Vinyl and linoleum differ, but one of these flooring materials looks so much like the other that it's easy to confuse them. Vinyl flooring is manufactured from polyvinyl chloride -- the same plastic used for plumbing pipes -- and linoleum is an all-natural product manufactured with linseed oil. As far as cleaning is concerned, you shouldn't confuse them, because they require slightly different cleaning methods. Gentle cleaners are best for both types of flooring, though.
Differences Between Vinyl and Linoleum
Because vinyl is plastic, the pattern is usually stamped on the surface, and your floor may have a raised texture. Linoleum, on the other hand, is covered by a coating of dried linseed oil that has much in common with wood varnish, and the pattern extends from the backing all the way through this coating. Because it's basically dried oil, linoleum is more susceptible to scratches than vinyl, and a coating of wax is recommended to protect it. You should never wax vinyl, though -- wax doesn't adhere well to vinyl, and it renders the flooring slippery and unsafe.
General Cleaning Guidelines
Whether your floor is vinyl or linoleum, you should avoid cleaning it with ammonia or bleach. High-pH detergents are corrosive and can damage both types of flooring. The best cleaners are pH-neutral ones, such as plain water or a solution of 1 ounce of mild dish detergent per gallon of water. Standing water can stain both vinyl and linoleum, so mop with a microfiber mop -- not a string one -- and wring it well before mopping. When mopping with detergent, go over the floor with clean water to rinse it, then dry the floor with a rag.
White and apple cider vinegar, both natural cleaning agents, can remove ground-in dirt, mineral streaks, and scuff marks from both vinyl and linoleum. Vinegar is too strong to use full strength unless you have to remove deep stains. For regular cleaning, mix 1 cup with a gallon of warm water, adding an ounce of dish detergent and a few drops of baby oil to make a strong mopping solution that leaves a shine. For deep stains on linoleum, spray vinegar on the floor full strength, then mop immediately with plain water. Repeat, adding hydrogen peroxide, if needed. If this treatment dulls the finish, apply acrylic floor polish to restore the shine. You can't polish vinyl floors, so avoid using full-strength vinegar to clean them.
If a vinegar solution isn't strong enough to remove scuff marks or dye stains, such as those left after a juice or wine spill, you can make them disappear with a number of other cleaners. Rub out stains with isopropyl alcohol, metal lubricating spray or a paste made with baking soda and water, then clean away any oil or powder residue with vinegar and water. Other easy ways to remove stains include rubbing them with 3 percent hydrogen peroxide from your medicine cabinet or non-gel white toothpaste. To remove greasy and waxy stains, such as those from a crayon, spray white foam shaving cream on the stain, let it sit for 15 minutes, then wipe it off.