Hardwood vs Laminate vs Engineered Hardwood Floors | What’s the Difference?

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We’ve all heard about these kinds of floors but let’s be honest, if you’re not a contractor, a decorator or builder you’re likely unsure about the real differences.

So, what is the difference between a laminate, hardwood and an engineered hardwood floor?

The answer: 3 simple parts!

Laminate

Laminate is durable, cost-effective and comes in a variety of colours, textures and sizes. 

It’s very versatile!  The core of product is typically made of High Density Fiber (HDF) as opposed to actual slabs of wood. The top layer is a photographic layer which is designed to mimic the look you’re going for i.e. hardwood, bamboo, knotted wood, etc.  Laminate planks are typically 3/8” thick and are installed using a tongue and groove locking system, meaning you can install or uninstall with ease.

It’s the most durable and easiest to clean (read: it can handle the most abuse).

When you walk on it, you hear a shallow tap.

Hardwood

Hardwood floors are made from solid, natural wood and depending on the kind of floor you want, you can purchase a variety of wood species. 

The entire plank is made from wood, it is the only material used in the manufacturing of hardwood floors.  Modern hardwood is typically made with a tongue and groove system for easy installation . Hardwood floor is easy to sand and refinish, and requires a healthy amount of maintenance to keep them looking great.  They are easier to damage than the two other floor types discussed here though, so buyer beware.  Not only do they dent easier (i.e. if you walk with stilettos or drop a heavy object on the floor you’ll see dents), they cannot be left  wet or else they’ll become damaged (the boards will swell and expand).

Hardwood flooring is almost always more expensive but no one can argue how gorgeous it looks or feels when you walk on it.

Engineered Hardwood

The best way to describe engineered hardwood flooring is to think of it like a hybrid car; it’s a little bit of  laminate and a little bit of hardwood. 

It’s core is usually plywood or high-density fibreboard (HDF) and the  top layer is composed of a of hardwood veneer which is glued atop the core to mimic nearly any species of hardwood.  Engineered hardwood has the natural characteristics of the selected wood species as opposed to a photographic layer (which is what you get with laminate).  The reason people tend to choose engineered hardwood over natural hardwood is garner greater moisture and heat resistance because of the core material.

Despite the differences, all of these floor types can be cared for the exact same way. 

Use a  simple solution composed of a ‘pinky nail’ sized drop of dish liquid added to a bucket of hot water.  Sometimes, I’ll add a capful of plain white vinegar to the mix too, it helps cut dirt.  I recommend a microfibre twist mop which is well wrung out to mop the floors.  You can also use a steam mop or a flat head mop.

Watch Our Hardwood Floor Cleaning Video!

63 COMMENTS

  1. PLEASE, PLEASE READ THE CAPTIONS ON THE VIDEO ABOVE. THEY ARE TERRIBLE!!! I AM COMPLETELY DEAF AND EVEN I KNOW YOU DIDN’T SAY ABOUT HALF OF WHAT IS TYPED. NATIONAL CAPTIONING INSTITUTE CAN GIVE YOU GOOD ADVICE ABOUT WHO TO DO YOUR CAPTIONING. I REALLY WANT TO KNOW HOW TO CLEAN MY DARK HARDWOOD BAMBOO FLOORS. EVERYONE SAYS BONA, BUT THAT IS TOO EXPENSIVE. I DID NOT CATCH THE NAME OF ALL THE INGREDIENTS, ESPECIALLY THAT BOTTLE OF “RUSSIAN” SOMETHING, AS THE CAPTIONS SHOWED.
    THANK YOU. SHARON HAVING

    • vinegar, dishwasher liquid soap, a microfiber cloth, a microfiber twist mop, rubbing alcohol, and a bucket to dry your mop, I hope this helped you!

  2. Which is best for stairs upstairs halkway and rooms where there was covering. Attempting to diminish dust. Have extremely introverted child and in none room. Office and main room.

    Much appreciated

  3. I have regular hardwood in most of my 30 yr old house, but old pine floors in foyer and family and ancient heart pine in the kitchen. I love the old floors. The modern hardwood is nice, too.

  4. Can you do a video on cleaning duraceramic floor? if you did can you point me to it? Thank you so much. if you have any DIY products to clean it with that would be great too. 😀

  5. Which is best for stairs upstairs halkway & bedrooms where there was carpeting. Trying to reduce dust. Have autistic son and in none room. Office & master bedroom.
    Thanks
    Jd

  6. Has anyone had a response about the rubbing alcohol ingredient that is mentioned but never used? When and how do you use it??????

  7. Bella wood floor cleaner….found it at Lumber liquidators. …. best I’ve used on hardwood etc. …no streaks great on hard wood and engineered…..I’ve also dusted my furniture with it! 🙂

  8. In our home, we go on our hands and knees with a slightly damp Sprite rag (an engineered chamois) with no problem on our laminate floors. Having it in rental units is another story completely. Most renters don’t care if the window A/C is leaking on the laminate or if they drop liquid on the laminate…they don’t wipe it up, sometimes causing that “wrinkle” damage of the laminate separating from the HDF (underside). Because of the tongue and groove, there’s no easy way to just remove one or two damaged pieces.

  9. Don’t by engineered floors. They scratch very easily and the scratches cannot be covered. A very costly mistake installing these kind of floors. We were sold a bill of goods

  10. Enjoyed the video, but I do think it needs to be clear to how much water is being put in the bucket. Otherwise, the amount of detergent and vinegar is insufficient. Also, you never explained what the rubbing alcohol is for.

    • Did you ever get an answer to your question regarding the rubbing alcohol and when and how it is used?

  11. I still don’t understand how to clean engineered hardwood flooring without a shiny finish. I have used your method and it’s still dull.

  12. There is probably no manufacturer of engineered wood that would approve of these cleaning methods. Water and wood floors do not mix. This can cause warping of your wood plank. Steam cleaning is also not a good idea.

    • I worked 17 years as a custodian and refinished floors a lot. hard wood floors can be mopped but you should not leave standing water. Any floor that could not get wet would be worthless to any one who would venture out of their house. They do need to have the seal and waxing maintained. Bare wood would be the week point of a hard wood floor.
      I helped a friend gut and rebuild his house years back. He was not worried about the laminate floor during demo but when we finished tearing down and dragging all the waist across the Prego under what was a layer of dirt that made floor look worn, even after a couple months of heavy demo including ripping down a fire place on floor. I was impressed as was he that with a mop job the floor looked new and to this day with them owning many dogs the floor still looks new years later.

  13. You show rubbing alcohol as one of the ingredients and I ran out and bought it, but looking at the video again, you never mentioned when to use it!

    Do you have a corrected video showing what to do with it?

    • I recently purchased a house that recently had enginered wood floors instralled. I have noticed spots on the floor. I wiped down the floors by hand with a damp cloth and it didn’t take the spots aways. I also watched the video and wanted to know what it is that you use the alcohol on. Does the alcohol help to remove spots?

  14. You mentioned using alcohol, but did not demonstrate how the alcohol is actually used. So how do you use the alcohol when cleaning hardwood floors?

  15. I have engineered hardwood and use the Bona cleaner but does it disinfect? I have 2 cats and 2 small dogs and would love to steam mop but I’ve heard that is a big no no! What can be used periodically to disinfect?

    • You should NEVER have unfinished hardwood flooring. Polyurethene is best, real wax as a minimum. Who installed these floors???

  16. Thanks for your cleaning tips. I have used a cleaning product that was recommended by the flooring company. However, when attempting to polish them I noticed a dull film residue was now on my floor in some sections. What can I do to remove this build up? My floors are engineered hardwood by Bruce.

    • I have Bruce engineered as well. I had the same problem. After trying 10 or so different cleaners to try to get the dull haze off, I tried the mineral spirits tonight. It worked much better than anything else. Now I have to find a product that cleans but doesn’t cloud or create a film. I know this is a year late, but figured it may help others.

  17. How much water do you use? Is it one capful of vinegar plus a pinky nail sized drop of dish washing liquid to 1 gallon of water?

  18. I work for a ServiceMaster owned cleaning company. Ive learned and passed on my share of cleaning tips but nothing as vast or valuable as this. Perhaps even Martha Stewart hasn’t even heard of some of these tips. Stainless steel and mirrors frustrate me more than anything else.I will know where to come to from now on next time I have a cleaning issue.

  19. Hi Melissa, I am moving into a brand new home shortly. There is laminate flooring throughout the home. I have a cat as well. I like my floors to always look there best but this is a first for me with laminate flooring. How do I keep it looking like new and what is the best way to clean the floor without damaging it from using the wrong kind of cleaners.
    Thanks,
    Deanna

  20. Great Article and very accurate info. I personally prefer Bona wood floor cleaner and the Rubbermaid refillable mops for cleaning.. Their heads are washable and it makes cleaning a breeze.. But I will say your method is a bit more affordable and works well too.

  21. Actually you should not clean laminate floors with water as it makes for water spots and it gets between the planks and ripples the layers of laminate. You are supposed to spray a special laminate floor cleaner on a cloth and wipe/polish the floor.

  22. Thanks for those tips Melissa! But… ( there’s always a but ) what if your advice comes just a little too late 🙁 sniff sniff .. Ok I have laminate flooring in 3 bedrooms, then ceramic tile throughout. Two bedrooms have a dark cherry shinny laminate that ” was ” beautiful on installation day. Even came with a ” lifetime guarantee” …. Sweet right? Ummm wrong. On day two of having the floors I noticed buckling where my 28 year old sons min pin had peed. ( lazy kid refused to train said mutt ) I called the installer regarding “warranty” issue, and they flat out refused to fix or replace. Fast forward 3 years later, the floors are dull, no longer shinny, and in some spots buckling at the seam. Is there any hope in fixing the dullness? Or am I forced to replace these floors? Since I’m feeling frustrated, I think I will be driving over to where we purchased the floors and throw a hissy fit, which will probably fall on deaf ears… But once again I shall try. I was just wondering if you has any post trauma floor drama make it look new advice? The other bedroom has a lighter color laminate that I have hated from day one, shows every mark and despite buying every mop known to man kind, still looks like crap immediately after cleaning. Sincerely, ” I have the floors from hell” Gwendy

  23. Melissa, nice breakdown of the differences between the three types of flooring. You have a great blog here!
    I’d be so so so careful with mopping real hardwood, even “well wrung out” mopping. Too much water, and the wood will NOT be happy with you – it can cause swelling on your floor in the long run. My advice is to use a spray cleaner and a dry push mop. People don’t normally like me for “pooh poohing” the wet mop, but it will protect your floors over the long haul!

    • Nonsense, I have oak floors and wet mop them weekly. I use Murphy’s soap and actually get the floors good and wet as I mop. I use a sponge mop and have it fully saturated with water on the first pass over the area. Then I rinse the mop in the bucket, squeeze out the water from it and do multiple passes to pickup any standing water on the floor. When I am done the entire room is damp and I stay out of it until it dries. Been doing this for 10 years on a 70 year old oak floor. The floor looks great

    • Mark, just because your floor can take it, doesn’t mean most can. I sell flooring and every single one of our vendors will not warranty a wood floor that has been mopped. Also, soap and Murphy’s oil will void warranty. If you do not have your hands on your flooring’s “how-to”, I would do what I recommend all of my customer’s: Hardwood cleaner that is sprayed onto a microfiber dry mop. The soap or Murphy’s oil can leave a cloudy clear coat that is almost impossible to remove.

      • the only thing I found to remove the cloudy clear coat was Lysol spray! On my hands and knees over 400 plus square feet! Found out by accident!

        • I clean my engineering floors with Lisol disinfecting wipes. I also use alcohol since it takes out the sticky things on the kitchen. And the alcohol evaporates very fast so the floor won’t be wet

  24. I have learned soo much from you…thank you..you help soo many people. BTW..your speaking monolog is perfect and no stumbling or ahh..umm…you get the instructions rite out and to the point and very entertaining…Good joy for sure…

    • No the difference is how doable and can last each one of them laminate can not survive more than 5years and it’s gonna look really ugly, hardwood is pricy but the best can last forever you can sand and finish as much as you want, engineer Harwood is good for basement it’s more like plastic with wood look .

      • I disagree, Hanna. Yes, hardwood is pricey and yes, it can look good for decades. However, the cost (in terms of time AND money) is relatively high for both the purchase and the maintenance. While I don’t yet have direct experience with engineered hardwood, the surface is going to have the same disadvantages as regular hardwood – relatively easily damaged. What I really disagree with is your portrayal of laminate flooring. The statement about a 5 year survival is way off base. In fact, many, many laminates are guaranteed for 30 to 50 years. And laminates are coated with aluminum oxide (read – extremely hard) in varying thicknesses that will provide a much more durable finish that you’ll get with hardwood (natural or engineered). You may have a preference for one of those or another but don’t count laminates out. I’d recommend talking with a flooring professional.

      • Hanna, I have to agree with Pat about the laminate. I am, always have been, and hopefully, always will be a pet owner. I installed a laminate floor over five years ago and at this very moment it looks as good as the day it was installed. I chose laminate because of the seemingly indistructable properties it holds. Three dogs, two cats, no scratches, dents or spots. We live in the country and one of the biggest factors in my decision to install laminate is/was how well it cleans up from spills, pet accidents and the great outdoors being tracked through the great indoors.

        • We have engineered hardwood and four dogs. It looks like wood, not plastic. It stands up well to dogs. Like Ed’s laminate, it cleans up easily.

          • We built a house and used engineered wood, we have one dog and our floor looks like we’ve lived here for 10 years instead of one. I use Bruce cleaner for engineered wood every weekend and sweep a couple times a week. I would never recommend anyone using engineered wood flooring.

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