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How Can You Tell if a Hardwood Floor Is Genuine?

How to Tell if Flooring Is Hardwood or Laminate
How to Tell if Flooring Is Hardwood or Laminate

Wood is a popular household flooring choice and has been for a long time. Many homeowners prefer the way it looks and feels, and hardwood floors are a selling point that increases any home’s value. But not all “hardwood” floors are what they seem. Laminate flooring looks very similar to real hardwood, so much so that it can be hard to tell the difference by looks alone.

You can tell if a hardwood floor is genuine by assessing the floor’s age, what the wood grain pattern looks like, and whether the flooring has any surface-level damage, as real wood is more likely to show that kind of wear.

The rest of this article will examine some of the differences between genuine wood floors and laminate flooring designed to resemble wood. We’ll touch very briefly on the history of both and their benefits, and examine how you can determine if a particular floor is a real hardwood or laminate.

Real Hardwood vs. Laminate

Real Hardwood vs. Laminate

Hardwood flooring has been used in homes and other buildings for centuries, although the design, functionality, and durability has improved greatly over time. Hardwood flooring has seen many different styles in plank size and style over the years. Recent decades have seen builders expanding beyond traditional choices like oak and pine and into more exotic woods and other, more sustainable options.

Most modern hardwood flooring is available pre-finished, and is specifically cut with a tongue-and-groove system that makes it easy to install. Each plank is completely unique. This video shows the basics of how hardwood planks are manufactured:

Wood-style laminate flooring, meanwhile, became popular starting in the 1990s with the mainstream arrival of Pergo, a modern laminate floor that resembled traditional hardwood flooring. The use of laminates has expanded in the decades since, especially as manufacturers found ways of further improving the planks’ appearance and durability.

Laminate floor is more durable than hardwood. Laminate has a clear layer on top that is resistant to scratches, dings, and stains, while hardwood floors tend to be more susceptible to that kind of surface-level damage. However, laminate is susceptible to water damage, especially in bathrooms and kitchens where standing water is a possibility.

However, laminate floors tend to last 10-20 years before needing to be replaced, while real hardwood floors can be resurfaced every so often to smooth out that surface damage, and can last a century or longer when cared for properly.

Laminate flooring is cheaper to initially install than hardwood, making it a common choice for newly built homes that want to have the look of real wood without the price. Many prefer the look and feel of hardwood, though, and real hardwood is generally considered a more sustainable flooring option.

How to Tell if Flooring Is Hardwood or Laminate

How to Tell if Flooring Is Hardwood or Laminate

There are many differences between the two types of floors. And fortunately, many of these differences can be seen with your naked eyes; you won’t have to pull up part of the floor or even remove the baseboards for these physical differentiations. A little bit of careful detective work can help you determine whether the floor in your house or your prospective home is more likely real hardwood or laminate.


Wood laminate floors became available as a mainstream flooring choice in the United States in 1994. After their introduction, they quickly became extremely popular both in new construction projects and when remodeling homes.

Consequently, if you know when the floor was installed in a house, that can potentially help you determine whether it’s genuine hardwood or laminate, especially when you also consider the floor’s specific age. If the floor was installed more than 20 years ago and is still going strong, it’s most likely actual hardwood. If the floor was put in more recently, there’s a greater likelihood of it being laminate.

Surface Damage

Laminate floors are made of several layers, with the top layer being a clear wear layer designed specifically for appearance, so the floor’s pattern shows clearly through, and durability. This wear layer makes the laminate resistant to scratches, dings, and other surface-level damage. 

Hardwood floors, on the other hand, have no such protective layer. Instead, they are generally finished with some sealant.

The finishes most commonly used in residential homes are designed to provide water resistance and some level of protection from scratches and other types of wear and tear. However, hardwood flooring is, by nature, softer than laminate, and scratches and scuffs will happen, especially as the finish wears down from everyday use. 

Additionally, hardwood floors are prone to water staining in a way that laminate is not. The presence of visible watermarks is another indication the floor is likely real hardwood.

In short, if the flooring you’re looking at has some amount of visible surface damage, it’s more likely to be real hardwood. A flooring free of such physical defects, especially older flooring, is more likely to be laminate.

Wood Grain Pattern

Hardwood floor planks are each cut straight from a single piece of wood. The trees chosen for hardwood planks are usually tight grain with few knots. Each plank has a completely different wood grain pattern. No two planks will look the same. The grain lines will be random, and some planks might have knots, with the overall result being a unique floor plank by plank.

On the other hand, laminate flooring has the wood image printed on the core layer of each plank, directly beneath the clear wear layer on top. Most quality laminates will have a variety to them. Not every plank will look the same.

Instead, you’ll end up with maybe five or six different patterns that, when alternated into a floor, still provide enough visual differences to look pleasing and unique to the average person’s eyes. 

Copyright article owner is for this article. This post was first published on September 8, 2020.

But by studying the flooring and looking for planks that have the same wood grain patterns and the same knots, especially, you can pretty easily determine if a floor is laminate instead of real hardwood. If you can see a pattern. If some planks appear to be identical, it’s probably laminate.

Installation Process

Most laminate flooring comes in pieces that are simply snapped together over a foam underlayment. It’s a floating floor usually not directly attached to the house subfloor with adhesive, nails, or staples. There will be seams where the planks meet, and some patterns may include the appearance of some sort of metal fastener, but it’s just part of the picture printed on the plank.

On the other hand, hardwood floors can be glued directly to the subfloor, and some modern varieties do exist that are floating floors, like laminate. But many hardwood floors physically adhere to the subfloor with either nails or staples. Therefore, the presence of actual staples or nails at the wood planks’ edges is a good indicator that the floor is genuine hardwood.

Final Thoughts

There are pros and cons to both genuine hardwood flooring and laminate flooring, and those will add up differently for different consumers. Laminate flooring is cheaper in the short term, usually more durable and much easier to care for.

On the other hand, hardwood flooring lasts longer and raises your home’s overall value, plus it has a charm that can’t be completely replicated. But it costs more and requires more maintenance, including resealing and sometimes completely resurfacing.

If a building already has wood flooring, you may be able to determine whether it’s real hardwood or laminate by carefully examining the floor’s appearance and searching for certain telltale indicators.

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ReadyToDIY is the owner of this article. This post was published on September 8, 2020.

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