Authentic Mid-Century style building materials and DIY kits for your home.

What Floor Should I Choose? (Part 4 – Linoleum)

October 27, 2023

Linoleum has been making a comeback for the last ten years or so and with good reason. Extreme durability, eco-friendly materials, and newer installation methods have made linoleum a go-to product for vintage and modern kitchens alike. Not to be confused with vinyl flooring (made with Polyvinyl Chloride), linoleum has a long history.

History

Linoleum was the brainchild of Frederick Walton in England in 1855. Walton noticed that his linseed oil would form a tough skin over the top if left exposed to air, and Walton thought there might be something in the durability of that skin. He started by making cotton fabrics covered in linseed oil left to dry and harden to compete with other water-resistant fabrics such as oilcloth. Unfortunately, the internal cotton tended to degrade, leaving nothing but a sticky mess behind. Walton determined that there was still something to this idea, decided to add heavier-weight fibers to the mix, along with some resins and wood or cork flours, and stumbled upon a tough, hard-wearing material that was not at all sticky like his original product. He named it Linoelum after the Latin word for flax (Linum) and oil (oleum).

Walton first brought linoleum to the United States in 1872 at a plant in Staten Island. He gave the U.S. company a very original moniker, the American Linoleum Manufacturing Company.  The town became known for its linoleum production, so much so that up until 1930, the town was known as Linoleumville. However, back in Britain, various other manufacturers were gearing up their own linoleum manufacturing processes. One of the largest, Nairn, out of Scotland, brought their formula to the U.S. and formed a company that is now known as Congoleum. (Interestingly enough, Congoleum introduced vinyl flooring in the 1930s, and by the 1950s, they concentrated solely on vinyl. ) In 1908, another prominent name jumped into the fray: the Armstrong Cork and Tile Company, now known simply as Armstrong.

Linoelum is still made from very few all-natural elements: Linseed oil, cork and/or wood flour, pine resin, a mineral filler such as calcium carbonate or limestone dust, and jute for the backing.

Types

Back in the early days of linoleum floors or floor rugs, manufacturers would piece together small sections to create patterns that mimicked the era's carpeting but were infinitely more cleanable for various rooms, such as the kitchen or hallways. This progressed into pressing stamps into the linoleum to create tile-like patterns to the appearance of the material. However, the linoleum designs of the mid-century started to veer towards a more streamlined aesthetic with either small patterns or solid, marbleized colors that were monolithic, versus the manufacturing of floor carpets that only covered parts of the floor.

Linoleum now comes in both sheet goods and tile, with the latter being the more DIY-friendly type.

Installation

As mentioned above, modern linoleum comes largely in two different formats: sheet goods and tile.

Sheet goods are large sections of materials rolled up and installed on a floor with adhesive. Joints can either be butted up or welded by a qualified installer. Sheet goods can also be run up the wall or on the base of cabinets to form an integral cove base and, when welded, becomes a monolithic, impervious floor. Sheet good requires a subfloor with no imperfections as imperfections would telegraph through the floor and show in the finished result.

Sheet linoleum installation is generally best left to a skilled contractor familiar with working with linoleum, doubly so if there is a desire for welded seams.

Newer technology has come to market with click-lock flooring styles in all types of flooring, including linoleum. Click-lock systems are similar to the old tongue and groove that you might find on solid wood flooring, but the tongue has more defined shapes that help the board click and lock together when assembled correctly. This makes them much more applicable to the DIY market. Linoleum click-lock flooring often comes in two different styles: square or rectangular. To install, you will need a pencil, ruler, some cutting blades such as a jigsaw, and offset blocks for around the perimeter of your room. First, you find the center of your room and measure outwards to ensure that you will not have slivers of flooring on any of the walls. Then, starting in a corner with the size piece determined from the last step and working left to right, you lay the flooring down, often with an underlayment, from one wall to another, adding rows as you go. The trickiest parts of installation come at thresholds and other wall openings and homes where walls may not be square or plumb. Laying a click-lock floor gets a medium grade in the level of DIY knowhow to complete yourself. If in doubt, hire someone to lay it for you.

Where to Buy

There are really only two players in the residential linoleum market right now: Forbo and Tarkett. Forbo offers both sheet and click-lock products, while Tarkett only provides sheet goods. Forbo's brand, Marmoleum, can be found in many places, including at your local big-box store, although it may be a product that needs to be ordered through their website.

Forbo Marmoleum Sheet: Marbled

Marmoleum Sheet Marbled

Shown here in Honeysuckle

Forbo Marmoleum Sheet: Solid

Marmoleum Sheet Solid

Shown here in Almost Darkness

Forbo Marmoleum Sheet: Linear

Marmoleum Sheet Linear

Shown here in Urban Silver

Forbo Marmoleum Cinch Loc Seal

Marmoleum Cinch Loc Seal

Shown here in Aqua. This is the DIY version made in many separate colors and patterns pulling from the full gamut of sheet colors and patterns.

Forbo Marmoleum Modular

Marmoleum Modular

Shown here in Petrol. This is also a glue-down product like the sheet goods, but comes in modular sizes, both square and rectangular so that you can use multiple colors at a time on your floor.

Tarkett Emme

Tarkett Emme

Shown here in Strawberry. Note that all Tarkett products come as sheet goods that must be glued down.

Elle Ferro

Tarkett Elle

Tarkett Elle

Shown here in Ferro

Do you have original (or new) linoleum floors? Do you love them? I'm pining for some linoleum for my kitchen - and I can't wait to install it someday when I get time. (Which might mean years from now!)

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Image Credits:

Linoleum ingredients by ecofriendlyflooring.com. Fair use.
Geometric American Linoleum Design from c. 1950. Upload by Concord. CC BY-SA 3.0.
Production War Housing Trailers. From the Library of Congress. CC0.
Images of product lines from Forbo and Tarkett. Fair use.

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