Laminate Floors - November 29th 2002



There has been a lot of discussion on laminate flooring lately. Following is a reprint from a study performed by the Good Housekeeping Institute. It was produced back in 1999 but based on the type of testing performed, the information is still current. We'll keep watching for more current studies and will post them here as soon as they become available.

Laminate Floors. Will You Be Swept Away?

(A Good Housekeeping Institute Report)

If you’re thinking about finally replacing the avocado-green vinyl in your kitchen, a wood look-alike may be just the ticket. But don’t shop until you’ve read our ratings.

A wood floor in the kitchen? Most of us would sooner lay white carpeting in the kid’s rooms. But laminate flooring promises the rich look of wood at a more affordable cost. Constructed from dense fibreboard which is covered with decorated paper (essentially a photo of real wood) or a thin wood veneer and then topped with a clear protective layer, laminates have become a popular choice even for kitchens – largely because manufacturers have touted the floors’ durability and easy care. Another bonus, you can install laminate floors yourself if you or your spouse happens to be handy, something only the most skilled do-it-yourselfers are likely to try with real wood!

But not everyone who has bought a laminate floor has been thrilled with the results. Many of the early floors were anything but indestructible. In the past couple of years however, manufacturers have come up with “new and improved” lines, and our Engineering Department put those to the test (see “Rating the Brands”).

We looked at 13 laminates from nine companies. Our tests simulated, as closely as possible, the actual wear and tear these floors would likely encounter: scratches, dings and dents from dropped forks or pots, scraping chairs, gritty shoes and the like. We also checked out the potential for water damage from spills. And, because vinyl is the surface most often compared with laminates in terms of cost and care (at least for kitchen use), we ran the same tests on a typical vinyl floor from a leading manufacturer.

Not one brand made it through our tests unscathed, all showed scratches and dings. That said, the laminates still beat vinyl flooring hands down in terms of scratching. (and if we had tested wood, it would have scratched too.) Water damage can occur along the seams but careful installation should prevent that, says Engineering Director Steven Zara. “Make sure the installer – whether a professional or yourself – takes the proper steps to hold the floor planks firmly in place as the glue dries.” he says. “And don’t skimp on the glue.”

The bottom line is, if you want the appearance of wood without the expense, laminates are the floor of choice. When shopping think about what the floor will be forced to endure. An eat-in kitchen, where chairs are scooted in and out umpteen times a day, needs a scratch-resistant floor. If you’re constantly dropping your keys, buy a brand that’s nick and dent resistant. But if you’ve got a real butterfingered family who can’t hold on to pots, cans and toy trucks, go for one that’s extra dent-proof.



Installation Hints

· Laminates are “floating” floors, which means they don’t have to be nailed or glued to the subsurface. This makes them noisier than other coverings, so use a foam underlay to absorb sound.

· Let the planks sit in their closed box for at least 48 hours before you install them, so they’ll adapt to the rooms climates

· Inspect each plank for damage and differences in color and thickness before gluing the floor together. These problems are tough to fix after installation.


Keeping It Clean

Our Home Care Department staffers created 11 messes – everything from grape juice to tar – on each flooring brand. After waiting two hours, they followed the manufacturers’ instructions for removing stains.

Brands with deep grooves meant to simulate wood grain (Formica, Wilsonart 2020) trapped some substances, such as tar and shoe polish, which couldn’t be totally removed. But stains were easily cleaned from brands with smooth finishes; all it took was a quick swipe of dishwashing liquid and water or (for tougher jobs like lipstick and scuff marks) rubbing alcohol or acetone.

To compare results, we ran the same tests on several brands of vinyl floor. They too came clean, but required a little more effort.


To keep your laminate floor looking it’s best:

· Do not use an upright vacuum cleaner that has rotating brushes; these are intended for use on carpets and rugs and can scratch laminates or real wood. Instead, regularly use a canister vacuum with a bare-floor attachment, or an upright that’s designed for bare surfaces, with rotating brushes that can be switched off.

· Damp mop with a mixture of water and an all-purpose floor cleaner when needed. Do not overwet the floor; immediately wipe up excess water or puddles.

· Never clean laminates with abrasive cleansers, scouring pads, wax, polish or mop and shine products.

· To prevent scratching, put floor-protector pads or soft plastic glides under the legs of tables, chairs and other furniture.


RATING THE BRANDS

Our Engineering Department tested each brand of laminate flooring for scratch-resistance small object impact, and heavy object impact. Then the ratings were used to derive an overall score, giving more weight to the scratch resistance and small object tests (because heavy object impact is less likely to be an everyday occurrence). The ratings are from 1 to 5 with 5 being the best. Note the differences of less than a couple of tenths of a point are insignificant.


The following brands were tested, assigned an overall wear rating on a scale from 1 to 5. Some brief comments accompany each brand tested:



Uniboard Multilock Crystal - Wear Rating:4.3

This brand performed the best in scratch tests and was excellent against small object dents.


Armstrong Impact - Wear Rating:4.1

Excellent in scratch tests and small object dent-resistance.


Pergo Select - Wear Rating:3.9

The best score for small object dent resistance, plus very good scratch resistance. But it fared poorly against heavy objects.


Armstrong Inhabit -Wear Rating:3.7

Excellent scratch resistance and very good against small object dents.


Pergo Original - Wear Rating:3.7

Excellent scratch resistance and very small object dent resistance.


Wilsonart 2020 Classic - Wear Rating:3.7

Excellent against small object dents and very good scratch resistance


Pergo Living - Wear Rating:3.2

Excellent in scratch tests, but it got the worst rating for heavy object dents.


Award - Wear Rating:3

This has a real wood veneer, and did best against heavy objects. But it was as susceptible to scratches as solid wood floors.


Columbia - WearRating:3

Very good scratch-resistance, but only so so for small & heavy object dents.


Tarkett (made by Uniboard)- Wear Rating:3

Good scratch resistance and decent against small object dents.


Formica 8738 - Wear Rating:2.5

Good against scratches, but only so-so in small & heavy object dent resistance.


Mannington - Wear Rating:2.5

Very good scratch resistance, but fared poorly in small object drop test and just so-so against heavy objects.


Wilsonart 1920 Welcome Home - Wear Rating:2

Pretty good scratch resistance, but it got the lowest score for small object dents.


Typical Sheet Vinyl - Wear Rating:1.6

The worst score for scratches, though it did outperform most of the laminates in the heavy object drop test.