Most Durable Flooring for High-Traffic Areas
For kitchens, halls, and other busy places, some materials can mimic wood and resist wear
By Consumer Reports
Shopping for flooring has traditionally meant a compromise between looks and durability. That’s starting to change.
Wood, beloved for its warmth and texture, isn’t the best choice in high-traffic areas like family rooms, kitchens, halls, and mudrooms, because it easily scratches and dents. More durable flooring like tile, though, can appear cold and uninviting.
Now, however, the holy grail of flooring—the look of wood plus the strength of tile—is a reality. Wood-look porcelain tile, a relatively new flooring type, doesn’t have the “give” of a new wood floor, but appearance-wise, it’s a pretty good facsimile. And Consumer Reports’ tests find that it’s tough enough to hold up in highly trafficked areas like hallways, kitchens, and basement dens.
“Tile is the highest-rated flooring among the categories we test,” says Enrique de Paz, who leads flooring testing at Consumer Reports. “It doesn’t wear out, scratch, or stain. Its color doesn’t fade, it’s waterproof, and it is surprisingly slip-resistant, even when wet. Porcelain tile is the best choice for bathrooms, mudrooms, laundry rooms—and probably kitchens.” Why the qualifier for kitchens? "It may crack when something heavy is dropped on it," de Paz says. Tile floors are also unforgiving when it comes to dropped glassware or dishes.
By contrast, wood and engineered wood—that is, layers of plywood and other materials topped with a thin slice of real hardwood veneer and a protective coating—don’t stand up quite as well. When faced with the abrasion machine in Consumer Reports’ surface-wear tests—a stand-in for the abuse of high-traffic areas—most of the prefinished solid-wood and engineered-wood products in our recent evaluations receive only a Good or a Fair rating.
The unimpressive performance of prefinished solid wood has to do in part with the upper “wear layer”—polyurethane, for instance—that manufacturers apply to floorboards. When Consumer Reports tests these two wood flooring types, the resulting wear is visible more quickly than for other types of flooring.
“Laminate and vinyl products are generally made of tougher stuff,” de Paz says. Porcelain is even better for wear resistance, he adds, but it’s more expensive and trickier to install and repair.
Our top-performing flooring products in laminate and porcelain tile, and most top-performing vinyls, get superlative ratings not just for resisting foot traffic, but also stains and sunlight.
What to Keep in Mind
Before you make your final choice, consider these key factors.
• Vinyl, tile, and most prefinished solid flooring types are better choices when it comes to formaldehyde emissions. Just be sure to use formaldehyde-free glues when installing those materials. Prefinished solid bamboo, engineered wood, and laminates are made with glues and resins that can emit formaldehyde.
• If you’re worried that lower-cost laminate and vinyl will look fake, our experts say to mix up planks from different boxes as you lay them down. That helps to break up a repetitive pattern.
Here’s what to know about each of these if you’re planning to install flooring in a high-traffic area.
Laminate flooring can resemble almost anything: stone, tile, even wood. That’s because it’s composed of a photograph sandwiched between a dense fiberboard base and a clear plastic protective top layer. The repetitive patterns of laminate boards, however, can betray their fakeness.
Laminate can be extremely tough stuff. But you’ll have to replace the flooring once its top layer has worn through because it can’t be sanded land refinished like wood can.
This laminate flooring from Pergo is a CR Best Buy because of its Overall Score of Excellent and its competitive price per square foot. It performs extremely well against foot traffic, stains, and sunlight. And it earns Very Good ratings for its scratch and dent resistance.
Pergo Outlast+ Vintage Pewter Oak LF000848 (Home Depot)
CR’s take: Resistant to stains, scratches, and foot traffic, Pergo’s Outlast+ Vintage Pewter Oak LF000848 earns Excellent and Very Good scores across all our tests. It comes with a lifetime warranty that promises that the laminate surface won’t wear through and that the floor won’t fade from exposure to sun or electrical lighting.
A classic flooring material, tile resists wear, moisture, scratches, and stains. But installing porcelain tile can be challenging, so for most applications it might be best to hire a professional. Poor installation can lead to cracks, as can sharp, heavy items dropped on the floor. Dropped cups and dishes break more easily on tile, and grout can stain.
These porcelain tile choices earn Excellent Overall Scores because of their resistance to foot traffic, scratches, water spills, and flooding, as well as ultraviolet light from the sun. You can expect the other colors of these products to perform similarly.
Style Selections (Lowe's) Natural Timber Ash 553878
CR’s take: Style Selections Natural Timber Ash 553878, available at Lowe’s, is the priciest wood-look porcelain tile in this group; it’s sold in packages of 10 square feet per box, vs. 15 or 16 for the other models on this page. But it’s a star in our ratings, earning Excellent scores in every test but denting (which translates to "cracking" for the porcelain floors in our ratings). And while it’s smooth-textured, it has a unique rustic look. It’s available in light, medium, and dark shades.
Marazzi Montagna Dapple Gray ULM7 (Home Depot)
CR’s take: Marazzi Montagna Dapple Gray ULM7, available at Home Depot, is a CR Best Buy because it offers excellent overall performance at a competitive price. It’s also the only porcelain tile in our ratings to earn a Good rating for resisting dents (cracks) from dropped, heavy items; that gives it an edge as a candidate for kitchen floors. This textured, wood-look tile is available in light, medium, and dark shades.
This type of flooring is especially good at fending off wear, dents, scratches, discoloration from sunlight, and stains. So it’s an appropriate flooring for high-traffic areas. It’s relatively easy to install—particularly as tiles or planks—and has numerous color and design choices. Premium brands can resemble stone, tile, and even wood. But even the best of these products look fake up close.
These two vinyl flooring options are rated Excellent overall, and in fact perform the same in all our tests (rounding accounts for the tiny score difference). Their resistance to scratches, dents, and color change from sunlight, water spills, and flooding is outstanding. They resist foot traffic, stains, and slipping very well.
Congoleum DuraCeramic Sierra Slate SI74 Golden Greige
CR’s take: For those interested in a vinyl floor with the look and feel of stone, the Congoleum DuraCeramic Sierra Slate S174 Golden Greige is a top choice. It earns a rating of Excellent in our tests for staining, denting, scratching, and resistance to fading, making it a solid bet for sunny kitchens. It has a slight surface texture.
Armstrong Alterna Mesa Stone Canyon Sun D4112
CR’s take: Impressive as vinyl may be in durability, it often looks like vinyl. But Armstrong Alterna Mesa Stone Canyon Sun D4112 vinyl flooring looks like real slate, right down to its variegated colors and texturing. The 16-inch tiles endure the effects of water, scratches, dents, and fading in sunlight superbly, earning Excellent scores in those tests. This flooring also is impressive at resisting foot traffic, stains, and slipping. Its limited lifetime warranty covers wear-through, denting, and other problems, including manufacturer defects.
Prefinished Solid Wood
When all is said and done, if you still hanker for wood in a high-traffic area, opt for the real thing. A major benefit of real wood is that it can be refinished many times, de Paz says. You may be able to refinish some engineered-wood products, but just once.
“If you love wood and are handy and can refinish it or are willing to pay a professional to do it, it’s not a bad choice,” de Paz says. “You just have to know what you’re getting into.”
The first prefinished solid-wood product shown below performs better than its peers in our tests; it earns an Excellent score for scratch resistance, a Very Good mark for dent resistance, and a Good rating for foot traffic. (While it’s marketed as solid wood, it’s actually made from long bamboo fibers that are glued and pressed together into floor planks.) The second product isn’t as resistant to dents, but in its manufacture it doesn’t use glue that can possibly emit formaldehyde.
Teragren Portfolio Naturals Wheat TPF-PORTTG-WHT
CR’s take: Exceptional resistance to scratching and staining and impressive dent resistance, along with a finish that did a good job of resisting wear from foot traffic, are the chief strengths of this solid bamboo, Teragren Portfolio Naturals Wheat TPF-PORTTG-WHT. (This product is marketed as solid-wood flooring, though it’s actually made from long bamboo fibers that are glued and pressed together into floor planks.) You may see some color change from exposure to sunlight. But this product, backed by a 25-year warranty, ranks at the top in the solid-wood category.
Lumber Liquidators Bellawood Character Red Oak 10047316
CR’s take: Lumber Liquidators Bellawood Character Red Oak 10047316, a CR Best Buy, is a solid-wood plank, not strips glued together to create a plank; that makes it a commendable choice for those concerned about formaldehyde emissions from their flooring. It excels in resisting foot traffic and receives a Good score in resisting scratches. Resistance to slipping, water spills, and floods is top-notch. However, it earns a Poor score in resisting dents. And you can expect some color change in areas exposed to significant sun. This smooth wood flooring comes in light, medium, and dark shades.
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