Vinyl and linoleum are two different types of resilient flooring materials that share many characteristics. Many people use the names interchangeably due to the similarities of the materials. But there are a surprising number of important differences between linoleum and vinyl. Compare all of the characteristics to determine which type of resilient flooring is best for you.
Linoleum vs. Vinyl Flooring: Major Differences
Linoleum was the original resilient flooring material. First patented more than 150 years ago, linoleum was discovered when it was noticed that linseed-based paint developed a solid, tough, but flexible film that floated on the top of the paint. Experimentation showed that this material could be blended with other materials to create a product that made for a very durable and adaptable building material—an ideal material for flooring. Today's linoleum is comprised largely of linseed oil, a naturally occurring substance that is extracted from flax seeds. This is mixed with other natural and renewable materials, such as cork dust, wood flour, and rosin, and pressed into sheets for use as a flooring material. The fact that it is a wholly natural material is perhaps the key difference between linoleum and vinyl flooring.
From the late 1800s through the 1950s, linoleum was the material of choice for floors in kitchens and other utility areas. Linoleum is a solid material through-and-through and it has no printed design layer, which gives it unique wear characteristics.
Vinyl as a material was discovered in the 1920s. Unlike linoleum, it is a completely synthetic material comprised mostly of PVC (polyvinyl chloride). It came into widespread use as a cheaper replacement for linoleum flooring in the 1960s. Flooring products use a PVC vinyl core over a felt or fiberglass backing, with a tough surface wear layer that protects a photographic design layer.
Vinyl is manufactured from a variety of toxic chemicals, which has raised serious concerns among modern consumers who are environmentally conscious. In addition to the PVC plastic, vinyl includes various phthalate plasticizers for flexibility. Several of the chemicals used in its manufacture are recognized carcinogens. Further, the manufacturing process makes use of large quantities of petroleum and requires a considerable amount of energy. It is virtually impossible to safely dispose of discarded vinyl flooring.
All of these environmental considerations mean that green-minded consumers are now rediscovering linoleum as a safer alternative to vinyl flooring. Once old-fashioned, linoleum is trendy and modern again.
|Vinyl Flooring||Linoleum Flooring|
|Environmental Impact||Non-recyclable, uses toxic chemicals in manufacture||Uses all-natural, recyclable materials|
|Cost||$1 to $10 per square foot for tiles; $7 to $45 per square foot for sheets||$23 to $50 per square yard for sheets; $4 to $10 per square foot for tiles|
|Flooring Format||Sheets and tiles||Sheets or tongue-and-groove tiles|
|Installation Method||Glue down application for sheets; glue-down or peel and stick for tiles||Trowel-on adhesive|
|Water Resistance||Usually completely waterproof||Water-resistant, but requires sealing|
|Care and Cleaning||Very easy to clean||Easy to clean, but requires periodic sealing|
|Durability||Lasts about 10 years||May last 40 years|
Because vinyl flooring has a printed design layer beneath the clear surface wear layer, you have an almost unlimited option of colors, patterns, or images. This allows you to achieve some of the most vibrant and realistic effects of any flooring material. The drawback to this technology is that vinyl flooring is only as strong as the wear layer over the design, and both can wear through over time. Old vinyl tends to have shabby worn spots where it has worn through to the PVC core layer.
Linoleum, on the other hand, is a solid, colorfast material in which the color and pattern are not just printed on the surface but are dimensionally present through the entire thickness of the material. This limits the design options to some degree, but it also means that the flooring can wear down without fading. Old linoleum still has the same color and pattern as the day it was installed.
Best for Appearance: Vinyl
Vinyl flooring offers more design variety than linoleum.
Water and Heat Resistance
Most modern vinyl is virtually waterproof and can be installed in frequently damp environments, including basements and other below-grade areas. Older types of vinyl use felt as the backing layer, which can be susceptible to water damage. Newer vinyl uses fiberglass backing, which is entirely immune to water and mold damage. Sheet vinyl is most water-resistant than vinyl because it has fewer seams that can allow water through to the underlayment.
Although it is water-resistant, linoleum is not impervious to damage from moisture and it needs to be sealed periodically to protect it against liquid penetration. If flooding occurs, a linoleum installation can be ruined, and excessive humidity can sometimes cause individual tiles or the corners of sheets to curl.
Of the two materials, linoleum has better heat resistance. Hot skillets or curling irons do not generally melt linoleum immediately, as they do with vinyl flooring. And linoleum does not readily burn and emit toxic fumes in a house fire, as vinyl does.
Best for Water and Heat Resistance: Vinyl Flooring
Vinyl flooring is more impervious to water than linoleum, which needs to be regularly sealed. However, be aware that linoleum is somewhat more resistant to damage from heat.
Care and Cleaning
Vinyl is one of the easiest floors to keep clean. You can sweep and vacuum vinyl regularly, or mop it with any of a variety of detergents without having to worry about the material discoloring. Resistant to moisture, mold, and mildew, vinyl can be simply wiped clean periodically to keep it looking its best.
Linoleum is nearly as easy to care for as vinyl, which is why it has long been a favorite flooring for schools, hospitals, and other public properties. Just sweep and or vacuum it periodically. Stains can be hand-cleaned with a rag and a mild detergent. Manufacturers recommend using a cleaning solution made for linoleum, since off-the-shelf detergents may have high pH levels that can damage the surface.
Best for Care and Cleaning: Tie
Both vinyl and linoleum flooring are equally easy to clean.
Durability and Maintenance
Because vinyl flooring is constructed with a design layer adhered over a solid PVC layer, there is the potential for the design layer to wear through, exposing the solid core layer. Modern vinyl flooring has a very tough protective wear layer, so no waxing or sealing is every necessary.
Linoleum is considered the more durable flooring material, thanks to the construction that features solid material through the thickness of the flooring. Both types of flooring are fairly easy to maintain, but unlike vinyl flooring, linoleum requires periodic sealing to keep it resistant to moisture and stains. Linoleum is a slightly softer material than vinyl, and it can be more easily scratched and gouged. Small damage is somewhat less evident, though, since there is no core layer to show through.
Best for Durability and Maintenance: Tie
Linoleum is the more durable material, but vinyl is easier to maintain since it never requires sealing.
Both linoleum and vinyl flooring require a very smooth and flat underlayment, since they are thin, flexible materials that allow flaws in the underlayment to telegraph through to the surface.
Sheet vinyl flooring is usually installed with a full glue-down application, and installation is somewhat awkward for DIYers. Cutting large sheets to a precise fit is difficult, as is joining the seams between pieces. Because professional installation is rather cheap, most people opt for this method. Vinyl tiles, on the other hand, are quite easy to install, making them a favorite among DIYers.
Vinyl tiles can be installed with a full glue-down bond, but most forms of vinyl tile now sold at home improvement centers are peel-and-stick, in which the adhesive has already been applied to the tiles; you simply peel away the protective backing paper when its time to install the tiles.
Installing linoleum can be very similar to installing vinyl, but sheet linoleum can be even harder to work with than sheet vinyl; it is almost always installed by professionals. Sheets are somewhat tougher to cut than vinyl, but a sharp linoleum knife usually works. The sheets are applied with a glue-down bond, and seams are welded together. Linoleum also comes in tiles and planks that are easier for DIY installation; they may use a "click-lock" joining method that allows the tiles or planks to float over the subfloor without any adhesives, much the way that luxury vinyl or laminate planks are installed.
Best for Installation: Vinyl Flooring
Vinyl flooring is a softer, more pliable flooring material, making it easier to work with.
Sheet vinyl flooring purchased at big box home improvement centers typically costs $.50 to $1.50 per square foot, while tiles sell for $1.50 to $3 per square foot. Much higher costs are possible for designer styles sold at specialty flooring stores.
Linoleum flooring is a somewhat more expensive material, with sheet material generally costing $2 to $2.50 per square foot, and tiles averaging about $3.50 to $5 per square foot. Again, higher costs are possible with designer styles.
Best for Cost: Vinyl Flooring
Vinyl flooring is less expensive than linoleum. For either material, you can plan on adding about as much as $3 per square foot for professional installation.
The cost difference between vinyl and linoleum is offset to some degree by their relative life expectancies. While vinyl costs less than linoleum, it will last an average of only 10 or 15 years. But vinyl flooring tends to maintain its glossy appearance right up until the top layers suddenly wear through, exposing the core.
A linoleum floor can last 20 to 40 years or more. But linoleum will show its age over time, weathering away and gradually looking older and older until it needs to be replaced. Some people like the patina of an aging linoleum floor; others dislike it.
Best for Lifespan: Linoleum Flooring
For sheer longevity, linoleum has a much better performance than vinyl flooring.
Vinyl sheet flooring is typically available in 6- or 12-foot rolls, from which lengths are cut according to need. Tiles are sold as squares 9 to 18 inches across.
Sheet linoleum is also available in 6- or 12-foot rolls. Linoleum planks are typically similar to luxury vinyl planks in size, 48 inches long, and 4 to 6 inches wide.
Best for Size: Tie
Neither flooring material has an advantage when it comes to size.
Vinyl flooring is usually recognized as an economy flooring material; it adds no real estate value to a home.
Few prospective homebuyers can tell the difference between vinyl and linoleum flooring at a glance, although linoleum may be viewed a little less favorably from pure design standpoint since it does not have the variety of colors and patterns found in vinyl flooring. However, the green nature of linoleum may be seen as a selling point if it is pointed out to homebuyers who have good environmental awareness.
Best for Resale Value: Tie
Both materials are regarded as economy flooring materials, and neither normally offers any advantage when it comes to resale value.
Comfort and Sound
Although resilient enough to prevent most dishes from breaking if they drop onto it, vinyl flooring is a fairly cold and hard material underfoot, especially when installed over a concrete subfloor. Vinyl flooring is slightly less noisy than a hard material like ceramic tile or laminate.
Linoleum is a slightly softer material that may have more resilience underfoot.
Best for Comfort and Sound: Linoleum
As a slightly softer material, linoleum flooring will be slightly more comfortable and quieter underfoot than vinyl flooring.
There are few building materials in the world more inherently toxic than vinyl. While the various toxic, carcinogenic chemicals that go into the manufacture of vinyl are largely stable when transformed into sheets or tiles for flooring, these chemicals are released when burned, and vinyl flooring has no option for recycling when old materials are removed. These materials remain in landfills for centuries, and disposal through burning is really not an option.
A very key difference—and one that makes all the difference in the world to some homeowners—is the "green" nature of linoleum. Linoleum could not be a more different material from vinyl. Its primary ingredient is plant-based linseed oil, which is mixed with other natural materials. Rather than tearing it out and replacing it every 10 years, you may well get 40 years of life from a linoleum floor, and when you do get finally get rid of it, the component materials break down harmlessly in the environment.
Best for Environmental Considerations: Linoleum Flooring
Here, the hands-down winner is linoleum flooring, since it is made from entirely natural materials, compared to the toxic chemicals that go into the manufacture of vinyl flooring.
Both vinyl and linoleum flooring have merits as relatively low-cost flooring materials where an easy-to-clean clean, water-resistant surface is desired. Vinyl has the advantage for diversity of design and low cost, while linoleum will wear longer and is a much more natural, less toxic material.
Several of the major brands that manufacture vinyl flooring also offer linoleum flooring. Other companies specialize in linoleum only.
- Armstrong: Along with their huge selection of vinyl and other flooring materials, this giant company also offers the LinoArt line of linoleum flooring. The color and pattern range is rather small, including solids, marble-look, linear, and flecked. It is available in glue-down sheets and tiles.
- Tarkett (Johnsonite): Johnsonite is the linoleum flooring subsidiary of the giant Tarkett company. They offer five different collections of linoleum flooring.
- Forbo (Marmoleum): This is one of the best-known brands for linoleum flooring, with more than 300 choices. It has some of the most DIY-friendly products that use a click-lock installation system for linoleum planks and tiles.