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You Really Ought to Give Linoleum a Try

May 2nd, 2024 | 8 min. read

You Really Ought to Give Linoleum a Try

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When most people think of linoleum, images of their grandmother’s outdated kitchen usually come to mind. The material—once heralded as a miracle in flooring technology—has come to be seen as a relic of a bygone era. 

Linoleum’s reputation, however, is gradually changing. In recent years, designers and building owners have been rediscovering the benefits of this material and specifying it as an eco-friendly alternative to more synthetic products. 

On every project, we encourage our clients to consider material health and the environmental impact of their selections. Some of our recent projects—including the Pella Early Learning Center—have used linoleum to promote healthier, lower-carbon interior environments. 

To help determine if this material is right for your project, this article will discuss linoleum, its benefits, and how it compares to its more popular alternative, vinyl.  

What is Linoleum? 

Linoleum is a resilient flooring product made from solidified linseed oil, pine resin, ground cork dust, and other mineral fillers. Although it typically comes in sheets, it can be poured. This process—called liquid linoleum—eliminates seams and creates a smooth surface. 

Linoleum began in the 1850s when British inventor Frederick Walton developed the material after noticing a rubbery skin of linseed oil on a can of oil-based paint. After experimenting with different applications, he filed a patent in 1860, naming his invention after the Latin words linum (flax) and oleum (oil). 

Throughout the first half of the 20th century, linoleum was seen as a wonder material—praised for its durability, cleanability, and pattern varieties. It became an interior design staple in schools, hospitals, supermarkets, and homes.   

Ultimately, linoleum’s popularity led to its downfall, and people began looking for alternative options. Today, linoleum is overshadowed by vinyl products like Luxury Vinyl Plank (LVP), but with the design industry focusing on sustainability and material health, the once-popular material is making a comeback. 

Benefits of Linoleum 

1. Sustainability 

Sustainability is one of the prime benefits of linoleum. Ingredients like linseed oil, cork, and pine resin are all-natural, renewable, and readily available. 

Compared to other popular flooring options—like concrete and vinyl—linoleum’s manufacturing process is less carbon-intensive. It’s also recyclable, and old linoleum can create new flooring. 

2. Material Health 

Linoleum’s all-natural ingredients make it a good option from a material health perspective. It works well for daycares and preschools where children spend time on the floor. Alternative materials, like vinyl, often contain chemicals like BPA, posing health risks to young occupants.

linoleum flooring in Pella Early Learning Center

Linoleum's all-natural ingredients make it safe for daycares and schools.

Similarly, linoleum is not associated with off-gassing, a phenomenon in which materials release chemicals into interior environments. Long-term exposure to off-gassing can cause short-term and chronic health problems, including headaches, shortness of breath, and asthma. 

3. Cleanability and Durability 

Another benefit of linoleum is its cleanability and durability. It works well in settings where infection control is a top priority, like hospitals and K-12 schools. Liquid linoleum, especially, can minimize cracks and seams where bacteria can hide.

linoleum flooring in a hospital

Linoleum's cleanability makes it ideal for healthcare settings. 

Compared to other flooring options, it is low maintenance. While materials like Vinyl Composite Tile (VCT) require frequent waxing and stripping, linoleum only needs cleaning with a mop and broom. 

It also tends to last longer than other materials. Generally, its life cycle is about forty years, putting it on par with popular materials like polished concrete. While linoleum can last decades, the color or pattern may become outdated. Sticking with simple, timeless patterns can minimize the need for replacements. 

4. Beauty and Versatility 

Linoleum’s association with outdated suburban homes means most people have forgotten its beauty and versatility. Made from natural materials, linoleum has an organic quality, with subtle variations like wood or stone.

linoleum flooring in a school

With linoleum, the design possibilities are endless.

It tends to be softer than synthetic products and warm to the touch, making it a good option for workstations and counter surfaces. Available in various colors and patterns, it presents infinite design possibilities. 

Linoleum vs. Vinyl 

While linoleum was the go-to flooring material of the early 20th century, it was usurped by vinyl products. Vinyl is a synthetic material made from ingredients like fiberglass, PVC vinyl, and plasticizers. 

Like linoleum, it is available in various colors and patterns, often mimicking the look of other materials. LVP, for example, can mimic the look of wood. It is also highly durable and waterproof, making it a good option for high-traffic areas or multifamily housing. 

Although vinyl offers some of linoleum’s benefits, it is far less sustainable. It is petroleum-based—made with plasticizers—and has a more energy-intensive production process. These unnatural ingredients also pose risks to human health, especially in schools, daycares, and healthcare settings. 

Despite vinyl’s drawbacks, it may better fit your aesthetic preferences. While vinyl mimics the look of other materials, linoleum looks like linoleum and may not align with your preferences. Your design team should help you compare options and find a solution that fits your project’s goals. 

Learn More About Interior Materials 

As the design industry focuses more on sustainability and occupant well-being, linoleum is once again gaining popularity. Its natural materials make it a sustainable and healthy alternative to synthetic materials like vinyl. 

While linoleum fits any building type, it works well for hospitals, K-12 schools, and any other high-traffic setting. Its cleanability and durability make it a lifetime investment, reducing the long-term costs of building ownership. 

The total cost of owning, maintaining, and replacing a material is known as a life-cycle cost. While some materials may offer a lower initial cost, they may cost more in the long run. To learn more, read our article on the life-cycle costs of interior materials