Loving Linoleum

A retro favorite finds new life as an eco-friendly, affordable flooring choice in the bathroom.

Blue Linoleum Floor Pattern

Linoleum's back and it's better than ever. Durable and long-lasting, the surface stands up to heavy foot traffic in the bathroom as well as the occasional dropped blow dryer. When properly installed and sealed, it withstands spills and splashes. Like vinyl, it's springy and warm underfoot. Linoleum's color is not surface deep, but runs all the way through, making scratchs and scuffs harder to see.

Not all manufacturers recommend linoleum in bathrooms and, in some cases, bathroom installation can void the warranty. Linoleum is water-resistant, but it is not waterproof. The moisture in a bathroom can cause problematic contraction and expansion. Special care must be taken to ensure water does not seep beneath the linoleum, including sealing as directed during installation and wiping up spills immediately. Check the manufacturer's instructions and warranty to ensure the linoleum you choose is suitable for bathrooms.

For health- and eco-conscious homeowners, linoleum can be an excellent option. It contains only natural materials (including linseed oil from flax plants and rosins from pine trees), making it biodegradable and recyclable. Linoleum possesses anti-bacterial properties, and it won't harbor allergens or micro-organisms. It also contributes to good air quality, as it repels dirt and is free of solvents and VOCs (volatile organic compounds).

Linoleum is often used in commercial settings like schools and hospitals, but it's making a comeback in homes.


See 4 Lovely Linoleum Floors
The inset pattern in this linoleum floor highlights the freestanding tub.

Types of Linoleum

Linoleum is available in two forms:

Sheets. Sheet linoleum comes in a wide variety of colors and patterns at varied levels of marbling. You can incorporate borders and insets to add visual interest and highlight particular elements, such as a freestanding tub.

Tiles. Linoleum tiles can be arranged in virtually any pattern imaginable, from checkerboards to diamond patterns. Incorporate two or three colors for an invigorating twist.

Considerations When Choosing Linoleum Floors

Tough Enough? Maybe. It must be sealed and installed properly to stand up to the moisture in a bathroom.

How to Clean. Linoleum is moderately easy to clean. Sweep, dust, or vacuum regularly, and occasionally wipe the surface with a damp mop or cloth. Mop up spills immediately. Re-apply finish as needed—anywhere from every couple of months to annually, depending on the amount of traffic. Linoleum can develop a yellow cast, a film caused by the oxidation of linseed oil. Exposure to artificial light or sunlight will make the yellow go away.

Underlayment. With proper prep, linoleum can be installed over virtually any flat, dry, clean surface. In most cases, a plywood underlayment is recommended for the best results.

The Lowdown. Linoleum is manufactured from renewable, all-natural materials including solidified linseed oil, cork dust, wood flour and resins. In addition to being durable and fire-resistant, linoleum is also inherently antibacterial and promotes good air quality. Linoleum comes in a wide variety of colors, patterns and designs. It's recyclable and biodegradable, and it can be repaired if damaged.

Keep in mind, though, that durability can vary, and linoleum requires regular refinishing. It also may expand and contract from moisture.

At a cost of $3 to $6, uninstalled, vinyl is a very affordable flooring option. Installation, however, can be somewhat difficult and is best left to professionals.

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