Vinyl has been a popular flooring choice in American homes for decades. But today’s vinyl flooring – as many of the big-name manufacturers are quick to point out – is not your grandmother’s kitchen flooring.
Now grouped into a category called “resilient flooring,” today’s vinyl floors are manufactured using the latest advances in flooring technology. The shiny, plastic-looking floors that were once prone to scratching and scuffing, now feature more matte finishes, and are far more durable, easy to maintain, and wear-resistant than their distant cousins. In addition to offering better performance, these floors have gotten a bit of a makeover. Available in sheets, tiles, or planks, today’s vinyl flooring comes in a huge variety of colors, patterns, and trendy designs, with many high-end styles impressively mimicking the look and textures of popular materials such as real ceramic tile, stone, and wood.
Why Choose Resilient Vinyl?
Vinyl is one of the most versatile materials used in flooring. It is highly resistant to mold, mildew, and moisture, making it one of the most popular flooring options for kitchens, bathrooms, laundry rooms, and just about any room in which occasional spills and moisture are a concern. Also one of the most affordable flooring materials out there, vinyl is easy to install over most existing flooring, and it’s easy to maintain. Vinyl’s built-in cushiony underlayment also makes it warmer and softer underfoot than real tile, stone, or wood.
With the explosion of vinyl flooring products now available under the “resilient” umbrella, how can you tell the lower-quality varieties of vinyl from the truly resilient? It all starts with understanding the different products and the manufacturing processes used to make each.
Printed vs. Inlaid Vinyl
When shopping for vinyl flooring, you’ll likely come across two types: printed and inlaid.
With printed vinyl, patterns are printed using a paper top coat placed directly on a thin vinyl surface and then covered with several layers of clear vinyl or urethane to produce a protective wear layer. Also referred to as rotovinyl, this type of vinyl is a more affordable option to inlaid vinyl but is less durable.
Inlaid vinyl floors achieve their color and textured surface through a process that places tiny vinyl granules on the backing, forcing them up to the wear surface. This creates a much heavier, extremely durable floor, as vinyl is used throughout the entire thickness of the flooring. And because the color goes through the material from the bottom to the top, any eventual chips and scrapes are much less noticeable.
For residential use, vinyl is available in a few different formats, including sheet vinyl, solid vinyl tiles, and luxury vinyl tiles/planks.
Sheet vinyl generally comes in 6’ or 12’ wide rolls. When installed, this single sheet of vinyl is rolled flat and cut to the shape of the floor. As with wall-to-wall carpet, if the floor is too large for one sheet, additional sheets are added, which creates seams where the sheets meet.
In terms of installation, there are three types of sheet vinyl: felt-backed, vinyl-backed, and modified loose-lay. The most common, felt-backed, has an added layer of felt for comfort and strength and is installed using an adhesive. Vinyl-backed, the least common, is glued only at the edges. Modified loose-lay flooring, which includes a fiberglass backing for increased strength, is typically installed using double-sided tape.
Solid vinyl tile (SVT), is a pliable tile typically available in individual 12” by 12” inch squares or in strips of three. SVT most often includes a photographic print coating that lies between the backing and a clear layer of vinyl. These tiles often include an adhesive backing and require a smooth installation surface. While tiles can be installed over old flooring that is clean and in good condition, they should not be installed directly over old tiles. For these installations, the addition of a subfloor is recommended. Vinyl tiles without adhesive require spreading an adhesive over the existing floor or subfloor before setting the tiles. Since tiles have more edges, this may cause them to become loose sooner than with sheet vinyl.
Luxury vinyl tile (LVT) is the ultimate in high-end vinyl flooring, offering a more affordable option to costly flooring materials such as natural stone and wood. Using advanced 3D imaging technology, a photograph of the natural material is transferred directly to the tile. Each tile is then uniquely embossed to match the appropriate texture. The final product, which is approximately 1/8 inch thick, is made of several layers, including a protective wear layer (mil layer) and often a urethane layer for added durability. Also available in planks, these floors do a great job of realistically capturing the textures and rich grains of the natural materials they replicate. Most tiles include beveled edges and come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Wood planks can be three to four feet long, and tiles are available in very large squares that can be laid with or without grout. This realism and durability comes with a higher price tag than that of traditional solid vinyl tiles.
The All-Important Wear Layer
The wear layer and its thickness are important indicators of how well a vinyl floor will stand up to daily use. There are basically three types of wear surfaces to consider:
Vinyl no-wax is a clear vinyl top coating. The least durable of the three surfaces, no-wax vinyl requires periodic polishing to retain its luster.
A urethane-coated finish provides greater durability and resistance to stains and daily wear without the need for polishing.
Enhanced coatings used along with urethane finishes provide the greatest level of protection. Floors with an additional aluminum oxide coating, for example, provide outstanding resistance to scratching and are far more durable than flooring with a urethane layer alone.
Your Resilient Vinyl Choice
Resilient vinyl flooring includes a wide range of flooring options, with some of the more expensive products offering greater realism and enhanced performance. As with any flooring choice, when evaluating vinyl flooring options, it’s always best to factor in your lifestyle. Considering your unique needs will help you make a selection that best matches performance and design.
Find Out More
Want to find out more about resilient vinyl flooring from a local flooring expert? Find your local vinyl flooring stores.
You’ve made your decision and are ready to select and install your new vinyl flooring. You’ve gone through the descriptions on this site and discovered so many things, such as
•Vinyl is a decorator’s dream and also durable and affordable.
•Vinyl is the great imposter. It can look like wood, tile, even marble.
•Vinyl is constructed in layers: the wear layer, the printed or decorative layer, an inner core consisting of a foam and vinyl layer, and a backing.
But before you pick up the phone or click that mouse, there are a few more things you should think about, starting with those layers.
Thick flooring is not necessarily what you’re looking for. You want a thick wear layer. That’s the top layer and the one that really counts. It’s the one that determines how well your flooring will stand up to traffic, as well as rips, tears and gouges. Talk to your retailer about what’s right for you.
Pick the right vinyl flooring for the space. Ask your retailer to review with you the manufacturer’s warranty and performance characteristics of the flooring you are interested in. You need to understand that premium products tend to have premium warranties. A good warranty is a great stress reliever.
Vinyl sheets are manufactured in 6’ and 12’ widths. Depending on the configuration of your room, seaming may be necessary. Make sure your retailer can explain to you where the seams are likely to be when your new floor is laid down. Certain floor patterns hide seams better. For example, tile patterns with grout lines mask seams beautifully.
In rooms with heavy water use, such as bathrooms and laundry rooms, you may need to occasionally replace the heavy caulking where the flooring meets the walls or toilet. You don’t want water seeping under your flooring.
“Cost per square foot” is just one component of the overall price tag for new vinyl flooring. Ask your retailer to calculate the total cost of your floor-covering project. Here’s what he or she may include beyond the cost of the vinyl, itself:
- Furniture removal/replacement
- Some retailers or installers may charge to remove (and then replace) furniture in the room.
- Demolition/disposal of old floor covering
- Unless your home is brand new, there’s probably an old floor covering that is going to need to be removed and properly disposed of. Or, you may be able to “float” your floor over an existing one.
- Sub-floor preparation
- Depending on its condition (after removal of the old floor covering), your subfloor may need to be prepped for vinyl flooring installation.
- Product delivery
- Delivering your flooring may not be included in the “cost per square foot” price.
- There will most likely be a “cost per square foot” to install your new vinyl flooring.
- Materials required to complete the installation
- Additional materials, like adhesives, moisture barriers, stairnosings and baseboards may be required to properly install your vinyl flooring.
- Many retailers offer financing as an option of payment. Be sure to check the interest rate, minimum payment due and any finance charges if you choose to pay your purchase off over time.
- In addition to your total project cost, annual cleanings are also recommended to maintain the beauty and life of your new vinyl flooring. Ask your retailer and/or consult the manufacturer’s warranty and care guide for directions on cleaning and maintenance.
Your new floor is installed and everything looks beautiful — and that’s exactly how you want to keep it. Here are some general care guidelines. These, combined with the manufacturer’s information, should tell you all you need to know to keep everything looking like new. Click here to find a professional vinyl floor cleaning company in your area.
The first 24 to 72 hours after the flooring is installed calls for special precautions. Please see our section on resilient installation for this critical information.
Your Mother Was Right
Keeping the floor clean is not hard, but there are some guidelines to increase the life of your flooring.
Dust, sand and grit particles are the enemy. Sweep or vacuum frequently. Don’t use a vacuum with a beater bar as it may scratch your floor. And don’t use scrub brushes.
When sweeping or vacuuming does not remove the dirt, mop the floor with clean warm water. Rinse the floor thoroughly with fresh water.
If water alone does not clean the surface, use cleaning products recommended by the manufacturer. Most “no-rinse” cleaners will work just fine.
When all else fails, use your head. No — not like that, silly! An ounce or so of liquid detergent or ammonia in a gallon of water will work, but you will need to rinse the floor well.
Do NOT use detergents, abrasive cleaners or "mop and shine" products.
And always toss in an ounce of prevention. Mats or rugs in front of outside doors will help keep the dust and grit from getting to the floor in the first place. Be sure the mats and rugs you buy are for vinyl floors. Some rubber-backed mats may leave stains or marks.
It’s Just a Spill
For spots or spills, wipe them up immediately and use the same technique on the spot as you would for the whole floor.
Sometimes It’s Serious
If you have a seam open up, you need to cover it to keep out the dirt. The same applies if you get a cut or gouge in your new floor. Dirt makes it harder to repair. Call your retailer or installer for information on who should repair the seam.