Grandma's linoleum floor made her kitchen a true living space. When we played jacks the balls bounced higher; when we fell, we nearly bounced; when we spilled, it wiped up fine, no fuss. And it absorbed noise, which made it popular for playrooms, too. True linoleum, invented more than a hundred years ago (before petroleum and synthetics) was all natural, made of wood or cork flour, jute, flaxseed and linseed oil. Not to be confused with the PVC vinyl sheeting or tiles that have been called "linoleum" since 1947, when, because of their cheap price, they began to be the first choice for resilient floors.

What no one knew then was the problem PVC poses for human and environmental health. Children in homes with PVC flooring were found to have higher incidence of bronchial  problems and eczema in a 2005 study published in Environmental Health Perspectives. The researchers traced the symptoms to levels of phthalates in house dust. The source of the phthalates? Vinyl floors. PVC's manufacture also unleashes carcinogenic dioxins into our air and water. For more information,  go to Greenpeace.

The good news: Old-fashioned natural linoleum flooring is making a big comeback. Check it out in its multiplicity of durable patterns and colors from Armstrong and Forbo.

Natural, resilient, timeless. Like Grandma. 

This article originally appeared in Plenty in June 2008. The story was moved to

Copyright Environ Press 2008