Laminate flooring is a popular choice for homeowners as a cost-effective way of creating a pristine and stylish look and feel. It provides the natural appearance of wood and comes in various modern and classic color options. However, compared to hardwood floors, they are inferior in terms of overall durability and quality.
Since laminate is made partly from wood, it can be susceptible to moisture damage caused by humidity levels and water exposure. This can become dangerous if not attended to over an extended period. If the damage is not too severe, you may be able to repair the floor rather than replace it. Here’s how to get it done.
Reasons That Laminate Floors Swell
Swelling is a general term used to describe when laminate floors rise and create an uneven surface, usually as a result of exposure to moisture. These are the most common reasons it happens:
- Undetected moisture – Excessive moisture in the air and subfloors cause the floorboard (generally the edges) to rise.
- Direct water damage – This is the most common reason, resulting from the occasional spill or liquids being left on the surface for too long before being removed.
- Installation – Poor construction and installation of the product can lead to a loss of integrity, which may cause it to buckle and bubble.
- Waterproofing – Poor moisture barriers such as laminate underlayment beneath the laminate floor may allow moisture to seep into the floorboard, causing irreversible damage.
- Delamination – When the laminate base becomes compromised, it will begin to puff, causing minor swelling.
- Expansion joints – When laminate planks are installed in large sizes, air can often get trapped beneath them. Expansion joints and gaps between planks allow for the trapped air to escape. The laminate planks will swell if these gaps are not present or are too tight.
Type of Laminate Floor Swelling
Swelling caused by moisture in the floor will likely show itself in one of two ways:
- Laminate floor bubbles – When laminate floorboards are affected by moisture in the air – subfloor or surface – it causes swelling and creates bubbles.
- Laminate flooring swells – Larger surface areas affected by moisture will cause the floorboard to expand and create a hump-like shape.
In either case, there is a way to repair it without having to rip it up altogether.
Laminate Floor Repair
Step 1 – Inspect the Area
First, you want to inspect the entire floor around and adjacent to the affected area to identify:
- The source of the moisture
- The extent of the damage (floors, walls, pipes, etc.)
- Any other areas that may show signs of water damage
If the source of the moisture is not evident at first, then there are a few other things you can consider checking, such as leaking pipes, faulty appliances, and the humidity level in the room where the swelling occurred.
Step 2 – Stop the Source
There’s not much sense in repairing the affected area if there’s a good chance it will swell again. Therefore, the next step is to ensure that the source of the problem is completely removed. If the issue was caused due to a spill or standing water from a leaking appliance, this is significantly easier to resolve than a burst pipe running beneath the laminate board. Take extra care to clear out all standing water and run your vacuum cleaner over the gaps and crevices between the planks to draw out any excess liquid.
Before you start tearing up your floorboards and searching for a pipe leak, you may want to first consider if the swelling may have been caused due to the humidity level in the room. Wood naturally expands in warmer temperatures and could be the likely culprit of your problem. It may prove much easier and less expensive to try ventilating the room better or adjusting the temperature on your thermostat and monitoring the issue over a couple of days to see if it improves.
Once you’ve identified and stopped the source of the moisture, be sure to allow the entire area to dry completely before starting your repairs.
Step 3 – Dry the Laminate Floors
Next, you want to dry the actual laminate boards and try to remove the moisture that has already soaked into them. If the affected area is relatively small, an easy way to do this is with a hairdryer. Apply the warm air directly to the affected area, and after a little while, you should notice it start to contract.
If the affected area is larger or in multiple spots, you can use a humidifier to get excess moisture out of the air and then start evaporating the moisture from the floorboard. Once you’ve allowed the humidifier to run for a period, you can test the area by stepping on the affected area lightly to test. This is what you’re looking for:
- Is any excess water or moisture coming up through the cracks or crevices between the boards?
- Can you hear the sound of moisture when you step on the affected area?
- Does the swell remain the same size when you step on it?
If you answer “Yes” to any of these questions, the floor has not fully dried yet and will likely swell again. Allow the humidifier to continue working and consider adding an additional aid such as turning up the heat on the thermostat a little.
Step 4 – Flatten the Surface
If you are experiencing a bubbling issue, you can start by piercing the air bubbles and releasing the air trapped within before flattening the surface. For smaller areas, this can be done by placing a heavy object on them, such as a chest of drawers. However, for larger surfaces and swells, it’s best to use a small roller weighing no more than 100 pounds to flatten the entire surface evenly.
Step 5 – Check the Gaps
The final and often most overlooked step involves one last inspection of the floor once it is repaired and dry. This time, you’re looking at the gaps around the perimeter of the floor where the laminate boards meet the molding to ensure that there are sufficient enough gaps to allow the floor to move naturally.
If there are insufficient expansion gaps, you may be required to cut new gaps as it could lead to buckling in the future and affect undamaged floorboards.
Tips for Maintaining Your Laminate Floors
- Sweep with the grain to remove more dirt from textured boards.
- Mats are a great way to pick up any additional moisture and dirt before they reach your floors.
- Use a vacuum to clean between gaps and around beveled edges.
- Soap-based products can dull the surface of laminate floors over time. Instead, make use of warm water and a good floor cleaning product.
Laminate floors are a great way to give your home the same look and feel as hardwood floors for a fraction of the cost. However, due to their structure, they are typically less durable and much more likely to show signs of moisture build-up fairly easily in the form of bubbles and swelling. Repairing laminate floors successfully relies heavily on your ability to identify the source of the problem and deal with it effectively. Failure to do so will result in the problem reoccurring, compromising the floorboards and possibly making it extremely dangerous.