Laminate flooring and tile are both popular, stylish flooring options for the modern home. Both offer an excellent alternative to hardwood, as well as durability that requires very little maintenance. With so many similarities, what are the key differences that set these flooring choices apart?
Laminate flooring is cheaper, more comfortable underfoot, and easier to install but is more susceptible to scratches and water damage. In comparison, tile is more expensive and harder to install but provides better water resistance and is unlikely to need replacing in a lifetime.
This article will explore the differences between these popular flooring options, covering important elements like price, appearance, durability, water-resistance, eco-friendliness, installation, and maintenance.
Laminate Flooring 101
If you’re looking into new flooring options, laminate has likely been recommended to you a time or two. This cost-effective choice has become more and more popular since it was first introduced in the 1980s and can now be found in homes throughout the world. Technological advances continue to drive the popularity of the flooring choice upwards, as laminate more closely mimics natural hardwood than ever before.
Laminate flooring is a hybrid type of floor covering made of four different layers fused under high pressure.
- Topcoat: This topcoat, typically made of resin, serves as the lamination that gives laminate flooring its name. This incredibly durable layer offers scratch and stain resistance, locking in the layer’s wood print beneath it.
- Photographic print: This image layer utilizes a high definition photograph to give flooring the look of wood, stone, or tile. It also offers a uniform appearance, as the picture repeats from piece to piece. While a photograph may not seem exceptionally durable, the laminate’s top and core layers keep it safe.
- High-density core: This layer makes up the bulk of the laminate. The image is printed directly onto this particleboard wooden base, which provides both stability and additional moisture protection. It also makes the floor comfortable to walk on.
- Backing layer: A backing layer adds further stability, as well as guards against water damage from the subfloor the laminate sits atop.
Laminate is considered an “install anywhere” product, says Build Direct, so you’ll find it in almost every room of the home. This includes kitchens, bathrooms, living rooms, and other common spaces. You can even use laminate flooring on stairs or in basements.
Tile Flooring 101
Tile flooring has been around in various contexts for hundreds of years – and for good reason. Not only is this flooring option exceptionally durable, but it has also historically been associated with luxury, artistry, and overall good taste.
Tile flooring has never really gone out of style. Still, new installation techniques and a growing variety of colors, textures, and designs have made this flooring choice more desirable than ever.
While there are many types of tile flooring, the most popular are ceramic and porcelain. While these tiles are some of the most durable flooring options on the market, they’re made from all-natural materials like clay and mineral water.
Most tiles consist of two basic layers:
- Bisque layer: This layer forms the majority, or the body, of the tile. If you turn the tile sideways, this is the thickest layer.
- Glaze layer: This layer sits atop the bisque layer. It is essentially a coating where the color sits. Not all tiles have this top layer. These tiles are called through tiles, as they are the same color the whole way through.
How strong is tile flooring?
This stems from the unique firing process used to make the tiles. As mentioned earlier, tiles are made from a mixture of clay materials and water. Porcelain, which is even stronger than ceramic tile, usually includes clay containing quartz, feldspar, or kaolin.
Once this mixture has been created, it goes through a four-step process where it is:
- Dried: Dryers remove excess moisture from the clay and water mix.
- Pressed: The dried mixture is shaped or pressed into the tile shape you’ll see in your home. It finishes drying on a rack until the shape is set.
- Painted/Glazed: Once dry, colors, patterns, and designs are added to the tile with an ink-jet printer. Depending on the tile, it will also be glazed to lock in the design and prevent wear and tear.
- Fired: Both ceramic and porcelain tiles are fired in a kiln once they are dry and glazed. Ceramic is fired at 2000°F (1093°C) and porcelain at 2500°F (1371°C). This intense firing is what makes tile flooring virtually indestructible.
Like laminate, you’ll find tile flooring in nearly every room of the house. It’s especially popular in rooms that receive many drips and spills, like kitchens, bathrooms, entryways, and laundry rooms.
NOTE: While tile is also trendy for backsplashes and walls, it's important never to use wall tiles for flooring. These tiles are a lot thinner and not designed to withstand the impact of daily foot traffic. You can, however, technically use floor tiles on walls.
Laminate and tile flooring both function primarily as imitations of more expensive materials like natural hardwood and stone.
While both tile and laminate can mimic a wide variety of other flooring options, tile is typically used as a substitute for stone and laminate as a substitute for wood. They look and sound almost identical to their more expensive counterparts, and it is often difficult to see the difference unless you look closely.
Laminate flooring look
Since laminate flooring is most commonly used as a hardwood alternative, it should come in just as many varieties. The flooring is available in a wide range of colors and textures.
This includes trendy white and light gray wood and more traditional colors like mahogany and honey. You can also find distressed, embossed, and hand-scraped options that give floors a weathered, distressed look. This is perfect for anyone looking to add vintage charm to a room.
Tile Flooring Look
Tile flooring is even more customizable than laminate. In fact, if you’ve ever admired a complex design on a hotel lobby’s floor, you were likely looking at tiles.
While you can arrange wood laminate in different designs, tiles excel in this department, as they often come in smaller pieces that are easier to arrange.
Just as laminate excels at imitating hardwood flooring, tiles are best at mimicking stone. Accordingly, tile flooring is especially popular in bathrooms and kitchens, where marble reigns supreme.
Other popular varieties of tile include travertine, limestone, and slate. Tile flooring looks incredibly similar to these more expensive materials while also offering increased durability.
While appearance is important in choosing a flooring option for your renovation or new construction, it is equally crucial to factor in how “livable” the flooring will be.
While beautiful, the Tile floor has often been called “uninviting” due to its coldness and hardness. Tiles don’t have an insulation barrier like laminate flooring, which can make it quite cold in the winter. On the other hand, however, that coolness will feel great in the summer.
Laminate flooring is known for being comfortable. As laid out previously in this article, this flooring is made up of four different layers. The core layer, usually made of a flexible particleboard or cork mixture, gives the flooring extra cushion and bounce. This makes laminate fairly comfortable underfoot, as well as provides additional insulation from the cold subfloor.
Both laminate flooring and tile are relatively long-lasting, durable flooring options. Laminate flooring should last between 15 and 25 years if it’s taken care of correctly. Tile flooring, however, can last even longer than that. According to a 2007 study from the National Association of Home Builders, ceramic tiles can last between 75 to 100 years.
Laminate and tile both have strengths and weaknesses when it comes to durability. Tile is overall more durable but is more likely to chip if something heavy falls on it. While laminate typically won’t chip due to heavy drops, it’s much more likely to scratch.
Long marks or lots of accumulated scratches can become very noticeable on laminate and prevent it from ever looking fully clean. This is especially important to keep in mind if you have indoor pets.
Just as you must factor in your pets before making a flooring choice, you’ll also need to keep in mind what room you’re looking to replace the flooring in. Like entryways, heavily trafficked areas will receive much more wear and tear than the floor in the living room.
For rooms like these, consider investing in distressed-looking laminate flooring or porcelain tiles, the strongest variety of tiles.
PRO TIP: Never using tiles with a hardness rating under Class 3.
No matter how durable your flooring is, eventually, it will suffer some damage. If you’re lucky, the damage will be localized enough that only a small portion of the floor will need to be replaced, preventing the costs of a full-blown flooring overhaul.
This is the case with tile flooring. It is easy and quite standard to remove and replace a single tile or tiles set with new ones. While it’s best to hire a professional for this, you’ll only need to pay for a tile or two.
Unfortunately, this is not always possible with laminate flooring. Once the surface layer of the laminate has been scratched or damaged, it cannot be repaired.
Instead, it will need to be replaced. Due to how laminate floors are put together, you may need to replace the entire room’s flooring depending on where the damage is located. While you can just cut out the plank’s damaged portion, any replacement piece will likely be too noticeable.
One of the most important things in home flooring is the ability to withstand water damage. Laminate flooring and tile are both water-resistant and therefore good options for most rooms of the home.
NOTE: Water-resistant does not mean waterproof, however, so with both flooring options it's important to make sure to wipe up standing water as soon as you notice it, and generally try not to soak the surface if at all possible.
As with overall durability, the way that laminate flooring is put together can be a weakness in water damage. We’ll explain in greater detail later, but laminate flooring is put together via a tongue and groove system, where the planks snap into place. While this makes installation easy, it also leaves many joints for water to seep into. Once water gets into these connecting points laminate floors buckle.
For the most part, you are fine to install laminate all over the home, including bathrooms and kitchens. Providing there are no leaks that lead to constant running water, the floors should be fine. In recent years, manufacturers have begun offering waterproof laminate that promises to prevent water from soaking the planks’ lower layers. Some even suggest coulking each plank.
Since caulking between every laminate plank can be time-consuming, tiles offer an easier solution. While tiles are also considered water-resistant instead of waterproof, they can handle much more moisture than laminate flooring.
Since tiles are essentially made of rock, they don’t have a wood layer that can warp or buckle if saturated. While grout lines can be susceptible to moisture, even these connections should be safe if the tiles are glazed.
For bathrooms and kitchens, however, porcelain tiles are undoubtedly the best option. As I mentioned earlier, porcelain tiles are fired at an extremely high temperature. This leaves them impervious to water. Whether or not the porcelain tile is glazed, it remains waterproof. It makes perfect sense then that porcelain is commonly found in bathrooms, mudrooms, and laundry rooms.
One final element to consider is that both laminate flooring and tile are notoriously slippery when wet, although tile may take the prize for most treacherous.
Since you’re likely to be using these in areas that get wet, make sure to be careful when exiting the tub and cleaning the floors. If you’re using either of these flooring options in your business, you’ll want to invest in wet floor signs and rugs to prevent customers from injuring themselves.
Pricing will undoubtedly be the determining factor in most decisions about which type of flooring to use in a home.
While neither laminate or tile is the cheapest flooring option on the market, they are both significantly less expensive than hardwood flooring. Different sources offer different average prices for these two flooring options, but in general, you can expect to pay $1.00 to $5.00 per square of laminate and $1.50 to $5.00 per square foot of tile.
While these prices may seem pretty similar, there are two costs factored into the overall cost of flooring – the cost of material and the cost of labor.
The cost of labor is where laminate and tile flooring begin to differ. Laminate flooring is extremely easy to install. As long as you’ve got the time, you’ll be able to install it yourself. Even if you choose to hire a professional, the installation price is low since the process is easy.
Tile, on the other hand, is expensive to install. This is because the installation process is labor-intensive and best performed by a professional with years of experience. Accordingly, this service costs a lot more than laminate installation.
When you factor in the cost of installation, you will pay roughly $5.00 to $13.00 per square foot of tile and $2.00 to $8.00 per square foot of laminate. The next section of this article will take a closer look at these installation processes.
NOTE: While tile may be more expensive upfront, it adds to the resale value of a property in a way that laminate flooring does not. Make sure to factor this in when deciding which flooring option is best for your home.
Installation can be a huge deal-breaker when choosing a type of flooring, especially if you’re looking to save money by handling the installation yourself.
Laminate flooring installation
One of laminate flooring’s greatest benefits is that it can be installed by even the most inexperienced home renovator. Depending on the room’s size, you may even be able to complete the job in less than a full day of work.
Laminate flooring is sold in planks that click and lock together, so during installation, you essentially just snap the planks together like puzzle pieces. Furthermore, the laminate isn’t glued down to the subfloor; it is actually floating above it. This means that you won’t need any special glues or fasteners – or any other tools for that matter.
While fitting the boards together may take a little while to get used to, you’ll be a pro in no time at all.
Tile Flooring installation
However, if you choose to use tile in your home, you’ll want to hire a professional for the installation. While it’s possible to tile your own home, most experts recommend staying away from DIY. So why exactly is tile so difficult to install?
It’s not so much that tile is difficult to install, but it is difficult to install correctly. Since the mortar used in tilework makes it extremely difficult to reset a mistake, this is not a job for first-timers.
Beginners may also struggle with laying tiles on the diagonal and using the special tools required to cut tile like a wet tile saw. The installation process is generally physically challenging, as the mortar mixture is difficult to mix, and carrying heavy tiles can get wearisome.
NOTE: Professionals will advise you on whether or not to install tile on upper floors, as its weight may put extra stress on the integrity of the home.
Laminate and Tile Flooring Maintenance
Lucky for anyone who doesn’t want to spend their weekend cleaning, both laminate flooring and tile is relatively easy to maintain.
Since these flooring options are stain-free, you can clean up most spills with just a damp cloth and water. Depending on the amount of foot traffic in the room the flooring is located, you’ll need to do more than a spot clean at least every other week to prevent fading and general wear and tear.
The only special equipment you’ll need to clean both laminate and tile is a microfiber mop or soft bristle broom. Especially with laminate, anything more abrasive could damage the flooring.
Make sure to check the manufacturer’s instructions for any specific cleaning products recommended, but usually, you’ll be able to use the most gentle cleaners on tile and laminate.
KEEP IN MIND: Never use polish, waxes, or oil-based products, as they can leave a streak residue.
However, if you choose to buy unglazed tile, you will need to do a little more maintenance. Since these tiles are not sealed against the elements, the tiles’ grout lines will need to be re-sealed yearly. While this can be a time-consuming process, it’s not that difficult.
YouTube has many tutorials laying out step-by-step instructions. This video clearly explains the process, even for beginners:
In addition to sticking to a cleaning schedule and using the right products, there are a few other simple tips that can make a big difference in preserving the integrity of your flooring.
- Use furniture pads: These little pads are small but mighty. Once adhered directly to the bottom of your furniture legs, they allow the furniture to glide over the flooring instead of scratching it. These affordable X-protector Furniture Pads from Amazon will fit to everything from chairs to sofa legs.
- Add entrance mats: Make sure to place doormats at any door that leads outside. This will remind people to wipe their feet before entering. The grit from dirt and sand can wear down the flooring over time, so leaving it at the door is definitely beneficial.
- Trim your pet’s nails: Scratches from pets’ nails are among the most common causes of scratches on the laminate floor. While it can be tricky to wrangle your pet for a trim, it will help keep your floors looking new for years to come.
While it’s important for the flooring to look nice and easy to maintain, more homeowners are becoming increasingly concerned with their home renovation or construction’s environmental footprint. Fortunately, both laminate flooring and tile are relatively eco-friendly choices.
As previously mentioned, laminate floors are made from particleboard and other wooden products. Not only is wood a renewable resource, but no additional trees need to be harvested to manufacture laminate flooring.
Unlike hardwood, the particleboard in laminate is formed from a composite of post-consumer wood products, according to the European Producers of Laminate Flooring. In a sense, laminate flooring is a recycled product from the very beginning.
The materials that makeup tiles are similarly eco-friendly. Porcelain and ceramic tiles are made up of clay and mineral water, all-natural materials that are plentiful and easy to mine.
This cuts down on fuel consumption used in the manufacturing process. The most eco-friendly thing about tile, however, is its longevity. Tile can last for nearly 100 years if cared for properly. After all, one of the first rules of green living is to buy less and use what you have.
While it may be difficult to find a place to recycle ceramic and porcelain tile, laminate flooring is incredibly easy to recycle. Since the planks aren’t glued to the subfloor, it’s easy to pop them up and collect up for recycling. As wood products, these planks can be ground up and used for future wood products.
TIP: Your old tiles can also find a new life, just not as floor tiles. You can instead repurpose them for coasters, mosaic plant pots, or painted for decorative trays.
A bonus of both of these flooring options is how good they are in the homes of those who suffer from seasonal allergies. Since neither flooring option requires harmful chemicals to install, the only new element introduced into the home is the flooring itself.
As a rule of thumb, the smoother the flooring, the less likely it is to harbor pollen, pet hair, or dust mites that can cause allergies. Since laminate and tile are both so smooth, there’s nothing to worry about allergies.
Water-resistance is also incredibly important to allergy sufferers. Especially in bathrooms and kitchens, constant steam and moisture can cause mildew and mold to grow in areas that stay moist. Laminate and tile are water-resistant, however, so moisture will not get a chance to linger and develop into anything harmful.
Wrapping Things Up
If you’re looking for a durable alternative to hardwood flooring, laminate and tile are great options. Before making a decision, you’ll need to decide what your long-term goals for the space being renovated are, as well as your budget.
Laminate floors are cheaper and easier to install but are not as durable and will require replacing sooner. Tile is more durable and water-resistant but is expensive and can feel hard and cold. Laminate may be the best option for those who like to switch up their home’s designs more frequently, while the tile may be the better long term investment.