All About Linoleum Flooring

Linoleum flooring, often called simply “linoleum,” is a durable, versatile, and eco-friendly floor covering that has been around for over 150 years. Made primarily from renewable raw materials like linseed oil, pine resin, cork dust, wood flour, and mineral fillers, linoleum is valued for its natural feel, flexibility, and longevity.

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll explore everything you need to know about linoleum floors, including the history, manufacturing process, pros and cons, costs, popular patterns and colors, maintenance and care, and whether linoleum is ultimately the right choice for your home or workspace.

A Brief History of Linoleum

The origins of linoleum date back to 1855, when Frederick Walton of Great Britain invented a product called “Linoleum” by accident while trying to develop a rubber substitute. Walton noticed that a mixture of linseed oil and cork dust hardens over time when exposed to air. He patented this oilcloth in 1860 and formed the Linoleum Manufacturing Company in 1864 after further refinements.

Initially a dull brown, plain surface covering, linoleum evolved with the addition of vivid pigments and decorative patterns by the 1870s. By the early 1900s, linoleum had gained widespread popularity across Europe and North America as a resilient, inexpensive flooring option that was easy to maintain. Major manufacturers emerged during this period, including Armstrong World Industries in the United States.

Linoleum continued to thrive up until the 1950s, when vinyl flooring was introduced and began displacing linoleum in the marketplace. However, in recent decades, interest in eco-friendly, natural flooring has led to a linoleum resurgence. Many manufacturers have updated linoleum with modern colors and prints while retaining its durable, sustainable qualities.

How Traditional Linoleum Is Made

The traditional linoleum manufacturing process is remarkably similar to the techniques originally developed by Walton in the 1800s. Here are the basic steps involved:

  • Oxidation: Raw, cold-pressed linseed oil is allowed to oxidize in large tanks, causing it to thicken. This process can take between 6 to 18 months.
  • Mixing: Powdered cork, pine resin, wood flour and mineral fillers like calcium carbonate are mixed into the oxidized linseed oil to form a cement-like paste. Pigments are added at this stage as well.
  • Calendering: The linoleum paste is fed between large rollers that smooth it into sheets at a controlled thickness, typically from 2 to 3.2 mm.
  • Aging: The linoleum sheets are laid in racks and allowed to harden and oxidize further over 1 to 4 weeks. This liberates any volatile components and helps ensure dimensional stability.
  • Inspection and Finishing: The aged linoleum sheets are rigorously inspected, trimmed, printed with patterns, coated with protective finishes and then cured again.
  • Installation: The finished linoleum sheets can then be unrolled and adhered to subfloors using specialized installation techniques. Welding rods are used to fuse seams.

So while industrialized, linoleum remains a remarkably natural product with renewable, often locally-sourced inputs.

Benefits of Linoleum Flooring

Linoleum has many positive attributes that make it a smart choice for certain homes and applications:

Durable and Long-Lasting: Properly maintained linoleum can last anywhere from 20 to 40 years. Its resilient surface stands up well to heavy foot traffic. Linoleum doesn’t chip or peel.

Water-Resistant: Unlike wood or cork, linoleum is not harmed by water exposure. The linseed oil makes it naturally moisture-repellent.

Hygienic: Linoleum inhibits the growth of bacteria, making it popular in hospitals and other sterile spaces. It does not harbor dust mites or allergens either.

Comfortable and Warm: Linoleum feels warmer and softer underfoot compared to hard surfaces. The natural materials provide a degree of acoustic damping as well.

Low-Maintenance: Other than regular sweeping, mopping or vacuuming, linoleum requires little upkeep. It can be occasionally restored by applying sealants and polishes.

Sustainable and Eco-Friendly: Linoleum is primarily made of abundant natural materials. It is biodegradable and very low-VOC. Most colours and prints are achieved without synthetics.

Versatile Applications: Available in sheets and tiles, linoleum can be installed over many subfloors and handled areas prone to moisture or temperature fluctuations.

Aesthetically Pleasing: Linoleum comes in a vast array of solid colors, vibrant marbled prints, wood grain patterns and decorative inlaid designs. Modern digital printing allows for replicating the look of stone, fabrics and other materials on linoleum.

For homeowners or businesses that desire an environmentally-responsible yet decorative and hardwearing floor covering, linoleum ticks many boxes.

Disadvantages of Linoleum Floors

Linoleum does have some weaknesses that are important to consider:

Prone to Scuffing: The soft surface of linoleum is easily scuffed, especially by sharp furniture legs. Vigilance is required to keep high-traffic areas looking pristine.

Poor Impact Resistance: Heavy dropped objects can cause dents or cracks in linoleum that may be impossible to repair.

Seams Visible: Most linoleum must be pieced together in sheets, making seams an aesthetic detriment, unlike seamless floor options.

Staining Issues: Spilled grease, oil, ink and other substances can be nearly impossible to remove from linoleum floors.

Difficult Repairs: Severely damaged linoleum usually requires complete replacement as it cannot be patched effectively.

Installation Challenges: Linoleum installation is a specialized skill. Improper seaming or weak adhesion can lead to premature failure.

Negative Perceptions: Some associate linoleum with outdated institutional or grandmotherly decor, affecting resale value of homes.

Linoleum works best in lower-traffic settings without heavy furniture or risk of stains/impacts. Using rugs and mats helps limit wear issues in key areas. Proper installation also alleviates some weaknesses.

Linoleum vs. Vinyl Flooring

Vinyl flooring is one of the main competitors to linoleum in the resilient flooring marketplace. Many consumers use the terms linoleum and vinyl interchangeably, but they are actually quite different:

Materials: Linoleum is made from natural materials like linseed oil, pine resin, cork and wood flour. Vinyl floors are synthetic petroleum-derived plastic with limestone or PVC fillers.

Appearance: Linoleum has a distinctive marbled, speckled look from the natural ingredients. Vinyl often imitates textures like wood, tile and stone.

Feel: Underfoot, linoleum has a warmer, softer feel compared to the harder and colder vinyl surface.

Performance: Vinyl has better stain resistance but linoleum edges out vinyl in durability, acoustic properties and biodegradability.

Cost: On average, sheet vinyl is slightly less expensive than linoleum sheeting. Luxury vinyl tiles can cost more than linoleum tiles.

Installation: Vinyl flooring is normally glued down using basic adhesives. Linoleum usually requires specialized installation mastery.

Eco-Friendliness: Vinyl is recognized to off-gas VOCs and is non-renewable. Linoleum is considered much greener and sustainable.

The choice often depends on the overall look the homeowner prefers coupled with performance needs and budget.

Costs of Linoleum Flooring

Like all flooring, linoleum costs depend on the product type, quality, size, thickness and color/pattern. Here are some typical price ranges:

  • Linoleum sheets – $2 to $6 per sq. ft. installed
  • Linoleum tiles – $1 to $5 per sq. ft. installed
  • Solid color linoleum – $2 to $4 per sq. ft. installed
  • Marbled/printed linoleum – $3 to $6 per sq. ft. installed
  • Cork-based linoleum – $4 to $8 per sq. ft. installed

With professional installation, most homeowners spend between $750 to $2500 for a typical 300 sq. ft. linoleum floor. Expect to pay towards the higher end for custom colors or intricate inlaid patterns.

There are more affordable linoleum options for tighter budgets:

  • Consider linoleum tiles instead of sheets, which require less installation skill.
  • Choose linoleum for smaller spaces instead of whole rooms. Use area rugs in heavy traffic zones.
  • Search for discontinued or open box linoleum products that retailers offer at a discount.
  • Replicate wood or stone looks via printed linoleum rather than real versions.

Popular Linoleum Colors

One of the most appealing attributes of linoleum is the vast spectrum of colors it is available in. Here are some of the most popular solid color choices:

Warm neutrals like beige, tan, fawn and gray work well in living spaces, blending seamlessly with many furniture styles and allowing bold accent colors to pop.

Cooler hues like light blue, aqua and seafoam green lend a calming feel often used in bedrooms, baths and offices. Avoid bright or deep blues which can appear too cold.

Rich tones like chocolate, espresso and charcoal exude sophistication in more formal dining rooms, libraries and parlors. However, they show dirt easily.

Bright colors like cherry red, sunflower yellow and grass green inject cheerful vibrancy perfect for kids’ spaces, playrooms and modern kitchens. Limit high-traffic areas though.

Many homeowners opt for classic black or white linoleum to create a crisp, monochromatic look. Keeping these pristine looking takes effort however.

Popular Linoleum Patterns

Beyond solid color linoleum, there are a few common print designs to consider:

  • Marbled – This signature linoleum look features mesmerizing, random veined patterns created naturally from the mixing process. Favored for traditional or retro decors.
  • Wood Grain – Realistic birch, oak and exotic wood looks printed on linoleum provide the appearance of hardwood with greater resilience.
  • Stone and Slate – Reproducing natural stone textures like travertine, sandstone and slate on linoleum delivers the visual appeal without weight or porousness.
  • Fabric – For softer living spaces, linoleum featuring tweed, burlap and other woven fabric visuals imparts warmth and texture.
  • Geometric – For modern, sleek decors, graphic shapes like zigzags, dots, grids and chevron stripes add eye-catching panache on linoleum.

There are also linoleum collections that mimic terrazzo, encaustic tile, concrete, wallpaper and other unique looks to match almost any design vision while benefiting from linoleum’s practical performance.

Cleaning and Caring for Linoleum Floors

To keep linoleum floors looking fresh and damage-free for years to come, adhere to these basic maintenance practices:

  • Remove grit, dirt and debris promptly by sweeping, vacuuming or mopping. Sand particles act like abrasives.
  • Damp mop with a mild, eco-friendly cleaner suited to linoleum. Avoid harsh alkaline cleansers.
  • In heavier use areas, apply protective floor polish 1-2 times per year. Test first in an inconspicuous spot.
  • Blot up spills immediately before they soak in using a mild soap and water solution if needed.
  • Move area rugs occasionally to minimize uneven fading or wear patches beneath them.
  • Place resilient felt floor protectors under all furniture legs to prevent scratches and indentations.
  • Limit direct hot sunlight exposure which can cause linoleum to fade or discolor over time.
  • Consider using rugs, mats or runners in entryways, kitchens and other zones prone to surface damage.

With proper care and maintenance, a quality linoleum floor should provide 20 years or more of beauty and enjoyment.

Is Linoleum Flooring Right for You?

If you’re still unsure whether versatile, eco-friendly linoleum is the optimal flooring solution for your particular space, ask yourself these key questions:

  • Do you desire a durable, long-lasting floor able to withstand kids and pets?
  • Is avoiding off-gassing VOCs and using green materials important to you?
  • Does your subfloor need a flexible surface able to bridge minor gaps and cracks?
  • Do you like the marbled, speckled look that gives linoleum its unique character?
  • Does the room receive heavy foot traffic that could scuff softer flooring types?
  • Does the space experience leaks, flooding or high humidity warranting water-resistant floors?
  • Will large appliances, beds or furniture be frequently moved across the floors?

If you answered “yes” to some or all of these questions, linoleum deserves your consideration as an ecologically responsible, reliable and decorative surfacing solution.

Of course, every homeowner’s needs are unique. Be sure to view linoleum samples firsthand to assess factors like appearance, texture, acoustics and maintenance. Consult with experienced flooring professionals to determine if linoleum is well-suited to your lifestyle, space and subfloor conditions.

Frequently Asked Questions About Linoleum Floors

Many homeowners have additional questions about linoleum flooring when weighing it as a surfacing option:

Is linoleum expensive to install?

Quality linoleum applied by flooring professionals typically costs $2 to $8 per square foot installed. This is moderately priced compared to many other flooring materials. DIY peel-and-stick linoleum tiles can be much more affordable.

What thickness of linoleum is best?

Commercial and residential linoleum is usually 2 to 3.2 mm thick. Thicker options above 2.5 mm perform better for extended durability and resilience. Cork-backed linoleum is also more rigid.

Can you install linoleum over existing floors?

Linoleum sheets or tiles can be installed over smooth surfaces like concrete, plywood, OSB and existing vinyl, tile or linoleum. Subfloors must be carefully prepped though.

Is linoleum eco-friendly and sustainable?

Made primarily from natural materials like linseed oil, pine resin and cork dust using renewable energy, linoleum is recognized as perhaps the “greenest” resilient flooring available.

Does linoleum hold up with pets?

Linoleum is an excellent choice for homes with dogs and cats. It’s waterproof, resists scratches from claws, inhibits pet allergens and stands up to wear from paws running across it.

Is linoleum slippery when wet?

Linoleum has a relatively grippy surface when damp. For added traction, choose an embossed or textured surface. Proper sealing also enhances slip resistance.

Does linoleum need underlayment?

Linoleum sheets generally do not require a separate underlay. Many choose to install cork underlay with linoleum tiles to smooth minor subfloor imperfections and add acoustic insulation.

Can you refinish linoleum floors?

While not a true refinish, worn linoleum can be renewed up to 2-3 times via thorough cleaning, scuff removal and reapplication of acrylic sealers and polishes.


Long valued for its durability, eco-friendliness and bold patterns, linoleum remains a smart flooring choice that is regaining popularity today. With proper product selection, installation and care, linoleum delivers lasting beauty and practical performance perfect for active, sustainable homes.

If you seek natural flooring able to handle kids, pets and moisture while making an upscale design statement, it’s time to rediscover the many merits of linoleum.