Floors take a beating under the best of circumstances, but nowhere more so than in the kitchen -- command central for cooking, homework, family gatherings and more. So it's important to find a kitchen floor that can withstand constant traffic and make the style statement you want. Here are the pros and cons of popular flooring materials. Which one's right for you?
1. Ceramic Tile
The quintessential kitchen surface, ceramic tile is a fail-safe bet for just about any style and budget. Your options for color, size, shape and pattern are virtually limitless, so you can create the look that suits you best, whether that's sleek and contemporary or lavish Old World.
Pros: Ceramic tile stands up to wear and tear, from muddy footprints to spills and splashes, like a champ and is easy to clean. The huge variety of low-priced options makes it one of the most affordable flooring choices. And thanks to tile's modular, DIY-friendly nature, you can easily come up with a custom pattern even on a tight budget.
Cons: Tile can crack as floors settle, and a dish or glass dropped on it is virtually guaranteed to shatter. It also can be cold and hard underfoot, so use a rug or a cushioned mat to offset the discomfort. Moisture makes tile slippery; a honed or textured surface can provide slightly more traction. Grout needs periodic sealing and special cleaning to keep stains at bay.
Cost: About $3 to $8 per square foot, uninstalled.
Photos: Browse thousands of kitchen designs
2. Natural Stone
Whether they're made from limestone, slate, granite or travertine, natural stone floors have one major asset: their variation. No two pieces of stone have exactly the same color, pattern or texture, and the differences create a visual depth that's hard to replicate. Stone also creates an elegant, gracious look that instantly makes a kitchen feel more upscale.
Pros: Stone floors have been around for centuries, so it doesn't get more classic than this. Like tile and concrete, they're cool underfoot, a boon in hot climates. They're durable and require little day-to-day maintenance. And did we mention the natural beauty?
Cons: Stone is expensive and not for the DIY-minded. The tiny crannies in its surface can trap dirt. Scratches and chips can be an issue with softer stone, such as travertine; slate's layers have been known to peel over time. Porous stone will need protective sealing at regular intervals.
Cost: About $15 to $30 per square foot, uninstalled.
3. Solid Wood
Nature is a terrific artisan — it's tough to match the warmth and charm of solid wood. Even in a space with a lot of moisture and heavy foot traffic, wood can last indefinitely if it's properly treated and cared for. It's a perennial classic, and it develops a rich patina with time and use.
Pros: Whether you want thin strips of pale maple or wide planks of pine, there's a wood that will look just right in your kitchen. Wood never goes out of style, so you won't have to worry about updating it as your home evolves. It can be sanded and refinished to keep it looking its best.
Cons: You'll have to stay on top of spills; liquids can cause damage if they're not wiped up right away. Wood dents and scratches easily, so it will need periodic refinishing. Although it's not as unyielding as concrete or tile, it also isn't as comfortable as cork or vinyl.
Cost: About $4 to $12 per square foot, uninstalled.
Sustainably harvested and all natural, cork has grown in popularity in recent years. While its distinctive look isn't for everyone, people who love it appreciate its strong patterns and texture, its warm look and its ecofriendliness.
Pros: Resilient and flexible, cork provides a great deal of comfort underfoot, and it can absorb the shock from a dropped plate or cup (translation: less chance of breakage). It holds warmth and absorbs sound, lending a cozy feel. And it's rich in suberin, a natural substance that guards against mold, mildew, rot and pests.
Cons: Cork holds up well, but not without a little TLC. Because dirt and grit can scar it, you'll need to stay on top of cleaning, and you will also need to reseal it regularly with polyurethane or wax. Small dings, such as from a dropped knife, will "heal" on their own, but major scars are harder to fix. Cork also can fade over time.
Cost: About $2 to $12 per square foot, uninstalled.
Concrete flooring has come a long way from the days when it was relegated to basements or hidden under carpeting. Its star has risen in the design world because of its edginess and industrial-chic look. No longer does a concrete floor mean a dull swath of gray; today, it can be stained, stamped, scored or acid etched for visual panache.
Pros: Concrete stays cool even in the hottest weather, so it's ideal for warm climates. It's virtually indestructible, no matter what you spill on it or drag across it. And if you get tired of the look, you'll have a ready-made subfloor for carpeting, tile or another surface.
Cons: Concrete is difficult to work with, so you'll almost certainly need professional installation. As with tile and stone, concrete can be unforgiving on feet. It's porous, so sealing is a must to ward off stains — especially in a high-traffic area such as a kitchen. And some folks find it just plain cold.
Cost: Having a basic concrete floor poured from scratch can cost anywhere from hundreds to thousands of dollars, depending on the size of the space and other variables. Concrete finishing treatments, such as staining, stamping or etching, range from about $2 per square foot to $15 or more per square foot.
Laminate flooring, which is composed of several layers of engineered material sandwiched together, is designed to imitate the look of wood or tile. It resists scratches and scuffs, thanks to an internal "wear layer," so it's great for homeowners whose kitchens must contend with small kids, pets or extremely heavy use.
Pros: Laminate requires very little maintenance — just sweep and damp-mop. It's easy to find in "floating," or glueless, versions that make DIY installation a breeze. Costs generally are moderate.
Cons: Although it may look like wood or tile from a distance, it won't substitute for the depth and texture of those substances. Unlike wood, laminate can't be refinished — if it starts showing its age, it will need to be replaced completely.
Cost: About $2 to $4 per square foot, uninstalled.
It used to be that vinyl's main advantage was price — it wasn't exactly considered chic. But that's changed: Nowadays this material comes in a sophisticated range of designs and finishes. It's available in sheets or tiles that mimic stone, wood, ceramic tile and more, embossed with textures that look and feel surprisingly realistic.
Pros: One of the most inexpensive flooring options on the market, vinyl can approximate the look of pricier materials at a fraction of the cost. It's a snap to clean, easy to patch if a spot gets damaged, and comfortable underfoot. Plus, you can usually install it on your own, which eliminates the expense of hiring a pro.
Cons: Vinyl can dent, bubble or curl over time. Sharp objects may tear it, and grit and dirt can scratch and dull its finish. It also can fade in strong sunlight. Compared with other flooring materials, its life span is shorter (it will begin to show wear after five years or so).
Cost: About $1 to $5 per square foot, uninstalled.
People tend to confuse linoleum with vinyl, but it's a completely different substance. A staple through the first half of the 20th century, linoleum — an all-natural material made from linseed oil, resins, wood flour and more — fell out of favor as synthetic flooring came into vogue. But in recent years, its green cred and retro-cool look have caught the attention of ecoconscious consumers and style savants. It's perfect for old-fashioned cottages and midcentury interiors.
Pros: Much of linoleum's appeal lies in its versatility. Because it comes in just about every color you can imagine, you can go as subtle or as bold as you want. It can be easily cut into one-of-a-kind patterns, such as the circular motif pictured here. Plus, it's affordable, durable and easy to maintain.
Cons: Linoleum can wear and fade with time and use. Many manufacturers add a protective coating before the material is sold; without this coating, the floors may need periodic waxing and polishing. Linoleum is also tricky to work with, so even hardcore DIY-ers will likely need help from a pro.
Cost: About $4 to $7 per square foot, uninstalled. Custom colors and patterns add to the price tag.
Although bamboo looks like wood, it's actually a grass. So you might be surprised at how durable bamboo flooring can be. Its density allows it to stand up to busy spaces and active lifestyles. It has become popular in recent years not only for its sturdiness, but also for its affordability relative to hardwood and for its subtle, variegated appearance.
Pros: Bamboo grows so quickly that it's considered a sustainable choice for green building. It's low maintenance, requiring no special care, and springier underfoot than wood. And it lends a touch of worldly style without the expense of a tropical or other exotic hardwood.
Cons: The range of color choices is narrower than with traditional woods. It isn't as moisture resistant as many other materials — in high-humidity climates or spaces, it can warp. Much of the bamboo on the market is imported from countries that may have less stringent quality regulations than in the United States, so it's important to research sources.
Cost: About $4 to $9 per square foot, uninstalled.