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Linoleum Flooring Materials - History, Components, Identification: this article provides information about linoleum flooring: the history of linoleum, linoleum ingredients, and the properties of linoleum resilient or sheet floor coverings.
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Linoleum is a term invented in 1860 by Frederick Walton to describe sheet flooring. Original linoleum products were made using linseed oil as an ingredient. According to Rosato, "The original resilient floor coverings were developed during the latter part of the Nineteenth Century by Frederick Walton. The original covering was linoleum for use as a floor decking on British naval ships." The composition of the original products included asphaltic binders to which an asbestos filler was added by mixing on a rubber mill. Walton went on to design LINCRUSTA CEILINGS & WALLS, and Thomas Palmer, who had worked for Walton, soon produced a similar but lighter product ANAGLYPTA CEILINGS & WALLS.
We noted at ASBESTOS FLOOR TILE PHOTO ID GUIDE that Linoleum may be used as a generic term for older sheet floorings (sometimes incorrectly). Linoleum was invented as a ship deck, later floor covering in 1860 by Frederick Walton to describe sheet flooring.
"Linoleum" as a name as well as a product was invented by Walton from his observation that his original linoleum products were made using linseed oil as an ingredient (linseed oil forms a thick flexible skin when it dries), often with a jute, burlap or fabric backing (see our photo just below). Descendents of Linoleum include Anaglypta and Lincrusta (many writers spell it "Linocrusta or linacrusta", an embossed patterned covering used on walls and ceilings.
Here is a photograph of an early (pre-vinyl) continuous floor covering, ca 1900, in an 1840 historic Vermont house.
Note the fabric backing of the flooring material.
This sheet flooring covering backed with burlap fabric is probably more than a century old. We examined it in an non-public area of the Justin Morrill Homestead, a historic building in Vermont. The material has not been tested for asbestos fibers, but where we see what is obviously a jute backing it's not likely that the product contained asbestos..
The possible origin of this product is discussed at Asphalt & Vinyl Floor Tile History - history, dates, and description of the production process and ingredients in asphalt floor tiles, asphalt-asbestos floor tiles, & vinyl-asbestos floor tiles 1900 to present.
Details about the history of Sheet and Tile Resilient flooring are at FLOOR TILE HISTORY & INGREDIENTS.
According to Armstrong Flooring, in Portugal (no coincidence as you'll read below)
Linoleum is still in modern production (we describe the ingredients in linoleum just below), and it is a very durable product. Armstrong Portugal asserts that "Commercial reference projects laid with Armstrong DLW Linoleum are in use up to 90 years". This age, combined with the observation that because of its constituent products linoleum is biodegradable, gives modern linoleum floor coverings a very low life-cycle cost. 
Modern Linoleum Floors
For the last 50 years or so, linoleum has been used almost exclusively in commercial settings, but it is making a comeback in residential settings, due largely to its use of all-natural ingredients and reputation for durability.
Our photo (left) shows antique sheet flooring found in a home built in th3 1800's.
Linoleum in its traditional or original formula was and is still made by boiling oil to form a thick cement paste that is mixed with pine rosin, wood flour, and other fillers such as clay or limestone to make a durable, resilient sheet flooring that wears well and resists indentation.
The traditional backing for linoleum sheet flooirng was typically jute fabric, a natural fiber. Other than relatively minor initial off-gassing from the linseed oil base, linoleum is considered nontoxic by most healthy-house advocates. It is also naturally antimicrobial and anti static, making it well suited for hospitals, schools, and rooms with electronic equipment. If well maintained, a linoleum floor can provide a 20- to 30-year service life.
Description of contemporary linoleum flooring products
In response to new demand for the product in recent years, manufacturers have responded with a wide variety of solid and marbleized colors and attractive checkered patterns, available in sheet form as well as 19x19-inch tiles that can be mixed to create borders and other designs. Unlike vinyl, linoleum colors go all the way through the product, making scratches and wear spots less noticeable than on vinyl. Also, scratches, cigarette burns, and other surface wear can be removed with steel wool or a nylon abrasive pad and buffed out.
However, since linoleum does not have a separate wear layer like vinyl flooring and is slightly porous, it requires somewhat more maintenance than vinyl. Applying a sealer or polish to the new floor will help it resist stains and make it easier to clean. Also, portions of a linoleum floor not exposed to light will tend to darken or yellow due to the natural oxidation of the linseed oil base. This coloration will disappear upon exposure to light, and the original linoleum color will be restored, or “bloom.”
Where to Buy Modern Linoleum Flooring
All linoleum flooring is now manufactured in Europe. The largest supplier in the United States is European-based Forbo Linoleum, Inc., but U.S.-based flooring companies such as Armstrong are beginning to offer linoleum products as well. A unique floating linoleum plank floor that can be installed with or without glue is available from Nova Distinctive Floors.
Readers interested in other natural product resilient floor coverings should see CORK FLOORING: Natural Alternatives to Vinyl Floors: Installing Cork or Cork Tile Floors.
-- This section was adapted with permission from Best Practices Guide to Residential Construction.
Details about identifying older installations of sheet flooring or sheet-forms of resilient flooring that may contain asbestos are now found at RESILIENT SHEET FLOORING ID GUIDE
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