The Pros and Cons of Vinyl Flooring
Understand what makes vinyl such a viable flooring option—as well as the downsides to this popular product—to decide whether to install it or remove it from your home.
Vinyl is the most popular form of resilient flooring (a category that also includes linoleum and cork) because it’s low-maintenance, water-resistant, cost-effective, and long-lasting. It also has the perfect balance of firmness and “give,” meaning it springs a bit when you walk on it for a comfortable feel underfoot. And thanks to recent technological advances, today’s vinyl comes in a wide range of high-quality, beautiful finishes.
But vinyl flooring does have its downsides. So whether you’re considering installing vinyl or wondering what it takes to remove an existing vinyl floor, read on. We’ve laid out key vinyl flooring pros and cons—from installation and removal—so you can make the right decision for your home.
PRO: Vinyl floors are relatively easy to install.
Developments in the vinyl flooring industry have made the product more DIY friendly. While vinyl was once only available in large, unwieldy sheets, today’s tiles and planks are much easier to install with no sawing or hammering. Most luxury brands now offer “self-adhesive” vinyl—simply remove the backing and press into place on a properly prepared subfloor.
Here’s a general idea of how to install vinyl plank flooring:
- Level and smooth the underlayment (the layer the vinyl will adhere to).
- If you need to trim any planks to fit your space, do so with a utility knife.
- Remove the backing and begin laying the planks, ensuring a tight seam between planks for the best results.
- Use a hand roller to strengthen the adhesive bond once each plank is laid.
CON: Vinyl floors can be tough to remove.
Once vinyl’s adhesive backing hardens to the floorboards, the glue is difficult to remove. Fortunately, removing vinyl floors doesn’t require professional tools or techniques; it’s all about elbow grease.
- Clear the room of furniture and remove baseboards and trim if possible.
- Cut vinyl into 12-inch strips, using a utility knife. Manually pull up the flooring strip by strip.
- If the flooring resists, use a scraper tool or hammer and chisel to chip away at hardened glue.
- To remove all remaining glue from the floorboards, mix a solution of one tablespoon of liquid dish soap in one gallon of water and apply to glue. Let it sit for 30 minutes to soften it, then go at it with a scraper. Tip: Apply direct heat from a hairdryer to stubborn spots, just long enough to soften it.
- Alternatively, you can rent a power scraper at your local home center. Prices vary depending on your locale, but, generally, you can expect to pay a minimum of $60 for four hours, and $80 to $100 per day. Be sure to ask how the settings work, and test the device on a small patch of flooring first. Your aim is to remove the vinyl-and-glue layer without damaging the subfloor.
- Vacuum up all the debris.
PRO: Vinyl floors are affordable.
At between $2 and $5 per square foot, including installation, luxury vinyl flooring is a bargain compared to wood floors, which can cost $10 per square foot, and carpeting, at $3 to $5.50 per square foot. The savings continue when you factor in that vinyl is cheaper to clean and maintain than other types of flooring. If you’re really on a tight budget, note that sheet vinyl is the most economical option.
CON: Vinyl can be of inconsistent quality.
Despite the expansive category of “luxury vinyl,” quality varies, even among such top-rated brands as Shaw, Armstrong, Mannington, Lumber Liquidators, and Karndean. Focus on thickness and construction to determine quality.
- Vinyl comes in thicknesses from 2 mm to 8+ mm. Thinner vinyl is more easily damaged and is prone to indentation (from furniture legs, for example). Thicker vinyl boasts greater cushioning and stability—best for heavily trafficked areas like kitchens and hallways.
- In terms of construction type, “rigid core” vinyl is engineered with four layers of material for maximum stability and strength. These heavy-duty vinyl planks also feel and act more like wood. For bathrooms and kitchens, much luxury vinyl is backed with waterproof PVC (a synthetic polymer). While all vinyl flooring is water-resistant, higher quality products repel water for longer periods of time. Warning: The PVC used in vinyl flooring has been shown to release phthalates, which may cause reproductive and respiratory problems; certain brands have been shown to release fewer toxins (see this 2015 report from the Ecology Center, a Michigan-based nonprofit organization, for the phthalate levels in major vinyl flooring brands).
PRO: Vinyl floors can be beautiful and unique.
You may be surprised by the striking, unusual patterns and textures you can get with vinyl flooring today. Among the convincing wood-like finishes are distressed and hand-scraped versions. You’ll find a variety of stone and marble effects (slate and travertine are hot trends for 2019), as well as “groutable” vinyl tiles that are laid and grouted like their ceramic counterparts.
CON: Older vinyl floors were made with asbestos.
If the vinyl in your home was produced during the 1980s or earlier, it very likely included asbestos—which has been linked to a number of serious diseases, including cancer. If your floors are in good condition (e.g., no cracks or scoring to the surface), the asbestos is probably not being released and you need not worry about health risks. However, if you’re considering removing and replacing an old vinyl floor, or just want to determine if asbestos is present in your home, you can buy an at-home asbestos testing kit or hire a professional to test it. If asbestos is found, you must have a professional remove the toxic flooring; do not under any circumstances tear it up yourself.
PRO: Vinyl floors are highly durable—when cared for properly.
Yes, vinyl is rugged, but you must maintain it correctly to retain its good looks. To prevent damage, use rugs or mats in heavily trafficked areas, and put coasters or protective felt tips on the base of furniture legs. When moving furniture, employ sliders or a sheet of plywood.
To clean vinyl, steer clear of abrasive scrubs, scouring pads, detergents, waxes, solvents, and ammonia—all agents that can dull and damage the surface. Instead, dry mop or vacuum to remove surface dust and dirt (avoid the “beater bar” vacuum attachment). Deep clean with a homemade solution of one cup of white vinegar mixed with a gallon of hot water, adding a few drops of mineral oil to amp shine, if desired. If using a commercial cleaner, be sure it’s designed for vinyl floors.