Before you buy laminate flooring, it’s important to understand how well-suited your selection is to its intended application. Determining a laminate floor’s AC rating and knowing what it means is extremely important. 

This article explains what you need to know about AC ratings. By applying this information, you can select a laminate flooring product that’s best suited to the type of conditions and traffic you have in mind.  

What Is The AC Rating On Laminate Flooring?

“AC” rating, also referred to as “abrasion criteria”, “abrasion class”, or “abrasion coefficient” is a rating scale that was created by the European Producers of Laminate Floors (EPLF).  

The rating scale is used to define the durability of a laminate floor product’s wear layer. This rating is an internationally accepted industry classification.

In the U.S., the authority that oversees the assignment of AC ratings is the North American Laminate Flooring Association (NALFA

How Are AC Ratings Determined?

Laminate flooring products are subjected to rigorous testing in order to determine a product’s AC rating. This testing involves exposure to various conditions and extremes that mimic real-life conditions and situations. NALFA engages the services of an independent laboratory to test laminate flooring products. 

Based on how it holds up to testing, a product’s wear resistance is then assigned a rating. The rating defines the type of setting the product is best suited to. 

To be clear, the testing process is no cakewalk. Laminate flooring products must undergo testing in fourteen different categories in order to be considered for any kind of AC rating. The testing categories are as follow:

  • Static Load
  • Thickness Swell
  • Light Resistance
  • Cleanability/Stain Resistance
  • Large Ball Impact Resistance
  • Small Ball Impact Resistance
  • Wear Resistance
  • Dimensional Tolerance
  • Castor Chair Resistance
  • Surface Bond
  • Formaldehyde
  • Flatness
  • Openings
  • Ledging

What Are The Different AC Ratings For Laminate Flooring? 

In the U.S., the AC rating scale ranges in number from one to six with six being the most durable. 

In Europe, the scale range is 21 to 34 with 34 being the most durable. 

The European scale is similar to the U.S. scale in that the numbers fall into six different classifications. 

An important thing to note is that ratings are not determined by figuring a product’s performance on the whole. A product’s rating is based on the lowest score when subjected to the listed extremes. 

For instance, if a product rates 6 in all categories and rates 1 in another category, it’s rated AC-1. 

More importantly, if a product’s performance fails in one of the categories, it is considered to have failed altogether. 

In this case, testing is halted and no rating is awarded. 

As some laminate floor producers are located in Europe, Pergo for instance, the table below offers the AC ratings in European and U.S. formats:

Class (US) Class (EUR) Area of useINTENSITY OF USEDescription
of use
Where to use
121Domestic, light usePrivateModerateBedrooms, Guest rooms
222Domestic,
normal, everyday use
PrivateAverageLiving room, Dining room, Hallways
323Domestic
high-traffic, intense use
PrivateHighStairways, Entry halls, Kitchen
431Commercial
light use
Private & publicModerateHotel rooms, Conference rooms, Small offices, Waiting rooms
532Commercial
normal everyday use
Private & publicAverageKindergarten, Offices, Public areas, Hotel lobbies, Stores
633 + 34Commercial
high-traffic, intense use
Private & publicHighSupermarkets, Large offices, Shopping malls, Classroom

When you shop for laminate floors, you might see AC ratings that look like this: “AC-4 (31)” or “AC 4-31”. 

In such cases, the first digit (4) indicates the AC rating in the U.S format. The second and third digits (31) indicate the AC rating in the European format.  

As long as you don’t see something like “AC 6-21”, the use of both formats to indicate an AC rating presents no cause for concern. 

Why Isn’t Laminate Floor’s Thickness Figured Into Its AC Rating? 

Thickness plays very little part in the durability of a laminate floor once it’s installed. 

Granted, the thickness of the floorboards is important in terms of dimensional stability and rigidity. These structural aspects are especially important when installing a floor over a surface that’s flawed or somewhat bumpy. 

In such cases, thicker floors are more forgiving. But thicker floorboards don’t necessarily indicate a more durable wear layer. The durability of a floor’s wear layer is unrelated to its thickness. 

The thing that determines the performance of a laminate floor product is what the surface layer is made of. The surface of a laminate floor is the part that’s tested for wear resistance because this is the part that’s exposed to various real-life challenges. 

Also, the durability of a laminate floor’s wear layer is directly related to its lifespan. Its thickness is not.

How Does Formaldehyde Figure Into Laminate Floors’ AC Rating? 

One of the conditions of compliance with NALFA standards is that manufacturers provide proof that their products comply with U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and California Air Resources Board (CARB) regulations as applicable to residual formaldehyde content. 

By submitting proof of compliance in the form of third-party verification, formaldehyde content testing is not required. 

That said, residual formaldehyde is normally found in the composite materials that make up the core of the floorboards. So, technically, because it isn’t related to the wear layer, the core of the floorboard isn’t involved in the AC-rating determination process.   

Nevertheless, NALFA is committed to the production of sustainable, environmentally safe flooring. So, it naturally follows that NALFA requires proof of a product’s compliance with EPA and CARB regulations before awarding its seal of approval. 

After all, sustainable and environmentally safe is what laminate floors are

Don’t Just Consider AC Rating When Shopping For Laminate Floors

If you intend to buy laminate floors, then you’ve probably already considered all the benefits of laminate floors that no other flooring solution can boast. 

There’s the fact that laminate floors are more durable and less prone to scratches than hardwood floors. They come in all kinds of colors and textures, and laminate floorboards are available in different widths (and the wider kind make installation move along more quickly!), and now you know all about AC ratings.  

So, what else could there possibly be to consider? 

(Psssst! The warranty!)

The manufacturer’s warranty. 

Depending on the laminate floor you buy, the duration of the warranty can be anywhere from five years to a lifetime. 

However, there are things a warranty doesn’t cover. Many things. 

Thoroughly understanding all the intricate details and limitations contained in a warranty can be sort of tricky. So here’s the short version of a long list of items not covered by most laminate flooring product warranties: 

Initially, this might be a bit depressing, but it makes good sense. 

Essentially, no matter the AC rating, if it’s improperly installed, improperly cared for, or mistreated, it isn’t covered. But that’s all. 

If you think about it, laminate floors are manufactured with durability in mind. The same can’t be said of trees, marble, stone, porcelain, or clay.  

So, with laminate floors, you only need to do two things to keep from voiding the warranty; 1) Buy flooring with an AC rating that’s appropriate for its intended use, and 2) Take care of them. 

The laminate flooring industry has made sure these two things are very easy to manage.