Is linoleum a good flooring choice for our baby's nursery?

Asked by Lauren Raymond, Avon, CO

I have been reading up on creating a green nursery, and many websites suggest using linoleum flooring. However, I have also read that even natural linoleum floors emit toxins. I'm confused—what kind of flooring is best?


Marian Keeler

Answered by Marian Keeler

San Francisco, CA

Simon & Associates, Inc.

January 7, 2008

Natural linoleum flooring is considered by many to be green because its ingredients are bio-based: linseed oil from the flax plant, rosin from the pine tree, cork flour, wood flour, limestone dust, pigments and jute. On the face of it, these naturally derived ingredients paint a perfect picture—but “natural” is not always synonymous with good health.

Linoleum carries an odor long after installation, blamed mainly on the linseed oil. Secondary emissions are also present due to the oxidation of certain chemicals, and only after the linoleum has aged do these emissions show up. Because these secondary emissions are a problem for young children, as well as chemically sensitive people, many practitioners choose not to specify linoleum in childcare spaces.

Linoleum has several other environmental drawbacks. Many manufacturing plants are overseas, and the wood and cork flours used may be from overseas sources that are not sustainably harvested (cork is a renewable material, but is increasingly overharvested). Also, after its useful life, which is estimated at 25 to 40 years, linoleum is typically landfilled or incinerated, both poor choices for disposal.

Unfortunately, there are few alternatives appropriate for a nursery application.

  • A good choice would be a Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified wood floor with natural-fiber area rugs that can be removed for cleaning.
  • Another alternative would be a polyolefin resilient floor like LifeLine by Upofloor or Stratica by Amtico.

Alternatives for less specialized spaces include concrete or low-emitting carpet.

Linoleum is preferable to some of the other resilient flooring options, such as rubber flooring, which carries an odor long after installation, or flooring containing PVC. Natural linoleum has a lower lifecycle cost than vinyl flooring and is free of phthalates and other plasticizers, formaldehyde and chlorine. At least one linoleum manufacturer, Forbo, has addressed the secondary emissions issue by treating the surface of their product to minimize the release of aldehydes.

Should you decide to install linoleum:

  • use low-VOC adhesives or choose click-together tiles that don't require adhesives;
  • don't seal or otherwise treat the linoleum surface;
  • use a low-maintenance process for cleaning; and
  • use green cleaning products. Avoid stripping and waxing, a process commonly used for vinyl floors that emits large amounts of VOCs.


For more information:

Check our comprehensive green flooring buyer's guides and tips.

Visit our green baby nursery Know How section, and consult a green design specialist in healthful homes such as Eva Craig at Imogen Home in San Francisco.

Tagged In: linoleum, pvc safety

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