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Linoleum Vs. Vinyl

By: Hsin-Yi Cohen BSc, MA, MSt - Updated: 3 Oct 2012 | comments*Discuss
 
Linoleum Flooring Vinyl Flooring

Many people wishing to make the environmentally-friendly choice often choose linoleum over vinyl as it is generally believed to be more eco-friendly. However, this may not be completely true and it is worth making a comprehensive comparison of the two flooring types before making a decision.

Vinyl and Linoleum – the Same Thing?

Vinyl and linoleum are often believed to be different names for the same thing. One reason for this could be because they look very similar; another is that to a large extent, vinyl took over the market from linoleum in the 1950’s, leading many people to believe that it is an upgraded version of the latter.

Vinyl and linoleum are actually distinctly different, although they do share many similar properties – namely, that they are both very durable and easy to care for, as well as being sound-insulating and soft underfoot. They also both come in a wide range of styles and colours.

Differences Between Vinyl and Linoleum

The key difference between them is that linoleum is a completely natural product whereas vinyl is a synthetic material derived from petroleum. This leads to differences in several points:

Durability – while both are one of the most durable types of flooring to be found, it is generally believed that linoleum floors are more hard-wearing and longer-lasting. This is because colours and patterns are embedded into its structure during its construction, as opposed to vinyl where the colours and patterns are just printed onto the surface and covered by a urethane top layer. However, this urethane layer is extremely protective, especially towards staining, scratching and denting – therefore, vinyl may prove to be as durable as linoleum in the long run. In addition, it will not be as vulnerable as linoleum to fading from sun exposure or to decay from exposure to moisture.

Health – vinyl, like many other synthetic materials, raises concerns about the chemicals used in its production, which may emit toxic volatile compounds into the atmosphere. For this reason, linoleum is often believed to be healthier and also to be better for those with respiratory conditions, such as asthma, and allergies. It is also naturally anti-static, which repels dirt, dust and other small particles, making it again more hypoallergenic. However, it must be noted that vinyl is more resistant to moisture therefore it is more like to be sterile and thus less allergenic. It is also fire-resistant.

Eco-friendliness – for those interested in sustainable flooring, the most important difference is linoleum’s supposedly more environmentally-friendly credentials. Linoleum is a completely natural product. It is made from the flax seeds which have been dried, ground to a fine powder and then mixed with fine plant material, such as pine resins, wood flour and ground cork. This is then combined with a jute backing to form “linoleum”. Vinyl, on the other hand, is completely synthetic and is composed of several layers of different petroleum by-products.

Although vinyl effectively replaced linoleum in the 1950’s, the latter is now making a comeback as society becomes more aware of environmental issues. Linoleum is a great choice for sustainable flooring because it is made of completely natural materials which come from renewable sources and are 100% biodegradable. Any left-over or waster products from the manufacturing process can be re-used in future productions and when the linoleum flooring is eventually disposed of, it will not sit in landfills for thousands of years.

Note, however, that studies have shown vinyl actually has the same or even less impact on the environment as linoleum due to the fact its durability and long use means that the total amount of replacement and waste materials generated is reduced. Some studies also claim that vinyl is actually less energy-consumptive in its manufacture, transport and installation than linoleum, whilst others claim that scrap vinyl is often recycled into new vinyl.

Energy-uses aside, however, vinyl still falls behind linoleum in using petroleum products as opposed to natural ones. This means that not only is it using a non-renewable resource which consumes vast amounts of energy in its processing and releases copious amounts of pollutants into the atmosphere, it is ultimately non-biodegradable, adding to the already-serious waste problem.

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