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Linoleum vs. Vinyl Flooring (What’s the difference?)

Linoleum vs. Vinyl Flooring (What's the difference?)Linoleum and vinyl. Vinyl and linoleum. If you’re like most people, you might think they are the same thing. But in reality, they could not be more different. They are two very different products from two very different times.

Linoleum flooring was the first on the scene and has been a workhorse in homes and industrial settings for over 150 years. Then almost 100 years later vinyl flooring came along bringing new styles and patterns to the scene. Each one has its advantages and disadvantages, so do you know which flooring material is right for you?

What is Linoleum?

Linoleum was invented in 1860 by Englishman Frederick Walton. Quite by accident, he noticed that dried linseed-oil formed a strong, yet flexible film of the top of an oil-based paint can. He spent nearly a decade toying with the process by adding natural ingredients like pine rosin, ground cork dust, wood flour, and a canvas or juke backing to the dried linseed-oil he patented linoleum.

Linoleum was slow to take off, but eventually became an affordable flooring alternative for homes and businesses. Compared to other flooring options of the time like hardwood and tile, linoleum provided better moisture resistance and a lower price. Combine that with today’s focus on natural materials that are eco-friendly and linoleum is one mean, green flooring option.

Linoleum is considered a resilient flooring like vinyl and creates a soft surface to walk and work on. Because of this characteristic, it was installed on most US Navy ships and is still used on submarines today. Its popularity peaked in the 1950s when it was slowly replaced by the even more affordable vinyl. However, in recent years, it has reappeared as Marmoleum, which is made just the same as the original linoleum. If you’d like to purchase Marmoleum, the best pricing and selection is at Green Building Supply.

Pros of Linoleum

  • Made from only natural and biodegradable products.
  • Has color throughout its body unlike vinyl, and therefore has a much longer wear life.
  • Naturally antimicrobial, antistatic and hypoallergenic.
  • Natural materials make it stain resistant and fire retardant.
  • Relatively easy to care for and install.
  • Contributes to LEED points.
  • Excellent water resistance.

Cons of Linoleum

  • Not as readily available as vinyl.
  • Some varieties require occasional waxing.
  • More expensive than vinyl.
  • Less color and pattern options than vinyl.

What is Vinyl?

Vinyl flooring was introduced to the public at the 1933 World’s Fair in Chicago. It was relatively easy to install and could be purchased in tiles, or as a large sheet that was cut to size, much like linoleum.

Damaged asbestos vinyl flooring
Be careful of older (pre 1980) vinyl because it may contain asbestos

In the lean times of the Great Depression and WWII, a very inexpensive flooring option like vinyl was bound to catch on, and it did. However, it wasn’t until the 1950s and 1960s when vinyl really began to appear in homes across America.

Vinyl flooring is made from a combination of several chemicals. Ethylene (a petroleum byproduct) and chlorine, which adds stability and and gives vinyl its heat resistance. Vinyl is very similar in its composition to PVC (polyvinyl chloride).

With the relative abundance of fossil fuels, vinyl could be inexpensively and quickly manufactured. It is made up of several layers of the material with the top, or wear layer, being the one with the color or easily stamped patterns that became so popular.

Pros of Vinyl

  • Very inexpensive.
  • Easy installation and care.
  • Wide availability at home stores and suppliers.
  • Wide variety of colors and patterns.
  • Excellent moisture resistance.

Cons of Vinyl

  • Made from non-renewable petroleum products.
  • Wear layer is thinner than linoleum and does not stand up to heavy traffic as well.
  • Prior to the 1980s many vinyl floor tiles contained asbestos.
  • Emits small amount of VOC’s (Volatile Organic Compounds) into the living space.

Who knows, you may have one or both already in your house. However, for historic homes built before the 1950s, linoleum is the only period appropriate resilient flooring. It’s safer for your family in many ways, easier on the environment, and not much more expensive than vinyl. I like it enough that I installed it in my own home in our guest house project which I’m excited to share with y’all in the next couple months!

What’s more important to you, cost, quality, or green building products?
Image credit: refugebuilding.com & Scott Sidler
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19 thoughts on “Linoleum vs. Vinyl Flooring (What’s the difference?)

  1. The part of your article that states that vinyl flooring has great resistance to moisture on top of having wide color and pattern variety really caught my eye. Leyla, my sister-in-law, has decided to sink some of her savings into a house remodel before she goes on a long vacation period and she’s been mulling over her choices of what flooring material to use. Considering that her part of the country ends up having a lot more rain than other parts do, the reasons you stated may be good enough for her to consider Vinyl Flooring, so I’ll be on the lookout for contractors who offer it.

  2. Hi I have a open fire. We do have a good fire guard but it’s not impossible for the fire to spit on to the floor. I never leave the fire burning when going to bed or out of the house. Do you think linoleum floor would be a safe enough option. Thanks lisa.

  3. We’re having the flooring in our laundry room replaced and I just came across your article. How does linoleum hold up in a laundry room? My husband remembers his parents having it in their laundry room without any problems but the flooring company guy who was just here recommended sheet vinyl and said marmoleum wouldn’t be water-resistant enough.

  4. Hi Scott! Thanks so much for this great article. We have an uneven cement floor that was/is layered with vinyl tiles we’re mostly done removing. There’s atill a layer of glue in a lot of places. My girl says the best affordable idea is to paint it over, but I was recommended linoleum. Is laying it over an uneven surface advisable? Thanks, man!

  5. Nice article! The info is not 100% accurate though. Linoleum will burn as well. Otherwise they would have fire suits made of linoleum.

  6. We just bought a 1925 house and all my Google searches keep bringing me to you! Our house han an unfortunate charm-ectomy at some point and was totally gutted and redone so we’re working to add some cuteness back in bits and pieces. We are getting the original fir floors redone (which thankfully were still there). They took up a bunch of laminate, which spanned the original living room and an added on entryway. Unfortunately when they removed the flooring from the entryway, he found that the joists in the entryway run the same direction as the floorboards and the only subfloor is plywood, so they can’t/won’t extend the hardwood. They said it would be a major construction project to fix the joists (not in the budget right now), and that to add wood or tile in its current state would require adding another layer of subfloor, which would make the difference between the floors too great for a reducing transition. He said my only option would be vinyl and is recommending stone-look luxury vinyl tile. I am looking for a second opinion and thinking linoleum might be an acceptable flooring? I’m glad to hear it’s more authentic to the era of house (even if it’s not typical for entryways).

  7. I pulled up the sheet vinyl in my mom’s bathroom and discovered a beautiful (and even shiny) floor beneath it. Given the intricate design and having read your blog I am guessing it too is vinyl. The house was built in the 1970s. How do I remove the glue and residual backing of the top layer from this original floor and restore it?

  8. I was skeptic about linoleum and it was hard to find quality info about both good and bad sides of it. You blog provided it, so thank you for sharing.

  9. Thanks for the great info Scott! What really concerns me now is that we may release asbestos when we replace our floor! We have a 9 month old baby and I’m scared to touch it.

    We recently purchased a 1950s home and the kitchen floor has very old fading vinyl tiles. My husband pulled up a couple pieces and it appears there are 4 more layers underneath! He said the last two layers look like whole sheets of either vinyl or linoleum.

    We are saving to renovate the kitchen in about 5 years and would appreciate your advice on our options to replace the flooring for now. There are gaps between the tiles and the glue is constantly making our feet sticky and gross. We were going to buy new groutable vinyl tiles at Home Depot and just put it on top of everything but the flooring guy there said not to put more than 3 layers. Since there’s already 5 layers we’re afraid adding another layer may not work. Please help. Thank you!!

    1. Doris, If it were my house I would take a sample of each layer of flooring and have it tested for asbestos. That way you know what you are getting into. Depending on how the tests come back you can have a clearer picture of what you’ll need to do to proceed and what the costs will be.

  10. Linoleum is a floor covering made from renewable materials such as solidified linseed oil (linoxyn), pine rosin, ground cork dust, wood flour, and mineral fillers such as calcium carbonate, most commonly on a burlap or canvas backing; pigments are often added to the materials. Thank you a lot for sharing this valuable info.

  11. Great post! I’m not even sure if I’d be able to tell the difference, so I’ll have to spend some time in a home improvement store studying! Good to know though if we ever need to replace any flooring. 🙂

    1. You may not have much luck at the home improvement stores. They’ll likely mistakenly tell you that linoleum and vinyl are the same thing. The manufacturer I buy from us Marmoleum. It is a great all natural product.

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