“Nothing matches the warmth and feel of real wood,” says John Cole, a Fryeburg, Maine, architect who specializes in vacation homes in the mountains and along the state’s coast. Many of his clients agree, installing wood flooring in their homes despite the sand, mud, moisture, and road salt that get tracked in year-round, threatening a floor’s finish.

In CR's flooring lab, we put prefinished solid hardwood—along with engineered wood, laminate, vinyl, and porcelain tile—through a battery of tests to determine which materials stand up to foot traffic, scratching, stains, UV rays, and more. On the whole, we found that hardwood flooring didn't perform as well as other flooring types; it's more prone to denting and more susceptible to wear from foot traffic.

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That doesn't change the fact that wood often wins: According to market-research firm Mintel's 2016 report on residential flooring, wood outsells every other hard-surface flooring option. While certain flooring types prove superior in certain rooms, homeowners often install hardwood across the ground floor. If nothing but wood will do, take some steps to protect wood floors in the kitchen and throughout a ground floor.

With wood, “the best offense is a good defense,” Cole explains.

Design Entrances That Help Contain Potential Damage

A tiled mudroom with a metal grate for scraping shoes and built-in benches and cabinets that encourage leaving footwear at the door will minimize wear. (At the top of our tile ratings, Lumber Liquidators Avella Brazilian Cherry flooring mimics the look of real wood.)

Strategically Place Area Rugs and Runners

These will protect parts of the floor where, say, the family pet likes to lie or areas prone to drops, spills, and splashes during meal prep.

Don’t Forget Window Treatments

Not all threats to a hardwood floor come from dragging furniture or treading feet. You might love a room flooded with natural light, but our tests revealed that ultraviolet rays can take a toll on many wood floors. Keep shades down, when possible, to minimize UV exposure.