Home » What is Vinyl Flooring? How is It Made? (Drawbacks & Alternatives)

What is Vinyl Flooring? How is It Made? (Drawbacks & Alternatives)

If you’re looking for new flooring, vinyl can be a great option. It’s inexpensive, easy to install, and easy to maintain.

But if you’re thinking of trying it for the first time, you probably have lots of questions. Is it the right choice for your home? What different kinds are available? What factors should you consider before you buy? And how should you keep it in top-notch condition?

We’re here to help with all these and more! So read on to find out everything you need to know about vinyl flooring.

What do we mean by vinyl flooring?

There are actually a number of different kinds of vinyl flooring. You can choose between vinyl sheet, vinyl tiles and vinyl planks. And you may also come across terms like luxury vinyl. So what do they all mean?

Vinyl sheet flooring comes on a roll. It’s the thinnest of the different kinds of vinyl flooring, so it’s light and easy to handle. It’s also the least expensive. And because it comes in a large sheet, the whole area can be completely impermeable to water. That makes it a great choice for bathrooms.

It will, though show up any imperfections in your sub-floor. So if you’re going to use sheet flooring, you may need to spend time, and potentially money, creating a perfectly smooth and level surface to lay it on.

Vinyl tiles, on the other hand, are thicker and – you’ve guessed it – formed as individual tiles. They’re often printed with designs that mimic stone or ceramic. As there’s a joint between each tile, there’s more chance of water getting into the floor.

Vinyl plank flooring comes in strips. It’s usually printed to look like wood, with the grain traveling in the direction of the plank. Most planks use a tongue and groove system to make installation easier. That allows you to push the tongue of one plank into the groove of the next, snapping them together.

The design also minimizes the gaps between planks. That means it will take some time for any spilled liquids to find their way under the floor.

Both vinyl tiles and vinyl planks are sometimes referred to as “luxury vinyl” because of their thicker construction.

How is vinyl flooring made?

Different types of vinyl flooring are made in different ways.

With sheet flooring, there’s usually some kind of fibrous backing sheet. Until the 1980s, this was commonly asbestos. Asbestos fibers are very harmful to health, causing mesothelioma, an aggressive form of cancer. If you have an old vinyl floor, you’ll need to bring in a licensed contractor to remove it.

Nowadays, the backing sheet is usually made of fiberglass. This is then coated in a layer of vinyl and plasticizer. The whole thing is then printed with a design.

Traditional vinyl sheets are often designed to look like ceramic or terracotta tiles with colored diamonds between them. More modern designs look like stone, wood or marble. And you can even get custom-printed designs – for example, forming a border around the edge of your room.

The design is then covered with one or two further layers. These protect it from wear and tear and are made of polyurethane.

With vinyl tiles and planks, the backing sheet is thicker and more durable. And you can also get cushioned vinyl flooring. This uses closed-cell-foam on the lower layers to give the floor a spring when you walk on it.

Are there any drawbacks to vinyl flooring?

While vinyl flooring is cheap and durable, it’s not very environmentally friendly.

Toxic chemicals are used in the manufacturing process. And after the flooring has been laid down, it can continue to give off those chemicals.

There have been some attempts to tackle this problem. An industry group has been set up to certify some kinds of vinyl flooring as being low in VOCs – volatile organic compounds.

Even low-VOC options, however, will contain some toxic chemicals, like phenol. These can build up in even a well-ventilated room. And they can find their way into the human body.

One study found that children in homes with all vinyl floors had 15 times more benzyl butyl phthalate metabolite in their urine than those from homes without this type of flooring. This chemical has been linked to skin irritation and reproductive and respiratory disorders.

If you’re unfortunate enough to experience a fire in your home, vinyl flooring can cause more problems. The hot material can release hydrogen chloride, a toxic gas that can be fatal if inhaled. And because the vinyl is impermeable to water, it can be very difficult to extinguish once it’s alight.

With care, vinyl flooring can last for many years. But at the end of its life, there are very few recycling facilities. As a result, most used vinyl flooring ends up in landfills. And once there, it can continue to leach toxic chemicals into the environment.

What alternatives are there to vinyl flooring?

If you’re looking for a more environmentally friendly alternative to vinyl, linoleum is a good choice. It’s a natural product and, while slightly more expensive than vinyl, it’s still affordable.

It requires a little more maintenance than vinyl to keep it water-resistant. But if you give it a wax once a year, it will last much longer overall.

How to choose your vinyl flooring

If you’ve decided on vinyl flooring, the first thing to consider is what type you want.

It’s worth thinking about your existing floor and installation as part of this. If you’ve already got vinyl flooring, you may be able to lay your new floor on top. Vinyl sheets are inexpensive and easy to install.

And because they’re impermeable to moisture, they’re a good choice for damp or humid rooms. They will work particularly well in kitchens, bathrooms, or utility rooms.

But if there are any imperfections in the sub-floor or existing vinyl, choose a thicker product. Sheet vinyl will show up any dips or indentations. Tiles or, better yet, planks, will give you a better result.

And if you want a floor to put a spring in your step, cushioned vinyl will be ideal.

The next thing to consider is the design. With vinyl, you can get pretty much any color under the sun. And you can choose a product to mimic stone, ceramic, or wood. So set your imagination free!

Installation

Vinyl is very easy to work with. That means that even people who aren’t confident when it comes to DIY can get great results. There are plenty of online guides that will take you through the whole process step by step. For most rooms, it should take no longer than three hours.

The key to good results is to take your time with preparation. Make sure the sub-floor is level and smooth. And if you’re using vinyl planks, it’s a good idea to plan your layout before you get started. That will mean you’ll know exactly where the cuts will be positioned.

But if you don’t fancy installing your flooring yourself, you can get someone to do it for you. And unless you’re planning a complicated pattern using vinyl plank flooring, it will be a quick and inexpensive job.

Keeping vinyl floors looking good

One of the best things about vinyl flooring is how little effort it takes to keep it looking great. Just give it a regular brush or vacuum to get rid of debris. That will prevent any sharp edges from scratching or denting the surface.

Once a week, get out your mop and bucket and give the floor a wash too. You can buy floor cleaner if you wish, but a simple solution of one cup of white vinegar to a gallon of warm water will work just as well. And it won’t leave behind any soapy residue, so you won’t even need to rinse it away.

Avoid using cleaning products that contain alcohol. They can break down the vinyl over time. And steer clear of those that contain wax too. They can leave the floor slippery, as well as making it dull.

Make sure you keep any abrasive surfaces away from the floor. That means using a broom or mop with a soft head. Microfiber mops are ideal. And watch out for the kinds that have scouring brushes attached. They’re not a good choice for vinyl floors.

It’s also a good idea to put some felt pads beneath the legs of the furniture. That will help prevent it from leaving dents on the floor. And it will also help to avoid tears when chairs are pushed back from tables.

In summary …

Vinyl flooring is cost-effective and easy to install, whether you’re an experienced or novice DIYer. It’s easy to keep clean. And if you take care of it, it can last for many years. With so many different styles and designs on offer, there’s an option to suit any interior design scheme.

But just be aware that there are some environmental drawbacks to this flooring. And even low-VOC options can leach chemicals into your home.

We hope you’re now feeling confident that you know all the key facts about vinyl flooring. Whether or not it’s right for you, we wish you all the best in choosing and installing your new floors!

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