Linoleum: Characteristics, Uses And Problems

Procedure code:
20th Century Building Materials (Ed. Tom Jester, NPS)
Resilient Tile Flooring
Last Modified:

This standard includes general information on the characteristics and common uses of linoleum and identifies typical problems associated with this material along with common causes of its deterioration.


Characteristics of Linoleum:

  • A resilient sheet flooring material
  • Ecologically friendly, made of natural materials
  • Composed of oxidized linseed oil, powdered cork and wood flour, pressed into sheets with a burlap (jute) backing
  • Water resistant
  • Heat- and sound- insulating
  • Very durable and flexible
  • Typically imitated other flooring materials, including tile, slate, wood planks, parquet, and even carpets
  • Tistinguished by type (plain or inlaid) and gauge (battleshipor A-E gauge)
  • Battleship gauges were the thickest type, ranging from light battleship (.142" thick) to very heavy battleship (.25" thick); burlap backing was unpainted; typical colors included brown, dark gray and green
  • A-E gauges of linoleum were thinner than the battleship gauges; burlap backing was painted; typical colors included brown, dark gray, light gray, blue, tan and green

Typical Uses

Typical Historical Uses for Linoleum Include:

  • Residential flooring: for kitchens, hallways and bathrooms
  • Institutional flooring: in schools, showrooms
  • Originally installed over a wood subflooring. Later, a layer of felt was sandwiched in between
  • Heavier battleship linoleum was common in offices, stores, hospitals, banks, lodge rooms, elevators and battleship decks
  • Thinner battleship linoleum was common in light traffic areas and where cost was a factor
  • 'A' gauge plain linoleum was common in apartments or offices with moderate traffic levels
  • 'B, C, and D' gauges were common in residential applications
  • 'E' gauge linoleum was common in the automobile industry
  • The use of linoleum was surpassed by vinyl tile after WWII
  • But, cork flooring remains popular as naturally resilient flooring.

Natural or Inherent Problems:

Chemical Corrosion:

  • With age, the linseed oil component of linoleum oxidizes, resulting in brittle linoleum; for linoleum with a high proportion of filler material to linseed oil, this problem is aggravated
  • linseed oil darkens over time, causing a change in the overall color and appearance of the floor; exposure to ultra-violet rays can further alter the color value of the floor
  • Vanalism or other human induced problems
  • Mechanical or physical deterioration:
  • Abrasion in heavy traffic areas
  • Indentation from heavy furniture or high heels
  • Water damage to backing can cause the backing material to separate from the linoleum
  • Exposure to alkalis found in cleaning agents (such as ammonia) can cause pitted and abraded linoleum; the alkali softens the linseed oil, and destroys the cork
Last Reviewed: 2017-12-11