12-millimeter thicknesses. When you compare laminate, keep in mind that some manufacturers include the thickness of the product including the core and attached pad.

All laminates provide a similar level of dent resistance; however, thicker laminate is better suited to resist bending caused by uneven areas in your subfloor. Thicker laminate can also help reduce noise.

AC Rating
This rating is a representation of laminate’s resistance to wear on a 1 to 5 scale. The higher the AC rating, the higher the durability:

  • AC 1: Designed for home use with little foot traffic, such as in bedrooms
  • AC 2: Designed for home use with medium foot traffic
  • AC 3: Designed for home use in all foot traffic areas, including high foot traffic areas, like the foyer or kitchen
  • AC 4: Designed for home use in all traffic areas and can meet some commercial standards if warranted
  • AC 5: Designed to withstand heavy commercial traffic.

Attached Pad
Some products already have an acoustical pad attached to make installation easier. See Underlayment below for more information.

Laminate flooring is available in many types of textures and finishes to simulate the look of real hardwood flooring.

  • Embossed: A general, all-over texture, but not matching the image in the decor layer of the laminate
  • Embossed in register (EIR): EIR better simulates the natural look of real hardwood flooring by adding depth and texture in alignment with the design of the décor layer
  • Handscraped: Though not actually handscraped, the laminate is pressed to look just like a real handscraped hardwood floor
  • High Gloss: High-gloss laminate features a mirror finish and resists scratches and dents.

You May Also Need

Laminate flooring in a hallway

Underlayment is typically available in 100-square-foot rolls and can provide moisture protection, improve sound suppression and eliminate minor subfloor imperfections. Underlayment with a moisture barrier is required when installing laminate over concrete subfloors at or below ground level, as moisture passing through the subfloor can cause your floor to expand, creating issues like cupping, gapping and squeaking. Follow the flooring manufacturer’s instructions for moisture protection. 

Underlayment can provide sound suppression through acoustical padding measure by IIC (Impact Insulation Class) and STC (Sound Transmission Class) ratings: The higher the rating, the better the sound absorption. These ratings are measured with or without a sound-absorbing acoustical ceiling (skewing the scores higher), so be sure to compare apples to apples. Underlayment also has the ability to mask minor subfloor imperfections. Larger imperfections outside the flooring manufacturer’s tolerances for levelness need to be addressed appropriately.

Some laminate floors have acoustical pads already attached to the product. Although the attached pad can make installation easier, these pads aren't moisture barriers.

Watch our video on preparing your subfloor to prepare for laminate flooring installation.

Matching and coordinating moulding / millwork pieces are available, including quarter rounds, T-mouldings, thresholds, reducers and wallbase.

Care and Maintenance

Laminate floors in a living space

Help protect your laminate flooring investment by following the below care and maintenance tips:

  • Use a cleaner specifically designed for prefinished hardwood flooring and/or laminate flooring to clean your floor. Exercise caution with water, as it may damage laminate flooring.
  • Sweep or dust mop your floor at least once a week.  This helps prevent scratching.
  • Clean spills and tracked-in dirt quickly to prevent damage.
  • Use area rugs or doormats in high traffic areas to reduce wear and collect dirt and moisture.
  • Prevent scratches and dents with furniture protector pads under all chairs, stools and heavy furniture legs. Do not slide heavy objects across the floor.
  • Keep pet nails trimmed to minimize finish scratches.

Ready to get started? Learn how to install a laminate or engineered hardwood floor.