Actual linoleum tile is considered a specialty product because it is more time-consuming to manufacture than linoleum sheet flooring. Linoleum tile was invented in 1860 by an Englishman named Frederick Walton, and it is a mix of linseed oil and wood flour backed by burlap or canvas. It is extremely durable, and is commonly used where materials like ceramic tile would crack. Most linoleum tile today, however, is not true linoleum, but is vinyl tile made from polyvinyl chloride (PVC). The PVC type is still referred to as linoleum, as it has many of the same properties.
True linoleum flooring comes in many grades and qualities. Inlaid linoleum tile, in which solid pieces of linoleum are joined together, is considered one of the most durable options by flooring manufacturers. Thinner types of linoleum are considered to be of lesser quality because they are more susceptible to wear and tear. It is water-resistant but highly flammable, and for a while linoleum was used to make warships in the early 1900s. Because of its water resistant properties and high pigmentation, linoleum tile is considered an optimal choice for kitchen flooring.
Vinyl flooring is commonly used now, as it has the same durability and flexibility as true linoleum flooring, but it is less flammable and comes in a wider array of colors and is generally considered to be brighter and more translucent, which can provide a softer, easier match to almost any decor. When PVC does catch fire, it releases toxic fumes, which can be dangerous. Because of this, and also because some properties of PVC flooring can cause allergic reactions in some people, true linoleum tile of high quality is used in places where safety, sterility and hypoallergenic properties are needed, such as hospitals, healthcare facilities and schools.
Depending upon the materials utilized and the manufacturing process used, linoleum tile is considered by some to be an ecologically friendly flooring option. Linoleum components are often combined, pressed together and cured in ovens for 14 to 21 days. Linoleum tile is generally more expensive, but also considered higher quality than sheet linoleum, which is also an option for homeowners looking to install a linoleum floor. When first installed, linoleum tile and flooring often give off an odor comparable to a fresh coat of paint due to the linseed oil content, although the smell should dissipate in a matter of days. Most linoleum also will come with a slightly yellowish cast that will disappear when exposed to natural light, so homeowners considering linoleum flooring should expose their samples to natural light before making a final decision on which to install.