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Floor Care and Cleaning Guide

Floor Care

Regular care and maintenance of your new flooring is a simple way to extend the life and performance of your investment and keep it looking like new for years. Here are some general guidelines to follow for the different flooring types. 

Carpet

Suck it Up: dirt, dust, and other small particles are sharp and abrasive, and when they collect in your carpet, they can rip and tear the fibers over time. Regular vacuuming keeps these particles from wearing away at the carpet, and it also improves its appearance. 

Bag it: if you choose a vacuum that uses bags, make sure you change the bag frequently to allow maximum cleaning efficiency – and to avoid all that dust blowing back onto your carpets! Newer bagless models may save time and make the effort even easier.

Watch Your Weight: heavy furniture, potted plants and other home décor can crush carpet pile and leave compressions that you may not notice until you redecorate or move. Use felt pads or protective caps and re-arrange the furniture periodically. 

Stay Out of the Sun: in the same way the sun damages our skin, its ultraviolet rays can also damage the color of your carpet over time. To avoid sun lightening to your carpets, shut the curtain or blinds when the sun is most intense or use UV glass or film in your windows. 

Snip the Snags: looped carpets tend to snag over time – especially at the seams. It’s best not to vacuum over loose yarn or pull at the snags. Instead, treat every loose thread like you would on an expensive suit. Grab scissors and carefully snip the snag flush with the plush. 

Watch the Spills: when these events occur to begin the clean-up process by using a dry cloth to blot up as much debris or liquid as possible. The longer you wait, the more the fibers will absorb the stain. Warm water should then be used to rinse the stained area. Press the cloth into the carpet to soak up the moisture until the stain is gone. Don’t scrub and don’t use hot water. You’ll damage the fibers. Finally, rinse the area with warm water and absorb the wetness with a dry cloth. After your carpet is dry, vacuum it to restore its texture and appearance. There are some carpet cleaners that do actually work. Ask your retailer about cleaning products that have earned the Carpet & Rug Institute’s (CRI) Seal of Approval. 

Read Up!: like a fine piece of clothing, carpet is a textile. Though it doesn’t come with a little white tag on the back of the neckline, it does come with maintenance literature provided by the manufacturer. Different fibers, styles, and finishes require specific care. In the same way, you wouldn’t throw a silk blouse in the washing machine, you don’t want to make a similar mistake with your carpet. Read up and follow the suggested guidelines. You’ll be glad you did.

Call the Pros: time and traffic take their toll. It’s just a fact of life. Carpet manufacturer warranties have very specific instructions on the type of professional cleaning necessary to keep that warranty in force. Refer to that material. Then, when necessary, call on a reputable carpet cleaning service to restore your rugs to their original luster. The knowledge, commercial equipment and experience of a professional can go a long way towards removing stubborn stains and keeping your home beautiful. 

Hardwood Flooring

Meet Mat: tiny particles, like dirt, can act like sandpaper and scratch your wood. By placing a floor mat at each entryway and encouraging family members and guests to wipe their feet, the majority of dirt and grime will remain on the mat. Also put a floor mat or rug in any area where water could be splashed – like near the kitchen sink. This will hinder any possible water damage. Note that rubber-backed or non-ventilated floor mats or rugs can damage your floor. Instead use floor mats or rugs made especially for hardwood floors and be sure to shake them out regularly. 

Whistle While You Work: along with a hardwood floor comes the responsibility of keeping it clean. The better care you take, the longer your floor will maintain its original beauty. 

  • Step #1 – purchase a high quality broom so that you can sweep your floor regularly of dirt, dust and other particles.
  • Step #2 – use a vacuum cleaner without a beater bar to get in between the boards and other hard to reach areas. Deeper cleaning techniques vary depending on the installation and finish of your hardwood floor.

For “Finish in Place” hardwood floors, using an 8″x14″ terrycloth mop with a rotating head that makes cleaning corners, under cabinets and along base boards easier is recommended. Professional cleaning products recommended by your flooring manufacturer can be used to remove tough stains and spills without dulling the finish of your wood floor. Makers of “Pre-finished” floors recommend their own specific products for routine maintenance.

Do’s and Don’ts

  • DO use cleaners that won’t leave a film or residue
  • DO use a professional hardwood floor cleaner to remove occasional scuffs and heel marks (just spray some cleaner on a cloth and rub the stained area lightly)
  • DO clean sticky spots with a damp towel or sponge
  • DO minimize water exposure and clean spills immediately
  • DON’T wax a wood floor with a urethane finish
  • DON’T use ammonia cleaners or oil soaps on a wood floor – they’ll dull the finish and affect your ability to recoat later.
  • DON’T wet mop or use excessive water to clean your floor (wood naturally expands when it’s wet and can cause your floor to crack or splinter)

Protect Your Investment – all hardwood floors fade or change shades over time. Like our own skin, wood’s exposure to sunlight may greatly increase this process and cause permanent damage.

Window treatments are recommended to shade your floors from the sun’s harsh rays. We also recommend rotating area rugs and furniture regularly, allowing wood floors to age evenly from UV exposure. To avoid permanent marks and scratches, it’s a good idea to cover furniture and table legs with flannel protectors. Be careful when moving heavy objects across your floor to avoid scuffing. Ladies – your stiletto heels may be fashionable, but what’s not in fashion (or covered by your warranty) are the dents and scratches they cause to wood floors. Likewise, trim your pet’s nails regularly and keep any and all other sharp objects away from your floors. Love your floors and your floors will you back for a long, long time. 

Laminate Flooring

Sweeping & Mopping: dust and dirt act as an abrasive on a laminate’s surface and seriously dull its appearance. This fact of life can be avoided by regular sweeping, dust mopping or vacuuming to remove loose dirt and grime. Either a broom or a vacuum cleaner without a beater bar will do the trick. Vacuum cleaner attachments are useful to capture dust and dirt between planks or along edges. An occasional damp mopping is also recommended. But be careful – laminate flooring can expand when it comes in contact with excessive water. After a damp mopping, a clean cloth should be used to wipe the floor dry. Placing doormats at each entryway is also a good idea to collect excessive moisture and dirt before they enter your home. 

Do’s and Don’ts

  • DO use glides or floor protectors on the bottom of furniture to prevent scratching or abrasion
  • DO lift heavy furniture instead of dragging or pulling it to avoid scratching and abrasion
  • DO use carpet fragments face down under heavy objects when moving them across a laminate floor
  • DO your spot cleaning and occasional complete cleaning using the manufacturer’s recommended products
  • DON’T use soap-based detergents or “mop-and-shine” products
  • DON’T use abrasive cleaners, steel wool or scouring powder
  • DON’T flood your floor with water or cleaner
  • DON’T try to refinish or sand your laminate floor

Repair – replacement laminates may be a slightly different dye lot and/or texture than your original installation. With time and usage, however, the replacement product will blend in with the rest of your floor. With proper care and regular maintenance, laminate flooring will provide you and your home with many years of beauty, warmth and durability.

Vinyl Flooring

Your Mother Was Right: keeping the floor clean is not hard, but there are some guidelines to increase the life of your flooring. Dust, sand and grit particles are the enemy. Sweep or vacuum frequently. Don’t use a vacuum with a beater bar as it may scratch your floor and don’t use scrub brushes. When sweeping or vacuuming does not remove the dirt, mop the floor with clean warm water. Rinse the floor thoroughly with fresh water. If water alone does not clean the surface, use cleaning products recommended by the manufacturer. Most “no rinse” cleaners will work just fine. An ounce or so of liquid detergent or ammonia in a gallon of water will work, but you will need to rinse the floor well. Do NOT use detergents, abrasive cleaners or “mop and shine” products. And always toss in an ounce of prevention. Mats or rugs in front of outside doors will help keep the dust and grit from getting to the floor in the first place. Be sure the mats and rugs you buy are for vinyl floors. Some rubberbacked mats may leave stains or marks. 

It’s Just a Spill: for spots or spills, wipe them up immediately and use the same technique on the spot as you would for the whole floor. 

Sometimes It’s Serious: if you have a seam open up, you need to cover it to keep out the dirt. The same applies if you get a cut or gouge in your new floor. Dirt makes it harder to repair. Call your retailer or installer for information on who should repair the seam.

Ceramic Tile Flooring

Sweeping: dirt adheres easily to the surface of ceramic tile, especially styles with textured surfaces. Regular sweeping loosens and removes most dirt. A vacuum cleaner can also be used to sweep, but make sure you use one without a beater bar to avoid dulling and scratching the tiles. Vacuum cleaner attachments are great to suck up dirt along edges or in between tiles.

Mats: use doormats to keep dirt from coming into your home and shake them out often. This will reduce the amount of dirt being tracked across your ceramic tile floor, and reduces the wear to the finished surface. 

Mopping: ceramic tile floors should be damp-mopped using manufacturer-recommended grout and tile cleaners. For heavier soil, spot clean the floor with a sponge or clean cloth using the same recommended cleaners. 

Heavy Cleaning: mild scrubbing with a soft brush or electric polisher/scrubber may be required for textured tiles. After cleaning with a mild detergent, rinse thoroughly with clean, warm water to remove leftover residue. If necessary, wipe the tile dry with a clean towel to remove any film. For soft water situations, an all-purpose cleaner may be necessary. Apply it to your floor and let it stand for 3-5 minutes. Then lightly scrub with a sponge, rinse well and you’re good to go. Cleaning products available from your local grocery or hardware store can be used to remove soap scum, hard water deposits and mildew stains from ceramic tile. Be sure to consult the cleaning product’s instructions to ensure the product is recommended for your type of tile. After cleaning, rinse well and wipe dry for a sparkling shine. 

Do’s and Don’ts

  • DO clean up spills as quickly as possible so your grout won’t become stained
  • DO remember that while ceramic tile is very durable, it’s not indestructible and may crack or chip under extreme force
  • DO take the proper precautions when moving heavy objects across a ceramic tile floor
  • DO cover furniture and table legs with protectors to guard your floor against scratching
  • DO remember that if a repair is necessary, the replacement product may be a slightly different dye lot and/or texture than the original tile, however, with time and usage, the replacement tile will blend in with its neighbors.
  • DON’T use steel wool, scouring powders, or other abrasives that can scratch the finish of your ceramic tile
  • DON’T use bleach or ammonia-based cleaners – these products can discolor your grout if used too often

Caulking and Sealing – once your tile has been laid and grouted, it’s your responsibility to caulk areas that may be exposed to water. Caulking will prevent expensive subsurface damage and keep the tiled areas looking as good as new. Depending on your lifestyle, sealing your tile and grout may also be an option. After installation, sealing the grout and tile can provide protection from dirt and spills by slowing down the staining process. Grout colorants can transform the original color of your grout and, in some cases, can act as a form of sealant. Be aware that non-epoxy grout joints should be treated with a silicone sealer. Regular care and maintenance will keep your ceramic tile floors looking their very best for years to come. 

Area Rugs

You should vacuum or sweep your area rug as you would wall-to-wall carpeting. Watch the fringes. You don’t want to have to pull them out of the vacuum cleaner. Handmade area rugs can benefit from being turned over and vacuumed. Lift the rug up carefully and you will see all the dirt that had filtered down.

Turn, Turn, Turn: rotating your rug occasionally (annually) will help even wear patterns and prevent uneven fading. When rugs are exposed to the sun evenly, the colors harmonize and the rug ages nicely. If parts of the rug receive too much or too little of sun, one side might fade faster than the other.

See Spot? Go!: clean your area rug immediately after a spill. A water spill should be dried with a hair dryer set on a warm temperature. Try to dry both sides of the rug if possible. Anything else should first be blotted with paper towels to absorb as much as possible, and then apply salt or baking soda to the spot for a few minutes to absorb the rest. Once it dries, vacuum off the salt or baking soda. Professional grade rug cleaners are available. Be sure to test for color fastness before using. Take the rug to a professional handmade rug cleaner to deal with old or persistent stains. Do not try to clean it yourself. You might make it worse!

Read the Labels and Listen to the Pros: if you purchased a handmade rug, it’s best to have it cleaned by professionals. If you have a machine made rug, look to the manufacturer for the best way to clean it. Some can be machine washed. Others can be scrubbed by hand and dried outside.

Does Your Pad Need Padding?: consult with your retailer about the proper padding to be placed under the rug you choose. A pad can help stabilize and protect your rug. Some rugs come with a non-skid backing or a nice foam padding already attached.

Storing: if your area rug needs to be stored for a long time in a place without exposure to light or air, first vacuum it or get it professionally cleaned. For handmade rugs and those made of natural fibers, you might consider packing it with mothballs to protect against insect damage. Never fold your rug – roll it and store it in a dry location.

Rug Repair – repairing a handmade rug is an art form in and of itself. It is time consuming and labor intensive and therefore, often costly. Get the opinion of a professional before you have work done on a handmade rug – and be sure to use a reputable repairman. 

Stone Flooring

It’s Its Own Worst Enemy: sand, grit, and dirt can damage natural stone surfaces because they are abrasive. Use a vacuum on your floor if it’s textured, but avoid the beater bar. Those bristles are tough and might scratch your flooring. An old-fashioned dust mop works well, as does a broom. Wet mop as needed. 

Be Proactive: walk-off mats or area rugs on either side of entrances from the outside will help collect dirt before it reaches your beautiful new floor. Choose a rug or mat with a non-slip surface.

There’s Clean and There’s Cleaner: Damp mopping your natural stone floor will keep it looking beautiful. But your retailer or manufacturer can suggest special cleaners meant specifically for stone floors. Wipe up spills immediately. Use soap, not detergent, for good-old fashioned mopping. Liquid Ivory or a Castile soap product work well. Too much cleaner or soap may leave a film and cause streaks, so rinse well. Change your rinse water frequently. Don’t use products that contain lemon juice, vinegar or other acids on marble, limestone, or travertine. Avoid abrasive cleaners or any ammonia based cleaners. These products will dull the floor’s luster. Retail grout cleaners, scouring powders or bathroom tub and tile cleaners can mar the finish on your stone. Never mix bleach and ammonia. The combination creates a toxic gas. To remove algae or moss from your stone in outdoor pool, patio or hot tub areas, flush with clear water and use a mild bleach solution. 

Green Flooring 

Green Tips for Adhesives:

  • Choose products with low to no VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds)
  • Avoid formaldehyde
  • Look for Carpet and Rug Institure’s (CRI) Green Label® or Green Label Plus® certification

Green Tips for Cleaners:

  • Choose products with natural and biodegradable ingredients
  • Consider homemade cleaners using things from the pantry: vinegar, baking, soda, salt, lemon juice, rubbing alcohol, ammonia, or olive oil

Green Tips for the Whole House:

  • Keep caulked areas caulked (caulking prevents the loss of heat or cold air)
  • If you are installing a new floor, make sure that space between the flooring and the door is just right (too much space means you’re heating or cooling the entire outdoors while too little space means you can’t close the door)
  • Consider that space heaters are energy hogs and can generate more than two pounds of greenhouse gas per hour (use them too much and they might make your hardwood floors contract)
  • Choose low or no VOC products whenever you can
  • Insulation is not just for the attic anymore, it can be added between floors for additional saving
  • Choose a retailer that shares your commitment to the environment and knows about all the latest advances in green products.

Adding Storage Solutions to Kitchen Backsplashes

A beautiful backsplash can be a stunning focal point in a kitchen – but did you know this prime piece of kitchen real estate can work harder for you if you add a bit of dimension? We’re not just talking textured tiles, laminates or other decorative surfacing materials… think storage rail systems, open and recessed shelving and ledges. Here are a few examples:

Although certainly not new to kitchen design, rail systems, such as the ones below, provide flexible storage options for commonly used cooking utensils, dish towels and even plants. 


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Photo: 2012 Küchenmeile in Germany via Formica®

Open shelving can easily be mounted to a variety of backsplash materials, as seen below…

Photo: Formica® Laminate 180fx® in Calacatta Marble

Photo: Formica® Laminate 180fx® in Travertine Gold

… or integrated into the backsplash design.


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Photo: 2013 imm cologne’s LivingKitchen® via Formica®

Recessed shelving provides niche storage for commonly used cooking supplies. According to Ellen Cheever, CMKBD, ASID, CAPS, in her recent article “Ideas for Smashing Splashes & Counter Designs” for Kitchen and Bath Design News, kitchen planning standards allow any surface 16″ or deeper to be considered a functional work area, so keep these measurements in mind as you develop plans.


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Photo: via Formica®

Ledges also provide convenient resting places for spices, sauces and timers. As you can see, these are perfect for traditional kitchens…


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Photo: via Formica

… as well as more contemporart ones.


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Photo: via Formica®

(You are reading an article originally posted on Formica® Share the Love Blog)

Top 10 Colors for Fall 2013

Formica Corporation is ready to indulge in the fresh pastels and crisp brights arriving in home and fashion retailers now that Phil had promised an early spring. But with the release of the PANTONE® Fashion Color Report Fall 2013 at New York Fashion Week, our thoughts are already shifting to brisk fall weather. 

So what does fall fashion have to do with home design? We’ll likely see these colors influence home textiles and accessories – you’ll now have a bit of insider knowledge once your start planning fall décor.


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Photo: PANTONE® via Formica Corporation ‘Share the Love’ Blog

The fall 2013 forecast, according to the Pantone Color Institute®, is “a palette of many moods” that range from “sophisticated and structred to lively and vivid, encapsulating our inherent need for wardrobe variety to reflect emotions that run from thoughtfully introspective to irrepressibly elated.”

The report notes that Emerald, the 2013 Pantone Color of the Year, will continue to sparkle and will be joined by:

  • Linden Green – A yellow toned green that adds lightness and brightness to the deeper shades of fall.

  • Mykonos Blue – a bold, meditative blue for a classic and relaxed fall look.

  • Acai – a plum full of exotic mystery and richness.

  • Samba – a spirited red that brings an expressive and dramatic look.

  • Koi – a decorative orange with dazzling and shimmering qualities.

  • Vivacious – an unruly and wildly deep fuchsia that adds an ebullient sensuality.

  • Deep Lichen Green – a naturally lush shade of green that serves as an anchor.

  • Turbulence – a dark mercurial gray.

  • Carafe – a rich, glamours brown.

We had a little fun seeing how closely we could “match the forecast with our own Formica® laminate solid colors – you’ll see a few of our new 2013 colors made it into the mix!


Formica Laminate Solid Color Matches to Pantone Fashion Color Report Fall 2013.jpg

Photo: via Formica®

ConsumerReports.org Buying Guide: Countertops

Photo: American Cabinet & Flooring Designer Ed Sheats

Getting Started

Replacing a kitchen or bathroom countertop can be a relatively inexpensive part of a total remodeling job, costing as little as $550 for 55 square feet (about 18 linear feet) of laminate counter. Then again, you can spend 10 times that on costlier materials. Whichever once you choose, buy enough the first time out. Delivery is expensive, color and veining vary from sample to sample, and materials bought separately may not match.

Traditionally, the more exotic countertop materials have been used in the kitchen. But more and more materials such as concrete, granite, limestone, marble – and yes, even stainless steel – are migrating to the bathroom. Though bathroom counters typically see less wear and tear than kitchen counters, you might want to limit materials that need TLC to powder rooms or lightly used guest bathrooms. 

Each material offers distinct advantages and disadvantages. We tested more than a dozen popular types to see how well they resisted stains, heat damage, cuts, abrasion, and impact. 

Think Big

Tiny samples make it hard to visualize how the finished counter will look. Check manufacturers’ websites for brochures or smart phone and iPad apps that can help you match the counter to your cabinets. And look for online guides that let you try various materials and colors in virtual settings. Engineered stone, recycled glass, laminate, and solid surfacing are likely to match the samples you see in the store. If you’re set on stone, however, go to a stone yard. You’ll find significant variations not only from one slab to another, but even within the same slab. When you find a slab you like, put a deposit on it. 

Start with the Sink

A waterproof material such as concrete, solid surfacing, stainless steel, stone, or quartz is essential if the sink is under mounted – in other words, if it’s raised into place from below the counter, rather than lowered from above so that its edges overlap the countertop. And keep in mind, each of these materials except quartz and stone can be matched to the sink. 

Tricks of the Trade

Besides being on the lookout for sales, you can shave the cost by mixing materials. Complement a large, modestly priced run of laminate on a kitchen island with a small but exquisite piece of stone. Since bathroom counters are typically smaller, cut costs by using less expensive stone or quartz remnants – essentially left over pieces from other jobs. 

Let the Fabricator do the Measuring

All measurements and templates should be made by the fabricator or installer including cut-outs for the sink and faucet. Then any errors are the pro’s responsibility, not yours. 

Types of Countertops

We found significant strengths and weaknesses among materials, but few differences among brands. Here are the types of countertops to consider. 

Quartz

Photo: American Cabinet & Flooring

Also known as engineered stone, quartz is a blend of stone chips, resins, and pigments. It’s an ideal material for high-traffic applications. It comes in many vibrant colors and styles that mimic granite and marble. 

PROS: It survived a gauntlet of spills, hot pots, knives, and more with top scores and it doesn’t have to be sealed for stain protection. Because it’s waterproof, it’s a sound choice to be paired with undermounted sinks. 

CONS: Quartz won’t resist impacts as well as granite, and its edges can chip. Some patterns can appear unnaturally uniform, although manufacturers are trying for a more random look closer to natural stone. 

Granite

Photo: American Cabinet & Flooring

It’s still what you’ll see in magazines and real-estate ads, but fancy faux materials are giving granite serious competition. Granite is a good choice for areas that get a lot of use. It comes in many colors and variations and provides a natural stone look.

PROS: Like quartz, it survived our gauntlet of spills, hot pots, knives, and more with top scores.

CONS: Unlike quartz, it needs periodic sealing for stain protection. Color and grain may differ from store samples. 

Tile

Ceramic Tile comes in an almost limitless selection of colors and patterns. It mixes nicely with other materials, and it works well on a backsplash or island top.

PROS: Tile is inexpensive and relatively easy to install. It offers good heat resistance, so it’s a good choice around stoves. Buying a few extra tiles will allow you to repair localized damage easily, one tile at at time.

CONS: Poor impact resistance is a sore point. The grout is likely to stain even when it’s sealed. Darker grout can help. 

Laminates

Photo: American Cabinet & Flooring

This material generally consists of layers of paper or fabric impregnated with resin over composition wood. Laminates are inexpensive and relatively easy to install. Use them in areas of heavy use but minimal abuse. This material is available in hundreds of fun patterns (try boomerang), interesting colors (hollyberry, anyone?), and detailed edges. Laminates typically show seams on the front edge and between the backsplash and counter. Post-forming is a process that melds adjoining sections, making them look continuous, but it offers fewer color choices. 

PROS: Laminates excelled at resisting stains, impact, and heat; they also withstood our abrasive pads nicely. They’re easy to clean and relatively easy to install. Though laminates are no longer trendy, they still appeal to remodelers on at tight budget.

CONS: Most versions have a colored top layer over a dark core, which shows at the edges. Water can seep through seams or between the countertop and backsplash, weakening the material beneath or causing lifting. Laminate is easily scratched and nicked and can’t be repaired. Textured finishes are better than flat finishes at hiding imperfections. 

Solid Surfacing

Photo: American Cabinet & Flooring

Made of polyester or acrylic resins combined with mineral fillers, this material imitates concrete, marble, and other types of stone, as well as quartz (essentially an imitation of an imitation). Solid surfacing comes in various thicknesses and can be joined almost invisibly into one apparently seamless expanse. It can also be sculpted to integrate the sink and backsplash, and routed to accept contrasting inlays. 

PROS: Resistance to heat and impact are pluses, and scratches and small nicks can be buffed out and repaired. Because the surfacing is waterproof, it’s a sound choice for an undermounted sink. 

CONS: Solid surfacing scratches easily, and prolonged heat can cause discoloration. Cost can rival that of quartz and granite, which are much tougher and more authentic looking. 

Paper Composite

We tested a version from Richlite, which says that its paper-and-resin countertops are green, in part because the paper comes from renewable resources. 

PROS: The product did well at resisting stains and heat.

CONS: It was only fair when it came to cuts and abrasions. What’s more, it doesn’t use recycled paper, and its resin is petroleum-based and non-renewable. 

Concrete

Concrete countertops can provide a unique look. This exclusive material is typically custom-formed by local fabricators, so quality may vary.

PROS: Concrete can be tinted and textured and can include stone chips.

CONS: It chips and scratches easily and can develop hairline cracks. Topical sealers can protect against stains but not heat; penetrating sealers can handle heat, but not stains. 

Stainless Steel

It lets you integrate countertops with stainless appliances for a sleek, professional kitchen look. It can be welded, ground, and buffed away to get rid of seams.

PROS: Resistance to heat and stains is a plus. Because stainless steel is waterproof, it’s a sound choice for an undermounted sink.

CONS: Steel dents and scratches easily and shows fingerprints. (If fingerprints are an issue, consider faux stainless laminate instead.) Drain cleaners and hard-water-deposit removers can discolor steel. 

Limestone

Limestone provides a stone look without heavy veining. It’s attractive but impractical. Use it only in low-traffic areas.

PROS: Limestone resists heat well.

CONS: Scratches and dings from our dropped 5-pound weight marred the surface of this soft, porous stone. And even a high-quality sealer didn’t protect against stains. Twelve of the 19 substrates we applied left permanent marks after they were left on the surface for just 24 hours. 

Butcher Block

These hardwood countertops provide a country kitchen look. Maple is most common, but you’ll also find red oak and teak.

PROS: This material is useful for food preparation such as chopping and slicing. It’s relatively easy to install and repair.

CONS: Damage from heat, cuts, scrapes, and impacts make for high maintenance. Butcher block countertops must be treated regularly with mineral oil or beeswax. Varnished butcher block was extremely stain-resistant, but terrible at everything else. Butcher block with an oil finish was better at resisting heat, but stains spread and were impossible to remove. Fluctuations in humidity affect wood, making butcher block a poor choice for over a dishwasher or around a sink.

Marble

This material provides a traditional look. Consider it for areas with medium traffic.

PROS: Small nicks and scratches can be polished out.

CONS: Marble chips and scratches easily. And you’ll need to seal marble periodically to protect it from staining. Most stains that marred and unsealed marble wiped away with water on sealed samples. But hard-water-deposit removers left a permanent mark, even on sealed stone. 

Recycled Glass

Take shards of recycled glass, turm them into a countertop and the result is an infusion of color and style. 

PROS: Best for a contemporary look when it’s made with large shards, or it can resemble solid surfacing when it’s finely ground. Resistant to heat, cuts, and scratches.

CONS: But chips and stains can be a problem. Unlike other recycled-glass counters we tested. Cosentino’s Eco line developed a thin crack during our heat tests.

Soapstone

You’ll have to rub the soapstone with mineral oil to reveal and maintain its beauty.

PROS: Best for adding the beauty of stone to a low-traffic kitchen. It withstands heat very well, and small scratches can be repaired. Slabs vary, so go to a stone yard.

CONS: It’s easily sliced, scratched, and nicked. Stain resistance is so-so, and it needs to be periodically rubbed with mineral oil.

Bamboo

While bamboo may be eco-friendly, it isn’t user-friendly.

PROS: Best for show rather than daily use. It’s available in several styles, including a parquet pattern.

CONS: It’s easily stained, scorched, sliced, and nicked. The maker might warn against using it around a sink, because moisture can warp the material. It may darken over time.

Photo: American Cabinet & Flooring Designer Amber Albrecht

Copyright © 2006-2012 Consumers Union of U.S., Inc.

ConsumerReports.org Buying Guide: Flooring

Photo: American Cabinet & Flooring Designer Clay Bernard

Getting Started

Begin by considering where the flooring will go and how much traffic, sunlight, and other wear and tear it will get. Vinyl proved tops in our moisture tests and most linoleum. Plastic laminates, and solid wood fared nearly as well. But many engineered woods, as well as some solid woods, and a linoleum product we tested flubbed that test – a serious drawback in a busy kitchen. And while the best vinyls and plastic-laminates fended off wear better than solid wood, they can’t be refinished when worn. 

How to Shop

Before settling on a product, spend a few dollars on two or three samples. That can be a lot less expensive than winding up with flooring that looks great in a catalog or on a website and then awful in your home. Manufacturers generally match most wood or engineered-wood flooring for color or grain. But variations can occur from one batch to the next, so buy the flooring you’ll need all at once. All the plastic-laminate floorboards in a package often have a similar pattern, so you may want to pull from multiple packages to avoid repetition.

To determine how much flooring you’ll need, measure the room’s square footage by multiplying its length times its width. (Divide an irregularly shaped room into smaller rectangles, calculate the square footage of each rectangle, and then add them together.) Then buy 7 to 10 percent extra to allow for mistakes, bad samples, and waste. You might also want to invest in an extra box of flooring for future repairs or additions. 

Where to Save

One way to save is on overstocks. Also, take advantage of mistakes. You can often save on opened or damaged boxes or on flooring with minor flaws that no one will notice.

Hiring a pro to do the installation? You can trim hundreds of dollars off the job by doing the time-consuming prep work like prying up the old flooring, leveling or filling the subfloor, and removing any baseboard that’s in the way. 

Green Floors That Didn’t Cut It

Bamboo is considered renewable because it’s a fast-growing grass. The best bamboo floorings we tested area stranded products such as the EcoTimber solid and Teragren engineered flooring, which are made of fibers that are shredded and compressed for strength. Cork floors are made of tree bark in a process that doesn’t kill trees.

Know How Rough You’ll Be

The best products in every category were also the best overall in our simulated foot-traffic tests. For less busy kitchens, you may want to consider the top engineered wood or bamboo, with its blend of natural veneer and easy installation.

Pick a Factory Finish

Prefinished wood and bamboo floors cost about 40 percent more than unfinished products. But you’re likely to save overall because a factory finish tends to last longer-and paying a pro to apply the finish adds costs, mess, and hassle. Factory finishes are also warranted by the manufacturer. 

Check for Certification

Vinyl floors with the industry’s FloorScore certification emit relatively low levels of volatile organic compounds, substances linked to health problems and pollution. All vinyl we recommend has that certification. For wood flooring, certification by the Forest Stewardship Council and the Sustainable Forestry Initiative offers some assurance that it comes from responsibly managed forests, a plus for the planet. The product and manufacturer must be certified; check the packaging. 

When You Get it Home

Before installing wood or laminate flooring, unpack it and let it sit for one to three days in the space where it will be installed so that its temperature and moisture match the levels in the room.

Keeping New Floors Looking Good

If you need to heat the room soon after installation, raise the temperature gradually over the course of a week – especially if you have radiant heat – to allow the flooring to adjust. Sweep or vacuum floors with a soft broom or brush, and clean with a damp but not overly wet mop. Check the manufacturer’s guidelines for recommended cleaning products. And put felt pads under furniture to prevent scratching. 

Types of Flooring

Though you’ll find a growing array of styles, most flooring falls into one of these six types. The type of flooring you choose will depend on your taste, needs, and budget.

Solid Wood

Photo: Mohawk Solid Wood in Oak ButterscotchAdvantages include its natural warmth and the ability to be sanded and refinished several times, along with impressive wear resistance for some. But except for the best solid bamboo, all the solid-wood products we tested dented easily, and some wore quickly and became discolored from sunlight. Pre-finished floors should hold up better than those finished on site, and their warranty comes from the factory, not the installer. But you may not like the beveled edges on many pre-finished products. While unfinished flooring costs about 40 percent less, higher installation costs can offset those savings, since the floor must be sanded and finished over several days to seal it from moisture. Wood flooring shouldn’t go in basements and other damp spaces. 

Engineered Wood

Photo: Mohawk Engineered Wood in Oak Natural

This flooring uses a thin veneer of real wood or bamboo over structural plywood. Most engineered wood doesn’t wear as well as solid wood or plastic laminate. It also dents easily, and small spills can damage it. Most can be carefully refinished once, but the veneer on some may be too thin. 

Plastic Laminate

Photo: Mannington Laminate in Black Forest Oak

Generally made of dense fiberboard with a photo beneath a clear plastic protective layer, laminate can mimic nearly anything from oak to marble. Some brands use real cork beneath the clear layer. But the repetitive pattern on some products compromises realism. The best laminates resist scratching, denting, and discoloration from sunlight better than most wood products, but as with engineered wood, a big spill can cause damage. You may be able to touch up minor flaws, but you’ll have to replace the flooring when its outer layer wears through. 

Vinyl

Photo: Shaw Resilient Vinyl Tile in Grey Skies

This option can be especially good at fending off wear, dents, scratches, discoloration from sunlight, and stains. Easy installation is another plus, especially for tiles or planks, as are more color and design choices than before. Premium vinyl does a better job of imitating stone, tile, and even oak, but even the best products still look like vinyl. And the best can cost at least as much as the best solid wood and laminate floors. 

Linoleum

Photo: Armstrong Linoleum in Firebird Red

Made of linseed oil and wood products, linoleum is a natural, resilient material. Today’s products offer far more styles and colors. Linoleum tends to fend off discoloration from sunlight, but resistance to wear, scratches, dents and moisture has varied widely in our tests from product to product. Linoleum can also be relatively expensive. 

Ceramic Tile

Photo: Shaw Ceramic Tile In Cappuccino

This classic material tends to resist wear, moisture, scratches, dents, and stains. But tiles can crack and grout can stain, and dropped cups and dishes break more easily on its hard surface. It’s also relatively expensive and hard to install. While some can now be floated without the usual cement and grout, that makes replacing cracked tiles a challenge. 

Flooring Features

Different flooring materials require different installation techniques. Homeowners install about half of all flooring. Floated floors that go down without glue or fasteners are easiest. In the case of vinyl, planks or tiles; they are easier to install than sheets. 

  • Nail- or Staple-Down Installation: These are the methods of choice with solid wood and engineered wood over a wood subfloor. Standard, ¾-inch-thick solid-wood strip and plank flooring is traditionally nailed to the subfloor; thinner solid or engineered material is almost always stapled. The fasteners are usually driven diagonally through the tongue side of the material and into the subfloor (blind-nailed) so they are invisible once the floor is finished. Solid flooring can also be nailed straight through the surface (face-nailed) with decorative cut nails or fastened with screws, which are typically countersunk and concealed with wood plugs. Installers often sandwich a layer of 15-pound felt or rosin paper between the subfloor and floor to prevent moisture between the two and to deaden sound.

  • Floating Installation: This works with engineered wood, plastic laminate, linoleum and some ceramic tile over a wood or concrete subfloor or existing flooring. Tongue-and-groove planks or tiles lock together mechanically. Some products must also be glued together at the joints. The material generally goes over a thin foam or cork pad, which fills minor flaws in the subfloor and absorbs sound. Installations over concrete require a thin plastic vapor barrier.

  • Glue-Down Installation: Engineered wood, vinyl, linoleum, and tiles are typically glued. You trowel adhesive onto a clean, flat, wood or concrete subfloor or existing flooring and lay down the sheets, planks, or tiles. No vapor barrier is required. Some glue-down flooring is simply peel-and-stick, the easiest to install. You’ll also find vinyl flooring in sheets and easier-to-install tiles.

Flooring Brands

The national flooring brands listed below are sold by home centers and specialty flooring retailers. Use these profiles to compare flooring by brand. 

Armstrong manufactures flooring under the well-recognized brand names Armstrong and Bruce, and the speciality brand Robbins. Armstrong is also the brand leader in vinyl sheet and vinyl-tile flooring, dominating the category with more than 40 percent of sales. The Armstrong brand also includes wood and laminate, a line of linoleum flooring, and has recently added ceramic tile. 

Mannington is a one-stop floor manufacture with products in every flooring category. They are among the top three leading vinyl flooring brands and have a foothold in wood, laminate, and porcelain tile. A recent innovation is the Adura Luxury line of premium vinyl tile and planks that mimic the look of hardwood and ceramic tile. Mannington is available only through speciality flooring stores. 

This leading carpet manufacturer crossed over to hard-surface flooring through acquisitions and partnerships and now offers wood, laminate, and vinyl flooring.

Mohawk sells stone flooring under the American Olean brand and laminate under the Quick-Step brand. Their Dal-Tile brand accounts for half of the ceramic tile category sales.

In vinyl, Mohawk distributes the Congoleum brand through its vast dealer network. Mohawk flooring is sold through mass home centers and specialty floor stores and is one of the few flooring manufacturers that takes part directly at retail by licensing its trade names – Mohawk Floorz and Mohawk FloorScapes – to locally owned flooring specialty dealers. 

This leading carpet manufacturer now offers wood, laminate, and ceramic-tile flooring; it recently expanded its presence in wood through the acquisition of Anderson Flooring. Shaw is available through home-center chains and specialty flooring stores and has its own retail programs – Shaw Design Center and Shaw Flooring Alliance that offer local dealers expanded product lines, display assistance, and training.

Tarkett

Originally a European manufacturer of linoleum, Tarkett is now among the largest flooring manufacturers worldwide. Tarkett offers wood, laminate, and vinyl flooring under its own brand, and luxury vinyl tile from Nafco. Tarket also makes FiberFloor, a water-resistant flooring that combines the qualities of carpet and vinyl. Tarkett is available through mass home centers and specialty flooring retailers. 

Photo: American Cabinet & Flooring Showroom

Copyright © 2006-2012 Consumers Union of U.S., Inc.

Get the Luxury Look for Less

Best and Worst Kitchen Appliances, Countertops, Flooring and More


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(Photo: Thinkstock)

Got a bottomless budget for your dream kitchen? You could pay for the sleekest pro-style appliances the most luxurious stone countertop, and the trendiest hardwood flooring and still end up paying again to fix things that break down, crack, or dent. Or you could use our advice to make every dollar count by sidestepping high-priced pitfalls in the first place. 

And if your budget is more in the $15,000-to-$30,000 range that most homeowners spend on renovations, relax: You can have a beautiful kitchen that’s functional and efficient, and only looks expensive, like the example here. It combines semi-custom cabinets, quartz countertops, and vinyl flooring to achieve an urban sophistication befitting its city setting.

Appliances


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KitchenAid KDRU763V $6,000 (Photo: Consumer Reports)High End: A pro-style, 36-inch range with high-Btu burners; a built-in refrigerator with panels that match the surrounding cabinetry; and whisper-quiet dishwashers are expected in today’s luxury homes. “If buyers walk into a high-end home and see apartment-grade or even midrange appliances, they’re going to wonder what else is missing from their wish list,” says Jim Hamilton, regional Vice President of the National Association of Realtors.

Separate steam ovens, which can cost several thousand dollars and are pitched as a healthful way to prepare vegetables, fish, and even desserts, are a popular trend in high-end appliances. “Restaurants have been steaming food for years. Now the technology is finally coming to the residential market,” says Laurie Haefele, a designer-architect in Santa Monica, CA. Some models combine steam and convection cooking to lock in moisture while browning foods that require it.

But not all high-end appliances deliver. Though we recommend KitchenAid dual-fuel ranges, its electric and gas models have been repair-prone, as have Jenn-Air’s electric ranges, wall ovens, and cooktops. And some of Viking’s Professional-series built-in refrigerators are at the bottom of our ratings.


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Samsung FTQ307NWGX $1,700 (Photo: Consumer Reports)

For Less: Many mainstream brands have upped their styling with “faux pro” features, including beefy controls and a stainless-steel finish. And they equal or surpass their pricey counterparts when it comes to cooking and reliability. GE’s $1,500 Profile PGB910SEM has sleek styling, and it’s our top-performing gas range. Or consider an induction range or cooktop,which uses electromagnetism to deliver pinpoint heating and control. Among refrigerators, cabinet-depth models offer the streamlined look of built-ins for thousands less. 

Flooring

High End: Wood has warmth and elegance and can be used in adjacent rooms, creating a seamless flow between spaces. “Plus if you drop a teacup on a wood floor, the cup has a fighting chance,” says Kelly Stewart, a National Kitchen & Bath Association-certified kitchen designer in Stamford, CT.


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Mullican St. Andrews Solid Oak Strip 10930, $6.30 per sqft (Photo: Consumer Reports)Antique wood floors, milled from timbers reclaimed from centuries-old buildings, have character, but they’ve been particularly prone to wear and tear in our tests. Performance-wise, you’re better off with solid wood flooring with a factory finish, which costs more up front than unfinished flooring but lasts longer and eliminates the mess of on-site finishing. 

Even the most durable wood floors are no match for heavy traffic, especially if it includes sandy shoes and dog’s claws. Durable stones such as granite and quartzite offer more protection and a sense of permanence. “People subconsciously associate stone with stability underfoot, so its a natural choice for flooring,” says New York City architect Leonard Kady. 


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Quick-Step Perspectives Ansel Oak UF1259, $4 per sq ft (Photo: Consumer Reports)For Less: Engineered wood flooring, which has a veneer or real wood over substrate, can be floated over the subfloor, saving on installation costs. The downside is that most can be refinished only once, whereas solid flooring can be refinished multiple times.

Tile is an all-natural option that realistically mimics costly materials. “Antique limestone floors from a mansion in France are marvelous, but you can use ceramic tile to achieve a similar look for a fraction of the cost, and they’re a lot easier to maintain,” Kady says. Vinyl flooring is another less expensive option with some very convincing faux patterns, including wood and natural stone. 

Countertops


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White Carrera Marble, $150 per sq ft (Photo: Consumer Reports)High End: Authenticity is the catchphrase in countertops. That means natural stone for top-tier designers, though many are moving away from speckled granites such as Uba Tuba in favor of wavy marble, especially in popular white kitchens. But given its susceptibility to staining and scratching, marble is not for everyone, cautions Jonas Carnemark, a design-builder in Washington, D.C. who is certified by the National Association of the Remodeling Industry.

“Designers talk about patina, but you have to remember that’s just a fancy term for scratches and stains,” he says. If, like many homeowners, you want things to stay looking new, consider quartz, a highly durable engineered stone that can resemble natural stone. All white-quartz countertops are also popular thanks to improvements in technology that give them the purest tone. 


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Formica IdealEdge Laminate, $16 per sq ft (Photo: Consumer Reports)For Less: For example, shop around for affordable stone slabs. If you can fall in love with a Danby marble from Vermont instead of one of the more expensive Italian imports, you’re going to save at least 20%. There are even bigger savings out there with granite, especially if you choose from remnants at the stone yard. Some granite has wavy marble-like veining.

Laminate, the most affordable countertop option by far, has come a long way. The latest printing technologies result in faux patterns that look like real stone, or you can choose a solid white that’s suited to contemporary kitchens. Formica has even eliminated the unsightly black line along the edge of the countertop that used to be laminate’s telltale sign. 

Cabinets


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Fieldstone Custom Cabinet, $475 (Photo: Consumer Reports)High End: In the most expensive kitchens, cabinets are custom-built to the precise dimensions of the room. The result is a fully integrated look that’s in keeping with the current taste for clean, minimalist design. 

The good news is that this style is inherently less expensive – and easier to clean – than the once-fashionable country kitchen, which called for cabinetry with elaborate moldings and applied detail. The bad news is that custom cabinets of any description cost tens of thousands of dollars. “It’s half the cost of the kitchen,” says designer-architect Laurie Haefele, recalling projects for which the cabinet bill alone ran to six figures. 

For Less: If the layout of the existing cabinets works and the units are plumb, square, and sturdy, you could refinish them with a fresh coat of paint or reface them by replacing the cabinet doors and drawers and applying veneers to the face frames and ends. Retrofitting the cabinets with pull-out drawers, lazy Susans, and retractable trash cans can improve their function.


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If your cabinets are too far gone, you can save 30% or more by choosing semi-custom units. Stock units save even more, without necessarily sacrificing style. Ikea Stock Cabinet, $330 (Photo: Consumer Reports)

“There are a plethora of showrooms where you can get the full kitchen from Italy or Germany, but we’ve been able to integrate Ikea cabinets for budget-minded clients that offer a similar look,”says Chicago architect Pam Lamaster-Millet. “The trick is finding a skilled installer who knows the tricks for making the units look built-in.” That might include applying a toe kick to base cabinets or a valance to upper cabinets to conceal the undercabinet lighting.

Whether semi-custom or stock, the features that held up best in our cabinet tests include solid-wood or plywood doors; boxes made of ½- to ¾ -inch plywood;solid-wood drawer sides with dovetail joints, full-extension glides, and a plywood bottom; and adjustable, ¾-inch plywood or medium-density fiberboard shelving.

Spending Traps to Avoid

  • Poor Planning – changing the design after the project is under way is guaranteed to break the budget. Proper planning, including showroom visits and meeting with professionals, will take a couple of months.

  • Skimping on Labor – sooner or later the cracks will show with poor construction. Invest in quality, especially for cabinet installation and tile setting, where small mistakes can lead to big disappointment.

  • Paying More for Pointless Features – smart appliances are supposed to save money by powering down when electricity rates are highest. But you’ll only reap the rewards if your home has a “smart” meter and your utility company offers time-of-use rates. Otherwise, you’ll be paying more for a technology that may be years away.

  • Expecting a Fridge to Prevent Spoilage – Food preservation features are the latest thing for marketing. But the claims are hard to measure. What you can do is find a refrigerator that delivers top temperature performance in our tests.

  • Falling for High-Priced Fixtures – stainless steel sinks top our ratings, even in less expensive thickness. Popular pullout sprays are available on entry-level faucets. As for lighting, the illumination that matters most comes from inexpensive – and hidden – undercabinet fixtures.

(Photo: American Cabinet & Flooring Designer: Clay Bernard)

Copyright © 2006-2012 Consumers Union of U.S., Inc.