From Spotlight: The Smart Kitchen Buying Guide

The Best Flooring Options for Kitchens

From hardwood to vinyl to tile kitchen flooring options, find the best kitchen flooring for you.

updated kitchen with light green island and white farmhouse sink with white cabinetry and white and gray pattern subway tile with a wide plank wood floor and stainless steel appliances
Image: alabn/Getty

So many factors play into choosing a kitchen floor: How much do you cook? Do you have an open floor plan? What’s the most durable?

We’ve taken out the guesswork and chosen four flooring types that make the most sense for kitchens.

Hardwood Kitchen Flooring Is Ideal When:

  • You don’t want your kitchen to look dated over time.
  • You have an open floor plan.
  • You seek durability.

Hardwood flooring, with its unmatched warmth and visual appeal, is a great choice if you want a look that never really goes out of style. It will also give you a good return on investment if you ever sell your home. Another plus: If you have an open floor plan, hardwood works well in kitchens and living areas, creating a warm, unified look. 

Hardwood is also:

  • Highly durable, withstanding decades of use
  • Low-maintenance
  • Moisture-resistant if you choose a prefinished type

You'll have two initial choices for hardwood flooring — solid wood strips or engineered wood planks. Engineered wood has a veneer of real wood backed by layers of less expensive plywood. It's the better choice for kitchens because it offers dimensional stability, which protects the flooring from movement caused by changes in humidity and temperature, a common problem in kitchens.

Cost of engineered wood: $3 to $14 per square foot
Installation of engineered wood:
 $4 to $9 per square foot depending, on the complexity of the job

Vinyl Kitchen Flooring Is Ideal When:

  • You cook a lot.
  • You want the easiest-to-maintain floor.
  • You're on a tight budget.

Sheet vinyl is considered resilient flooring, which is the softest flooring option. If you cook a lot, this cushiness makes it easier on your feet while reducing muscle fatigue. Also, sheet vinyl is much more forgiving if you (or a family member) is a bit of klutz who tends to drop things. You’ll have less breakage. Plus, you can clean sheet vinyl flooring in a snap. It’s completely waterproof and stain-proof. 

This choice has some downsides, though. Depending on the size and layout of your kitchen, you may have seams. Vinyl flooring has a standard width of 12 feet. If your kitchen is wider than that, you’ll definitely have seams. If they aren't tightly bonded, they can let moisture into the subfloor and trap dirt.

On the upside, sheet vinyl requires only sweeping and mopping. You can't get much lower maintenance than that. If vinyl flooring's softness appeals to you most, you might opt for a cushioned option backed with a layer of foam. However, that extra cushiness makes it hard to keep seams tightly bonded over time. And if the seams separate, you may end up with moisture and trapped dirt. 

Sheet vinyl comes in many colors and patterns. Thicker vinyl can feature a textured surface, and some types look like ceramic tile and real stone. A benefit if textured vinyl is that it provides traction. Vinyl can be dangerously slippery when wet.

Vinyl flooring also has a nonpermanent wear layer that helps resist scratches and scuff marks. The best brands guarantee the wear layer for 10 to15 years, and good quality vinyl should last 20 years.

Cost: $1 to $2 per square foot
Installation for sheet vinyl:
 $3 to $7 per square foot

A word of caution: Don’t confuse vinyl with linoleum. While linoleum is similar, it isn't as durable or soft.

Porcelain Kitchen Tile Flooring Is Ideal When:

  • You want the toughest flooring.
  • You like the look of stone.
  • You want low maintenance.

Porcelain flooring tile, a version of ceramic tile, is the durability champ. It’s fired at high temperatures that produce an extremely hard, stain-resistant tile that resists moisture. In fact, it’s so tough that it can be used outdoors in virtually any climate. Like common ceramic tile, porcelain tile is available unglazed or glazed. The unglazed versions take on the color of their clay mixture, so they have naturally earthy tones.

On the other hand, glazed tiles have a glass-like coating that can be made in virtually any color and can mimic the look and texture of real stone at a much lower cost.

Make sure porcelain tiles are certified as slip-resistant by the Americans with Disabilities Act. You should see the designation on product information or packing materials.

Cost: 50 cents to $15 per square foot
 $4 to $32 per square foot

Cork Kitchen Flooring Is Ideal When:

  • You want an eco-friendly choice.
  • You want a softer floor than wood or tile.
  • You want slip-resistance.

Cork is made from tree bark that’s harvested every eight to 10 years and is sustainable. Countries that produce it regulate harvesting to ensure future supplies.

There are a few pluses. Cork's waterproof and compressible cellular structure makes it a comfortable, moisture-resistant choice. It comes in 12-inch-by-12-inch tiles and one-foot-by-three-foot planks, each with a unique grain pattern of swirls and speckles. In addition, the naturally textured surface makes it slip-resistant. 

However, cork does need maintenance. This flooring needs to be resealed every three to four years to help guard against scratches and prevent moisture from entering the seams between tiles. Effective sealers include natural wax and polyurethane. Choose water-based polyurethane that’s nontoxic or has low volatile organic compound content to keep it green.

Cost of cork tiles: $3 to $6 per square foot
Cost of cork planks: $4 to $8 per square foot
 $2.50 to $6 per square foot


John Riha
John Riha

John Riha has written seven books on home improvement and hundreds of articles on home-related topics. He’s been a residential builder, the editorial director of the Black & Decker Home Improvement Library, and the executive editor of Better Homes and Gardens magazine.