How To Choose The Best Kitchen Floor For Your Family

Good news: You can have pretty much whatever you want, as long as you follow a few guidelines

Maple engineered wood flooring in IKEA kitchen Engineered wood flooring in Rima’s kitchen

The decisions to be made when designing a kitchen can be daunting—the sheer number alone, let alone the anxiety. Will this material work in the cook space? Will it hold up? Will I still like it in five years? Factor in a growing family and those worries begin to multiply: What if the kids drop their juice boxes; will it stain? What if my child falls…will he hurt himself?

Besides looks and function, you need to consider what type of traffic the flooring will experience. Is it off the garage or a deck, where dirt can be tracked in? Do you also have pets that can scratch with claws or bring water and dirt from outside? Is your child in a high chair that gets dragged around frequently in one area, or has he graduated to his own mini vehicle during playtime, adding to the wear and tear? Health is a factor, too, of course, and any flooring that is manufactured and/or has a finish should be able to provide a rating for its various contents and performance, including VOC emission and slippage.

Take all of these factors into account as you consider the following materials underfoot. The good news: You can install just about whatever you want, and, with a few precautions, continue to enjoy it as your family grows.

Hardwood
Sought out for its natural elegance, wood also delivers a lot: It offers a slight pliancy underfoot so items you drop are less likely to break than on a harder surface such as tile. The two basic wood options:

Solid wood
If you love solid wood, opt for prefinished floors (aka, “factory finished”) that come from the factory with a hard-wearing top coat of aluminum oxide urethane that offers protection from scratches while minimizing upkeep, like waxing; daily sweeping should do it. Ask your dealer about the warranty, which should be provided by the manufacturer and not the installer, so you have greater recourse if the floor needs a major or immediate repair. This type of floor also can be refinished, as long as the dings are not too deep. If your preference is for hardwood but you worry about those dings, take a look at “distressed” styles that can disguise any new dents.

Caution: This type of floor will fade with regular exposure to sunlight, so don’t put it by a window that ushers in strong daily outdoor sun. You also need to think about exposure to moisture—say, a leak at the dishwasher or fridge, or water constantly splashed by the sink. And if your toddler drops food by the high chair, you will want to take a precaution and put a mat underneath, to prevent spotting or stains.

Engineered wood
The other option in this category is engineered wood flooring, which is made of a thin veneer of real wood attached to structural plywood. It should cost a little less than solid wood, but depending on the thickness of the veneer, you may not be able to refinish it, making it not such a thrifty choice after all.

Caution: Formaldehyde, used as an adhesive, can be found in some engineered wood floors, including bamboo (see below), but at the present time this chemical is not strictly regulated, so you need to inquire with the salesperson or manufacturer with regard to any floor made with pressed wood or medium density fiberboard (MDF).

Bamboo
Although actually a grass, bamboo is sold with hardwoods for many of the same reasons—looks natural and warm, endures light to medium wear, is easy underfoot. Most bamboo flooring is made of a bamboo veneer attached to a backing such as plywood or MDF. But you need to be mindful of quality. Bamboo gets treated with many chemicals to turn it into a material suitable for flooring so off-gassing can be a factor. Also, this relative newcomer to flooring has many manufacturing sources and quality control is not yet highly regulated. Investigate thoroughly, as with any product you bring into your home.

Laminate
This type of flooring is similar to laminate countertops, in that it is composed of dense fiberboard topped with a photographic image of a real wood (or other material) that is then topped with a clear protective layer. With the development of HD printing, laminate offers a lot of different wood looks, and you can mix several styles (e.g., a pale oak with a colored border) to achieve some fun effects. It tends to resist light scratching and fading from sunlight. And that hollow sound that turned off many homeowners once upon a time has been eliminated by many manufacturers that incorporate underneath a sound-muffling material like cork. Laminate is installed as a “floating floor,” which means there’s no glue or nails. Boards connect by means of an interlocking tongue and groove design. Since there’s no need to connect the boards to a subfloor, they can be installed over any uneven surface as long as it’s sealed and remains dry. This makes laminate a good solution till little ones are more grown up if you want to replace it eventually with tile or real wood.

Caution: Laminate wears well but like wood, it won’t withstand prolonged exposure to water, and it’s slippery when wet. Also, it can’t be refinished; if there’s damage, you’ll have to replace the entire board so order extra to have an exact match if needed.

Resilient
Mostly vinyl falls into this category, but there’s also linoleum. As the term “resilient” indicates, this flooring is easy on humans, when little ones fall or adults stand for long periods when prepping a meal, and if you drop a dish, it’s less likely to break on this surface than on tile or even wood. It also handles a lot of wear or sunlight and resists stains from food and drink spills as well as crayons and magic markers.

Vinyl
Recent advances in manufacturing have improved performance since the days when vinyl was for your grandmother’s laundry room. You can now find vinyl that infuses the surface with cultured diamond particles for increased protection against dents, scratches, scuffs, and stains. HD printing advancements allow you to choose a vinyl that really looks like wood or tile. Peer closely, though, and you’ll know it’s vinyl, but the faux effects can be part of its fashion-forward appeal. Vinyl remains probably your thriftiest choice, depending on the pattern.

Linoleum
Linoleum is sought for its range of saturated colors or marbled effects, resiliency, slip resistance and everyday wear. It comes in sheets, for an almost seamless appearance, as well as tiles if you want a classic checkerboard or just like that look. Made of linseed oil and other naturally sourced materials, linoleum is marketed as a “green” flooring choice, but in fact, it requires chemicals, too, to arrive at the finished product, so ask the salesperson about off-gassing and VOC ratings.

Caution: Both wear well but can’t be refinished. Buy extra in case of repairs so you can match the area you need to patch.

Tile
While tile comes in both ceramic and porcelain, the latter is the harder of the two and thus more appropriate for most floors that see a lot of foot traffic. Completely resistant to fading, scratches, and moisture, tile is good for a busy household. And since it’s sealed with a fired-on glaze, it’s good if allergies are an issue, but you will want to take some precautions with youngsters in the house. Until children are old enough where toddling and falling is not an issue, use a rug in areas where little ones congregate. An expansive indoor/outdoor area rug that can be taken outside and hosed off will help protect little ones while adding a splash of colorful style. Many tiles are slip resistant since they are used in commercial areas, so ask the salesperson about this rating, too.

Caution: Dishware will break on this super-hard surface, and tile can crack if not installed by a pro on a perfectly smooth surface. A rug that protects little ones may have to be cleaned regularly.

Thinking of re-doing or refinishing your wood floors? Check out our Budget Basics: NYC Wood Flooring Costs for everything you need to know to get started.

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