Whenever you’re beginning a new floor remodel, it can be hard to know where to start, especially with so many floor covering materials available. Determining which flooring option is right for your project is an important first step. But in order to decide what floor covering to go with, you need to know the merits of your options – their pros and cons – so that you can be the most informed consumer possible. Floor Coverings International of East Bay and Pleasanton is here to help you in that regard, which is why we’ve written this post with everything you could ever want to know about linoleum flooring.

What is Linoleum Flooring?

Linoleum is a resilient flooring material, in the same category as vinyl or cork. ‘Resilient’ here means that the floor is softer and more flexible than harder floor covering options such as hardwood or tile, and ‘bounces back’ to its original shape in the face of indentation. Linoleum is made of solidified linseed oil as the primary ingredient, but also contains wood flour, pine rosin, and cork dust. Linoleum is considered to be a highly durable flooring option, and it is available in a huge variety of patterns, colors, and sizes. There are two main types of linoleum: sheet linoleum (which comes in a roll) and linoleum tile. Linoleum is often confused with vinyl, and while the materials are similar, they are not the same thing. In fact, vinyl flooring’s rise to popularity in the 1950’s was in large part responsible for the decline of linoleum’s own popularity. These days linoleum is enjoying renewed interest, as the effort to be ecofriendly has consumers turning to floor coverings made from renewable resources, such as linoleum. Linoleum’s basic ingredient, linseed oil, is made from flax. Linoleum tends to be very middle of the road in terms of price, being more expensive that vinyl, but significantly cheaper than materials such as hardwood or tile.

The History of Linoleum Flooring

Linoleum was invented by Frederick Walton in 1855. Walton happened to note that when he left the linseed oil he was using as a paint-thinner out overnight, a rubbery skin of solidified linseed oil formed on top. Noting that this could be a good replacement for rubber, Walton began to experiment with the linseed oil, testing oxidation and trying new methods. In 1860 he received his first patent, but continued to improve on the product and manufacturing process, until he found a new process and gained a second patent in 1863. For this new material he came up with the name Linoleum, derived from the Latin linum (“flax”) and oleum (“oil”). The next year he established the Linoleum Manufacturing Company Ltd. in Staines, England. As linoleum grew in popularity as a flooring option, other manufacturers began to experiment with linoleum, while Walton expanded linoleum exports to the Continent and America. By 1872 Walton had opened the American Linoleum Manufacturing Company on Staten Island. Walton, who saw that his competitors were becoming successful, filed a suit for trademark infringement against Michael Nairn & Co., for their use of the word Linoleum. The court ruled against him though, deciding that the term linoleum was so widely used that it had become generic, making linoleum the first product name to become a generic term. Linoleum, throughout the late 19th century and early to mid-20th century, was considered a durable, cost effective floor covering that was used in hospitals, schools, businesses, and homes. Linoleum was substituted for wood by the US and Marine Navy as flooring for their ships and submarines, although after Pearl Harbor most linoleum decks were removed by the US Navy for fear of being too flammable. Up until the 1950’s, linoleum was a completely ubiquitous flooring option. But the rise of vinyl as a cheaper alternative to linoleum saw it fade from popularity. Armstrong stopped manufacturing linoleum all together for a period of 25 years, and many manufacturers let their own linoleum patents lapse, an act they have likely come to regret now that linoleum use is on the rise again. Today the Dutch company Forbo Flooring is the primary manufacturer of linoleum flooring, sold under the trademarked name of Marmoleum.

Disadvantages of Linoleum Flooring

Let’s get the disadvantages of linoleum out of the way first, before we move on to its pros. Linoleum is often compared to vinyl because they are similar flooring options, but vinyl is cheaper than linoleum, and has greater translucency and brightness. It is also more fire resistant than linoleum is. Linoleum is a resilient floor covering, and like all resilient flooring, it can be torn or scratched by things like dragged furniture or stiletto heels. When linoleum is first installed it can emit linseed scents, which, though harmless, can be annoying to some. These linseed fumes usually last between a week and a month following the installation of linoleum flooring. Another post-install thing to watch out for is ‘ambering.’ Linoleum will amber when it is exposed to light, with subtle yellow tones coming out. This is especially visible in pale linoleum, so it is important to test a sample of the linoleum you’re interested in for ambering, to see whether you like the result or not. There is sealed linoleum and there is unsealed linoleum. While sealed linoleum will wear well over time, unsealed linoleum will need periodic waxing and buffing in order to keep it in its best condition. While linoleum has a very long lifespan, it does tend to show its age, growing dingy and yellowish over time if it is not well maintained.

Advantages of Linoleum Flooring

Now that we’ve gotten the bad stuff out of the way, let’s take a look at the things which make linoleum a great flooring option. Linoleum is a great choice primarily because it is affordable, durable, versatile, easy to install, and ecofriendly. Linoleum is much cheaper than floor covering options such as hardwood or tile, and while it is more expensive than vinyl, it will last twice as long, so in the long run it is a better bargain. If properly maintained, linoleum can last for 40 years or more. Linoleum is incredibly durable, being fairly water resistant and easy to clean. After the initial ambering process, linoleum can retain its original appearance for most of its lifespan. Unlike vinyl, where the pattern is created by a photographic decal underneath a clear wear layer, linoleum’s color permeates the entire flooring, so wear and tear won’t lessen the pattern and design. Sealed linoleum holds up incredibly well to scratches and scuffs, so you won’t have to worry about that either. Linoleum offers a huge variety of style options. You can choose between sheet linoleum or tile linoleum and create all sorts of patterns and colors in order to fit any design aesthetic. Another great aspect of linoleum is how easy it is to install compared to other flooring options. Sheet linoleum has a leg up on floorings such as tile, where you end up with a huge mess after grouting, and tile linoleum is often self-adhesive, or might even require no adhesive if you get floating linoleum of the click and lock variety. Much less material is used, as it is easy to cut linoleum to size in the room with only a razor. This is because Linoleum is a softer material, so standing on it for long periods of time won’t cause sore feet. One of the best aspects of linoleum, as well as one of the reasons for its return to prominence, is that linoleum is an ecofriendly material. Linseed oil, the primary ingredient in linoleum, is made from flax, which is a renewable resource. Linoleum is biodegradable and doesn’t emit Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs). It is also non-allergenic. Fun fact: linoleum is often used by break dancers as an alternative to cardboard, as it provides a large, slick and durable surface. If you feel like Linoleum is right for you, schedule a free in-home consultation with Floor Coverings International of East Bay and Pleasanton today!