From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Linoleum is a floor covering made from solidified linseed oil (linoxyn) in combination with wood flour or cork dust over a burlap or canvas backing. Pigments may be added to the materials used. In modern lay parlance, linoleum is often incorrectly used to describe vinyl flooring. The finest linoleum floors, known as 'inlaid', are extremely durable; they are made by joining and inlaying solid pieces of linoleum. Cheaper patterned linoleums came in different grades or gauges, and were printed with thinner layers which were more prone to wear and tear. Good quality linoleum is sufficiently flexible to be used in buildings in which more rigid material (such as ceramic tile) would crack. Between the time of its invention in 1860 and its being superseded by other hard floor coverings in the 1950s it was considered to be an excellent, inexpensive material for high use areas. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, it was favored in hallways and passages, and as a surround for carpet squares. However, most people associate linoleum with its common twentieth century use on kitchen floors. Its water resistance enabled easy maintenance of sanitary conditions and its resilience made standing easier and reduced breakage of dropped china.

Linoleum was invented by Englishman Frederick Walton who patented his formula in 1860. In 1864, he formed the Linoleum Manufacturing Company and by 1869 the factory in Staines, England was exporting to Europe and the United States. In 1877, the Scottish town of Kirkcaldy, in Fife, became the largest producer of linoleum in the world, with no fewer than six floorcloth manufacturers in the town.

The best grades of linoleum were called "battleship linoleum", as a common use of this material was in warships. Actual battle experience showed this was an inappropriate material due to its flammability.

Linoleum as a floor covering has been largely replaced with polyvinyl chloride, which has similar properties of flexibility and durability, but which has greater brightness and translucency and which is relatively less flammable. Like all vinyl products, the combustion products are highly toxic and the normal outgassing products of vinyl are considered by some to be the cause of various health problems and may also be either causes or irritants in cases of multiple chemical sensitivity.

Because it is made of organic materials and is purportedly non-allergenic in nature, high quality linoleum is still in use in many places (especially in non-allergenic homes, hospitals and health care facilities). The design and inlaying of various colors to form patterns reflecting the shape and use of a room is a highly respected craft.


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