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Think linoleum and vinyl flooring are the same thing? Wrong. While many people mistakenly call vinyl tile ‘linoleum’, the two couldn’t be more different. Linoleum, which was patented in the 1860s, is made with natural, renewable materials, including linseed oil, tree resins, recycled wood flour, cork dust, and mineral pigments, all mounted on a jute or canvas backing.
Linoleum was considered a luxurious material for many years—it was actually used in the Grand Ballroom, the dining room, and other areas of the Titanic! But gradually cheaper (and decidedly unnatural) vinyl flooring overtook linoleum in the 1940s. And while vinyl is easy to maintain, it’s simply a printed design with a protective layer on top. Once that protective layer wears down or is damaged, the flooring must be replaced.
On the other hand, linoleum is naturally anti-bacterial and biodegradable, and can last up to 40 years with proper care and maintenance. It has a protective top layer that wards off dirt and scuffs, but you’ll still need to clean it regularly with mild, non-ammonia-based cleansers. Since the color in linoleum runs all the way through the material, if it does get stained or scratched, you can buff out the damage and refinish your floor. So if you’re looking for a green product that’s resilient, durable, and yes, beautiful, linoleum is the way to go. While it’s often used in kitchens, it’s also a good choice for entryways and bathrooms.
Two companies now sell the majority of the linoleum here in the US—Forbo Marmoleum and Armstrong Marmorette. It comes in sheets or tile form, in a wide variety of colors that can look just as great in a Craftsman-style home as a super modern one. One of the great things about sheet linoleum is that you can have it hand-cut in any design you like.
For more on flooring and sustainable materials, consider: