Is Retro Linoleum Flooring Practical?

Linoleum Flooring in Rec Room
Getty / H. Armstrong Roberts/ClassicStock

For years, linoleum was a dirty word among homeowners. Nobody used it for flooring; everybody tore it out in favor of resilient tile, laminate, engineered wood and solid hardwood. Now you find linoleum popping up even in expensive remodels. What's going on here?

Flaxoleum? Linoleum Is So Natural, You Wouldn't Believe It

Partially, it's linoleum's green, eco-friendly factor. The name is a concoction of the "lin" from linseed and "oleum" from oil.

So, just as the word petroleum is "rock oil" (petra = rock, oleum = oil), linoleum is "linseed oil."

Linseed is flax, and flax is often touted as a miracle seed, capable of all sorts of medicinal properties. Whether that is true or not, what is certain is that flax is such a tough, fibrous seed that it is processed and woven into textiles. In fact, that's where we get the word linen from: linseeds.

So, linoleum could just as easily have been called flaxoleum!

This oil is combined with wood flour, tree resins, cork dust, a touch of ground limestone and pigments for color. This mix is pressed onto a jute base and dried.

Vinyl vs. Linoleum: Vinyl Wins

Even though linoleum offered clear advantages, vinyl flooring came along after World War II and took the residential market by storm.  It was cheaper and offered a wider range of colors.

More importantly, in that DIY-crazed era, vinyl flooring was easier for homeowners to install by themselves--no professionals needed.

Additionally, no-wax vinyl flooring looked very attractive to the homeowners who spent countless hours waxing their linoleum floors.

Durability Is Its Strong Suit. But There Is a Price To Pay.

It isn't uncommon to see a house -- 50, 60 or more years old -- with original linoleum floors. Linoleum wears incredibly well.

It's also a little bit softer to walk on than ceramic tile, but about the same as vinyl tiling.

Linoleum's durability is a double-edged sword. Ancient linoleum that more or less is still hanging together and providing basic floor covering duties isn't exactly the most aesthetically pleasing anymore. Scuff and gouges mar its surface and it wears unevenly. Traffic patterns begin to show.  

Linoleum's aging process cannot be compared to that of solid hardwood, which can improve in looks over the years.

For linoleum that is not pre-sealed, start with two coats of acrylic sealer. Then every year, apply another coat of sealer.

Companies That Make Linoleum Today

  • Marmoleum/Forbo:  Netherlands-based Forbo is the main supplier of new linoleum. Marmoleum is largely natural, as it is composed of vegetable oils and natural rosins, mixed with wood flour and limestone, pressed on a jute backing.  The only non-natural element is the UV-cured urethane-acrylic sealer that is added to the top.
  • Armstrong:  Armstrong World Industries currently produces 48 linoleum floor coverings, all under its Marmorette line.