What’s the best alternative to bathroom tiles?
Are you moving home into a place with outdated bathroom tiles all over? Or are you just looking to modernise your current bathroom or revamp your existing en-suite? Whatever your reason for researching bathroom tile alternatives, our blog is here to help you find the answer.
Though they’re a common choice, tiles aren’t the only option for decorating bathroom walls. While coverings for bathroom walls and floors need to be water-resistant to endure the frequent moisture, which limits the possibilities a bit, there are still lots of alternatives to tile out there.
Tiling can sometimes seem old-fashioned, with modern trends favouring a sleek and sophisticated interior design style. There’s also the issue of installing and maintaining them and the grout in between to prevent mould, which can take a lot of effort as well as being expensive.
You might wonder if it’s even possible to have a bathroom without tiles, but we’re here to tell you that it definitely is. Here we have ten alternatives to bathroom tiles that offer the same level of visual appeal of modern tiles, including several low-cost installation and low-maintenance options.
From stone and glass to interior wall panelling, our list of modern tile alternatives should give you a lot to think about. Once you’ve made your decision, though, your bathroom renovation will be a doddle with simple yet durable bathroom wall panels in a material of your choosing.
1) Paint or wallpaper
You might not even have considered paint for your bathroom walls before – after all, it’s common knowledge that paint can bubble and peel in moist environments. The same applies even more strongly for wallpaper. However, modern advances in paint formulas and wallpaper designs mean it’s actually possible to find waterproof paint and water-resistant wallpaper on the market today.
Paint is probably the most reasonably-priced method of sprucing up your bathroom walls without having to cover them. Specialised moisture-resistant paint gives you the creative freedom to paint your shower walls and entire bathroom with a damp-free coating that you can simply wipe clean.
It’s an easy and cheap way to add new colours to your bathroom interior design, though there are some caveats. You need to prepare the walls properly so no moisture is trapped, then choose the right type of paint, and allow it to dry for long enough. You’ll still need to make sure the bathroom has adequate ventilation, and avoid scraping at the walls too much to prevent it from deteriorating.
With this in mind, you should look for an oil-based or latex-based paint with a semi-gloss or high-gloss finish, which is specially designed for use in bathrooms. These are the kinds that will form an effective seal and keep damp and mould at bay. You might need to top the paint up after a while, but it also gives you the opportunity to try new colours whenever you feel like it’s time for a change.
Despite the idea that wallpaper and humidity are a horrible pairing, you can still use wallpaper in the bathroom if you want to achieve decorative patterns easily. Like paint, there are specialist types of bathroom wallpaper that can withstand moisture and steam, which are usually made from vinyl.
2) Acrylic panels
If you like the solid and shiny aesthetic, then acrylic panels could be a suitable modern substitute for classic tiles. Though getting a single panel custom-cut to fit your shower walls can get pricey, there’s also the option of buying smaller panels to fit together like tiles. Of course, this requires more work and careful sealing, though it’s possible to achieve a more seamless look than smaller tiles would.
Acrylic sheets are reinforced with fibreglass to be even more hardwearing against scratches, and the non-porous surface keeps water out and prevents staining. As long as you prepare and seal every panel well, you won’t have to worry about water seeping through and mould growing behind or between them. Difficult to dent or crack yet easy to wipe down, they’re durable and low-upkeep.
Available in a range of colours, usually with a shiny finish, acrylic wall panels provide a smooth and contemporary look whether you use them to cover a whole wall or just one area as an eye-catching design feature. Many suppliers will also add a non-stick coating that repels soap deposits, helping to keep your bathroom walls looking fresh and glossy with minimal effort when it comes to cleaning.
However, acrylic may not be the best option if you aren’t a fan of the ‘plastic’ look. It’s fun, practical, and functional for a kids’ bathroom, for example, but doesn’t always look the most sophisticated. It can also be difficult to repair in the rare event of a scratch or crack, so you might have to replace it.
3) PVC panels
Another, similar, choice is PVC panels (polyvinyl chloride). This material is a commonly used plastic polymer that can imitate the look of tiles without the need for grout or messy seams. It’s more affordable than both ceramic and acrylic, yet simple to install and achieve a water-resistant surface.
They’re flexible enough to wrap around corners and easy to cut to size, and all you need to stick them to (clean) walls or tiles is a suitable adhesive. Lightweight PVC panels are durable enough to withstand the rigours of daily bathroom use for a long time, while providing a pretty aesthetic.
It’s possible to find PVC wall panels in a variety of colours and patterns, often imitating other styles at a much cheaper price point (e.g. marble-effect laminate). This is also a straightforward alternative to hunting down bathroom wallpaper, as PVC sheets essentially act the same way while having a stronger structure. With so many design options, it’s easy to personalise your bathroom with PVC.
Being cheaper and not as thick and tough as tile, it can be easier to damage PVC with scratches and cracks – but the good news is that this also means it’s inexpensive to replace. While it’s not the best option for a high-end look, it’s a great alternative for those renovating their bathroom on a budget.
4) Marble or natural stone
On the other end of the price spectrum is marble. It’s a beautiful natural material that can be crafted to your exact specifications, with each piece having a truly unique pattern and colouring. As such an expensive and high-quality product, installing marble bathroom walls will increase the overall value of your property, lasting for years and looking stunning in both modern and traditional bathrooms.
If you care for it correctly, marble can last for decades. It’s generally so durable that it can resistant mould, scuffs, chips, and fading. That said, it does take regular upkeep to maintain that state and appearance – including frequent re-sealing and careful chemical-free cleaning. There’s also the issue of real marble being very heavy, which won’t be suitable for mounting on walls in every bathroom.
There are other types of natural stone that can be used on bathroom walls instead of marble, too. More affordable stone bathroom wall options include quartz, granite, Corian, and limestone. This style is excellent for achieving a rustic or Mediterranean look, but it can be just as costly to install and maintain as marble – usually requiring an expert fitter to complete a professional installation.
5) Stainless steel
If thinking about the cost of marble has you reeling, and you’re leaning more towards industrial interior style than natural stone, why not consider stainless steel? This material might seem more suited to a commercial kitchen than a domestic bathroom, but it’s definitely something different.
Steel wall panels provide an extremely modern aesthetic, whether you use them to line a shower cubicle or an entire wall. As most of us already know, stainless steel is an exceptionally strong and hardwearing material, which is surprisingly lightweight when cut to shape and size to fit on walls.
Long-lasting and straightforward to clean, steel sheets can be mounted over concrete, screwed into place, and sealed around the edges with silicone caulk to prevent moisture from getting through any tiny gaps. This doesn’t necessarily require hiring a professional fitter, but it’s probably better to avoid DIY unless you already have experience in this area (and the appropriate tools to hand).
Stainless steel panels can last for many decades, but it’s likely that you’ll need to re-caulk them every few years to maintain the waterproof seals. You may also get tired of the sometimes cold appearance of steel during that time – but if you really like it, your bathroom could be set for life.
6) Concrete or brick
Other industrial interior design options for your bathroom include concrete or cement. It’s ideal not only for walls but also for a non-slip floor surface. As a mainly structural material, there’s little installation involved in creating a concrete bathroom, so it’s a relatively low-cost endeavour.
It can be either polished or textured, and you can even choose to paint over it. The downside is that concrete is porous, meaning it can soak up dirt and spillages that lead to mildew unless you scrub it regularly. It’s also not the best insulator, so your bathroom could end up being too hot or too cold.
Another choice in this industrial style is exposed brick walls. It’s minimalist and fairly cheap, while still creating laid-back visual interest in the room. Natural brick adds a nice texture to bring some personality to the room – but it can take some work to chip away layers of plaster to reveal bricks.
The primary problem is that brick is also porous, so you have to treat it carefully with waterproof coatings to keep damp and mould at bay. You should either get it professionally sealed or look into water-resistant paint if you would rather paint the bricks. Of course, there are ways to get the look of brick walls without using the actual material, such as vinyl laminates and printed wallpapers.
7) Stone resin
If you like the look of natural stone but would prefer a non-porous material for your bathroom, then stone resin is a great substitute. Made from combining stone dust, acrylic resin, and epoxy, stone resin panels are just as tough and durable as real stone, but with a lower cost and less upkeep.
This dense material can be used to create sleek and seamless bathroom walls, with a low risk of mould or erosion from prolonged exposure to moisture and heat. Their high resistance to water ingress, staining, chipping, and cracking means that stone resin walls can last an entire lifetime.
Another benefit is that, unlike concrete, stone resin is warmer to the touch. This is ideal if you live in a cold climate, prefer hot showers, or dread stepping into the shower on winter mornings. If you use the material to cover the floor as well as the walls, it can be textured to help prevent accidental slips.
The main drawback of stone resin panels is that they’re quite heavy and therefore difficult to install or remove. Once it’s installed properly, the material requires little to no maintenance, but having stone resin professionally installed can push costs up – especially if you have to alter the plumbing.
8) Wood or bamboo
Many people like the warmth and rustic charm of natural wood in the kitchen – but about in the bathroom? Since it’s a high-moisture zone, wooden bathroom walls don’t seem like such a good idea, as the steam and water can cause warping, damp, and rot. However, if it can be used on floors and outdoors, why can’t wooden panelling be used in bathrooms around sinks, baths, and showers?
If your bathroom is well-ventilated and you treat the wood correctly with oil-based primers and waterproof varnishes or semi-gloss paints, this can help to prevent staining, mildew, and distortion from water ingress and general grime. They’re still not the best solution for splash zones like shower cubicles and baths, but wooden wall panels do create a lovely ‘spa’ look around bathroom walls.
If you do choose timber bathroom walls, it will require careful maintenance, including annual re-sealing – which makes it a more expensive choice, as well as the upfront material and installation costs. It may be more prone to deterioration if not looked after properly, but wood is aesthetically pleasing in a unique way in a world full of colder stone and tile. You should also consider more waterproof options with a similar aesthetic, like bamboo, which can be polished and sealed.
9) Glass or fibreglass
Fibreglass is one of the cheapest options for renovating shower and bath areas, offering a seamless panel look that removes the need for grout. Like acrylic, there’s less reason to worry about mould and damp with fibreglass bathroom panels, and it’s simple to install and even easier to maintain.
The problem with fibreglass walls is that they’re more susceptible to damage. If even a tiny crack or chip happens, it will continue to spread and chip away, also allowing excess moisture to penetrate the material so mould can grow. That said, it’s still cheap to replace a damaged fibreglass panel if you have to. It’s very convenient for a quick and inexpensive bathroom makeover, which is ideal if you just want an easy and fast upgrade or you like to redecorate your bathroom walls frequently.
If you want something with a higher quality and are willing to pay a bit more for it, then actual glass panels are a big step up. Though you might think of glass as fragile, it’s usually toughened and treated specifically for such uses as kitchens and bathrooms. Glass bathroom walls are relatively inexpensive, not too difficult to install, easy to keep clean, and strong enough to last a long time.
Whether you want translucent satin glass, tinted glass, or back-painted glass, in large seamless panels or small mosaic-ready tiles, there are plenty of options to bring colour and creativity into your bathroom with glass wall panels. Since glass is very reflective, it will also make the room feel bigger.
10) Polyurethane bathroom wall panels
When it comes to bathroom tile alternatives, we’ve saved the best ‘til last (in our opinion) – and that’s bathroom wall panels made from Purotouch. This is a type of high-density polyurethane material, which is a flexible kind of plastic polymer that’s even more durable than it is affordable.
This bathroom wall cladding is easy to apply to clean surfaces using the right adhesive, and you can even stick the panels over existing tiles instead of having to remove them first to make installation even easier and faster. The panels can be cut to size, fit together virtually seamlessly, and painted in any colour you like (using water-resistant paint, of course). You won’t have to worry about grout, mould, or constant upkeep – polyurethane wall panels are waterproof and can be wiped clean.
High-quality bathroom cladding is not only great value for money and beautiful to look at, but also exceptionally functional. It’s a no-fuss, fit-and-forget solution that can last for years with hardly any maintenance required. It shouldn’t warp like wood or peel like laminates; it should stay sturdy with a major visual impact for years to come. If you get bored of the colour after a while, you can simply repaint your panels for a new look. Why not check out our bathroom paint colours for inspiration?
If you need help choosing the best bathroom wall panels for your home or have any questions about the stunning bathroom cladding we supply at the Library Ladder Company, you can always get in touch with our team of interior experts by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.