Vinyl is one of the most waterproof flooring materials. Because the top layer is nonporous, it doesn’t absorb much water and stands up to the wettest environments. Therefore, you might wonder, “Can vinyl flooring be used outdoors?”

Why Install Flooring Outdoors?

When you think of outdoor flooring, you might picture pavers, flagstones, concrete or brick—some of the materials that typically make up a patio. But some people want to make their outdoor environment feel more like an extension of their home. In that case, you might want to consider some different flooring options to breach that transition.

You might consider vinyl flooring as an attractive and functional option for your outdoor spaces. It provides a comfortable surface underfoot, warms the space visually and protects the surfaces beneath it from rain and moisture. Vinyl stays cool in warm temperature and is softer to walk on than stone or ceramic tile. It also can’t give you splinters, like wood flooring can.

But you probably wouldn’t want to install vinyl flooring outdoors over an uncovered patio. If vinyl is exposed to direct sunlight, rain and all of the other factors that the weather brings, it may not last very long. Therefore, you might be able to install vinyl flooring outdoors if the area is protected from the elements. 

Some locations that might be perfect for outdoor vinyl flooring include:

  • Sunrooms
  • Screened-in porches
  • Covered porches, patios and decks
  • Sheds

Understanding Vinyl Flooring

There are several types of manmade flooring, including laminate, engineered hardwood and vinyl. Each of these is made with layers of different materials that are fused together to produce a plank, tile or sheet of flooring. Whereas laminate and engineered hardwood include wood products, which are porous and absorb moisture, vinyl is made almost entirely of water-resistant materials.

The rigid core of vinyl flooring is typically made of one of the following materials:

  • Wood plastic core or wood composite core – This is made of a combination of PVC, a type of vinyl, and wood dust. It provides strength and some water resistance.
  • Stone plastic composite – A blend of PVC, stone, limestone or cement particles and plasticizers, this type of core is strong, stable and water resistant.

The top layer of vinyl flooring is the wear layer. This is a clear coating that is applied to the surface of the material to protect it from spills, scratches and other types of wear. Read the manufacturer’s description to learn more about the layers on a vinyl floor that you intend to install outdoors. You’ll need a product that’s highly resistant to moisture as well as sunlight. Some types of vinyl have thicker, more protective wear layers than others.

Understanding Your Outdoor Area

There are three main challenges to installing vinyl flooring outdoors:

  • Sunlight
  • Heat
  • Water
  • Temperature changes

Before investing the time and money to lay vinyl outdoors, you should evaluate the condition of the space. Take some time to watch what happens in different weather conditions. Does water pour onto a certain spot? Are there puddles after a rainstorm? 

Vinyl flooring isn’t designed to withstand high levels of moisture. A plume of water coming from the gutter can quickly work its way into the seams of the material, affecting its bond with the subflooring and creating mold and mildew problems. Standing water can generate mold growth on the surface, which quickly becomes slippery and unattractive. Snow buildup also promotes moisture damage.

Sunlight can also destroy the vinyl. UV rays fade the finish and make the vinyl brittle over time. Therefore, unless your outdoor area is shaded, vinyl flooring may not be the best option. 

Heat from grills and outdoor fireplaces also affects vinyl flooring. It can scorch the finish, creating blisters and discoloration. You may not want to install vinyl flooring in areas where you’ll be burning wood or charcoal. 

Vinyl flooring is best used in temperature-controlled spaces. Therefore, you would have better results installing it in a sunroom that has heat and air conditioning than around your outdoor hot tub. Vinyl expands when it’s exposed to heat and contracts when it’s cold. 

Extreme, frequent shifts in temperature can make the vinyl crack and gap at the seams. Temperature changes can also reduce the adhesive bond that secures the vinyl to the substrate.

If you decide to use vinyl flooring outdoors, you can easily replace planks and tiles as they become damaged. But you may have trouble matching the finish. Outdoor vinyl is likely to change in color and texture as a result of its exposure to the elements. A new piece might stand out like a sore thumb. 

Can You Install Vinyl Flooring Over a Deck?

If you want to make your deck look more formal, you may have considered alternatives to traditional decking material. Many people wonder if they can install luxury vinyl planks (LVP) or luxury vinyl tile (LVT) over a deck. 

This is not recommended unless the deck is protected by walls and a roof. In fact, many manufacturers indicate that you should not install LVP or LVT outdoors. Doing so may void the warranty. 

However, there is a wide variety of vinyl deck products that are intended for this type of use. These are designed to withstand exposure to sun, heat, rain and snow. Vinyl deck boards look like wood but are nonporous and won’t rot in wet climates. 

Vinyl decking membranes are waterproof sheets that cover existing decking materials. They provide a waterproof surface and are printed in a variety of colors and designs for an attractive look.

Downsides to Using Vinyl Flooring Outdoors

It’s tough to find a completely waterproof outdoor flooring solution that’s not too hard or slippery. Every type of flooring, including wood decking, has pros and cons for use outside. But vinyl may have more disadvantages than benefits. 

  • Moisture damage to your home – Vinyl collects water. If it’s not installed properly, it could direct rainflow to the foundation of your home, creating serious structural issues. If it’s installed over a deck with an exposed underside, it can trap moisture underneath and rot the joists.
  • Damage from high traffic – The surface of vinyl is much softer than stone, tile or even wood. It’s not compatible with patio furniture. Dragging heavy chairs with sharp metal feet across outdoor vinyl flooring will create scratches and dents. Lawn care equipment can create ruts and discoloration.
  • Adhesion problems – It’s difficult to securely bond an outdoor vinyl floor to the underlayment. The elements impair the action of the adhesive, and the vinyl can easily tear away. This creates falling hazards for anyone who wants to enjoy your outdoor space.
  • Trouble finding a contractor – You may not be able to find a professional to install indoor vinyl in an outdoor area. However, this is a relatively affordable and easy job to do yourself. If you’re willing to risk the drawbacks of using vinyl flooring outdoors, feel free to experiment. 

Alternatives to Outdoor Vinyl Flooring

There are better options than vinyl for outdoor spaces. Hardwood is a classic choice, but it’s not the most water-resistant material. If safety is important, you might want to install plastic pavers around hot tubs and pool areas. These control moisture and have a non-slip surface. Poured concrete can produce surprisingly attractive designs. Stone and tile are likely the most weather-proof outdoor flooring materials that will stand up to the weather as well as heavy use.