Most manufacturers claim to have some kind of ‘specialised system’ that makes their vinyl plank WAY more durable than competitors. There’s also a massive range of products on the market so determining the real durability of particular brand can be quite a task!
The good news is there are some key elements that will make or break the longevity of your flooring and this article will explain everything you need to know.
Understanding The 4 Main Layers Of Vinyl Plank
It really depends on the manufacturer, but vinyl plank is generally made up of 4 main layers:
Surface Wear Layer- Either a standard or enhanced urethane coating.
Base Wear Layer- Some manufacturers use a virgin or recycled base PVC wear layer for added durability. This isn’t about protecting the ‘look’ of the floor as much as it’s about giving the overall wear layer a solid defence against physical wear and tear.
Film Layer- Printed film that gives the planks their realistic look and appeal.
Core Layer- The ‘meat’ of the planks and generally consists of composite PVC and/ or fibreglass.
Importance Of The Wear Layers
Some companies will only use 1 vinyl or urethane layer above the print layer and that’s it, whereas others use 2 distinct wear layers as I show below. Either way, these layers are by far the most important element when determining durability.
The Base Wear Layer
PVC (Polyvinyl chloride) is extremely durable and long lasting but it’s generally not the best coating to be used on the tippy top layer of the planks. It is however, a good ‘base wear layer’ and ‘core layer’ material given it’s strength. This wear layer is made from either virgin or recycled PVC material.
Virgin PVC: This is pure unadulterated PVC that has not been recycled. In my opinion, this is the best way to go in most cases.
Recycled PVC: Given a lack of industry regulation, this type of PVC can be made from any number of random materials. It is not just recycled PVC, it contains anything that happens to be ‘thrown in’ during the manufacturing process. Materials like rubber and heavy metals are commonly found as there is no PVC recycling standard or measure for consumers to know exactly what the PVC is being mixed with. Recycled PVC material (as it stands) can have adverse affects on the durability, waterproof characteristics and overall performance of the planks. Unknown contaminants could even affect the air quality within your home which can present various health risks. It’s important to know exactly what is in recycled PVC before purchasing a product made from it.
The Surface Wear Layer
The three most common descriptions you’ll come across online to do with the surface layers are:
Vinyl No Wax- This is a clear coat of vinyl on the very top and (while tough) is not the best in terms of maintaining optimum appearance as it will dull much easier.
Urethane- This is somewhat better but nothing special on it’s own in terms of protection.
Enhanced urethane- The better quality floors come with an enhanced urethane surface layer. For example, some companies ‘enhance’ their urethane with aluminium oxide and microscopic ceramic or silica beads. There are many variations in this and it ultimately comes down to the individual company.
One thing I want to point out here is that ‘enhanced urethane’ leaves a fairly wide open opportunity for some companies to claim they have the “secret sauce” that no other company offers. Don’t get me wrong, there are some genuinely great coatings on the market but it pays to do your research before buying into some of the marketing hype out there.
Thickness Of The Wear Layer
Other than the quality or composition of the wear layer, another important element is it’s thickness. In fact, this is probably the most important element and one that allows you to readily differentiate the many products on offer. In general, the thicker the better.
Note: I am not talking about the overall thickness of the boards, I am talking about the thickness of the actual wear layer itself.
There is some confusion about the terminology used to measure thickness so allow me to clarify this real quick:
- mm (millimeter)
- mil (one thousandth of an inch)
As a guide, “1mm” equals about “40mil”. Typical thicknesses range from 0.1mm- 1mm (4mil – 40mil) and the thicker the overall wear layer, the better. Like most things in life, the better it is the more expensive the flooring becomes. So a thicker wear layer is going to mean a higher cost. In fact, it’s safe to say that this is the single biggest contributor to the overall cost of your flooring.
If durability is your main concern I recommend going for 0.5mm (20mil) and above which is the standard for commercial grade use. That’s not to say a thinner wear layer is totally unacceptable, this is just the minimum I personally recommend for lasting durability. That said, I never recommend purchasing flooring with any less than 0.3mm overall wear layer thickness regardless.
The length of the warranty generally comes down to wear layer thickness which further illustrates the importance of the wear layer. You’ll typically score a 10 year warranty for 20mil and 20+ years for 40mil wear layer planks. Again, this varies depending on the manufacturer.
How Does It Compare With Other Options?
One of the key reasons this flooring became so popular in the old days was because of it’s low cost and high durability. Since the 1940’s, things have only improved. Vinyl Plank is among the most durable and hard wearing flooring solutions on the market today.
In fact, it is more stable and more durable than hardwood and will maintain it’s look for many more years without any need for re-finishing.
- If you drop something, it won’t chip or crack like many other materials such as tile or timber
- It won’t stain like carpet and even some types of tiles (like porcelain for example)
- Won’t scratch anywhere near as easily as many other types of flooring
- Is extremely flexible so if you have movement in your home, this is not going to be a huge concern
- Will stand up against water given it’s waterproof nature
- Should something get damaged, repair is way easier than many floors and can be done in sections (ie. each plank)
The one thing you do need to watch for is gouging the floor with sharp objects. While it won’t chip or crack, if you come at it with a knife or an axe it’s gonna get messy!
I guess it depends on the individual household, but I think most damage and wear comes from dropping everyday objects like cups and plates, moving furniture around and general foot traffic. Safe to say that in most cases, this is more ‘accident’ proof.
The Bottom Line
Working out how durable vinyl flooring products are comes down to understanding how they’re made and what they’re made from. In this article I’ve explained the 4 main layers, the different materials used in each and the importance of the wear layer thickness. As a general guide, thicker means better quality and more durability but it also attracts a higher price.
By purchasing flooring with a high quality 0.5mm-1mm wear layer from a reputable manufacturer, you’ll get a long lasting, low maintenance and extremely durable floor for your home.