Whatever you do, don't mention them in the same breath. Vinyl flooring. Linoleum. There. Two separate sentences for two very different products. And if you dare to lump them together, both sides will get upset.

Yet, both vinyl flooring and linoleum are seeing an upsurge in popularity — and for different reasons. Here, we address the cases for and against these cushioned, comfy, easy-clean alternatives to tile, wood and cement.

The case for: Technological leaps have taken vinyl from the bottom of the flooring heap and turned it into a product hard to ignore. And although sales in the United States are flat — thanks to the housing slump — what's on offer is far from it.

Vinyl tiles — easy to lay and replace yourself — look like real tile, down to the fake grout lines. Sheets of vinyl can resemble planks of wood, mosaic tile, stone, slate or cork. "You almost have to get down on your hands and knees to tell the difference," says Tucson interior designer Sandra Keeney of Sandra Keeney Interiors. Keeney did a client's wine cellar in tile-effect vinyl.

Various home-improvement chat rooms are buzzing about a new product from TrafficMaster, called Allure. It's a wood look-alike that comes in vinyl "planks" that stick to each other with pre-applied adhesive. Cost: $1.99 per square foot.

The other plus for vinyl: Manufacturers like Armstrong have added technology that prevents ripping or gouging.

"It's so much more comfortable to live with, it's not as cold or hard, and you don't have to deal with grout," says June Delajoux of ProSource of Tucson, a supplier to builders and designers.

The case against: There's still that bad reputation; even with the leaps in technology and look-alike wood or tile, you can't get away from the fact it's fake.

It gets a bad rap for its ingredients, too: PVC-based petroleum and synthetics.

In Tucson, tile is still king. Two flooring stores we spoke to in Tucson reported their vinyl inventories were shrinking, despite increased interest in other parts of the country and in Europe.

"The people who come in to look for vinyl are looking for small bathrooms, usually no bigger than 5-by-4 feet," says Adam Rodriguez, sales associate at House of Carpets on Grant Road.

The case for: Linoleum was invented more than 140 years ago, but it battled to maintain sales after vinyl came along in the 1950s. Lino's "recipe" remains the same: linseed oil, wood flour, cork flour, limestone and jute, all renewable materials that require little energy to harvest. So today's enviro-guilty, waste-not population has made it trendy again.

The resurgence has led to some bold colors and fun designs. "Five years ago, we had zero linoleum sales. Now that whole market is so hot just because of the whole green thing," says Delajoux.

"It's also antibacterial and antistatic. It's a very good product for people with allergies or asthma," says Scott Day, marketing administrator with Forbo Flooring Systems, maker of Marmoleum, a linoleum brand.

Like vinyl flooring, lino is easy-clean with a damp mop. It's also durable. "It's a 40- to 50-year-old floor, whereas with vinyl you're lucky to get 10 to 15 years out of it," says Natasha Winnik, who sells Marmoleum at Originate, a natural building materials store Downtown.

Tip: If you do get a hole in linoleum, fill it by melting a wax crayon the same color into the hole.

The case against: People are still apt to lump it together with vinyl flooring and give it a bad rap.

The way linoleum is made prevents any tile or wood look-alikes being developed. Vinyl tends to be a print adhered to a backing, whereas linoleum is a pressed product whose color and design go all the way through it.

Brands like Marmoleum don't come cheap; it costs around $5-$7 per square foot installed.

Gaining ground

Tucsonan tries Marmoleum

"It's low maintenance and a nice look."

When Caryl Clement added a guest suite above the garage of a home she owns in Civano on the Southeast Side, she needed a flooring that wouldn't weigh a lot.

"One of the big considerations was creating weight on the existing structure, so tile flooring was completely out for me," she says.

Her brother in Oregon suggested Marmoleum. "I found it was a natural-based product and lightweight, and it was the least expensive of everything," says Clement, who paid $5-$6 per square foot including installation.

She opted to use Marmoleum over all of her 440-square-foot guest quarters except the entrance and the small bathroom. She used three different colors — shades of gray and green — and had the installers take it up the side of her wall 6 inches to create a baseboard. "It's really low maintenance and a nice look."

● Contact freelance reporter Gillian Drummond at GCDrummond@aol.com.