Why is my laminate flooring separating?

Why is my laminate flooring separating?

Laminate flooring is a highly popular flooring choice: it’s low-maintenance, beautiful, and mimics the look and feel of solid wood flooring at an appealing price. If installed and cared for correctly, it can look as good as the day it was installed for decades. However, if mistakes occur during installation, or if it isn’t maintained properly, faults and problems can develop, such as laminate floor separating.

When your laminate flooring begins separating, it will show up as shrinking – this is often apparent when your laminate floor is separating on the long side (longitudinal gaps), or when the laminate floor separates on the short side or the ends of the planks (lateral gaps). When you begin to see these cracks and gaps appearing, it’s time to take action!

We’re going to take you through the different reasons why your laminate flooring keeps separating, how to go fix these problems, and the tools you’ll need. Then we’ll give you a rundown on how to ensure that your flooring doesn’t separate again.

Why is my laminate floor separating?

All flooring is supposed to move a little bit, particularly wood-based flooring – which needs to acclimatise to the room, as the wood can swell and shrink depending on the temperature and humidity.

Noticeable gaps, however, aren’t normal. Possible causes include:

  • A faulty locking mechanism
  • Uneven subfloor
  • Over-expansion

These faults can cause other problems in addition to your laminate floor separating. You may notice your laminate flooring lifting, bouncing, or even feeling spongy. You can consult our laminate flooring guides in our Ideas Hub for help.

How to repair laminate flooring that is separating

As soon as you spot any signs of your laminate boards shifting away from their usual look, you need to address it quickly, with the help of a professional if you need it.

Tapi Top Tip – if you decide to try to tackle the problem yourself, always remember your safety equipment, including goggles, gloves, and a mask if you are cutting laminate boards. 

Locking mechanism problem

Laminate is usually made with a click mechanism that locks straight once snapped together. If your laminate boards are separating, it’s possible that the edges simply didn’t engage properly when the flooring was laid. However, it’s worth noting that sometimes your boards may have separated because the locking mechanism is faulty or broken. This can happen either during installation if you’re too rough with the boards when placing them together, or if your floor becomes too bouncy and snaps under the pressure. But you probably won’t be able to tell if the problem is a simple, easily corrected misalignment or serious damage until either you or a professional tries to put the pieces back together.  

It’s important to observe which side of the board the gaps appear on – whether the laminate floor separates on the long side (longitudinal gaps) or the short side of the planks (lateral gaps).

How to fix a locking mechanism problem

For laminate that has separated or moved at the short end of the plank, the process is a little easier, as you only need to reattach a smaller surface area. Carefully remove the skirting board or scotia on the wall closest to the gap. If the gap is only one plank away from the wall, you may be able to simply lift the board and slot it or tap it back into place. If the problem is further into the room, you will have to lift more boards to reach it. Pay attention as you do so to how the boards click together, whether sliding into place or clicking in at an angle.

If your laminate has moved from the longer side (longitudinal gaps) and you want to try to fix it yourself, you’ll still have to start by removing the skirting board or scotia. Carefully take up the boards until you reach the gap and clean the edges with a cotton bud to remove any debris or dust. See if the boards now lock together correctly.

If during this you discover the boards simply won’t click together due to damage, unfortunately, they’ll have to be replaced.

Uneven subfloor issue

An uneven subfloor is often the cause of most laminate flooring issues, especially laminate flooring separation. When your laminate was installed, the subfloor should have been checked to ensure it was clean, dry, and smooth. Any unevenness underneath will eventually begin to affect the planks above – you can find out more about this in our ‘What is laminate’ flooring guide.

How to fix an uneven subfloor

Tools you’ll need

  • Safety equipment
  • Spirit level or straight edge
  • Smoothing compound
  • Smoothing trowel or paddle


It’s very important to determine the type of subfloor you’re working with. Possibilities include concrete, plywood, or wood. Keep in mind that some subfloors have a finishing layer or “screed” which looks very similar to concrete but can have different requirements. It’s safest to have a professional do this, but if you do decide to go ahead with fixing your subfloor yourself, here’s how.

If you’re working with concrete, plywood sheet or screed subfloor, start by carefully removing the areas of the laminate floor that are separating. Take up the laminate boards, starting from the edge closest to the problem (there’s plenty of helpful information in our ‘how to remove laminate flooring’ guide) and roll back the underlay.

Use the spirit level or straight edge to locate the uneven areas. Mix the smoothing compound following the manufacturer’s instructions and carefully apply it in small quantities to the dips. Use the paddle to smooth it out. Allow it to dry completely. You can now replace your boards and see if they fully align.

Laminate and underlay should not be placed straight over wooden floorboards – a layer of plywood sheeting should be laid to create a completely flat surface with no gaps. If this wasn’t done when your flooring was installed. However, if the separation is only occurring in a small, localised area, you may be able to resolve the issue by simply securing down a lifting floorboard with screws or nails. Be mindful of the thickness of the floorboards and any possible pipes or wires underneath.

Over-expansion

Wood-based products shrink and expand in response to temperature and humidity. Over-expansion can happen if the laminate flooring didn’t acclimatise to the room before being installed – it should be left for 24-48 hours in the room where it will be placed to allow it to adapt to the ambient temperature and humidity of the room. 

The best way to fix an over-expansion issue that is causing separation is to ensure that your laminate boards have enough space at the edge of the room to move freely during temperature fluxes. This is called an expansion gap, which should be between 6-10 mm. Expansion gaps should be at the walls, between rooms, around radiator pipes and at door frames too. If this is the source of your problem, the good news is that this issue can be fixed by trimming away a narrow strip of laminate at the very edges of the floor to create an expansion gap. Theoretically, it’s possible to do it yourself if you have the right tools (such as safety equipment and a multi-tool with a circular blade). Mark a line all around the room 6-10mm from the wall, then trim along the line and remove the excess. However, we’d suggest you have a professional do this as any skirting boards or scotia will have to be removed and re-attached later, which could damage either them or your plaster.

How to stop laminate flooring from separating

Laminate flooring with gaps can be costly to replace and fixing the separating floorboards one by one can be time-consuming and tedious. We’d always rather take preventative measures than make costly repairs. Below are some suggestions for preventing gaps in laminate floors:

  1. Acclimatisation - The expansion and contraction of new planks cause gaps between them if they aren't properly acclimated. Therefore, before installing a new laminate floor, you should allow the floorboards to sit in the room for at least 2 to 3 days. The planks can then acclimatize to the new temperature and humidity levels.
  2. Professional installation – You’ll benefit in the long run if you hire professionals to install your laminate wood flooring. If your subfloor is uneven, a professional installer will level it before installing the laminate floorboard.
  3. Moisture prevention – When laminate flooring is exposed to too much moisture, it can swell or warp. Any liquid spills on your laminate floor should be wiped up right away.

We hope you’re able to resolve any problems with your laminate flooring separating, but if it’s time for a new look then come down to your local Tapi store.  Our Floorologists can help you find a fantastic laminate option for your home. You can also find other guides on different issues around laminate, vinyl, and carpet in our Ideas Hub.

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