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What Is Vinyl Flooring?

Vinyl flooring is basically a synthetic version of linoleum flooring. First produced in the English/Scottish region in the late 1800s, linoleum floors are made by taking linseed oil and oxidizing it to create the cement known as linoleum. Then this cement is mixed with ground wood flour and other ingredients and poured onto a backing, which was first made from jute, but today can be made from jute, felt, or a number of other products. While linoleum is still produced today, and is popular as one of the all-natural, ecologically friendly options for floor covering, most manufacturers produce far more floors from a vinyl resin made from polyvinyl chloride (PVC), a plastic that is more durable, easier to produce and less expensive than linoleum.

Different manufacturers produce vinyl in different ways, and even floors made by the same manufacturer may have different materials added to the resin to give the finished product certain properties. Plasticizers are oily liquids that make the product softer and more pliable, stabilizers help the vinyl maintain its color and not fade or yellow in sunlight, pigments give the vinyl its color, and fillers like limestone or clay increase its strength and thickness. For the most part, the specific formulation of a vinyl product is a secret, but when you see advertised features like "extra soft" or "colorfast", you can be sure that they have extra plasticizers and stabilizers, respectively.

How Are They Made?

The typical construction of vinyl floors may differ, but starts out the same way, with a backing made of felt or vinyl. Then with sheet vinyl, they lay on the vinyl resin cement that forms the core of the product. With inlaid vinyl, that core is constructed from chips of vinyl laid in a pattern to create the decoration for the floor. With vinyl made via the rotogravure method, the vinyl core is applied in one sheet, which then has a design printed upon it. In both cases, the resulting product is covered with a thin wearlayer of vinyl or urethane, then placed under extreme heat and pressure to finalize the product. Vinyl tile is generally the same, except that some vinyl tile is made with a calenderizing technique that squeezes the vinyl to a specific thickness, then the finished product is shaped or cut into the size of the tile.

Watch The Backing

The backing of the vinyl can be an important part of the product. Most vinyl floors are made with a felt backing, which is similar to the jute backing used on early linoleum. This felt backing helps give vinyl its trademark resistance to water. However, felt backed products are prone to curling, so adhesive must be applied to the backing, which soaks in the glue and attaches itself to the subfloor, holding it in place. Some newer products use a fiberglass backing. This type of backing is much sturdier and less pliable, so it is less prone to curling. As a result, fiberglass-backed floors can be installed without glue, and can be topped with much softer vinyl material without having problems staying straight on the subfloor.

Wearlayers Determine Wear Resistance

Another important part of vinyl construction is the wear layer. The wear layer is one of the most important parts in terms of durability, and often is directly correlated to the price and warranty of the product. Traditional vinyl products will use a normal vinyl wear layer, which provides basic stain resistance, strong resistance to moisture and fairly strong durability. Some of the more advanced vinyl floors will have a urethane wear layer that may feature various additives to increase strength. Urethane wearlayers provide strong resistance against scratches, scuffs, and most household stains. They will vary in thickness, and better vinyl floors will have thicker urethane wearlayers that are mixed with particles of aluminum oxide, ceramic or other materials that increase resistance to scratching and abrasive wear.