Who doesn’t love the gorgeous laminate flooring? One of the reasons it’s so popular in many homes is that it is manufactured to look like real hardwood flooring. It’s also less expensive and easier to install and maintain than hardwood flooring. However, laminate’s inability to withstand water has always been a major drawback.
Laminate flooring is not waterproof because it is made up of layers of recycled hardwood that can soak up and fall apart if saturated with water. It is, however, water-resistant and won’t suffer any damage from topical and surface spills if cleaned and wiped dry quickly.
The rest of this article will discuss in detail why laminate flooring is not waterproof, what to expect when laminate flooring becomes wet and how to deal with it, and how you can improve the water-resistance of your laminate floor.
Why Laminate Flooring Is Not Waterproof
It’s not hard to figure out why laminate flooring is not waterproof. The problem with laminate flooring is that it is made of recycled hardwood or wood fibers that don’t hold well against water. Even some products marketed as “waterproof” by manufacturers are disputable since the materials and entire manufacturing process makes it almost unrealistic.
Another reason why laminate flooring is not waterproof is the click-and-lock system used in its installation. While it is easier than the glue-down method, the seams are not perfectly locked. This provides gaps in the surface layer through which water can sip and damage the board’s core.
A better way to understand why laminate flooring isn’t waterproof is to look at how it is designed. Laminate flooring is made up of four layers. The bottom-most layer or the backing layer acts as a moisture barrier between the board and the floor. There is another layer on top of the backing layer, known as the base or core layer.
The base layer is made of high-density fiberboard and forms the main structure. There are two other layers above the fiberboard core; the design layer gives the flooring its color and pattern, and the wear layer protects the board against fading, scratches, and wear.
Although the wear layer also serves as a moisture barrier, if enough water gets into it and reaches the base layer, it can swell up and start to shift or buckle depending on the type of material used. If it is allowed to absorb more water, the layers will fall apart, ultimately destroying the whole floor.
What Happens When Laminate Flooring Becomes Wet?
When some manufacturers say “waterproof,” what they actually mean is “water-resistant.” These two concepts are completely different and are sometimes misunderstood. Water-resistant simply means that your flooring can prevent water penetration to some extent, but not completely. Waterproof, on the other hand, means that the material is completely and permanently impervious to water.
A laminate floor can withstand water spills, such as water dripping off your body when you get out of the shower, rainwater from your shoes, or routine spills from a glass of water. If these surface spills are wiped dry immediately, no harm would be done to your floor.
However, if you allow laminate flooring to absorb enough water, the layers will become soaked, and the fiberboard core will swell up, resulting in the surface layer’s delamination. It’s similar to when a table made of particleboard gets wet. The boards will bubble up, bend, and eventually crack.
Is There Waterproof Laminate Flooring?
By improving their technology and adding new materials into the fiberboard, manufacturers are now creating laminate flooring that they claim to be waterproof. However, these products may not be as exactly as marketed, and their claims are not a guarantee that the flooring won’t fall apart if attacked by excess moisture.
The difference between the standard laminate plank and the specially constructed board will only be its increased resistance to water, rather than being completely impervious as sheet vinyl or ceramic tile is. For a flooring material to be truly waterproof, it must be manufactured so that the fiberboard core is eliminated.
A few companies offer laminate flooring made out of synthetic materials such as PVC plastic, but they are very limited and hard to find. Whatever brand of laminate flooring you’re buying, it should be water-resistant to some degree, but don’t expect it to be completely waterproof except it’s made of a different material.
What to Do if Your Laminate Floor Gets Wet
If the water on your floor is topical, you can still save it if you quickly clean it up and dry the boards. If water seeps into the open seams, use a wet-dry vacuum that can extract the water. Not cleaning the water and drying the boards will allow water to get under your flooring. When this happens, you must remove the water immediately or risk irreversible damage.
Because laminate fiberboard is dense, it can take weeks to dry. To speed up the drying process, use a high-volume fan or dehumidifier. This method can reduce the drying time to 12 to 36 hours.
You should also remove all the floorboards and lay them flat instead of drying in place. Don’t expose them to high temperatures as it can cause them to warp or shrink. Also, your laminate flooring may not retain its original dimensions after completely drying.
If heavy water is left long enough under your flooring, it can become damaged. Unfortunately, you’ll have to replace your laminate if you find signs of water damage on it. Look for swollen plank edges, buckling at the sides, cupping or peaking at the sides or center, and cracking of the board’s surface. Any of these signs means you need a replacement.
You should also identify the source of the leak and deal with it immediately. Besides swelling and bending, mold can also form on saturated laminate flooring. If you don’t dry out your laminate 48 hours after being soaked, molds can begin to develop on it.
The time it takes for some types of mold to form vary depending on the conditions of the house and the cause of the flooding. If the flooding is caused by sewage or groundwater flooding, it will develop mold faster and the longer you leave it, the lower your chances of saving your flooring. Be sure to remove moisture from the baseboards, wall cavities, and carpet padding.
Can You Make Laminate Flooring Waterproof?
You can increase your laminate’s resistance to water and make it more durable. One of the ways to waterproof laminate or increase its resistance is to apply silicone sealant to the cracks and edges where water can seep into and cause damage.
Another way to protect your laminate flooring is to apply a polyurethane coat over the entire floor. This helps to protect your floorboards and reduce the chances of water damage. To make your flooring even more resistant to water penetration, apply two or more layers of coating.
If you live in a high-moisture environment and looking for waterproof flooring, laminate flooring may not be your best option. Standard laminate flooring can last for up to 25 years if properly maintained, but it is not completely waterproof because of the way it is manufactured.
Some manufacturers design special laminate by adding new materials and referring to them as waterproof. However, this only improves its resistance to water and does not make it completely waterproof. If you’re looking for genuine waterproof flooring, luxury vinyl, ceramic or porcelain tile, and sheet vinyl are your best options.