Tenement Museum Collections

Caring for 100-Year Old Linoleum

Linoleum tile


This 100-year-old linoleum was cleaned and removed from an unused apartment in 2013 so that conservators could access the floorboards and thus the ceiling of the apartment below. Conservators cleaned the 9×12 linoleum carpet with a HEPA vacuum and soot sponges, and then they applied tissue paper to protect it when rolling it up. It was then stored in a large tube with protective foam for the next 10 years.

Our Curatorial team was worried that it would crack when it was unrolled, so they used hairdryers to gently heat the linoleum to make it more flexible and prevent cracks when it is unrolled. Once the linoleum was unrolled, our team used damp sponges to wipe away the tissue paper and reveal the patterned surface.

Check out this blog post – first published on July 18, 2013 – that shares the story of how our then-Curatorial team worked first to preserve the linoleum. Our current Curatorial staff wasn’t sure the linoleum would survive the process of unrolling and cleaning completely intact, so we’re proud to say our 2013 team did an excellent job of it!

Fun With Linoleum (No, Really!) — By Kira Garcia

Recently, we’ve done some conservation work that required us to pry up floorboards in Apartment 7 at 97 Orchard Street. But before we could open the floor up, we had to remove the floor covering–an 80 or 90-something year old linoleum “rug” probably installed by the building’s last landlord. There are several of these throughout the building.

The Baldizzi Family Kitchen

Our Collections Manager Kathleen O’Hara oversaw the project, working with Rachael Arenstein and Eugenie Milroy of AM Art Conservation. They cleaned the “rug” three times (vacuum, dry cleaning, wet cleaning), then faced it with a wet-strength tissue-paper, and rolled it around a 21″ diameter tube for storage while work on the floor was completed. And you thought cleaning YOUR kitchen floor was tough!

The Linoleum "rug" Before and After

First manufactured in the mid-18th century, Linoleum is an environmentally friendly precursor to vinyl flooring. It’s made from renewable, plant-based materials like solidified linseed oil (linoxyn), pine rosin, ground cork dust, wood flour, and mineral fillers. Most of the time, Linoleum was mounted on a coarse fabric backing and installed in one piece. Over the years it was created with different colors and patterns (including the popular faux “rug” theme) to match the fashions of the day.”

Linoleum Ad, 1929