What is Linoleum?

wiseGEEK Writer

Linoleum is a type of floor covering invented by Frederick Walton, who set up the first factory to produce the material in 1859, in Staines, England, and patented the formula for making this covering by 1860. By the end of the 1860s, the floor covering was becoming particularly popular and Walton’s factory made a steady business of selling the product to both English and American consumers.

Linoleum is made of linseed oil.
Linoleum is made of linseed oil.

Walton’s basic recipe for linoleum combined linseed oil, also called linoxyn, with either wood or cork dust, and then backed this material with canvas or burlap. This recipe produced some of the most durable flooring available, which was water resistant, easy to clean, and a great replacement for carpet or wood flooring. Covering especially kitchen floors with linoleum soon became popular, though many people also used the floor covering in bathrooms or to protect hallway passages or to surround carpeted areas.

Modern linoleum is often made from PVC.
Modern linoleum is often made from PVC.

There are some interesting uses of linoleum that bear mention. The most durable and high-grade material was used on battleships, prompting the name “battleship linoleum.” The material also became wildly popular for use in commercial stores, and buildings of various types. For the most part, it was easy to clean and could withstand a great deal of foot traffic, and became preferred to carpet, tile or wood flooring since it tended to be less expensive.

In a house in the 1940s, you’d probably see some linoleum, but the heyday of the product passed as floor coverings made of polyvinyl chloride (PVC) became more popular. In recent times, PVC floors have earned a bad reputation because of the other chemicals they contain which could harm the health. Also, burning PVC creates dioxins, which tend to build up in animal and human bodies and may have mutagenic, tetrogenic or carcinogenic effects. A return to using the older floor covering has been suggested by many and reflects the current “green” attitude of many consumers. This is because it is usually less damaging to the environment and its components are thought far less toxic than PVC flooring.

Linoleum may come in a variety of patterns, and is usually sold on rolls, much like carpet is. Prices per square foot will range. “Battleship” types are most durable and usually most expensive. Specific designs on the floor covering may also command a higher price, depending upon how intricate they are.

There are a few things to watch for with the floor covering that are less common with PVC products. Some linoleum is not particularly resistant to stains unless given a protective layer finish. You’ll definitely smell the linseed oil when the product is placed down and some people claim to continue to smell linseed oil for several months after the floor covering has been installed. You can occasionally buy tiles of the product, but these have a tendency to age poorly and may gradually curl up over time.

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