Begin by considering where the flooring will go and how much traffic, sunlight, and other wear and tear it will get. Vinyl proves tops in our moisture tests, and most linoleum, laminates, and solid wood fare nearly as well. But many engineered woods, along with some solid woods, and a linoleum product we've tested have flubbed that test—a serious drawback in a busy kitchen. And while the best vinyls and laminates fend off wear better than solid wood, they can't be refinished when worn.

Before settling on a product, spend a few dollars on two or three samples. That can be a lot less expensive than winding up with flooring that looks great in a catalog or on a website but awful in your home. Manufacturers generally match most solid- or engineered-wood flooring for color and grain. But variations can occur from one batch to the next, so buy the flooring you'll need all at once. All the laminate floorboards in a package often have a similar pattern, so you may want to pull from multiple packages to reduce repetition.