Sheet Vinyl Flooring

by Nick Gromicko, CMI®

Sheet vinyl is a popular finishing option for interior floors.  Advantages of this material include the variety of colors and styles available, its moderate durability, and the relative ease of maintenance.  Sheet vinyl repels dirt and resists scuffing fairly well.  Its moisture-resistant properties provide protection from spills, making them easy to clean up.  The variety of colors and styles that vinyl sheet flooring is available in allows it to be used in many places in the home.  It can also mimic the appearance of other flooring materials, and is able to match virtually any chosen décor.
A sheet vinyl floor can be a cost-effective option that is typically less expensive than other types of flooring, but the cost of a sheet vinyl floor is directly related to its quality. Though it tends to be cheaper than other types of flooring, inexpensive vinyl may be of low quality, while more expensive vinyl is usually of better quality. Low-quality flooring can last for 10 years, while high-quality vinyl floors can last for 30 years or more. All vinyl flooring has a wear layer, but the more expensive vinyl generally has a thicker wear layer than the cheaper versions, providing more durability.
General maintenance of a sheet vinyl floor also tends to be fairly simple.  Regular sweeping and mopping are usually all the care that's needed to keep the floor in good shape. 
However, issues do come up related to defects with this type of flooring.  Sometimes, the problems are related to poor maintenance and care on the part of the homeowner, but, more often, they are the result of improper installation.  Some examples of these issues are outlined below and differentiate among problems caused during installation, those due to regular wear and tear, and those related to owner negligence.

Issues Associated with Installation

Proper installation of sheet vinyl flooring actually requires a high level of skill, in addition to specific training. Sheet vinyl products have their own set of instructions and factory-approved compatible products. Underlayment, adhesives, nailing patterns, subfloor, and seam-sealers are not always interchangeable between different types of vinyl. Every component of the installation must be factory-approved for use with the specific type of vinyl being installed. Techniques specific to different vinyl materials may also need to be employed. The major sheet vinyl manufacturers print detailed instructions and guides that should be followed, and they also offer extensive factory training for professional installers. When sheet vinyl flooring is incorrectly installed, it leads to problems down the line.

Some of the most common complaints related to sheet vinyl flooring that can be traced back to issues with the initial installation are listed below. In each of the following instances, the visible defects resulting would not have occurred if the vinyl flooring had been correctly installed:
  • wrong patching;
  • seam failure or open seams;
  • the wrong adhesive;
  • improper or lack of subfloor preparation;
  • wrong underlayment material;
  • cracking; and
  • irregular surface.
Some additional possibilities for defects related to installation, or defects originating at the factory, may include poor pattern matching or print defects. Irregularities in the print pattern or pattern matching may or may not be within the manufacturer's specifications, depending on the specific case, and the flooring may or may not be acceptable for installation. This should be determined through visual inspection before the flooring is installed so it can be remedied if it is deemed to be an issue.

After installation, time and temperature are important. For the first 24 hours after new vinyl flooring has been installed, all the seamed areas should be protected, and the seam sealer should not be walked on. The temperature of the room should be kept at around 68° F for at least two days after installation to allow the adhesives to set up properly.

Rolling heavy objects on a new vinyl floor can cause the vinyl and adhesive to become compressed, and once the adhesive sets up, any compressed marks will become permanent. Five days is an adequate amount of time to wait before moving furniture or any other heavy objects, such as a piano, on the new vinyl floor. Also, before placing chairs and other furniture on the floor, check the condition of all their casters or rollers to be sure they are in good shape and will not scratch or damage the new vinyl. Replace any worn casters or rollers.  If any of the furniture has metal or sharp edges on their legs, install some adhesive felt pads to their bottoms to protect the  new floor.
Also, during the same five-day waiting period, homeowners should abstain from washing the new floor so that the adhesive will cure properly.


The use of good-quality, compatible underlayment is essential to proper installation.  Numerous types of underlayment can be paired with sheet vinyl, and it is important to correctly match products approved for use by the factory with the specific type of vinyl being installed.  The underlayment must be completely free of any ink, oils, dirt, factory stamps, and residue from old adhesives before it is covered with vinyl in order to ensure that surface irregularities or adhesive failure do not occur.

Maintenance and Other Issues

While many common defects in sheet vinyl floor covering can be traced back to problems with the initial installation, some other issues may be caused by poor maintenance and care on the part of the homeowner.  High-quality sheet vinyl is fairly durable when properly maintained, but it is far from indestructible, and is still susceptible to damage from accidents or improper treatment.  Below are some common issues not related to installation.
  • Dulling of Gloss  
This is almost always the result of poor maintenance, and can be observed in high-traffic areas and under furniture.  Dirt, dust and grit can act as sandpaper on the glossy finish, eventually eroding the sheen on the vinyl, if it is not cleaned on a regular basis.  Dusting and mopping regularly will help prevent loss of sheen due to the impact of dirt and grit.  Use of floor mats and track or area rugs can help preserve the vinyl installed in high-traffic areas.

Many commercial floor-cleaning “protectors” and polishes are available that provide a glossy surface and seal on the floor.  However, some of these are not appropriate for all vinyl floors, and may, in fact, dull the floor rather than polish it.  Those suitable for vinyl floors coat the surface to reduce wear and tear, and add an additional sheen to the surface.  Using the wrong polishes will only dull the floor.  The manufacturer’s recommendations for specific products should be checked before using any of these so-called "floor polishers."

  • Surface-Stripping

Once or twice a year, it may be advisable to strip a vinyl floor.  A stripping solution (often provided by the manufacturer at the time of installation) is designed to remove the inevitable buildup of oils and soap residue that accumulate over time, even with regular maintenance.  The stripping solution should return the vinyl floor to its original condition.

There are also commercial refinishing products available for vinyl floors.  These are rarely used and are appropriate only where heavy wear has worn the surface of the vinyl floor away, such as is common in commercial and public buildings.  The refinisher re-seals the vinyl and adds a lustrous coating to its surface, but should be used only when the vinyl floor’s original surface has been compromised, and not as a polish.  The manufacturer’s directions should always be followed carefully when using a commercial refinisher.
  • Discoloration 
Yellowing and slight discoloration or staining are common in areas of high traffic, such as walkways between rooms and near entrances and exits.  Often, asphalt sealers, dirt, oil, or anything else tracked indoors on the bottoms of shoes, including the soles of certain types of shoes themselves, can cause discoloration.  This is a function of normal wear and tear on the vinyl.  Regular cleaning and strategic placement of floor mats and rugs can help prevent discoloration.

Heat and direct sunlight can also cause discoloration.  Areas near heating vents, radiator legs or supply pipes, as well as spots near windows and glass doors, may be at risk.  It is best to avoid installing sheet vinyl flooring in spots that will be subject to high levels of heat, and to use curtains or shades on windows that would allow vinyl to be bathed in direct sunlight for extended times during the day.

  • Surface Damage and Dents 
These are usually the result of negligence or accidents.  Furniture can cause scratches and dents if it is slid along the surface of the vinyl, or if couches or chairs with metal or angular feet that could be potentially damaging are used.  Some types of shoes with very hard bottoms can scratch or scuff the surface of the vinyl, as well.  Hard or sharp objects dropped on the floor can also cause gouges and dents.  Padding under the legs of furniture can help prevent gouges, as can removing shoes before walking on the floor.
  • Repairs

Repairs should be approached slightly differently, depending on the type of flooring and damage.  With vinyl tile, it is generally best to simply replace the marred tile.  Sheet vinyl requires patching or fusing of the surface.

Small cuts and scratches can be permanently fused with liquid seam-sealer, a clear compound that's available wherever vinyl flooring is sold.  Once the area is cleaned with a soft cloth dipped in lacquer thinner, a thin bead of sealer can be squeezed into the damaged area.  After the sealer has dried, the repair should be virtually invisible.

For tears and burns, as well as larger dents and scratches, the ruined area can be cut out and replaced with a patch.  This is done by placing a scrap of the same material over the damaged area and cutting through both pieces simultaneously to create a perfect- size replacement patch.  The damaged area is then removed, and the freshly cut patch is glued down in its place.  Installers will usually leave some scrap pieces of vinyl for exactly this purpose.

Replacing a vinyl tile is also simple.  The adhesive can be softened with a heat gun or even a blow-dryer, allowing the tile to be scraped out with a chisel or putty knife.  A replacement tile can then be put in place after the subfloor has been cleaned and prepared for the new adhesive.
It is fairly easy, in most cases, to determine where defects in sheet vinyl flooring originated.  Inspectors will be interested in the telltale signs of improper installation, as well as the defects associated with it.  Homeowners should be conscious of the limitations of this material, and know how to properly maintain it, once installed.