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What Is Plastic Laminate?

By B. Turner
Updated May 16, 2024
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Plastic laminate is a composite building material made from kraft paper, resin, and adhesives. Multiple layers of kraft paper are soaked in resin, then pressed together at high levels of temperature and pressure to form a single sheet. Plastic laminate adhesive or resin is then used to add a decorative paper or melamine top layer. Finally, a protective urethane top coat, or wear coat is added to enhance strength and durability.

Laminate is often chosen for its realistic finish, which is designed to mimic other materials, including stone, tile, wood, or metal. Thsi type of laminate typically costs must less than these materials, but is visually identical. This is because the decorative paper or melamine top layer on a sheet of laminate is made from a high quality photographic image of these types of materials. It may contain true wood grains, stone veining, or other patterns and textures that add to the quality of the finish.

Sheets of plastic laminate may be bonded to a wood or composite base using laminate glue, adhesives, or resin. The laminate-topped base is then used as a countertop, floor finish, or wall paneling. The sheets of laminate themselves can also be used as a decorative finish material is a wide variety of applications.

There are a number of different types of laminate products, many of which are sold under popular brand names like Formica&reg or WilsonArt®. Different types of plastic laminate can be categorized based on the thickness of the laminate sheet, which increased strength and durability, or even on the thickness of the urethane wear coat, which helps extend the life of the material. Laminate products can also be distinguished by color, texture and design style.

Many buyers choose plastic laminate products for their easy cleaning and low-maintenance requirements. Laminate is waterproof and stain-resistant, making it a popular choice for kitchen countertops and floors. It is also much more affordable than alternative products such as stone, tile, or hardwood. Buyers can choose from a nearly infinite number of colors and finishes, or may even request custom colors or textures for special projects.

One of the primary disadvantages of this material is the type of adhesive used to bond the layers of each sheet together. Many plastic laminate glues contain volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which contribute to poor indoor air quality. Buyers can look for low or no-VOC products to minimize this problem. Laminate is also considered less durable than other materials, and is more likely to chip or crack. It can also be difficult to repair once damaged, and requires more frequent replacement than alternative products like stone or ceramic tile.

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Discussion Comments
By Certlerant — On Feb 16, 2014

Volatile organic compounds or VOCs can become airborne at room temperature. There are many types of VOCs and they are in many various home repair items not just in laminate.

VOCs can be found in natural sources like plants, as well as man made items like paint and laminate.

VOCs can cause harm to the environment as well as to humans. The amount of these airborne compounds in a room can cause a toxic air quality for humans and pets.

Early health effects from these VOCs are generally irritation to mucus membranes like in the eye, causing nose irritation and throat issues. If fresh air isn't introduced symptoms such as headaches, nausea and loss of coordination may arise.

The real danger is when exposure leads to kidney and liver issues. In some cases exposure may lead to cancer.

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