Linoleum is made from natural products and requires more maintenance but is more environmentally friendly than vinyl flooring. Linoleum floors are available in a wider variety of colors. Vinyl is PVC-based, lasts longer, and is easier to install and maintain. Vinyl and linoleum are both resilient types of flooring, in that they have some degree of elasticity.
Linoleum is made from renewable materials. It was invented in the mid 1800s when an Englishman noticed a rubbery skin of solidified linseed oil in a can of paint. In addition to linseed oil, linoleum contains pine rosin, wood flour, ground cork dust, mineral fillers, and has a canvas or burlap backing. Dyes and pigments are added to create the color schemes. Linoleum is sold in sheets and tiles.
Vinyl flooring is made from sheets of vinyl, a synthetic product derived from petroleum and other chemicals, felt, fiberglass, and dyes. It can be manufactured in a wide variety of finishes. Sheet vinyl comes in large rolls, but vinyl is available in squares and planks to resemble tiles or hardwood.
Watch linoleum and vinyl compared in the video below:
Linoleum used to be the choice only in commercial spaces like hospitals and schools, but is now experiencing a resurgence as a green alternative to vinyl. It’s non-allergenic, and has inherent antibacterial qualities (hence its popularity in hospitals). It’s very resistant to scratching and wear, and is dyed all the way through, not just on top. It’s also recyclable and biodegradable. Its lifespan can be three times that of vinyl.
Vinyl flooring is waterproof, less expensive and much easier to install. Installation can be a weekend DIY project. Vinyl is also less sensitive to different cleaning agents. Because it is a synthetic product, it is available in a wide variety of finishes and styles. Vinyl also allows for the installation of padding underneath the flooring, making it yielding and pliant, which helps insulate the room.
Linoleum is fairly difficult to install properly. As it’s not totally waterproof, a poor installation can lead to moisture penetration damaging the material and sub-floor, so professional installation is generally necessary. Linoleum is also more sensitive to cleaning agents, and can be damaged by using the wrong type.
The longevity of vinyl flooring is largely dependent on its protective coating. Once worn through, there is little recourse but to replace the worn flooring. As a synthetic material, vinyl consumes more energy to produce and results in toxic byproducts, and also emits small amounts of volatile organic chemicals initially after installation. Vinyl is not biodegradable, and is very difficult to recycle.
Linoleum must be installed on completely dry and repaired surfaces. Self adhesive tiles are the easiest type to install, but they must be perfectly aligned and cut to prevent moisture damage. Floating-style flooring uses click-together planks or tiles with a cork bottom, but this style is the most sensitive to water. Installing sheet linoleum (the most robust form of linoleum) is particularly difficult and involves applying a flooring adhesive below the linoleum and a finishing coat on top.
Vinyl flooring will involve steps including cutting, laying, and spreading adhesive if it's in sheet form. But vinyl is now available as pre-cut in squares to resemble tiles, or as strips to resemble wood floors. They also come with self-adhesive, which makes for easy installation.
Replacement and Maintenance
Linoleum should be swept, dusted or vacuumed regularly. Strong chemical cleaners should never be used. Mild dish soap and hot water are best. The floor should be refinished once or twice a year, as this is vital to maintaining linoleum’s longevity. Tile-type floors should not be exposed to excessive water. Damaged sheet linoleum can be repaired with patches if some of the same patterned material is available. Damaged tiles can be swapped out.
While the surface coating on vinyl flooring is usually wear resistant, vinyl flooring will erode over time and eventually require replacement. With vinyl, tile-type flooring replacement is a simple as replacing damaged or worn out tiles, which is only a challenge if the tile in question is out of production or if no spare tiles are on hand. With sheet-type vinyl, the damage can be repaired by fusing the surface with liquid seam sealer or patching the material via double cutting.
Vinyl production involves considerable consumption of energy and creates toxic byproducts. It is also known to emit small amounts of volatile organic chemicals after first installation. Vinyl flooring installed prior to the late 1980s may contain asbestos and require a specialized process for safe removal. However, flooring manufacturers are now producing vinyl flooring that achieves a LEED credit IEQ4.3 for Low-Emitting Material.
Linoleum at $3 - $8 per square foot is usually more expensive than vinyl ($2 - $5 per sq. foot).