It is important to note that not all linoleum is suitable for bathroom flooring. In some cases, installing linoleum in a bathroom may void the manufacturer’s warranty. If you decide to install it in this space, check with the retailer to determine the suitability of different material options. Always follow the manufacturer's recommended instructions for use.
Linoleum vs. Laminate and Vinyl
The best type of flooring for a bathroom is tile for its resilience, waterproofing, and variety. However, linoleum, laminate, and vinyl are often thrown into the mix, and they commonly get mistaken for each other. Each is very different in composition, durability, water resistance, and appearance.
- Linoleum: Made of cork dust, wood flour, linseed oil, and pine resin; 100% biodegradable; comes in many designs and colors; soft underfoot; and not overly expensive; not water resistant and can swell with constant water exposure
- Laminate: Composite wood consisting of fiberboard or plywood, including a photorealistic layer and plastic coating; looks the most like hardwood; scratch resistant; vulnerable to water damage; can be costly
- Vinyl: Made of plastic, specifically PVC resin; water resistant; affordable; easier to install; not as realistic looking; not environmentally friendly
One of the drawbacks to linoleum flooring is that while it is resistant to water, it is not inherently impervious to it. Excessive moisture penetration can occur, which can warp the subfloor and cause distortions and expansions in the actual material. Unless you are experienced at installing linoleum flooring, you should consider hiring a professional to complete the job.
Before you begin any and all water damage in the existing surface needs to be completely repaired. Linoleum should only be installed over a completely dry, flat surface that has no moisture, leaks, or groundwater problems.
There are three major types of linoleum bathroom flooring that you can purchase:
- Self-adhesive backed tiles: This is generally the easiest way to install a linoleum floor on your own. However, in a bathroom where moisture is such an issue, the tiles have to be laid perfectly even, with little or no seam visible between them. Tile will also expose more seams to the surface, making this flooring option more susceptible to possible moisture penetration.
- Floating linoleum floors: These are simple click-together tiles or planks that often have cork cushioning beneath the surface, which gives them a soft feel underfoot. However, these are NOT recommended for a bathroom as moisture will often penetrate the seams between them causing mold and mildew to develop in the subfloor, while also damaging the tiles from below. Unfortunately, this will be hidden damage, and aside from a mold smell, you may not have any idea that it is occurring until the floor collapses beneath you.
- Sheet linoleum (best choice for linoleum flooring bathroom installation): This is the best form of linoleum flooring to use in a wet bathroom environment. The sheets are sold in 12-foot linoleum flooring rolls and can be cut to size in a bathroom, allowing you to install it with only a minimum number of seams, which can be exposed to water penetration. Unfortunately, it is extremely difficult to install sheet linoleum. Unless you are experienced with it, you will probably need the help of a professional to ensure that it is laid in a proper, watertight manner with all seams and breaks matched and aligned.
Linoleum is good for bathroom floors if given extra waterproofing. When linoleum tiles or sheets are installed in a bathroom, the seams should be heat welded to merge them, making an impenetrable seal against moisture.
With sheet linoleum, a method known as flash coving can be used to install the material slightly up the wall, as a sort of molding that makes the seams around the edge of the application resistant to water.
As soon as the floor is installed and all adhesives are dry, a clear acrylic sealing agent should be applied to the surface of the floor. You may want to consider multiple coats in a wet bathroom environment. This should be applied before anyone steps on the floor and will need to be re-applied every 6-12 months depending on the room’s usage.
If you can find a quality water resistant linoleum material and then have it installed in a proper, moisture resistant fashion, then there are a number of advantages that this flooring option can have in a bathroom.
Ecologically friendly: Linoleum is made from all-natural renewable resources, and doesn’t contain any adhesive mixtures that release Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC’s) into the air. It has a long life cycle of 25-40 years if properly maintained. When it is disposed of it is biodegradable and will naturally break down in the environment.
Easy to maintain: Properly sealed linoleum is resistant to stains and only requires occasional vacuuming, and sweeping. A damp mop can be used on the floor periodically to remove light stains; however, you should never immerse the floor in water to clean it. Spills should also be cleaned up immediately, and you may want to use bath mats in front of baths and sinks to catch excess dripping.
Anti-microbial: Linoleum is naturally resistant to mold, mildew, and the growth of bacteria. As long as the material is properly sealed against moisture penetration, it can help to cut down on many of the harmful microorganisms that can plague a bathroom.