There are two common types of vinyl flooring tiles: vinyl composite tile (VCT) and luxury vinyl tile (LVT). One of the most significant differences between the two flooring types is that luxury vinyl tiles have a wearlayer on top of their printed design, whereas vinyl composite tiles do not. This impacts everything from maintenance requirements to durability.
But what is the wearlayer, and why is it such an important consideration when you're selecting new vinyl flooring?
What is the Wearlayer?
Luxury vinyl tiles are made up of several distinct layers: the polyurethane coating (1); the wearlayer (2); the print film layer (3); the vinyl core (4); and the tile backing (5).
The best wearlayers will also come with a factory-applied polyurethane finish, which in many cases is further reinforced with silica bead or aluminum oxide. This added layer of protection helps the product resist scratching and eliminates the need for waxes or polishes.
Why is the LVT Wearlayer Important?
For LVT flooring, the wearlayer is its secret weapon, offering increased durability and lowering maintenance costs and requirements. The importance - and benefits - of selecting flooring with a wearlayer becomes clear when you consider the alternative.
Vinyl composite tiles don't have a wearlayer. This means that a significant portion of maintenance time and effort is spent applying and polishing a wax coating, which requires periodic stripping and reapplication to protect your flooring from scuffs, scratches and stains. VCT can be very durable and long-lasting - but only if it's properly maintained.
In contrast, this protective coating is built-in to luxury vinyl tiles in the form of the wearlayer. The wearlayer makes it a more durable flooring option than vinyl composite tiles, straight out of the box. You may need to pay more for the tiles, but LVT offers significant cost savings over the lifetime of your flooring, thanks to reduced labor and maintenance requirements.
Choosing the Right Wearlayer Thickness
Wearlayers come in a variety of thicknesses depending on the flooring manufacturer and the intended use of the tiles. Wearlayers on LVT for commercial environments will be thicker - and therefore more hard-wearing - than on LVT used in residential settings.
Wearlayers are measured in mil (one thousandth of an inch). Flooring manufacturers offer LVT flooring with wearlayers in a wide range of thicknesses, from 8 mil to 28 mil - and even up to 40 mil in rare cases. Different thickness wearlayers are suited to different environments, for example:
- 8 mil - for residential use only.
- 12 mil - for residential and light commercial use.
- 20 mil - for commercial areas with low-to-medium levels of foot traffic, such as administrative offices or break rooms.
- 28 mil - for commercial areas with high levels of foot traffic and rolled traffic (like trolleys or delivery carts), such as school or hospital corridors and building lobbies and entrances.
- 40 mil - best suited to storage areas with high levels of heavy traffic such as forklifts and other machinery, rather than in a commercial environment.
For busy commercial, education or hospitality environments, 28 mil wearlayers will offer better protection against damage than 20 mil ones. While thicker is usually better when it comes to wearlayers, once you get past 28 mil thickness you also begin to lose clarity of the print film layer underneath, which will compromise the aesthetics.
If you want durable, long-lasting luxury vinyl tiles, prioritize tiles with the appropriate wearlayer thickness.