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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.
Inventor & History of Linoleum Flooring & Its Descendants Lincrusta & Anaglypta
Linoleum was invented in 1860 by Frederick Walton and was intended for use first as a ship deck covering (battleship linoleum up to 1/2" thick). Earlier, in the 1700s, non-woven floor coverings were made of oil cloth - heavy canvas coated with wax or oils (for water resistance and durability) that were then painted. Previously, painted oilcloth floor covering was probably the most common non-woven floor covering for nearly two hundred years, or until Walton's linoleum entered production.
Because of its durability and ease of production, Mr. Walton's linoleum quickly found use as a floor coverings in buildings - a much larger application than battleships. Linoleum's appeal rose from its properties as a durable, water-resistant sheet-type floor covering. Glued to a backer of jute or canvas to resist cracks and tears, this flooring has a long history of durability and service.
"Linoleum" was named 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), combined with ground cork dust, pigments, and resins, often with a jute, burlap or canvas fabric backing (see our antique linoleum photos 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. Walton was also the inventor of LINCRUSTA CEILINGS & WALLS, while Thomas Palmer, who had worked for Walton, soon produced a similar but lighter product ANAGLYPTA CEILINGS & WALLS.
Asbestos in "Linoleum"?
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." Perhaps confusing traditional linoleum formulas that did not contain asbestos with the asphalt-impregnated felt mounted sheet flooring that did, Rosato asserted that ..."the composition of the original linoleum products included asphaltic binders to which an asbestos filler was added by mixing on a rubber mill." This description fits asphalt-saturated felt backed sheet flooring but not traditional or "true" linoleum, as you will read below.
Wilson & Snodgrass, U.S. FPL (2007) note that saturated-felt based linoleum-like flooring appeared in the U.S. as early as 1910, and expanded by Armstrong's Linoflor beginning in 1937. Asphalt-saturated felt-based sheet flooring was less expensive to produce and is [unfortunately] often referred to by the same term - linoleum - even though its constituents are different. We warn below that many asphalt-saturated felts contained asbestos as either a strengthener (in fiber form) or as a filler (in both sheet flooring and asphalt or vinyl based floor tiles).
Those same authors note that cork flooring product names included Kencork, Linotile, and Corkoustic - of which Linotile may have added to the confusion about use of the term linoleum.
Modern Linoleum Products
Linoleum was produced and is still produced today in solid colors, in a wood-grain pattern, in jaspsé (colored streak patterns), in marble-like patterns, in floral designs, in brick patterns, and in both printed geometric and inlaid geometric designs.
There are modern linoleum products that still use these traditional (non-asbestos-containing) ingredients, there were asphalt-saturated felt-backed linoleum-like products, and today there are both traditional linoleum and modern non-linoleum lookalike sheet flooring products made of vinyl.
The "linoleum" photographs shown above illustrate two traditional linoleum floor patterns. Source: Wilson & Snodgrass, U.S. FPL (2007). Below an illustration from the same authors is a beautiful example of a Congoleum "rug" still in use by the US FPL.
Older sheet flooring products in buildings that do Not Contain Asbestos
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 this sheet flooring 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.
Linoleum is the only floor covering offered on the market that is predominantly made of natural renewable raw materials.
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. 
Linoleum's ingredients, both historical and modern
The reader-contributed photographs just below demonstrate Congoleum's Gold Seal™ linoleum in a braided rug design or pattern. [Click to enlarge any image]. Below we list the ingredients found in linoleum floor coverings.
Natural resins: linseed oil (original linoleum), also balsam and copal resins or as a substitute dammar resin. Resins form the binder or "glue" that holds the product together. Linseed oil is made from flax seeds.
Jute is used as the flooring backer for strength and dimensional stability. As a kid we called jute "burlap" as it was commonly used also to produce burlap bags. Jute is a natural fabric. We also have found older linoleum floor coverings that used asphalt-impregnated paper ("tar paper" or roofing felt) as a backer.
Color pigments are used to form the patterns in the linoleum surface (see our photos here). Armstrong points out that their Armstrong DLW Linoleum, care was given to choice of pigments to protect the "natural" claim for this flooring material. Quoting:
In the Armstrong DLW Linoleum all the colour pigments are free of lead, cadmium and chrome. The dark colours are produced for the most part with iron oxide pigments, the bright colours with pigments of organic origin. All pigments were examined by a toxicologist and are classified as being physiologically harmless.
Among other requirements Armstrong DLW Linoleum therefore meets the demands of the toy norm EN71 or better and the various legal requirements for the colouring of consumer goods. - 
Cork powder is used in Linoleum to give body to the flooring flexible surface.
Armstrong uses cork powder waste. Readers familiar with the Iberian peninsula will recognize that cork is a long-standing and important export product from both Spain and Portugal.
The "linoleum" photo at left in rug pattern (notice that the sheet flooring does not extend fully to the room perimeter) illustrates a linoleum "rug". Source: Wilson & Snodgrass, U.S. FPL (2007).
CORK FLOORING also uses ground cork, but in a more coarse form described in that article.
Limestone powder is used as a filler in the resilient linoleum floor covering body.
Really? Pending further research our GUESS is that some early forms of linoleum could have used asbestos powder as a similar filler material, just as asbestos powder was used as a filler in some floor tiles.
Photos above of saturated felt-backed "linoleum" flooring (installed on a bench top) were provided by reader C.W. In addition to use on floors, linoleum was a popular covering for workbenches and kitchen counters and sink draining areas.
I wanted to seek your advice on the attached images which is some sort of tiling that a previous homeowner put on a work bench as a covering.
I looked through your website, but couldn't find a match.
Does this look like asbestos tiles to you? If so, any idea on the brand?
Thanks in advance!
- C.W. 1/17/2014
Reply: forms of "linoleum" may include products glued to felt underlayment vs. glued to a jute backing
Our guide to identifying older types of sheet flooring, including products that may contain asbestos, is found at RESILIENT SHEET FLOORING ID GUIDE. There we describe some simple tests that can often confirm the flooring type and basic materials.
From your photographs (the pair above and second pair given below) showing that the flooring product, now covering a workbench top, has a woven rug -patterned top layer over a black substrate or backer, I would guess that this is an asphalt felt paper-backed sheet flooring product resembling linoleum.
The "linoleum" photo at left in a "marbelized pattern" illustrates a similar example of black felt-backed sheet flooring referred to by some experts as "linoleum". Source: Wilson & Snodgrass, U.S. FPL (2007).
We explain in this article that the ingredients of true linoleum include natural resins, linseed oil, color pigments, cork powder and limestone, with a jute backing. Those products do not contain and never contained asbestos.
But other sheet flooring products loosely called "linoleum" may indeed contain asbestos. The US Forest Products Lab asserts that some forms of "linoleum" were glued to felt underlayment. (US FPL 2007).
The black backing and body of the flooring in your photos looks to me like an asphalt product, though I'd have to see and test a sample to know for certain.
Photos above of felt-backed "linoleum" provided by reader C.W.
Watch out: some older felt underlayments and similar asphalt paper products used in flooring, roofing, and wall coverings or building papers contained asbestos. While I'm doubtful that the small quantity of flooring in your photo presents a measurable asbestos hazard (unless some fool grinds or rips it into shreds), it may thus contain asbestos.
If this asphalt-felt backed antique flooring sample were mine I'd preserve it, or a square of it, as it may be historically important. Your second photo of the four (above right) seems to show a plastic or glass cover over this sheet flooring "rug" (as they were called). In that installation the material is protected and most likely completely harmless.
If you decide to dispose of the material as construction debris, I'd be glad to have you cut a pattern square and send it to me for lab examination pro-bono. While we have expertise in asbestos and other material identification in our forensic lab, if you needed an asbestos certification (which in my opinion would be inappropriate for this case) you'd want to use a certified asbestos test lab.
Reader Question: what is this sheet flooring from my home that was built in 1865?
Can you give me an idea of date or asbestos?
House was built 1865.
This one is the last on top of tongue and groove.
Black felt backing. With asphalt type adhesive.
Thank you. - L.P. 6/3/2014
LP this looks like a linoleum floor to me.
The spatter pattern was later picked-up and popularized in a similar (not identical) design that appeared in some of the Kentile flooring as its Carnival pattern but those were individual floor tiles, not sheet flooring like yours.
See my warning above about some older felt backing and some flooring adhesives that contain asbestos.
Reader Question: Does this 1930's Linoleum Contain Asbestos?
05/05/2015 E. wrote:
I am in need of flooring expertise. I have dibs on a large roll of (what the owner believes to be) 1930’s linoleum. (Age is based off of newspapers pulled out of the wall, so dating method isn’t all that scientific.) I am eager to snatch it up – but am concerned about asbestos. The sheet was either never glued to the floor, (or the glue dissipated) allowing it to be rolled up and removed from the house. I realize the only sure way to know is to have it tested – but does this image and the owners description of the back give you any feeling one way or the other? Based on the fact that this is rolled up and the backing is smooth, I would tend to think it’s simply linoleum, but I did see a comment on your site that indicated that some smooth backed sheet flooring could contain asbestos.
Here's a close up of the back of the linoleum. Somebody dropped a bobby pin on the floor when they laid the linoleum! The linoleum has a hard backing with no loose fibers that I can see. This picture was taken at about 2 inches close.
Ultimately, anything I would use this for would require some cutting, which I am imagine could be done with a utility knife, as the flooring is still somewhat flexible. Based on what I’ve read, asbestos is only a hazard when it’s crumbled, and/or airborn, and cutting can be fairly safe if you get it wet. I certainly don’t want to take it, find out it’s a hazard, and then have to pay again to dispose of it – it’s pretty huge. - E. 5/5/15
As we note in the first article, some of these sheet flooring products loosely called "linoleum" may indeed contain asbestos. The US Forest Products Lab asserts that some forms of "linoleum" were glued to felt underlayment. (US FPL 2007), and some felt underlayment contained asbestos. I suspect yours does not, but you're right, you'd need to test a sample.
Keep in mind that if the material is intact and is not ground, sawn, or broken up so as to release debris, even if its backing contains asbestos the airborne levels over an intact floor may be below the limits of detection.
If the cost of the material justifies a lab test - which I recommend - use a certified asbestos test lab and keep me posted on the results. Typical lab tests for asbestos in a material cost about $50.
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 at below shows antique sheet flooring found in a home built in the 1800's. At below right is a snippet showing modern linoleum patterns from Fobo Linoleum, Inc. (contact information for the company is given below)
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
Jute Backing on traditional linoleum
The traditional backing for linoleum sheet flooring 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
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 & Linoleum Flooring in Historic or Traditional Patterns
(also Rubber or Cork Flooring Alternatives)
Most if not all new linoleum flooring is now manufactured in Europe. Our linoleum sample color & pattern example at left is from the Armstrong Corporation's online linoleum flooring selection catalog. Contact information for Armstrong linoleum flooring products is just below. Some of the linoleum and related cork or rubber flooring product sources listed below were listed by Wilson & Snodgrass - US FPL (2007).
All of the current (2014) Armstrong Corporation linoleum colors and patterns are variations of the pattern type shown here. Older braided rug or facsimile patterns are not currently offered in that company's selection guide.
Armstrong Flooring Products also distributes nearly seventy colors & patterns of linoleum flooring. Contact the company at: www.armstrong.com/flooring/linoleum.html for a web page listing a store-finder by U.S. zip code.
Armstrong World Industries, Inc.
Customer Relations and Technical Services
P.O. Box 3001
Lancaster, PA 17604,
1129 West Lincoln Hwy.
Coatesville, PA 19320
Web site: http://www.expanko.com (rubber and cork flooring)
1401 East 6th St.
Tuscumbia, AL 35674
Web site: http://www.flexcofloors.com/rubber_retro.asp (rubber, retro rubber, & vinyl flooring)
Image at left: example of Forbo linoleum in marbled pattern from the company's flooring catalog. Contact information for Forbo in North America and in the U.K. is just below.
Forbo Linoleum, Inc. - The largest linoleum flooring supplier in the United States is European-based
Forbo Linoleum, Inc., Forbo's Flotex sheet flooring (and floor tiles) are available in a wide range of colours and in linear, marbled, solid and other patterns. Forbo also provides cork-linoleum flooring products.
Forbo Flooring Systems
8 Maplewood Drive
Humboldt Industrial Park
Hazleton, PA 18202.
Forbo Flooring Systems
3220 Orlando Drive
Mississauga, ON L4V 1R5, TEL: Canada
Website: www.forboflooringna.com/ Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Forbo Flooring in the U.K. can be contacted at London EC1 showroom (commercial enquiries only)
79 St John Street, Clerkenwell, London, EC1M 4NR
Tel: 0207 553 9300, Residential enquiries: 0800 0935 846
, Website: http://www.forbo-flooring.co.uk
119 South Tree Dr.,
P.O. Box 4944,
Lancaster, PA 17604–4944
Website: http://www.gerbertltd.com/. Rubber & cork flooring
Linoleum City, 5657 Santa Monica Blvd.
Hollywood, CA 90038
Web site: http://www.linoleumcity.com/products.htm (Historical patterns of linoleum, rubber, cork, & vinyl flooring)
Photo at left: Nova cork plank flooring being installed.
Nova Distinctive Floors A unique floating linoleum plank floor that
can be installed with or without glue is available from
Nova Distinctive Floors. Nova also produces cork flooring products, including an interesting Cork-Stone product, and leather flooring products (leather bonded to cork and high density fiber board). Forbo's Marmoleum linoleum flooring is provided in sheets or tiles.
Nova Distinctive Floors
Address: 1710 E Sepulveda Blvd.
Address: Carson CA, 90745
E-mail: email@example.com Website: novafloorings.com/linoleumfloatingfloors.htm
Secondhand Rose, 138 Duane St.
New York, NY 10013
Web site: http://www.secondhandrose.com/ (Used or "traditional" Linoleum)
2728 Summer St.
Houston, TX 77007
Web site: http://www.tarkett.com (Traditional or historic linoleum floor patterns, also vinyl flooring)
Readers interested in other natural product resilient floor coverings should also see CORK FLOORING: Natural Alternatives to Vinyl Floors: Installing Cork or Cork Tile Floors.
How to Identify Armstrong, Congoleum, & other Asbestos-Containing Resilient Sheet Flooring
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 - live link is given just below.
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Questions & answers or comments about linoleum floor coverings, age, history, safety, materials, contents.
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Richa Wilson, Kathleen Snodgrass, "Early 20th-Century Building Materials: Resilient Flooring" [Very large PDF], Richa Wilson, Intermountain Regional Architectural Historian
Kathleen Snodgrass, Project Leader, United States Department of Agriculture Forest Service, Technology & Development Program, August 2007, 7300-0773-2322-MTDC. Contact Kathie Snodgrass at MTDC:
 Armstrong, Portugal: Ingredients of Linoleum, web search 03/31/2011, original source: http://www.armstrong.pt/commflreu/es-pt/ingredients.html
American Plywood Association, APA, "Portland Manufacturing Company, No. 1, a series of monographs on the history of plywood manufacturing",Plywood Pioneers Association, 31 March, 1967, www.apawood.org
Armstrong ® Residential Flooring - Website 05/15/2010 http://www.armstrong.com/ lists current flooring products provided by the Armstrong Corporation, including Armstrong's current vinyl floor tile products at http://www.armstrong.com/flooring/products/vinyl-floors
Armstrong Corporation, Corporate History - http://www.armstrong.com/corporate/corporate-history.html - Web Search 05/19/2010
Armstrong vinyl asbestos floor tiles: photos of asbestos floor tiles as catalog pages (PDF form) are at www.asbestosresource.com/asbestos/tile.html
Asbestos products and their history and use in various building materials such as asphalt and vinyl flooring includes discussion which draws on Asbestos, Its Industrial Applications, D.V. Rosato, engineering consultant, Newton, MA, Reinhold Publishing, 1959 Library of Congress Catalog Card No.: 59-12535 (out of print).
Thanks to reader Robin DiNunzio for contributing samples of cork flooring from a 1949 home M1y 2010
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