Porcelain Tile vs Linoleum Flooring

Porcelain Tile vs Linoleum Flooring

A comparison of porcelain versus linoleum flooring presents two materials that have been on the market for over a hundred years. With a history to explore, things can get interesting.

Both porcelain and linoleum are hard to stain and they both withstand traffic well. However, porcelain tile is a dense, hard ceramic and can even be used in commercial applications or outdoors. Linoleum is supplied as a sheet, modular tiles or a floating floor and is a softer, warmer material to a bare foot compared to any ceramic, including porcelain.

So, which is better for your purposes? That depends on the details of where and how you will be using the floor. So, let’s dig in and compare these two elders of the flooring world.

In this guide, we’ll explore:

Side-by-Side Comparison

 Porcelain TileLinoleum
CompositionPorcelain (kaolin clay)Linoleum (oxidized linseed oil with cork or sawdust on a burlap or canvas backing)
Thickness2 - 6 mm
Material CostMore than ceramic, labor 25% more
$3 - 6
Materials
$12 - 15 installed
$2-5 installed
$4-6 adhered, $7-9 floating, add $2-4 for installation
UseKitchens, baths, not for impact-prone areasKitchens and baths (with sealer), kids' rooms and halls
InstallationSpecial thin-set, laboriousLaborious because of thickness and stiffness
There is a floating floor option
CleaningEasy to maintain, can disinfectEasy and cost-effective to clean
FireFireproofNonflammable
Radiant Flooring?YesYes, may have to break in slowly (70 at first, and never over 85)
SubfloorIs heavy, need subfloor to support weight and is harder to install due to weight, must be smooth and flatSand concrete with 60 grit
FootfallHard, cold underfootSoft, not as cold underfoot
SoundNoisyQuiet
FinishCan mimic marble, granite, wood, steel, bamboo, cork, glazed with glass or
unglazed
Natural, honed, polished, textured/structured, grip
Multitude of colors and patterns available, can also do an inlay with different styles mixed and matched
Water ResistanceBetter resistance to water than ceramic, melted glass on top can make
impervious to water
Yes, but does rely on coatings, sealers and wax
StainsHard to stain, if glazed almost impossible, grout is weak link and needs to be sealed (and resealed)Stain-resistant
Misc.There is lack of standard labeling, gloss finish can be slippery when wetSlippery
DurabilityHard, dense, even used in commercial environments,
tiles crack from impact
Long-lasting
Five classes (1 wall, 2-3 light traffic, 4 med, 5 heavy)
Should put pads under furniture feet
Fades?NoMay "amber"
Below Grade?YesNo
Flooring GuideTile Flooring GuideLinoleum Flooring Guide

Brief History and Composition

1. Linoleum

The formula for linoleum was first invented in 1853. The name is a portmanteau of the Latin words “linum” (flax) and “oleum” (oil). It was found to be resistant to traffic and because of this was initially used in corridors and halls. However, in modern times its stain- and water-resistance have made it a favorite for bathrooms and kitchens, too.

Vinyl flooring (made of PVC, a type of plastic) is often mistaken for linoleum. But true linoleum is a natural product made with renewable materials such as solidified (“oxidized”) linseed oil, pine resin, and cork or saw dust, with a canvas or burlap backer (the backer is made from hemp, jute, cotton, or a linen made from flax). Every component/ingredient is renewable making this a very green product, and with today’s concerns for the environment, linoleum is making a comeback.

The linseed oil and pine resin oxidize into a hard, plastic-like material that acts as the binder for the linoleum. The manufacturer adds wood flour, ground limestone, and pigments directly into the mixture, so the final color and pattern are present all the way through the body of the linoleum.

Most linoleum has a matte to glossy finish and some manufacturers apply a coating at the factory to protect the surface. But depending on the product you chose, you may need to apply a sealer once the linoleum is installed. Be sure to follow instructions for the product you select regarding the finish and expect to wax the floor on a routine basis, with a potential reapplication of a protective coating every five years or so.

2. Porcelain

For hundreds of years, people have used porcelain to make things like dishes, figurines, chamber pots, and containers. For example, the Chinese gifted a porcelain vase to Louis the Great of Hungary in 1338. The hard, dense properties of the material also made it perfect for flooring and many of the historic, great European palaces incorporated porcelain flooring.

Porcelain is a specific type of ceramic that companies manufacture using pressure and high heat. The end product is dense and glassy, with a low water absorption rate, often less than 0.5% (which is superior to the 4% absorption typical of “ordinary” ceramic flooring). These properties provide good wear resistance and allow people to use it in “wet” conditions, even outdoors.

Formulas do vary by product, and the industry lacks standardized labeling which can sometimes make buying “real” porcelain tile a challenge. However, there is a durability grading scale that is an aid in selecting a product for your project. (See the Durability section for details on the rating scale.)

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Finish

1. Linoleum

Companies sell linoleum as a sheet or modular tiles that adhere to the subfloor. There is also a floating version available. The linoleum comes from the factory with the color and look based on the product you select. It may also have a protective coating applied at the factory to increase the linoleum’s resistance to standing water.

The color and pattern are present through the entire body of the linoleum. This makes scratches and other minor damage hard to notice since there is no contrasting color from a separate base or middle layer underneath, like there is with a glazed porcelain tile. It also makes any wear over the years hard to detect.

The finish does vary by product and you may be required to install a coating or sealer once the floor is installed. This is to protect the linoleum, in particular against standing water.

With most all linoleum products, you will also need to apply wax on routine basis to maintain that show room shine, but also to add another layer of protection to the surface.

2. Porcelain

Porcelain is available in many styles and colors. You can finish it to look like granite, marble, steel, bamboo, wood, or even cork. However, there are two main categories of porcelain flooring finishes: glazed and unglazed.

Some porcelain is glazed with a colored layer of glass, and some tiles may receive an ink jet image before it is glazed with a transparent layer of glass. With this layer of glass on the surface, glazed tiles are almost impossible to stain, but can be slippery when wet.

Also, since glazed products carry the color or image on top of the porcelain, chips and scratches are accentuated when the underlying base shows through the glaze.

With unglazed porcelain, the color and marbling are contained in the entire body of the porcelain, so much like linoleum scratches or small chips will not be as obvious. Unglazed porcelain also allows the manufacturer to create textures or patterns on the surface to better mimic things like wood and concrete, or provide some degree of slip resistance. The factory can also polish or hone unglazed products to create a smooth finish with different levels of sheen or gloss.

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Installation

1. Linoleum

When first introduced, linoleum was glued down and the sheets were often mixed and matched with different colors and patterns in an inlay pattern to create architectural floors. Today, we still install sheet or modular tile linoleum as a glue down floor, but there also a floating floor version now on the market.

Linoleum is thicker and stiffer than the vinyl flooring people often confuse it with. The more rigid product is a little more difficult to install than the vinyl. An advanced DIYer could lay a glue down sheet linoleum floor, but most will find the modular tiles more DIY-friendly.

When installing a glue down floor, you can create large patterns or large, flowing curves and transitions by inlaying different products. This competes with, and for some interior designs, beats porcelain tile’s ability to create unique, striking patterns by mixing colors and styles of the flooring material.

Also, the floating floor version is easy to install, it snaps together like laminate flooring but you need to properly prepare the subfloor. The floating linoleum product is a composite product, made of laminated layers of material with linoleum on top.

You will not be able to refinish a floating linoleum floor as many times (the linoleum layer on top is thinner) and it is slightly more expensive than the sheet or modular tile linoleum.

2. Porcelain

As we mentioned, porcelain is hard and durable. But that comes with a shortcoming: it is harder to install than other ceramic tiles.

Porcelain is hard to cut, brittle, and prone to chipping and cracking. Also, because it is harder and denser than other ceramics, porcelain products require specific adhesives to set the tile. You must methodically prepare your subfloor.

Overall, the installation process is an advanced DIY project. Some feel it is best to just hire a professional.

Porcelain can be found as a “rectified tile” where the edges are ground or sawed after the tile is kilned. This means every tile is the same size and has edges free from imperfections. So, you can install porcelain rectified tiles with thin joints, minimizing the amount of grout used, and visual impact of the joint.

Speaking of grout, a porcelain floor will require grouting and this is the weak link in a porcelain floor. The thin joints of a rectified tile minimize the grout used, but other installations may opt to use an epoxy grout for improved durability.

Another strategy is to apply a sealer to the installed porcelain floor, and while there may be some benefit for the tile, the sealer’s benefits are imparted mostly to the grout, improving properties like water and stain resistance of the grout.

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Durability

1. Linoleum

When linoleum was first introduced, its ability to withstand traffic became a hallmark of the material. For that reason, it became the material of choice for halls and corridors after being introduced to the market in the 1850’s. Over the years, coatings and sealers were added to the linoleum, improving its water resistance and it found its way into bathrooms and kitchens.

Unlike porcelain, a dropped item will not shatter linoleum. It is a soft, forgiving material, especially compared to porcelain. However, sharp objects will puncture linoleum.

The material may scratch, but the integral color of linoleum makes scratches less visible than some other materials. You can also refinish linoleum periodically, extending the life of the floor.

One of the major differences between porcelain and linoleum flooring is that linoleum ambers. What does that mean? Well, it tends to yellow when exposed to sunlight, so bright sunny areas may develop a yellowish patina over time.

One other issue you may see with linoleum is creep. And no, not a person who makes you nervous. We are talking about the ability of some materials to form a dent if you place a heavy load on a small footprint (e.g. a foot or leg for a piece of furniture). It is a good idea to place pads under chairs and furniture you place on linoleum floors.

2. Porcelain

Porcelain is a hard, long-lasting, and stain-resistant flooring material.

But there are five different grades of porcelain each with different levels of durability. A rating of one is for walls, two and three are appropriate for light traffic, four is for medium to high traffic, and a rating of five is for heavy traffic. You should choose the porcelain tile rated to meet your level of expected traffic or wear.

Porcelain’s worth as reliable material in high traffic areas has been time proven, but porcelain has two weaknesses. First, dropped items can crack and shatter the brittle tiles. Repairs can be made by removing and replacing tiles, which is not quick or easy.

Second, the grout is a dissimilar material, which is hard to keep clean and susceptible to chipping, cracks, and staining. The grout is the weak link in the floor. It is important to seal it.

It may also require routine care to keep it looking fresh and clean. In some cases, regrouting is necessary to restore the look of the floor.

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Cleaning

Glazed porcelain provides outstanding stain resistance and it is simple to clean with routine tile vacuuming, sweeping and mopping (select a cleaner that will not harm the grout if you use one). The grout is not as stain-resistant and can be difficult to keep looking fresh. There will be times where the grout will need some extra attention with a scrub brush.

Many find a mixture of ¼ to ½ cup vinegar per gallon of water to be an effective cleaning solution on a porcelain tile floor. Some even add fragrance to leave behind a clean smell. Wash the floor with the cleaning solution, scrub with a soft bristle brush if necessary, rinse/remove the solution with clean water, then buff with a clean cotton or microfiber towel.

Linoleum is fairly easy to clean. Keep the floor free of dirt and debris with regular sweeping and mop as necessary using a product recommended to clean linoleum or the vinegar water solution noted for the porcelain, with a few drops of dish soap. One of the major differences between porcelain flooring and linoleum is that after you clean, you may need to apply wax or polish.

Every once in a while, depending on the traffic, you will notice the gloss beginning to dull. That means it is time to wax and use a product recommended for linoleum. Do not apply a second coat until the first has dried completely, and minimize the number of movements with the wax applicator over the floor to reduce streaking.

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Cost

Every project has a budget, even those big expensive ones. So, cost is always an issue and while it is hard since prices vary by product and location, we can say a few things about what you can expect to spend on these two materials.

The installed pricing for porcelain varies and depends on the tile selected and the design layout. A high-grade tile in an intricate pattern will cost more than a middle grade tile laid in a plain pattern.

But in general, porcelain is on the high end of the price range for ceramic floors, about 10% to 25% higher than “ordinary” ceramic tile, and installed tile costs are often about the same as an oak hardwood floor.

Linoleum pricing can vary quite a bit, too. As we mentioned before, inlays are possible, but add to the labor costs. In general, the sheet and modular tile are about  less than the floating floor version of linoleum.

When it comes to the cost match-up of linoleum vs. porcelain flooring, linoleum is more economical than porcelain, about 2/3 the price, but will vary depending on the specific products compared.

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Head-to-Head

We have two materials that are time proven and stand up well to traffic. But there are some differences and it helps to know what they are.

Linoleum offers a warm, comforting feel underfoot which bare feet in bathrooms appreciate on a cold winter’s day. Porcelain is cold and hard. You can use both of these materials over in-floor radiant heat.

Porcelain has an advantage when it comes to water resistance. You can even use it outdoors. Linoleum relies on coatings and sealers to provide water resistance, and you must maintain the coatings.

Below grade, porcelain is a good choice. Linoleum is not. But linoleum is naturally anti-microbial, while porcelain is not.

And the last point deals with architectural impact. Porcelain comes in many designs. You can mix and match it to create striking patterns and mosaics.

Linoleum is not capable of mosaics, but it you can inlay it. The result can be as striking and unique. Linoleum inlays often have larger blocks of color. A linoleum inlay floor can better accentuate curves in interior design.

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The Verdict

Porcelain flooring is dense, hard, and durable, and appropriate for high traffic areas, outdoors, below grade, and in wet areas. Plus, it looks great and can add to the interior design.

However, porcelain is expensive, cold to bare feet, slippery when wet, and is prone to chipping and cracking on impact. It is also difficult to install, and may not be in the realm of possibility for some DIY’ers.

On the other hand, linoleum is a unique material. People often use it in kitchens and bathrooms, or other high-traffic interior areas. It can also make an architectural statement. It provides a warmer, more comfortable feel that welcomes bare feet better than porcelain and is on the order of one-third to one-half the price of a porcelain floor.

You do need to coat, seal, and routinely wax linoleum. Sharp objects can puncture it. It is not water-resistant like porcelain. However, it does have better water resistance than wood. Because of that, you can use it in places like bathrooms.

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Ben Dolce

About Ben Dolce

Ben has been a freelance writer for the past eight years. But before becoming a writer, he worked as materials engineer and consultant for twenty-plus years developing, testing, and investigating failures of flooring materials.

1 thought on “Porcelain Tile vs Linoleum Flooring”

  1. Avatar
    Angela Waterford

    I’m about to buy some porcelain tiles from a good store since they’re hard to stain. I think unglazed tiles would work perfectly for my bathroom. Since you said that they’re easy to disinfect, I know that this is the perfect tile for it.

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