The Best Vinyl Plank Flooring of 2021

Vinyl planks are an attractive, durable, easy-to-install, and affordable flooring option. This in-depth article looks at how to select the best option for your home or business use.

By Bob Beacham | Updated Oct 26, 2021 1:15 PM

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The Best Vinyl Plank Option

Photo: flooringinc.com

Hardwood planks have long been a popular flooring choice, offering unrivaled natural warmth. Unfortunately, hardwood can also be expensive, difficult to install, and prone to dents, scratches, or water damage. Fortunately, there are alternatives that offer the look of hardwood, but with added durability benefits and a lower price point. The best vinyl plank flooring provides a virtually indistinguishable alternative that’s low-cost and can shrug off the wear and tear of an active home or office environment. Some can even be installed on new concrete floors or over existing wood or tile.

Given the considerable benefits and the number of positive vinyl plank flooring reviews, it’s no surprise that vinyl plank flooring has gained many fans. In response, manufacturers now produce an almost bewildering variety of choices. While there are many similarities among those choices, there are also vital differences, and these differences have a major impact on the suitability of vinyl plank flooring for particular areas. Read on to take a closer look at those features and decide which is the best vinyl plank flooring option for your home or business premises.

  1. BEST OVERALL: Shaw Primavera Bayou Luxury Vinyl Plank Flooring
  2. BEST BANG FOR THE BUCK: TrafficMaster Edwards Oak Luxury Vinyl Plank Flooring
  3. BEST KITCHEN AND BATHROOM: NuCore White Pewter Rigid Core Luxury Vinyl Plank
  4. BEST NARROW PLANK: COREtec Plus 5″ Waterproof Vinyl Planks
  5. BEST OVERSIZE PLANK: Pergo Extreme Wider Longer – Toasted Peanut
The Best Vinyl Plank Option

Photo: homedepot.com

What to Consider When Choosing Best Vinyl Plank Flooring

Visual appeal is a key issue when selecting the best vinyl plank flooring, and it can be a very personal decision. However, beneath that attractive surface there are a variety of features that require careful consideration. The following section provides a detailed explanation of the important technical differences that will impact that choice.

Types of Vinyl Plank Flooring

At its most basic, vinyl plank flooring is a photographic reproduction of wood grain (or other visual) printed onto a PVC (polyvinyl chloride) sheet. In addition to that PVC sheet are a number of other layers, and these can make a big difference to performance and comfort. There are a few different formats of vinyl plank flooring, and each can be installed in different ways.

Many of these products are made abroad, so thickness is usually described in millimeters (mm), with 25.4mm equaling 1 inch. They vary from 4mm for low-cost vinyl plank flooring up to 8mm for a higher-quality, more durable product. Thicker vinyl planks usually absorb more sound and feel more pleasant under foot, though they do tend to cost more.

Luxury Vinyl Plank Flooring

Luxury vinyl plank (LVP) flooring is a much used and occasionally misleading description. The majority of vinyl plank flooring can be called “luxury” regardless of quality, so it’s important to note that there’s no one best luxury vinyl plank brand and to check the specifications carefully. The term “EVP” (engineered vinyl plank) may also be used.

LVP generally consists of three layers: a backing or base made with vinyl and fillers, a printed pattern layer (where the wood look comes in), and a clear-finish layer that offers protection from scratches, scuffs, and staining. Installation options will vary from product to product, but in general, LVP can be installed by gluing planks directory to the subfloor, using a click-lock system to keep the flooring in place (sometimes called a floating floor) or in a loose-lay format, which allows for laying the planks flat.

WPC Vinyl Plank Flooring

After LVP started gaining popularity, there were still many customers who preferred the feeling of a rigid plank in their hand, something that felt closer to a true hardwood plank. Enter wood plastic composite (WPC) flooring. A waterproof vinyl plank option featuring a rigid core made of wood pulp and extruded foam, WPC flooring is light and sound-absorbent, and it feels warm underfoot. It is generally installed with a click-locking system, eliminating the need for an adhesive.

SPC Vinyl Plank Flooring

Stone plastic composite (SPC), the successor to WPC flooring, features a rigid core that uses limestone (calcium carbonate). While not as soft or quiet underfoot as WPC vinyl plank or luxury vinyl plank flooring, these floors are very tough and less prone to indentation from heavy objects, such as furniture, than WPC.

Like WPC, SPC vinyl planks are also installed using a click-lock system using preformed grooves, rather than needing to be glued down.

Waterproof Vinyl Plank Flooring

Another area that can be confusing is whether vinyl plank flooring is waterproof or not. One of the main components, PVC, is 100 percent waterproof. Both WPC and SPC planks also contain plasticizers to allow some flex without splitting, and this also helps shed water.

However, while a good deal of vinyl plank flooring is waterproof, some is only classified as water resistant. This should not be used in areas of potential high humidity or frequent spills, such as bathrooms and kitchens. Even fully waterproof vinyl plank flooring will distort if submerged for long, and it may not survive flooding.

Layer Composition

Vinyl plank flooring’s composition varies a bit from product to product. No matter the format, all vinyl plank flooring will feature a clear wear layer and pattern layer. Rigid core vinyl plank flooring, like WPC and SPC, will feature a rigid core made of either wood or stone composite, which gives the plank its rigid feel and heft in hand. Flexible LVP will not feature a core layer, but instead a backing made with vinyl and fillers. Some of the best vinyl plank flooring has an additional cork or foam acoustic layer already attached to the bottom.

While lower-cost vinyl plank flooring is usually composed of these three layers, it can be a little noisy when laid on a concrete subfloor. A thin foam or felt underlayment layer is usually recommended to both absorb the sound and add “give,” which improves the comfort underfoot.

High-Traffic Areas: Choose the Appropriate Wear Layer

Choosing the best vinyl plank flooring for a particular area of a home or office will depend to some extent on the amount of traffic. While each format offers good durability, all surfaces wear eventually.High-traffic areas like kitchens, dining rooms, entryways, and lobbies don’t necessarily need thicker vinyl planks. While increased thickness often means greater comfort, it is the actual wear layer that is key. Interestingly, wear-layer thickness is measured in mils, and while that sounds like it would be related to millimeters, a mil is actually one thousandth of an inch (.001 inch).

Minimum wear-layer thickness is usually 2 mil, though good-quality vinyl plank flooring will generally be 6 mil and upward.

Residential vs. Commercial

Wear layer is often used as the distinguishing feature between vinyl plank flooring for residential or commercial use. A 12-mil wear layer is frequently seen as the boundary between domestic and light commercial, whereas 20 mil and upward is considered commercial, used for high-traffic offices or retail areas, for example.

However, the terms “residential” and “commercial” are somewhat arbitrary. A commercial-grade wear layer is usually advised for business premises, but vinyl flooring plank designated as commercial is often also designed to be used in a residential environment. Indeed if you have boisterous kids or pets, it could well be the optimum choice.

Length, Width, and Color

Picking a grain pattern and color are personal choices, but the variety of vinyl plank flooring options is so vast that whatever the home’s decor, there’s almost certainly something that will fit. Planks are generally 36 inches or 48 inches long. They are easy to trim to length where necessary. A utility knife or hand saw can be used, but a miter saw is the quickest and easiest way to trim a vinyl plank. Plank width is usually 6 to 8 inches. This is an important consideration in terms of appearance and one that some people struggle to visualize. If there aren’t planks of the appropriate width for reference nearby, it may be worth cutting a couple of mock-up planks.

Vinyl floor planks are usually sold by the square foot. It is important not to underestimate requirements. The entire order should carry the same batch number, or there is a risk of minor color differences.

Our Top Picks

Armed with the knowledge provided above, it’s now time to look at some of the best vinyl plank flooring currently available. The following products have been categorized for easy reference.

Best Overall

The Best Vinyl Plank Flooring Option: Shaw Primavera W Bayou Luxury Vinyl Plank Flooring
Photo: homedepot.com

It may not be possible to choose a single vinyl plank flooring that will suit everyone, but the Shaw Primavera exemplifies many of the qualities that make these floor coverings so popular.

Shaw has been in business for more than 50 years and has a widely recognized reputation for high-quality products in everything from carpet to hardwood, including being one of the best vinyl plank flooring brands. Their Primavera vinyl plank flooring has an embossed texture for a more realistic feel and is available in 10 wood visuals. It has a 20-mil wear layer and is waterproof, making it suitable for both residential and commercial applications as well as high-moisture environments like bathrooms, kitchens, laundry rooms, and basements.

A sound-absorbing acoustic pad provides additional comfort underfoot and sound dampening. Shaw Primavera vinyl planks are easy to lay over concrete or wood subfloors.

Product Specs

  • Plank dimensions: 7 by 48 inches, 5/16″ thick
  • Wear layer thickness: 20 mil
  • Underlayment: Attached acoustic pad

Pros

  • Superb quality
  • Realistic texture
  • Acoustic pad for noise control and comfort

Cons

  • Premium price

Best Bang for the Buck

The Best Vinyl Plank Flooring Option: Trafficmaster Edwards Oak Luxury Vinyl Plank Flooring
Photo: homedepot.com

TrafficMaster may be a budget vinyl plank option, but it is still a good-quality product. It is exclusive to The Home Depot and is manufactured by Shaw, which makes many premium products on the market.

At 4.4mm it is thinner than some, but it still offers good scratch and impact resistance. It is fully waterproof, making it suitable for use anywhere in the home, including basements, kitchens, and bathrooms. Sound-absorbing underlayment is preattached, making for easier installation. It is available in four different wood colors.

While TrafficMaster describes its vinyl plank flooring as for residential and light commercial use, a wear layer of 6 mil means it is not intended for high-traffic areas, so it has limited application in business premises.

Product Specs 

  • Plank dimensions: 6 by 36 inches, 4.4mm thick
  • Wear layer thickness: 6 mil
  • Underlayment: Sound-dampening foam

Pros

  • Excellent value for money
  • 100 percent waterproof
  • Above-, on-, or below-grade use

Cons

  • Limited color range
  • Not for high-traffic areas

Best Kitchen and Bathroom

The Best Vinyl Plank Flooring Option: NuCore White Pewter Rigid Core Luxury Vinyl Plank
Photo: flooranddecor.com

NuCore vinyl plank flooring is unusual in that in addition to the wear layer, it also has a separate antimicrobial coating designed to combat the mold and mildew that can be a problem in humid environments. While this flooring can be used throughout the home, the protective coating makes it particularly good for bathrooms and kitchens.

The wear layer is a substantial 22 mil, making it suitable for both residential and commercial environments. In addition to being waterproof and qualified for installation on, above, and below grade, NuCore vinyl plank flooring is available in eight different colors, and added texture offers increased realism.

Despite the product having an attached cork backing for extra comfort, the manufacturer recommends its own additional underlayment sheet for sound dampening and to improve warmth.

Product Specs 

  • Plank dimensions: 7 by 48 inches, 6.5mm thick
  • Wear layer thickness: 22 mil
  • Underlayment: Natural cork

Pros

  • Actively combats mold and mildew
  • GreenGuard Gold environmental certification
  • Made in the U.S.A.

Cons

  • Premium price

Best Narrow Plank

The Best Vinyl Plank Flooring Option: COREtec Plus 5" Waterproof Vinyl Planks
Photo: flooringinc.com

Wide vinyl planks can be impressive in open areas, but in small rooms they can look a little overwhelming. Narrower flooring usually suits the space better and has the advantage of making the room appear bigger than it is.

COREtec Plus 5″ vinyl planks are ideal in this instance. The extensive range of over a dozen colors means there’s something for all tastes. They might be narrower than usual, but they are no less tough, with a 20-mil wear layer that makes them suitable for residential or commercial use.

The patent-pending “Hydrocore” is an SPC composite that is totally inert and thus unaffected by water. This means COREtec Plus is also a good choice for kitchens, bathrooms, and laundry rooms, and it can be installed above, on, or below grade.

Product Specs 

  • Plank dimensions: 5 by 48 inches, 8mm thick
  • Wear layer thickness: 20 mil
  • Underlayment: Synthetic cork

Pros

  • Extremely durable hybrid composition
  • Can withstand being fully submerged
  • Wide choice of colors

Cons

  • Expensive

Best Oversize Plank

The Best Vinyl Plank Flooring Option: Pergo Extreme Wider Longer - Toasted Peanut
Photo: riverwoodsflooring.com

Pergo has been making quality flooring since the 1970s. Their Extreme range of vinyl plank flooring is notable for the use of an aluminum oxide coating rather than the more common polyurethane. It offers increased protection against scuffs and scratches, making Pergo Extreme among the toughest vinyl plank flooring options available. It is also fully waterproof.

Although super tough and ideal for high-traffic areas, Pergo Extreme vinyl plank flooring remains affordable. There are 10 colors to choose from, and each is textured for a more realistic wood effect. An attached cushioned pad deadens sound.

The oversize boards make a dramatic impression in large rooms, and ease of laying means substantial areas can be covered quickly. However, their size can be inconvenient in smaller rooms. A selection of smaller planks is also available.

Product Specs 

  • Plank dimensions: 10 by 72 inches, 6mm thick
  • Wear layer thickness: 22 mil
  • Underlayment: High-density cushioned pad

Pros

  • Extremely durable wear layer
  • Tough SPC core
  • Competitive price

Cons

  • Could be visually overwhelming in smaller rooms

Our Verdict

Shaw Primavera is a high-quality product suitable for just about any location. It is a fine example of why tough, easy-to-lay vinyl plank flooring is so popular. TrafficMaster is a great budget option for low- to medium-traffic areas like basements.

How We Chose the Best Vinyl Plank Flooring

I am something of a DIY enthusiast, and vinyl planks are one of my favorite flooring systems. I have used them in numerous locations, so I have a good understanding of their structure and how to install them. This, combined with extensive product research, resulted in the following selection criteria.

Composition: The various materials used to make vinyl flooring are clearly an important component. When selecting these top picks, we made sure that each was fully waterproof, not just water resistant.

Brand: Nobody wants to be re-laying flooring every few years. All the best vinyl plank picks come from manufacturers with an established reputation for excellent product quality and high durability.

Value: Most vinyl plank flooring is affordable. We nevertheless took into account a range of prices in order to offer solutions for every budget.

The Best Vinyl Plank Option

Photo: homedepot.com

Tips for Installing Vinyl Plank Flooring

While some vinyl plank flooring has a peel-and-stick backing, and others need to be glued down, by far the most popular installation option is as a floating floor. When properly installed, the combined weight of the planks and the confines of the room prevent any floor movement. Each manufacturer should provide specific instructions on how to install their product, but the following gives good general guidance.

  • Although rigid-core vinyl plank flooring is relatively forgiving and can hide minor imperfections in the subfloor, those imperfections can become more obvious with flexible, glue-down LVP. In any case, it’s a good idea to make the subfloor as smooth and level as possible at the outset. Sweep or vacuum the floor before starting to clear up any dirt or grit.
  • For comfort while working, it is well worth investing in some good knee pads.
  • Decide which direction you want the vinyl planks to go; usually this is along the length of the room rather than the width. The click-lock edges are on the right, so you need to work from the left.
  • Remove baseboards if present. If an underlayment is being used, lay a strip across the entire length of the room. It doesn’t need to be glued; it will be held in place by the vinyl planks. Don’t add further strips until you’ve nearly covered it with planks. If you try to do it all at once, it just gets in the way.
  • Take a few boards from a pack and practice interlocking them in the middle of the room with plenty of space around you, so you understand how they work before you start laying for real.
  • It’s normal to lay in a “brickwork” pattern, so every other row needs to start with a half board. Cut as required. Retain the other half, which can often be used to finish on the right-hand wall. The “tongue” of the plank should be laid against the wall so the grooves that interlock are facing you as you work backward.
  • When you reach the far wall, it may be necessary to reduce the width of the planks.Don’t try to make them a tight fit against the wall; leave a small gap to allow for the floor settling. Actual gap size should be recommended by the manufacturer.

FAQs

The above information should have provided plenty of insight into how to choose the best vinyl plank flooring for a number of different locations. Our top picks provide real-world examples. If you still have questions about how to choose the right vinyl plank flooring, read on.

Q. What’s the best thickness for vinyl plank flooring?

It depends on which is most suitable for the installation. With WPC flooring, a thinner plank may be perfectly acceptable in areas of low traffic, whereas a thicker flexible luxury vinyl plank is probably desirable in lounge or other high-traffic areas. However, SPC can be very tough, despite being comparatively thin. It’s important to consider what happens at the transition between rooms. Choosing a vinyl plank that is too thick can lead to problems with leveling at the doorway.

Q. Is there such a thing as scratch-proof vinyl flooring?

Vinyl plank flooring is best described as scratch resistant rather than scratch-proof, though it does depend on the quality of the product chosen. Some can be very tough indeed, and many are more resistant to damage than expensive hardwood flooring. Scratching isn’t a common problem, but it can happen. When moving furniture or appliances it’s a good idea to lift rather than drag them, for example.

Q. Can I install vinyl plank flooring on my own?

Absolutely. One of the major advantages of vinyl plank flooring is its ease of installation. Few tools are required and, with a little care, even those with only modest DIY skills can achieve a professional finish.

Q. Is vinyl plank flooring waterproof?

It depends on the type, so it’s important to check the specifications carefully. Some options are described as water resistant, which is fine in areas where occasional spills are soon cleaned up. For areas that are regularly exposed to moisture, such as bathrooms, kitchens, and laundry rooms, look for 100 percent waterproof vinyl plank flooring.

Q. What’s the best way to install vinyl plank flooring?

This will depend on the product you’ve chosen. Typically, vinyl plank flooring is installed by gluing the planks to the subfloor or by using a locking system, which allows the planks to “float” above the subfloor. Some manufacturers also offer loose-lay options.

Q. Can I steam clean my vinyl plank flooring?

While some people suggest using a steam mop on a low setting for cleaning vinyl plank floors—particularly some SPC products—it is not recommended. In fact, some manufacturer warranties specifically say you should not steam-mop your vinyl plank flooring. Steam can eventually penetrate between the planks and get beneath the surface, possibly weakening the glue and causing swelling or warping. Generally, you should use a vacuum or a flat mop that is moist, rather than soaked with water, but always follow the manufacturer’s instructions for cleaning.