I like this topic because there seems to be consistent confusion on the difference between these two statements: waterproof floorings vs water resistant flooring. The main issue is with marketing departments and what appears to be their love to mislead and confuse consumers on this topic. It is often suggested that water resistant flooring will solve all consumer needs in every situation, and that is just flat out misleading. I will try and set the record straight and help you make an informed buying decision. Is water resistance worth the extra money? Bottom line, there are different levels of water resistance in flooring and you need to be aware of that. Know when to pay for it and when not too.
I think we all instinctively know exactly the difference between water resistance and waterproof, but let’s make it easier to understand. Let's leave flooring for one minute and use an example that we all have experienced, especially if you live in a city like Vancouver: rain. Let's talk about rain and raincoats/rain jackets.
I will suggest that at some point in your life, especially if you live in Vancouver (or any location that sees a fair amount of rain each year) that you may have experienced similar to mine… I have bought and used a cheap raincoat, something on special for like 20 bucks, thinking that it was going to solve my needs … and I've also spent a couple of hundred dollars on a nice and proper fully rain waterproof jacket. Wow, these end up performing differently in a heavy Vancouver rainstorm!
When I wore the cheap “waterproof” jacket it just didn’t go very well. I was out on a hike and because the cheaper version was light and easy to pack, I thought it was the ideal choice. The next thing I know the skies open up and I had my jacket on… and 5 minutes later I was soaked to the skin. My clothing underneath, especially my shoulders, was drenched. That wasn’t fun. Now I am completely soaked because the water the alleged waterproof jacket was actually water resistant, good in very light rain, but clearly was not waterproof.
My waterproof experiences have been majorly different. I am not like all people, I love walking in the rain, and I don’t like umbrellas.
“Some people feel the rain. Others just get wet.”
— Roger Miller.
So, water resistant means a very light shower, a little bit of rain, you know the kind of rain that is just enough to leave a few drops on your shoulders and rolls right off. That is water resistance. Once you have any consistent amount of rainfall, and it repeatedly hits your back and shoulders for a few minutes, your clothes on your body underneath are gonna be soaked right through. That is water resistance gone wrong.
To beat home the point, true 100% waterproof means you could walk around for hours and it's just like holding up an umbrella, you’ll keep dry and rain will keep on bouncing off your shoulders. A 100% waterproof floor can do the same thing.
So when you have a sprinkle or splash of water on most flooring, accidentally drop a glass of water, etc… water resistant is good enough. A splash of a few dozen drops here and there is no big deal. It will tend to stay on top of any laminate or wood flooring without harm. Just wipe it up before too long. Eventually, if you don't wipe it up, it's going to disappear, as it's going to be absorbed into the flooring. Most flooring, regardless is promoted as water resistant and tends to perform this way. Absorption takes some time, so literally, every hard surface floor in the world that has a finish on its surface will have some water resistance characteristics. The question is how long and what happens if the water gets absorbed?
Waterproof flooring means that spills will sit there on top of the surface indefinitely (of course until they vaporize and become gas, or whatever else our grade 9 school teachers taught us about the science of liquids and gases). But if 100% waterproof, then the water is not going to be absorbed into the flooring.
It's almost that simple, the majority of all hard surface flooring is water resistant, you have the resistance for a relatively short period of time and you should be fine as long as you're cleaning things up. Now the problem: the problems are is when there's a leak in your laundry room or a leak underneath your sink and you're at work all day. You started the dishwasher and the dishwasher has some leaking/flooding from it and you're not home to clean it up. Once it sits there all day that's when you have a real problem. Water gets absorbed into the flooring, we know that enough moisture makes things move, especially things made of wood. If it's flooring it's going to expand. The surface of a laminate floor is going bubble or change form, and unfortunately, it's never going go back to its original form. Therefore you're going to have permanently damaged the floor.
Once a floor has been damaged, usually swollen, it's just never going to be the same again. This image above is an example of that… its usually not returning to original shape and the section of flooring needs to be replaced. See the end of the article for a video that shows a water damaged laminate floor being replaced.
So waterproof flooring, true waterproof flooring, is worth more money than water resistant flooring. If water is a concern for your installation environment, you must consider this in your purchase.
You have to make a decision, are you going to invest a premium price for a waterproof floor, and does that investment make sense? Spending money on a waterproof floor in your bathroom, in your kitchen, in your laundry room, all of those things make a lot of sense. In fact, you really don’t have a choice. Not installing the right product means the flooring warranty will be voided and your problem is all your own to deal with. Pay a premium price, whether that's a dollar or two per square foot to make sure that you're buying a little bit of insurance, even if its just piece of mind. Or, do your homework and find a supplier of flooring that has the appropriate waterproof characteristics, and you may be lucky to find a supplier or specific product that meets your needs, and still is an attractive price and visually appealing.
I’ve never heard of an instance of a dishwasher problem, a sink overflowing or some other event that there's a lot of extra water moisture around your floor and the owner of the property not being very happy they made that investment. It’s a peace of mind insurance that your beautiful floor is going to stand up to the situation. That little extra investment is your insurance policy to make sure that your floor doesn't ruin your flooring.
I want to avoid generalized conclusions or statements… but typically, vinyl (ie: LVT, SPC, WPC vinyl) all do good or great in high moisture environments. And tile, especially porcelain tile, is also a fabulous choice… albeit not the visual look that everyone is looking for.
For areas like residential living rooms, dining rooms, hallways and bedrooms it usually doesn't need to be waterproof. I guess unless you have indoor family water fights as an entertainment activity! Otherwise, you're rarely going to have standing water in those rooms.
Side note: let's talk about the practicalities of having two different types of flooring in your home, for example, one type in your living room and it runs up to your flooring in your kitchen. I'll keep this part short but anytime you go from one room to the next you can have two different flooring types, that's no problem, but what you ideally want two flooring types with the same or very similar thickness. So if you had a 10mm laminate in one room you want it running up against 10 mm thick tile (approximately 3/8 of an inch) in the kitchen or bathroom. Or 8mm of laminate run up against 8mm of vinyl in another room. Etc.
The key here is that you want to have it be easy for you to put your threshold in between two different flooring types. You could save money in one room you spend a little more money in another room to make sure that you have your moisture concerns covered.
Back to waterproof flooring
I gave an example of vinyl versus laminate flooring. There are many options for 100% waterproof vinyl floors and there is also some waterproof laminate available. What's the biggest difference? I can't speak for all products on the planet, I can just share what I have seen and had exposure too… and of course, over time, innovations will continue to happen. But at the time of this writing, I would suggest you think about this: vinyl (SPC) is fully waterproof, moisture can come from above or below, and it is still fully waterproof.
Waterproof laminate tends to be waterproof from above, but not waterproof from below. If water/moisture comes from below, let's say from the concrete subfloor, then the flooring may not be fully waterproof. It’s a minor difference but worth noting. The main issue is the core material is different, SPC vinyl has no wood fiber in the core, but laminate does. Wood moves from moisture, stone doesn't.
If for some reason your subfloor was wet or was giving off moisture (not impossible if the concrete didn’t cure, concrete holds moisture in it) then you potentially have problems. No matter the type of flooring, if it’s a floating floor and moisture gets trapped under neither, bad things can occur. Mold or other things grow when water is trapped and has nowhere to go. Follow pre-site preparation from your warranty before doing any flooring installation.
At the time of this writing, based on all the different products that we've seen, we still prefer 100% proof waterproof vinyl vs waterproof laminate. Laminate (AC4 or AC5) is great for scratches from large dogs, and I don’t disagree it has a lot of great applications. I just prefer vinyl when moisture is a high probability. I put laminate in the water resistant category, and SPC Vinyl flooring int he waterproof category. If in doubt, and moisture can be a concern, stick with vinyl.
In high moisture environments like basements, kitchens, laundry rooms and bathrooms I usually suggest SPC vinyl or ceramic & porcelain tile. Ceramic & Porcelain tile is still my favourite to use in bathrooms. The installation method is a superior solution for the higher water environment.
Okay, so that concludes waterproof flooring versus water resistant flooring. I hope the analogy of the raincoat helped. Inexpensive water resistant shell is great in a light shower, but if it's gonna rain for real, spend the money and get a proper waterproof jacket.
Post article comments: here are a few quotes I have grabbed from various websites around waterproof flooring topic. The purpose is to add voices other than mine to help give context to the topic. This one is interesting, from a company that sells waterproof laminate and says it can be installed anywhere. But look what they say after they say it can be installed anywhere:
Waterproof laminate flooring can be installed anywhere inside the home. If you are installing laminate in water-prone areas, like kitchens, bathrooms or basements, be cautious to clean up any water or spills right away.
To clean your waterproof laminate floors, simply sweep or vacuum up any dust, dirt or debris. Use a damp cloth to blot up spills and avoid wet-mopping or using liquid cleaning materials on your laminate floor. Be sure to clean up any spills immediately to prevent damage to your flooring.
This is what confuses me, and likely the general population. Why sell a premium waterproof flooring product if it isn’t actually waterproof?
Here is a good quote and good advice on waterproof flooring:
While many luxury vinyl floors are waterproof, you shouldn’t assume they all are. The ones labeled as 100 percent waterproof are what you want to look for. You should also keep in mind that while your flooring can be waterproof, the subfloor underneath may not be. As a result, you’ll need to keep water from getting under the flooring to prevent subflooring damage.
Good video from some people that did 3-day water test on waterproof flooring and water resistant flooring in an aquarium:
Here is a video to someone dealing with warped laminate flooring from a dishwasher that leaked:
Global rainy cities: