The best material for a kitchen floor is one that can stand up to regular traffic, is easy to clean, and isn't easily damaged or stained by spills of water or food. Most builders recommend hardwood, tile, linoleum, or a laminate designed specifically for the kitchen. The floor should also match the decor of the room and meet the needs of its users; a family kitchen in a modern house will probably need a different type of flooring than a formal kitchen that's used primarily for entertaining adults.
Why Kitchen Flooring Is Different
Kitchens are full of activities that don't usually take place in many other parts of the house, including cooking, storing food, and cleaning. A floor that stains easily or which absorbs water is usually not a good choice; most kitchen floors are not covered in carpet, for example, because it would be difficult to keep clean and dry. Porous flooring materials, like limestone or marble, can look terrific, but also are more likely to stain when juice or wine is spilled.
Items often get dropped on kitchen floors as well, so ideally you should choose a material that will not be damaged by the occasional falling glass or jar. Some common flooring options, like tile, may crack or break when hit, so they are often a better choice in kitchens where small children won't be playing. Keep in mind that, if you're standing in the kitchen for long periods of time, a very hard floor like tile or stone can make your back and legs tired more quickly than a material with some flexibility, like vinyl or linoleum.
One of the greatest benefits of hardwood is that is a long-lasting material. Unlike tile, stone, or synthetic flooring, it is usually easily repaired and can be sanded and refinished for a new look. The longevity makes hardwood an excellent value, even though the initial cost may be high. While hardwood has many useful factors in its favor, it can pose challenges depending on the substrate of the floor and the finish applied to the wood.
Most natural finishes reflect light and can make a kitchen look larger. The natural colors of wood may also help hide signs of dirt or stains. Some hardwoods, such as bamboo, are also a sustainable option for an environmentally-conscious kitchen.
Other major advantages to hardwood kitchen floors are the availability of both practical and cosmetic finishes. Many hardwoods can be treated with a polyurethane or water-based finish to help reduce staining and make cleaning the floor easier. Cosmetic finishes expand the range of colors for hardwood floors, making it easy to match any design style.
There are many different types of hardwood that can be used for a beautiful kitchen floor. Popular varieties include red oak, maple, and ash. More exotic hardwoods, such as teak, can create a luxurious, if somewhat expensive, finished kitchen floor. For less expensive options, consider engineered wood, which combines a hardwood top layer with lower layers made from inexpensive plywood.
The major disadvantages of hardwood include the potential for water damage or denting. High moisture levels in the kitchen can cause the floorboards to bend or warp, giving the floor an uneven surface. Large water spills can allow mildew to grow under the surface of the floor, and may cause unsightly stains. When heavy objects, such as kitchen tables or heavy cookware, hit a wooden floor, they can leave dents or scratches. Pets may also cause damage; their claws or nails can scratch the flooring, and urine can dull and discolor the wood.
Tile flooring has been popular for centuries, and can add an elegance to any kitchen floor. Matte tiles are often a better choice than satin-finished varieties, as they are less likely to be slippery when wet. The toughness of well-made tiles should prevent denting or warping, though cracking can occur over time. An additional benefit of tile is that it is possible to remove and replace individual cracked tiles without needing to tear up the entire floor.
There are three main varieties of tile used for flooring: ceramic, porcelain, and stone. Ceramic tiles are often inexpensive but chip easily and must be sealed to increase their strength. Porcelain tiles are less likely to crack, and come in a wide range of vivid colors and patterns; they require a special kind of adhesive to be anchored correctly, however. Stone tiles are the most durable, but typically cannot hold paint or synthetic finishes well. Most types of tile require regular refinishing treatments to seal out moisture and guard against damage.
While tile is usually resistant to mildew and stains, the grout laid between tiles can cause some problems. Some types of grout will stain quickly, and can grow mildew and mold if not cleaned regularly. To avoid this, it's best to use grout that has been treated for stain and mildew resistance. Stone tile poses additional challenges, since grooves in the stone may make it more difficult to clean the floor thoroughly. Standing on hard stone tile for long periods of time can also lead to leg or lower back pain.
Laminate flooring looks like wood or tile, but is actually made mostly with synthetic materials. It is made up of multiple layers, including a moisture-resistant core, a decorative layer that is essentially a photograph of another material, and a hard, clear top finish. This type of floor is often less expensive than hardwood or stone, and is usually easier to care for. The pattern on laminate is also less likely to fade or wear down than materials like vinyl or linoleum.
Unlike many other types of flooring, laminates are usually not glued directly to the subflooring. Instead, each piece has slots and tabs that fit together, often snapping into place. The floor "floats" on top of a layer of foam or film, which helps reduce noise. Laminate boards can separate, however, leaving gaps that may fill with dirt and debris.
Although laminate is relatively moisture resistant, it can warp if exposed to water for too long. Laminates are easy to scratch, so furniture that will be used on this flooring should have felt pads attached to the feet. Dirt can also scratch the floor, so it should be swept and cleaned regularly.
For many homeowners, vinyl flooring is the most practical. Made from synthetic materials, it's typically less expensive than hardwood or tile, and high-quality vinyl is very durable. This type of flooring is also easy to install; it often comes in self-adhesive sheets that simply require a backing paper to be peeled off and the sheet pressed to the underflooring.
Cleaning a vinyl kitchen floor is also usually very easy. Spills can simply be wiped up, and the flooring is designed to reduce the chance of staining as long as it is cleaned quickly. Most floors can be mopped with just water or a no-rinse floor cleaner. Sweeping the floor regularly can help keep dirt and other coarse particles from working their way into any patterns or crevices, or scratching the vinyl.
Vinyl flooring is available in a wide variety of colors and patterns. Sheets or squares can be made to look like wood or stone without the expense and other drawbacks of those materials. Vinyl is also relatively soft, so it doesn't cause the same stress on the back and legs that tile can. This means that items dropped on the floor are also less likely to break, making it a good choice for families with children and pets.
An inexpensive vinyl floor may peel or curl at the edges of the sheets or squares, however, making the flooring uneven and unattractive. In some cases, the colors or designs are only printed on the top of the flooring material; over time, this layer can be worn down, leaving dull and mismatched spots. Vinyl can also suffer from cuts pretty easily, and wearing shoes with pointed heels may also cause dents.
For decades, linoleum was considered the best choice for kitchen floors. It is made from natural materials like felt or canvas, linseed oil, and wood resins, which have made it popular as a more environmentally friendly choice than options like vinyl. Linoleum shares many of the same benefits as vinyl: it's stain resistant, durable, relatively inexpensive, and comes in a range of designs.
Linoleum is often associated with the 1950s, however, and may not fit in well with a very modern home. As such, it does not add as much to the value of a home as hardwood or stone flooring can. It's also a little more expensive than vinyl, and does not always come in as many color or pattern options.
One of the big disadvantages of linoleum is in its installation. Any unevenness in the subflooring under the kitchen floor will be visible on the surface, so this material should only be used on a kitchen floor that's perfectly flat. It most often is sold in long sheets, so any damage to the floor means that the entire sheet must be replaced. Most experts recommend that linoleum be installed by a professional to make sure that it fits correctly, is smooth, and is sealed to prevent water from getting under the flooring.
Although the surface is water resistant, any moisture that gets underneath the linoleum will cause serious damage. Chemical cleaners should not be used on a linoleum floor, so it may be more difficult to clean than other materials. Because of the linseed oil used in making linoleum, this flooring can also have a slight odor that some people may not like.
Choosing the Best Flooring
Ultimately, each type of kitchen floor material has its pros and cons. Which one is best for your kitchen depends on how you use the room: if you don't do a lot of cooking or if the kitchen is more a place to entertain adult guests, then how the floor looks may be more important than whether it's comfortable to stand on for several hours. That same beautiful floor may not stand up to the spills and wear of a family with kids and pets, however.
Keep the rest of the flooring in your house in mind as well when choosing a kitchen floor. If the flooring changes abruptly from one room to the next, it can look strange. Many people choose the same flooring for the kitchen, breakfast or dining room, and foyer, especially if these areas are close together; keeping the flooring consistent throughout different areas of the house can improve the flow and look of the rooms.