Hardwood vs Engineered vs Laminate Flooring

Since my kitchen flooded (fridge icemaker malfunction), and we had to rip up some carpet and extend our hardwood, I have had floors on the brain.

When we built this house, we used a very middle of the row builder. It is not a big fancy million dollar custom home with every upgrade you can imagine.  We bought an affordable home with plenty of space, and I happen to think it is beautiful.  We did wood flooring from the entry way into the kitchen and dining nook.  The hallway was carpet, until the flood, and we decided to rip it up and extend the wood to the bedrooms and leave the bedrooms with carpet.

Talking to a couple of friends this week about wood floors, I realized that a lot of people are confused as to what the options for flooring are and what the benefits and downsides of each are. Some people get laminate and engineered wood mixed up, or think it is the same.  So, I decided to list them for you.  My husband is a woodworker and kind of an expert when it comes to woods- and definitely somewhat of a wood snob, so it KILLS HIM that we have engineered wood flooring (not to be confused with laminate- see below.)  I am sure one day he will rip them out and replace them, but for now they look beautiful and are somewhat easy to maintain (except that mine are super dark- so every.single.cracker.crumb shows!)the brown wood texture with natural patterns

Hardwood Floors

Hardwood is gorgeous and definitely the most preferred.  It varies a great deal in price, depending on the wood you choose to use.  Generally, hardwood is the most expensive option.  Below I have listed the pros and cons.


  • It’s the real stuff and real is better, right?
  • It’s gorgeous and timeless
  • Adds value to your home
  • It can be refinished if it gets nicks or scratches in it, you can sand it down and refinish it


  • Shows wear and tear
  • Has to be refinished to stay looking nice
  • Can get damaged with excessive moisture
  • More expensive than other options

Engineered Hardwood Flooring

This is what we have.  It is made of an mdf material (pressed wood) and then it has 1/4 inch wood veneer on the top.  The top is real hardwood, but it does not go solid all the way through.  Engineered flooring has its place and can look beautiful as well.


  • Comes prefinished, so you never have to sand and refinish
  • Less expensive
  • You can replace the damaged pieces one by one, and it matches because it is prefinished.
  • It does not expand and contract as much as solid wood with changes in your humidity


  • You can’t sand it down if you get scratches, you have to replace it.
  • Moisture damage if exposed to excessive water

Laminate Flooring

This is a vinyl layering over a pressed board to appear like wood, but is actually made of vinyl.


  • Durable- doesn’t show wear (scratches and dents) like wood does
  • It can be very realistic in texture and style
  • Less maintenance
  • Easy to clean
  • Much less expensive


  • It can’t be refinished
  • It can react badly to excessive moisture as well
  • It’s not the “real deal”
  • Does not add value to the home because most people prefer real hardwood


14 comments for “Hardwood vs Engineered vs Laminate Flooring

  1. Karla
    February 28, 2013 at

    This was a great article! Thanks so much for the information. I just wanted to note that we did an experiment with a piece of laminate because I was worried about water damage. We’re planning on replacing the floor in our kitchen & bathroom so it was a concern.
    We took one of the samples that we brought home and soaked it under water in the sink for about 4-5 hours. There was no effect on the laminate. No swelling or separating or anything. I was surprised. I don’t know what brand it is, just the color. I’d have to go back to the store to find out what brand it is. But I feel it was a good test to do.

    • Melanie
      February 28, 2013 at

      Great idea! No question, laminate wears better, and is easier to clean. My brother actually used a laminate product in his office that was so realistic, it even fooled my woodworker husband for a minute. They have some really great laminate products right now, if you go that route! Thanks for your comment!

    • Linda
      July 7, 2013 at

      There is ceramic tile that has the “look” of hardwood. If I were going for this look in a bath or kitchen, I might consider this, as an alternative. I also know of vinyl flooring with the look of hardwood. My dad is a flooring contractor…

    • July 18, 2013 at

      you can soak those samples and nothing will happen – but you can install it and if moisture gets on it it will not fair well…I soaked the samples and then got “soaked” when we installed the laminate – fortunately, we got our money back – the inspector said it best “laminate is just a picture of wood glued to pressboard”….we got hardwood because even if it gets scratched or dented – that just adds character – but bubbled up laminate is just defective….

  2. March 6, 2013 at

    Thanks for the simple break down. Our freezer malfunctioned too!! We got water all the way down into our lower floor. So not fun. Looking at new flooring options now for a Summer install. Great info 🙂

  3. Cass
    March 19, 2013 at

    We have laminate floors in our house, they were there when my husband and I moved in. I’ve had trouble finding a cleaner that does a good job and doesn’t leave a spotty, filmy finish. Sweaty feet leave foot prints and smears, and laminate DOES show scratch marks. Unlike real hardwood, they don’t look like “character marks”, they make your floors look cheaper than they already did. Prefinished hardwoods are beautiful, my dad put them in both of the houses we lived in as children, and they were amazing.

    • Kristine
      March 20, 2013 at

      Cass, I’m in the same boat as you in all aspects, except ours is engineered. It came with the house, and is a cherry tone with a shiny finish. Not only is the color unappealing, it shows everything, including the divots that definitely have no positive impact on character. At some point we will rip them out. I’m looking at all options, including bamboo and cork. I am still interested in. The engineered wood as a happy medium between hardwood and laminate, but it would definitely need more texture and a better stain to capture my dollar. 🙂

  4. Barb N
    March 21, 2013 at

    We replaced our floors several yrs ago and I went with real hardwood, prefinished. I like the idea of being able to sand it down and refinish if ever needed to. It is a little more expensive but in long run you will save money because it can be refinished a lot cheaper than replacing entire floor. My floor has also lasted and is more durable than I expected. We had a large dog for several yrs and I was worried about scratches. I think the pre finish has helped it hold up better. For cleaning I always use the manufacture recommended – Bruce hardwood floor cleaner.

  5. Donna M
    April 26, 2013 at

    For cleaning the Bruce Hardwood/Laminate cleaner is great. If you use something else, just don’t use anything with soap in it. No Murphy’s , Lysol, Pinesol, or anything like that. Soapy cleaners can leave a film that is almost impossible to remove.

    Engineered wood can be sanded and refinished about 1 time over its life and there are click versions that install as a floating floor (like laminate) which make them a great DIY project. You get the hardwood for less money and work.

    As far as the scratches go the shinier the finish the more scratches will show so opt for a more matte finish if it is a concern. And Barb N, you are right on that the pre-finished will hold up longer because the finish on them is stronger than any polyurethane you can buy and put on yourself.

  6. Karen Sorey
    June 2, 2013 at

    Can you use a steam mop on these types of floors? I hate that sticky sound your feet or shoes make when walking on a floor mopped with any type of floor cleaner!!!!

  7. Denise
    July 22, 2013 at

    Another con of laminate — Loud. Since it is sitting on foam layer, it’s much louder than other options. Thanks for the informative information!

  8. Vivian
    August 12, 2013 at

    Just a quick note about engineered… Not all engineered flooring is made using mdf (some are made of plywood) for dimensional stability. For areas prone to cold, dry winters, this is a good thing and the floor will move less than a solid hardwood. Also, depending on the thickness of the top layer, some actually can be refinished. This is a good question to ask when you are purchasing your flooring.

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