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Linoleum vs. Laminate vs. Vinyl: Differences, Pros, & Cons

This post may contain references or links to products from one or more partners of our parent company and/or subsidiaries of our parent company. For more information, visit this page.

May 15, 2020

So you’ve started looking into ideas on how to replace flooring, and you’ve hit a snag. You don’t actually know the difference between linoleum vs. laminate! 

Sure, you’ve heard of both of these types of flooring a million times. But, like… what’s the actual distinction? Isn’t linoleum a type of vinyl? And what’s the difference between laminate vs. hardwood? Isn’t laminate just one of the types of hardwood flooring?

Oh, and you keep hearing the term LVT. What does that even stand for? Is it vinyl? Is it a tile? So then what’s the difference between tile vs. laminate

If you’re thinking “this sucks, I don’t understand any of it, and I want to go home”, you’re not alone. Understanding the differences between all these types of flooring is, honestly, kind of a pain. 

If only someone would make an easy-to-understand guide to the differences between linoleum vs. laminate that explains how they’re different from vinyl and that highlights the pros and cons of each option… oh, wait, that’s exactly what we did! Read on, friend. Your answers are below.

Table of Contents

What is Linoleum?

Sheet linoleum printed to mimic hardwood
Sheet linoleum printed to mimic hardwood

Ok, what is linoleum flooring? Basically, linoleum is a composite flooring made of natural materials including cork dust, wood flour, solidified linseed oil, pine rosin, and various other substances. It was most popular during the early 1900s, and was one of the top home flooring options until the 1940s. At that point, linoleum had to make way for another even more affordable option: vinyl. 

Linoleum vs. Vinyl: What’s the Difference?

Vinyl is also a composite flooring material, but it’s made of PVC—aka plastic. Ever since the 1950s, it’s been getting more and more popular. Today, vinyl is the fastest growing sector of the flooring industry.

Translation: when you use the word “linoleum” today, you’re often referring to vinyl. Even your grandmother’s 1950s kitchen floor is probably vinyl (not linoleum). The two terms just get tossed around like they’re identical twins because linoleum was the first composite flooring product, and vinyl has largely replaced linoleum in most of its major applications.

But at the end of the day, they’re different types of flooring. Vinyl is made of synthetic material, where linoleum is all-natural (and fully biodegradable). And while linoleum flooring isn’t super widespread anymore because of vinyl, it is going through a bit of a renaissance right now for people who want a more eco-friendly option.

What is LVT? What’s the difference between LVT and vinyl?

Rigid LVT being installed using a click-together installation. Vinyl flooring such as this has largely replaced linoleum.
Rigid LVT. Note the click-together installation.

LVT stands for luxury vinyl tile. It’s one of the best types of vinyl flooring—or at least, one of the most popular types of vinyl flooring. Other names for this product include “LVP” (luxury vinyl plank), “WPC” (wood-plastic composite), and just plain old “luxury vinyl”. Every manufacturer calls it something different.

Luxury vinyl floors are composed of rigid or semi-rigid vinyl planks or tiles designed to mimic other types of flooring (wood, most often). They’re almost always sold as click-together flooring products, making them easy to install. And of course, their all-plastic construction makes them highly durable. 

Again: LVT is not one of the many types of tile. Rather, it’s today’s most popular form of vinyl flooring.

What is Laminate?

Laminate flooring waiting to be installed. Note the thickness of the plywood base.
Laminate flooring waiting to be installed. Note the thickness of the plywood base.

Ok, so what is laminate flooring? Laminate is also a type of composite flooring, but it’s much more similar to hardwood. Think of it like a cross between traditional linoleum and the best engineered wood flooring you can buy.

Laminate is composed of three layers: a plywood or fiberboard base layer, a photo-realistic image layer, and a hard plasticate wear layer to protect against scuffs, dings, and dents. When it comes to hardwood floor alternatives, laminate often looks and feels the most realistic (even more so than LVT). 

Laminate was invented back in the 1970s by Pergo, who still produces a lot of it today (check out some Pergo reviews if you’re interested). And while it used to get a bad rap for looking plastic-y, many laminate products have become virtually indistinguishable from real hardwood in recent years. 

Laminate is super affordable, you can use it to create gorgeous wood floor designs, and it can even go head to head with the most durable wood flooring in a battle of hardness. When it comes to fake wood flooring, it’s basically the best of all worlds.

Linoleum vs. Laminate: What’s the Difference?

By now, you should know that these materials are very different. Comparing the pros and cons of linoleum vs. laminate is like comparing the pros and cons of carpet vs. laminate. They’re both awesome floors, but used for very different reasons. 

Linoleum is an old-fashioned composite material that’s usually made into tiles. It has lost most of its popularity to vinyl, which is plastic. Laminate is a wood floor substitute largely made of plywood. Ok, we all caught up? Good.

The Pros and Cons of Linoleum vs. Laminate vs. Vinyl

What are the pros and cons of linoleum flooring?

  • Pro: Linoleum is biodegradable and environmentally friendly.
  • Pro: It can come in a wide variety of designs that can mimic other materials (like wood) or stand on their own.
  • Pro: Thanks to its natural construction, linoleum can feel softer underfoot than laminate can (as laminate’s wear layer can be quite hard). Next to the best cork flooring, linoleum is one of the most comfortable types of flooring anywhere.
  • Pro: As it has been around for a long time, linoleum is quite affordable!

  • Con: Because it’s composed of organic materials, linoleum isn’t completely waterproof unless properly sealed. 
  • Con: It can be hard to find a huge range or linoleum products, as they’ve largely been supplanted by luxury vinyl.
  • Con: When it comes to installation, linoleum is generally glued to a subfloor while vinyl and laminate can both be installed as floating floors. And while there are some disadvantages of floating floors, they are much easier to install.
  • Con: Linoleum needs to be installed over a very smooth subfloor to prevent warping (what is subflooring, you ask?)

What are the pros and cons of laminate flooring?

  • Pro: Laminate floors are very scratch-resistant. If you’ve got an energetic puppy, kids, or just a lot of activity on your floors in general, laminate typically does a good job of standing up to wear and tear. 
  • Pro: If you’re looking to imitate hardwood, laminate is the way to go. In fact, some of the best hardwood floor brands also produce laminate.
  • Pro: Just as with any wood flooring cost, laminate can be as pricey or inexpensive as you want it to be. You have lots of options.
  • Pro: Since laminate is thicker than vinyl because of its wooden core, this flooring type can be embossed to look like real wood. 

  • Con: Laminate floors may not be as budget-friendly as their vinyl counterparts. 
  • Con: Because they’re made of organic products, laminate floors are more vulnerable to water damage than vinyl products.
  • Con: Laminate does a great job of copying the look of genuine hardwood, but it can’t hold a candle to hardwood’s longevity because it can’t be refinished. 
  • Con: If you’ve looked into bamboo flooring vs. laminate, you’ll know that laminate’s hardness can also make it somewhat brittle (depending on the product). You could always put down some peel-and-stick carpet tiles for softness, but it’s a hassle.

What are the pros and cons of vinyl flooring?

  • Pro: Vinyl is incredibly affordable. If your purse strings are tight during your home renovation, vinyl may be a perfect option for you. 
  • Pro: If durability is a concern, vinyl may be a good choice. In a pinch, you can even use it as an outdoor flooring option!
  • Pro: Vinyl floors are waterproof. Do you have rambunctious kids making waves in the bath? No problem. Thanks to its seamless nature and synthetic core, this flooring type is ideal for kitchens and bathrooms. Not even the best hardwood floors can say that.
  • Pro: Vinyl products are almost always installed as floating floors, making them a forgiving do-it-yourself flooring option. Do you know how to install hardwood floors? Then you can install vinyl flooring with ease.

  • Con: Vinyl floors may not feel as realistic as other options like laminate. If you’re looking for a floor that closely mimics hardwood floors, other types may perform better. 
  • Con: Depending on the warranty, vinyl floors may have a shorter lifespan than other flooring options like hardwood. That means that they may need to be replaced more frequently.
  • Con: Vinyl flooring doesn’t typically carry a resale value the same way wood does.
  • Con: Once removed, vinyl floors have to be discarded in a landfill. Needless to say, this is not a green flooring option. 

Linoleum vs. Laminate: The Conclusion

Ok, let’s review what we’ve learned about the linoleum vs. laminate question. 

  1. Linoleum is an older, composite product that’s made of organic materials. 
  2. It’s largely been replaced in most applications by vinyl, which is made of plastic. 
  3. Today, when many people say “linoleum”, they actually mean “vinyl”. 
  4. Laminate is a layered composite flooring made from a mix of organic materials and plastics, and it usually looks like wood.
  5. All three of these materials have distinct pros and cons.

Whew! Who knew comparing linoleum vs. laminate could be so educational? Well, we hope you’ve learned everything you need to know in order to make an informed decision about your flooring needs. Now, the only thing left to do is find a flooring store in your area and get started! And for more information on flooring products, read up on:

About The Author

Savannah Howe

Savannah is a midwestern writer who dabbles in blogging, poetry, and news. When she's not stuck behind a desk, she can be found hiking, in a coffee shop, or chasing a rambunctious toddler.

Show Comments (5)
  1. What a wonderful, thoughtful and empathetic article with history lessons to boot! Thank you for gently explaining why my laminate kitchen floor is really vinyl, and why I can celebrate that.

    • Thanks so much for the kind words, Missy! We’re so pleased you liked our article and we couldn’t agree more—vinyl flooring is absolutely worth celebrating!

  2. It’s great that you mention the non eco friendly nature of pvc and laminate but I’m stunned that you do not mention the toxic off gassing of formaldehyde that comes with laminate and other composite wood flooring. This alone is a very major con.

    Cork, linoleum and real hardwood are the option of choice for non toxic floors.

    • Hi Andrew,
      Thanks so much for reading and for your excellent point! We agree and actually go in-depth on the issues with formaldehyde and off-gassing from laminate floors in this article. Let us know what you think and thanks again for reading!

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