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Choosing Kitchen Flooring

Many homeowners choose their kitchen flooring based solely on the materials aesthetic value (Figure 1). And, while the flooring material, is one of the focal points of the kitchen, there are three other factors that should be taken into consideration when choosing the kitchen flooring material.

Kitchen floor with porcelain tile

Figure 1 - Kitchen floor with porcelain tile

In this article we are not taking aesthetics into account. Not because it is unimportant, but because this article is focused on the qualities of the flooring material.

  1. Safety:
  2. The primary consideration for safety is how slippery the floor gets when it is wet (Figure 2).

    slippery when wet caution sign

    Figure 2 - Many flooring materials can be slippery when wet.

    In a kitchen, no matter how careful and diligent people are, water and other liquids will be spilled. Liquids on certain types of floors will cause the floor surface to become a skating rink! This can be an extremely dangerous situation.

    Any flooring product that has a high gloss finish can become very slippery when wet. However, the worst for slip are the high gloss ceramic or porcelain tiles and the high gloss marbles and granites.

  3. Comfort:
  4. If you spend a lot of time in the kitchen cooking, the comfort of the floor on your feet, ankles, calves and back is extremely important.

    Many flooring products have no "spring" in them what-so-ever. In fact with ceramic or natural stone flooring, having any spring is detrimental to the installation of the flooring material, as a springy floor will cause grout and tiles to crack.

    Standing for extensive periods of time on a hard floor will definitely create sore feet, ankles, calves (Figure 3) and could effect your back. It also causes fatigue. Fatigue is one of the highest causes of kitchen accidents.

    Sore feet, ankles and calves

    Figure 3 - Sore feet, ankles and calves

    Kitchen comfort mat

    Figure 4 - Kitchen comfort mat

    The floors with the most "spring" and hence are the most comfortable on feet, ankles, calves and backs are the vinyl or composite material cushion flooring. Wood flooring is your next best flooring material for having "spring" and standing comfort.

    You can help to alleviate the lack of spring in a floor by adding comfort mats that are designed specifically for that purpose. Many professional kitchens have comfort mats on the floor to help eliminate fatigue and to help employees that may suffer from sore feet and backs.

  5. The flooring's ability to stand up to liquids and general wear and tear:
  6. Liquids:

    As previously mentioned, water and other liquids will be spilt on your kitchen floor. It is inevitable an unpreventable. The question is; will the flooring material stand-up to having liquid spilt on it?

    Although most manufactures will state that laminate flooring can be used in a kitchen, I am against it. Laminate flooring is made of pressed paper and paper does not like liquids. The seams in an interlock laminate floor are not sealed. Liquid spilled on the floor can and will flow through to the subfloor or laminate material foam underlayment.

    In my opinion, from a liquid spill standpoint, laminate flooring should not be used in a kitchen.

    The second worst flooring for liquid spills is wood. Wood absorbs liquid and when it does it expands. As well, liquids can cause wood flooring to rot.

    There are some preventative measures that can be taken to help decrease any damage that might occur from a liquid spill.

    1. Wipe up the liquid immediately.
    2. Seal the joints of the flooring using a urethane product. Wood flooring is made up of a number of planks or boards and although pre-finished hardwood flooring has a lot of protection on the surface of the planks or boards, it has little or no protection at the tongue and groove joints. In most cases, the tongue and groove joints are bare, untreated wood.
    3. To seal the joints, use a small brush and brush urethane into the joint areas, both on the sides and ends of each of the floor boards or planks. This will help to prevent liquids from moving through the joints to the unprotected areas of the wood flooring. Use the same gloss factor urethane as the original product.

  7. Depending on the floor usage, consider adding a fresh coat of urethane every couple of years. This will ensure that liquids cannot penetrate the surface of the floor boards or planks.
  8. It might be noted that certain liquids may stain hardwood flooring that has not been protected with a urethane finish. Items such as tomato juice are especially bad for staining.
  9. The best materials for liquid spills are vinyl sheet flooring, ceramic and porcelain tiles. Liquids will have no affect on these materials. In the case of the ceramic and porcelain tile, the grout between tiles may stain if certain liquids are spilled. For this reason the grout should be sealed every couple of years.

    Natural stone, such as granite and marble will not be damaged by liquid but do stain easily.

    Limestone should not be used in a kitchen as it is very porous and allows for the convenient growth of bacteria.

  10. Wear and Tear:
  11. One of the biggest advantages to hardwood flooring is that it is relatively easy to re-finish it if it is damaged in any manner.

    Ceramic, porcelain and natural stone tiles can break or crack if heavy objects are dropped on them.

    The surface of laminate flooring can be gouged easily if a knife, glass or pot is dropped on the floor. The same problem exists with vinyl although it is not quite as susceptible to gouges as laminate flooring.

Additional information on specific flooring materials