Areas of the home that are damp, or just outright wet pose challenges for flooring, since so many flooring materials are susceptible to mold, rot, or mechanical breakdown of the materials when they are subjected to moisture.
As a general rule, floor coverings made from inorganic materials, such as synthetic plastics, will be better than floorings that contain organic materials. The term organic technically refers to any material that is carbon-based and was once living, but when used to describe flooring materials, it usually refers to plant-based materials, such as solid hardwood, or engineered wood. When subjected to moisture, organic materials will quickly begin to decompose, and they can soon become a host for a variety of molds and bacteria. Most inorganic materials, on the other hand, are products made from synthetically refined chemicals, and they are largely immune to the effects of moisture.
Not all flooring materials are fully organic or inorganic, of course, and the ratio of organics to inorganic will affect their ability to handle moisture. Plastic laminate flooring has a synthetic surface that is fully 100 percent inorganic, but the thicker base layer on the flooring is usually fiberboard, made from wood fibers. Laminate flooring, therefore, is usually a poor choice for damp locations.
Good Flooring Coverings for Damp/Wet Locations
All the floor coverings in this category provide excellent protection against moisture. All of the materials themselves are 100 percent waterproof. These flooring coverings can be used with confidence in kitchens, full family bathrooms, and basements.
- Luxury vinyl flooring (LVF) planks: Luxury vinyl flooring (LVF) comes n long plank strips, typically 7 inches wide and 60 inches long. The lock-and-fold style of joinery provides a fairly tight seal against water. The entire layer of flooring is entirely waterproof, including the core, making this a much better flooring for wet areas than plastic laminate flooring. Luxury vinyl ranks slightly behind sheet vinyl and ceramic tile because the seams between planks do sometimes allow water to seep to the subfloor, especially if the installation is less than perfect.
- Vinyl tile: Vinyl tile, like the other resilient floors here, is a 100 percent waterproof material. However, the many seams in a tile installation allow more opportunities for water to seep down into the subfloor.
Acceptable Flooring Covering for Damp Locations
Floor coverings in this category are not made of 100 percent waterproof materials. However, the top surface is fully waterproof, and when tightly seamed, water can pool on the surface for short periods of time without harm.
- Engineered wood: Engineered wood performs better than laminate flooring because its base is of a sturdier, more water-resistant plywood material. Engineered wood will not stand up to long periods of standing water, but occasional puddling is not a problem. Manufacturers of engineered wood flooring may warranty their products against moisture damage but usually stipulate that spills and splashes need to be wiped up immediately. Like other floor coverings in this category, engineered wood is not a good choice where standing water is an ongoing likelihood.
- Laminate flooring: This artificial product performs better than solid wood flooring in moisture tests. But laminate flooring uses a fiberboard core that will swell and blister when it comes in contact with water. Any moisture that passes through the seams of a laminate floor can ruin the installation. Even laminate flooring sold as water-resistant or waterproof usually comes with the caution that spills and splashes need to be wiped up immediately.