Linoleum or vinyl flooring: what’s the difference?

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Linoleum and vinyl are two popular flooring options for kitchens and bathrooms because they are durable, water resistant and easy to clean. Each of these materials is relatively inexpensive compared to tile or hardwood. Because both are sold in sheet form, they are often confused with each other. However, there are major differences between vinyl and linoleum.

We’ve compared linoleum and vinyl flooring below, explaining how these two flooring options are made and breaking down their pros and cons in terms of durability, aesthetics, and maintenance.

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Linoleum flooring is made from natural materials, while vinyl is synthetic and harmful to the environment.

linoleum vs vinyl

Photo: istockphoto.com

The main difference between vinyl and linoleum flooring is that vinyl is made from synthetic materials while linoleum contains natural materials.

Linoleum flooring was invented in the 1860s by Frederick Walton as an alternative to traditional wood planks. Linoleum is made from ingredients such as linseed oil, sawdust, cork dust, resin, limestone, and mineral fillers and pigments. It is relatively environmentally friendly as it does not contain any volatile organic compounds (VOCs). While linoleum once included asbestos, this has not been the case since the 1970s.

Vinyl flooring is made from plastic, specifically polyvinyl chloride (PVC), a petrochemical resin that emits toxic phthalates when burned. Phthalates are associated with cancer risk in humans and have been banned in children’s toys in California and the European Union. Vinyl manufacturing requires a large amount of petroleum, making it an environmentally harmful practice.

Vinyl flooring is available in a wider variety of colors, patterns and textures than linoleum.

Linoleum and vinyl flooring are available in a variety of colors, but synthetic vinyl flooring materials can be made in virtually any shape or color. As a result, vinyl floors can be designed to mimic the look of wood, stone, tile or other natural materials. Vinyl flooring is made up of multiple layers of material, including a center layer printed with a color or pattern and a transparent protective layer on top. However, the appearance of a vinyl floor can wear off or fade if the top layer wears off.

A linoleum floor, on the other hand, consists of a single layer, which will retain its color longer if it is well maintained. However, being made of natural materials, linoleum flooring rolls come in a more limited variety of finishes and patterns than vinyl.

Linoleum requires occasional sealing, while vinyl is waterproof.

linoleum vs vinyl

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One of the main advantages of vinyl flooring is that it is completely waterproof and will not be damaged by spills. This makes vinyl an excellent choice for use in bathrooms and kitchens. When shopping for the best waterproof option, consider sheet vinyl rather than vinyl tile, as it has fewer seams and will therefore be even more resistant to moisture.

Linoleum is water resistant, but it can be damaged by heavy exposure to water. It must be sealed regularly, every 3 to 10 years, depending on the level of foot traffic, in order to maintain its tightness.

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Both vinyl and linoleum floors are easy to clean.

Both vinyl and linoleum can be swept, washed and vacuumed without damage, making each option easy to clean. Vinyl has a slight advantage in that it can be cleaned with virtually any type of detergent or cleaning product without worrying about causing discoloration. The waterproof nature of vinyl also means it is resistant to mold and mildew buildup. When cleaning linoleum, on the other hand, it is best to use a mild cleaning product or a dedicated solution specifically designed for linoleum floors.

Linoleum is more durable than vinyl flooring.

linoleum vs vinyl

Photo: istockphoto.com

Linoleum and vinyl are each very durable flooring options. When comparing the two materials in terms of durability, however, linoleum has the edge. The top layer of vinyl can wear out over time, while the single layer of linoleum lasts longer. Linoleum also offers increased heat resistance compared to vinyl. When exposed to high heat, vinyl can melt and release potentially toxic chemicals. However, linoleum needs to be sealed periodically, which means some maintenance is required, whereas a vinyl floor never needs to be sealed.

Installing vinyl sheet flooring is more user-friendly than installing linoleum sheet flooring.

One of the reasons that linoleum and vinyl flooring are often considered interchangeable is that they are both sold in sheet form. Additionally, they are both thin and should be installed over a smooth, even underlayment. Both materials can be difficult to install when working with solid sheets, but vinyl flooring is slightly easier to work with than linoleum flooring due to its greater flexibility. For even easier installation, vinyl is also sold as peel and stick tiles with adhesive backings. Although linoleum is also available in tiles and planks, linoleum tiles tend to require click and lock installation and are not as easy to use as vinyl tiles and planks.

Vinyl flooring costs less than linoleum, but linoleum lasts longer.

linoleum vs vinyl

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Cost is usually the primary consideration when choosing the best flooring option. In terms of the relative cost of vinyl flooring versus linoleum flooring, vinyl is the more affordable option. Sheet vinyl ranges from 50 cents to $2 per square foot, while vinyl tile is a bit more expensive at $3.50 per square foot. Sheet linoleum, on the other hand, costs between $5 and $7 per square foot. Linoleum tiles generally cost between $3 and $5 per square foot. The higher cost of linoleum may be worth it, however, as its lifespan is about twice that of vinyl. Linoleum lasts an average of 20 to 40 years, while vinyl only lasts 10 to 20 years.

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Jack L. Goldstein