Waterproof Laminate Flooring put to the Test: Claims vs Data

Some manufacturers say they offer waterproof laminate flooring. Is this marketing spin? Or can wood really be waterproof? Landlords need flooring suitable for heavy use in a kitchen, bathroom, or mud room, and waterproof wood sounds appealing. MassLandlords set out to test several different options available off-the-shelf at a Massachusetts Lowe’s. Some options claimed to be waterproof, others made no such claim. We tested everything available for comparison.

Finish-side view of all flooring tested, prior to testing.

Waterproof Laminate Flooring Claims

Pergo Portfolio and Pergo Timbercraft claimed to be waterproof. One sign in the store limited this claim to just spills, pets, and wet mopping. The Timbercraft + WetProtect warranty reads, “These limited warranties do not apply to moisture damage caused by events beyond everyday household spills, including but not limited to, flooding, standing water, leaking pipes, mechanical failures or appliance leaks.”

QuickStep Studio, a brand under the same parent company as Pergo, claimed to be water resistant. The QuickStep warranty includes the WetProtect wording, and adds, “This warranty excludes damage caused by moisture left on the floor or on or around the wall base, transitions, and trims. Overly wet cleaning and/or the use of inappropriate cleaning products are not covered under this warranty. Prolonged water exposure could damage your laminate flooring.”

It is important to note that Pergo Timbercraft + WetProtect carries a commercial clause, which warrants the product for use in multi-family housing. QuickStep Studio offers a residential warranty, which is to say, doesn’t explicitly permit rental use.

No other products made a waterproof or water-resistant claim.

Orientation of the Soak Test, before adding water to the MassLandlords Flooring Test Rig (definitely not a roasting pan). All laminate pieces are interlocked. The thick pieces are the two hardwood tongue-and-groove samples and are not interlocked.

The Waterproof Laminate Flooring Experiment

Two interlocking samples were selected for each of seven brands: Allen + Roth, Natural Floors, Pergo Portfolio + WetProtect, Pergo Timbercraft, Project Source, QuickStep Studio, and Style Selections. We also purchased untreated tongue-and-groove hardwood.

We performed a “shake test.” Each pair of pieces were locked together, held by one of the two pieces, and shaken in three orientations: normal install direction (finished surface up), reverse (finished surface down), and sideways (finished surface to left or right). The piece not being held by hand might fall off if not for the interlocking design. This gave us a qualitative measure of steadfastness of material and resistance to warping or decoupling. “A” products kept their unheld piece locked in all three directions. “C” products stayed locked in normal install orientation, but the unheld piece fell off sideways or upside down. “F” products fell apart when shook in any orientation.

We also performed a “soak test.” Each pair of pieces was soaked in water halfway up the sample width for two days at room temperature. The joint was halfway submerged on each pair. Each pair of pieces was measured before and after soaking using a tape measure accurate to 1/32 of an inch. The measurement directions were length, width, and thickness. (Specifically: length of paired samples, which started as two board widths; width of samples, which started however long they were cut; and sample thickness, measured at the middle of a sample away from a joint or end.)

Orientation of the Soak Test, before adding water to the MassLandlords Flooring Test Rig (definitely not a roasting pan). All laminate pieces are interlocked. The thick pieces are the two hardwood tongue-and-groove samples and are not interlocked.

Waterproof Floor Test Results

The “Shake Test” established a subjective measure of attachment quality and resistance to decoupling.

Project Source, Style Selections, and tongue-and-groove hardwood options faired worst, failing to remain joined through shaking even in normal orientation (gravity down). Natural Floors, Pergo Portfolio, Pergo Timbercraft, and QuickStep Studio remained locked together when shook any which way. Allen + Roth only remained joined when shook finished side up.

The “Soak Test” altered the finished appearance of the tongue-and-groove hardwood, Allen + Roth, and Style Selections samples. For all samples, expansion thickness-wise was the most pronounced, with expansion lengthwise or widthwise being unmeasurable or of the order 1%.

After the soak test, several pieces have visibly deformed and moved themselves or neighbors. Water has wicked up vertically on most pieces and in most joints.

Waterproof Laminate Flooring Discussion

Samples whose finishes were altered (Style Selections, Allen + Roth, and the tongue-and-groove) can be disqualified from the waterproof category even without regard to their expansion measurements. These surfaces looked water damaged. Too bad for Style Selections, because in terms of physical deformity and warping, this pair of samples experienced less expansion than any other sample.

Both samples purporting to be waterproof (Pergo Portfolio + WetProtect and Pergo Timbercraft + WetProtect) experienced measurable increase in flooring thickness. It is unclear from this test whether this would result in buckling. It is noteworthy that these samples remained joined at the same Shake Test category when half wet.

All samples except for the tongue-and-groove hardwood experienced almost immeasurably small increases in length and width.

Natural Floors and QuickStep Studio deserve recognition for experiencing the best combination of Shake Test and Soak Test results. The Natural Floors sample may have been inexactly described at Lowe’s. It was identified as a laminate, and looked like a laminate, but it was likely bamboo.

Is a 1% expansion negligible? Perhaps not. Consider for instance a 10-foot-wide room (120 inches). A 1% expansion in any direction would be 1.2 inches, more than the combined edge gaps left under your baseboard molding.

Considering all of the above, none of these laminate flooring options should be considered “waterproof” in the ordinary sense meaning “impervious to water.”

The Style Selections product is not a waterproof laminate flooring, and makes no claim to be. Its plywood construction was the most visibly deformed of any of the test pieces.

Waterproof Laminate Flooring Test Limitations

For statistical relevance, we would need to run more pieces from different batches. It is possible that our pieces performed unusually well or poorly compared to the average product.

It would also be desirable to measure the flooring more accurately, using calipers, rather than a tape measure, which is technique- and user-dependent. For instance, the tape measure must be drawn perpendicularly across the sample, held in such a way that the measured edge touches the sample, and adjusted so that a loose hook doesn’t create variable measurements.

The hardwood tongue-in-groove controls fared the worst, experiencing significant water deformation and finish delaminating. “This is why we can’t have nice things.”

Waterproof Laminate Flooring? Conclusion

Note that we did not test actual floors in real-world conditions, which would not have involved soaking for days. Under our “worst case” testing, all of the laminate flooring exhibited significant expansion under prolonged contact with a water reservoir. None of the products were waterproof.

Four models (Pergo Portfolio, Pergo Timbercraft, Natural Floors, and QuickStep Studio) demonstrated strong interlocking and might fully resist splashes or spills, even beyond the specific constraints of the warranty. Considering the ten year light commercial warranty on the two Pergo laminate products, these might be worth considering for a rental property kitchen.

Other considerations, like AC Rating, UV protection, and aesthetics should also be considered before you make any flooring selections.

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