How thick should my wear-layer be?

The thicker your vinyl floor's wear-layer, the longer it will last. To avoid all the costs associated with replacing worn flooring, the smart decision is to virtually always go for the thickest wear-layer you can afford.

The thicker your vinyl floor’s wear-layer, the longer it will last. But what is thick? 0.1 mm? 0.3 mm? 0.5 mm? 12 mil? 20 mil? These numbers are all so microscopic, that it is hard for the average person to comprehend how something that is a tiny fraction of an inch can provide any substantial protection at all.

Let’s first clarify how vinyl wear-layers are measured because this is one key point of misinformation. With a couple exceptions, vinyl manufacturers are based in either Asia or Europe and use the metric system. So even though some specifications are converted into inches for convenience (such as the width or length of the plank, for example), the original manufactured spec is always accurately measured in metric.

Despite this, many brands have used the slightly deceiving tactic of measuring their wear-layers in the obscure measurement of mil (one-thousandth of an inch). Unfortunately, the word “mil” is conveniently similar to “millimeter.” What is not so convenient is that 1 mm is equal to roughly 40 mil. So, for example, 0.5 mm is almost twice as thick as 12 mil.

Confused yet? Here is a chart of a range of wear-layers, listed in both mm and mil, and the typically offered commercial warranty (you should always ask for the commercial warranty--more on this later).

Typical Commercial Warranty

Wear layer table

As you can quickly see, the duration (or length) of use you get out of a vinyl floor can range dramatically. This is why it is important to consider the application of your project and take into account the “true” life-cycle cost. Every time you have to replace your floor, you have to consider not just the material cost, but also the cost of installation, baseboard replacement, and any other related expenses. For example, in a typical commercial space:

Cost Analysis Per SQ FT Over 20 Years

Replacement Cost per SQ FT

Add in other indirect costs related to floor replacement (not to mention the general inconvenience, or lost business in the case of commercial spaces), and it becomes readily apparent that the smart decision is to virtually always to go for the thickest wear-layer you can afford.