The short Answer: The wear layer on Luxury Vinyl Planks is a compound applied to protect the photographic layer of your flooring as long as possible. How long it can protect that layer depends on your lifestyle and selection of mil thickness.
What is a Wear Layer?
The wear layer is a clear layer applied to the surface of the plank when crafted. It provides the overall sheen of the floor’s surface and protects the photo layer of wood or stone that gives the product it’s unique look. Because of this, over time the product will retain its clarity, and due to the thickness and quality of the clear coat wear layer, the photo imagery of the plank will avoid getting worn off long term.
The wear layer of an LVP floor is often misunderstood to be a scratch protective coating. This is false. Everything can scratch, literally everything on earth, and no flooring option on the market carries any true anti-scratch warranties. That’s not to say you should assume your floor should be filled with scratches immediately, it means that prevention and reduction is the best option in this case.
The Wear Layer:
- Is NOT a scratch protective layer.
- Protects the photo image layer of the product.
- Provides the lasting sheen look of the product.
The wear layer is measured in “mils”, and is generally assumed in the industry to equal the amount of years you should assume to have before the product begins to appear dull, or “flat” in the high traffic areas of your home, as small scuffs & scratches accumulate and overtake the original finish. Most LVP products start with a 6 mil wear layer, generally assuming that with the combination of residential traffic/wear and average care/maintenance, you should get about that many years before noticing the product becoming dull. When the wear layer is fully gone, and there’s direct foot-traffic on the photographic layer of the floor, you’ll begin to see the actual image of the wood or stone begin to fade & ultimately disappear in high traffic areas.
A majority of products today are manufactured more often matted than shiny (tastes & trends are always in flux), which allows for less visibility of scuff or scratch marks than their shinier counterparts, but the wear layer for both options ultimately perform similarly. Wear layers can go higher than 20 mil, and offer a fairly objective expectation of life expectancy well beyond that of the standard 6 mil flooring product. The cost is higher, though it can easily be justified, depending on your lifestyle needs. Lots of kids & pets? Perhaps investing in a beefier product is a responsible choice. Is it just you and your spouse, usually walking around in socks? If so, you may not need to consider the wear layer as much and can make your decision on other factors.
Mil layer thickness is always the number one factor to look at when assessing the wearability of a vinyl plank floor. A secondary objective factor to consider when judging the quality of the product is the composition of that wear layer. Many companies have their own unique formulas for their wear layers. Acrylic layers for example, tend to be a little softer, making them potentially wear a little faster than others. However, when they do eventually scratch, the scratch line won’t be as clear and bright as it would with other formulas. Ceramic Bead finishes are much harder, making them wear off slower, but scratches on these types of surfaces tend to “shine” a bit more. Ultimately, it’s impossible to tell exactly how long a wear layer will hold up, but the industry general standard is a year per mil.
Final wear layer take-aways:
- Measured in mils, generally speaking, the lifetime of a wear layer is one year per mil.
- Not all spaces need super thick wear layers, some do.
- Wear layers are not created equal, and their composition should be considered for your lifestyle.
The Bottom Line: Before picking out a specific LVP, consider how much foot traffic the area you plan to install it in gets, and factor in what sort of mil thickness you would be interested in purchasing. This’ll bring you one step closer to getting the LVP that fits you and your space best.