Top 15 Tips for Installing Laminate Flooring

Amy Pawlukiewicz
Written by Amy Pawlukiewicz
Updated September 21, 2022
A sunlit modern living room with laminate flooring
Photo: Larisa Shpineva / EyeEm / Getty Images

Learn tips to install laminate flooring so you can upgrade your space with a smooth, level surface

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Installing laminate flooring can provide a nice refresh to your home and is a less costly option than installing hardwood floors or porcelain tile.  But before you grab your crowbar and start pulling up your existing floor, check out our guide to make your DIY laminate flooring installation smooth and snag-free.

1. Demo the Floor Area Before Beginning

Before you can install your new floors, you need to remove the flooring that’s already there. Even if the existing flooring was already removed, the baseboards will hinder your ability to get your new laminate flooring flush with the walls. Do yourself a favor and begin by removing the baseboards and any existing flooring before you do anything else.

2. Acclimate Your Floor Planks

Flooring can be super sensitive to humidity, weather, and temperature changes, shrinking with heat and humidity and contracting with cold and dry air. Giving them the time they need to get used to your home’s climate will make installation run much more smoothly. 

Place the boxes of flooring planks into the center of the room for at least 48 hours before installation, and don’t touch them. If you follow all tips for how to acclimate your laminate flooring planks successfully, your later self will thank you. 

3. Start with a Clean Subfloor

Once you’ve removed the baseboards and flooring, take the following steps to get your subfloor ready:

  • Vacuum and sweep

  • Remove any air duct covers

  • Make sure that the subfloor is clean, level, and dry.

  • If you have a concrete subfloor with nicks or gouges, use a compound to patch any blemishes.

  • If you have wood subflooring, check for protruding nails or screws and replace damaged boards.

4. Lay Down a Base That Will Protect Your New Flooring

Laminate flooring can be installed right over an old floor using foam sheeting as a base. If your existing floor has too much damage, you may need to put down plywood under the foam sheeting to ensure a smooth, even installation. If installing the floor in an area with high humidity or moisture, put in a vapor barrier to prevent warping and bubbling later. The underlayment sheets should sit so they are touching but not overlapping, and you can secure them with tape recommended by the manufacturer. Trim the excess against the walls with a utility knife.

5. Trim the Bottom of the Door Jamb for a Flush Fit Around Doors

Door jambs usually have intricate shaping, and it’s challenging to cut that shape into laminate flooring. A better solution is to trim out the bottom of the door jamb with a jamb saw so that the laminate will slide just slightly underneath the molding. Use a piece of laminate as a guide to trace out how high you need to make the cut. This technique will give your floors a more finished look than the laminate you’ve attempted to trim to fit around the door jamb.

6. Do a Dry Run With Flooring Pieces to Strategize Your Layout

Detail of a woman’s hands installing laminate flooring
Photo: Guido Mieth / DigitalVision / Getty Images

Lay out the laminate planks in the direction you want them to fit in the room, but make sure not to lock them together because they are difficult to undo. This will give you a sense of how the flooring will look in the room and is also easier than measuring and calculating in small- to medium-sized rooms. Using an alternating pattern when installing the planks will give the room a more natural look. Plus, it’s easier not to have to match up the seams on every row.

7. Start Floor Installation Around Doorways

Many find it easier to start laying down laminate flooring planks at the wall with the most doors on it. Fitting laminate flooring to fit in doorways isn’t the easiest task, so you may prefer to start with it, rather than end with it. 

8. Use Duct Tape to Prevent Splintering When Cutting Boards

A trick to prevent splintering is to mark where you need to cut with duct tape and cut with the finished side up. Start by trimming the tongues off of all the boards that will edge the first wall. You can cut laminate flooring with a utility knife, circular saw, miter saw, hand saw, or laminate cutter. 

9. Cut the First and Last Rows First

Just like starting a jigsaw puzzle, this helps you frame your layout and establish a straight line. Once you've established how you want the flooring to directionally go, interlock your laminate floor pieces together to create a long plank. Then fill in your first row along the wall with custom-cut pieces.

10. Leave a Small Gap Between the Boards and the Wall

When putting down your first row, work your way from the right side of the room to the left. Be sure to leave a gap between the boards and the wall. The gap size varies by material type but is usually 0.25 inch to 0.375 inch—be sure to follow your manufacturer’s specific directions. 

Laying down a spacer of scrap wood in this groove between the flooring and the wall will help you ensure that the gap is evenly maintained all the way down. Leave a gap at each end of the boards flanking walls as well, since the gap needs to be even all the way around the room.

11. Join Boards with Less Effort Using a Hammer or Tapping Block

As you go, lock the grooves of the boards together using a hammer or a tapping block. You can also tap the planks with a rubber mallet to ensure the end joints are locked together. The joints should be snug with no space between them.

12. Stagger Boards for a Natural Look and More Stable Flooring

Install the remaining rows using the same tactic you used to install the first row, remembering to stagger the boards as you go. In addition to being aesthetically pleasing, staggering gives the flooring more stability. You will need your hammer or tapping block to link the rows together as you go. 

13. Prevent Warping by Eliminating Any Spaces That Could Allow Moisture Under the Floor

Because laminate flooring is particularly susceptible to water damage, leaving no gaps where moisture might damage the floor is essential. You need to remove the spacers and install new baseboards when you’ve finished installing your boards. If you leave the spacers in, you risk your perfect new floor warping over time, so don’t skip this step. 

Installing laminate flooring yourself is a less costly option than hiring a local laminate flooring pro, and the process can be smooth and easy if you know the proper steps.

14. Maintain Centered Lines with a Laser-Level or Chalk Lines

One of the possible worst-case scenarios with installing laminate flooring would be to look at a freshly completed room and notice that all of the planks were laid at an angle. Not only would you have to pull up the pieces, but you may also have some material waste from improper measurements. To prevent this, frequently spot-check your work by snapping down periodic chalk lines or setting up a laser level to verify that your lines are parallel and correctly centered.

15. Use Transition Strips at Doorways

When installing laminate flooring in only one area of the home, you should take care to install transition strips on any doorways that don’t lead to a room with the same flooring. This step gives a clean look when you’re walking from one room to the other.

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