Expert Advice: Which Flooring Should I Choose for My Bathroom?
There’s a huge choice of materials, but which is right for your bathroom? Four experts help you choose from 12 materials
Start by considering who will be using the bathroom, and therefore how robust the flooring needs to be. Then think about what kind of look you’re aiming for – rustic or contemporary; pretty, striking or simple; wow factor or wonderfully practical? To help you pinpoint the perfect flooring for you, check out the pros and cons of these 12 options. This panel of experts consists of Katherine Campbell of Amberth; Lydia Robinson of Design Storey; Michelle Johnson of Michelle Shakallis Interiors; and Sharon Lillywhite of Oliver Burns.
Porcelain tiles are one of the most popular choices for bathroom floors, and for good reason. “Porcelain is a mix of quartz, clay and feldspar fired at a high temperature, making it very dense and non-porous,” says Katherine Campbell.
“The tiles come in a wide range of sizes, colours and textures, so you can create a traditional, modern, natural or luxurious look as required.”
“Porcelain tiles can mimic natural materials, such as marble [as pictured here] or wood, if you want a certain look for a lower price,” says Michelle Johnson.
Pros: Super-tough, scratch- and stain-resistant, non-porous so hygienic, stain-resistant, compatible with underfloor heating and do not need sealing. Colour runs through the whole tile, so chips are less visible.
Cons: Cold and hard underfoot. “Dirt can build up in the grout joints, too,” says Campbell. Johnson adds, “I often use dark grout on the floor, so it doesn’t show the dirt.” Tiles can chip, though this is unlikely, and they’re unrepairable if they do.
Maintenance: “Remove dust and dirt with a broom or vacuum cleaner,” says Campbell, “then clean with a damp mop using a multi-purpose household cleaner.”
Generally made from clay with a glaze on top, ceramic tiles are softer and more porous than porcelain, so they’re usually cheaper. “They still come in a huge range of styles, though, and can also mimic other materials [as seen in these timber-look tiles], so it’s easy to get a good look on a budget,” says Campbell.
Pros: Durable, stain-resistant, low maintenance and compatible with underfloor heating. Softer than porcelain tiles, so easier to cut.
Cons: Cold and hard underfoot. Less durable and more likely to chip than porcelain, and chips are more obvious, as the colour does not continue all the way through the tiles beneath the surface.
Maintenance: “As with porcelain, sweep or vacuum, then clean with a damp mop using a household cleaning product,” says Campbell.
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Usually featuring beautiful patterns and rich colours, encaustic cement tiles have a handcrafted, authentic look. They’re made from mineral pigments mixed with cement pressed into a mould.
“Be aware that cement tiles are porous, though,” says Campbell, “so it’s important to seal them to avoid damage. They need two coats of penetrating sealer before grouting.”
Pros: Slip-resistant, scratch-resistant, durable, and compatible with underfloor heating. They’re very unlikely to crack as long as they’re on a perfectly level surface. “If chipped, it won’t be obvious, because of the thick colour layer,” says Campbell.
Cons: “The tiles can be pricey and they can change colour over time,” says Campbell. “Even if well-sealed, spills should be mopped up immediately.” Because the tiles need to dry thoroughly before being sealed, and the sealer needs to dry before grouting, the entire laying process can be lengthy. “Typically 10-plus days,” says Campbell.
Maintenance: “Clean the tiles with a pH-neutral soap – no ammonia, acidic or alkaline cleaners – then use a wax (for marble), which enhances the colours and protects the tiles,” says Campbell. “Difficult stains will need to be removed using oxalic acid then the tile resealed.” It’s also possible to lightly sand stains away, as the pigment runs deep.
“Travertine is a natural, luxurious stone with a high-end look,” says Campbell. “It comes in numerous textures, including etched, sandblasted, honed and tumbled, but for a bathroom, make sure you choose a slip-resistant finish.”
Pros: Hardwearing, easy to clean, compatible with underfloor heating, and cracks can be filled.
Cons: “Natural stone is expensive and generally higher maintenance than other flooring,” says Campbell. It’s heavy, so it needs a strong sub-floor, requires frequent sealing, can scratch, and can feel hard and cold underfoot.
Maintenance: “Use a neutral cleaner and plain water – no ammonia, acidic or alkaline cleaners,” says Campbell.
Dark, velvety slate creates a beautiful base, particularly for a white bathroom. Variations in tone and markings make each tile unique. Choose from honed or polished finishes.
“These [pictured] are Brazilian honed slate floor tiles and they each have an individual natural pattern,” says Johnson. Some slates, such as Brazilian and Welsh, are more durable than others.
Pros: Easy to clean, hardwearing, long-lasting, and compatible with underfloor heating. Cracks can be filled, though this should be done as soon as possible to prevent further damage.
Cons: “Slate needs to be resealed every 12 to 18 months,” says Johnson. It’s also susceptible to scratches and is hard underfoot. It needs a strong sub-floor, as slate is heavy.
Maintenance: To clean your bathroom floor, sweep or vacuum to remove grit, then mop with plain water or a mild neutral detergent.
How Do I… Select Bathroom Tiles?
If it’s a touch of glamour you’re after, marble is your friend. “Marble gives a timeless, modern luxe feel that emanates natural beauty,” says Sharon Lillywhite. “It continues to be the stone of choice to create a dramatic finish in a bathroom.
“Paler marbles such as Carrara are good for flooring and make smaller rooms look lighter and more spacious,” she says. “Large slabs (minimum 80 x 80 centimetres) are best, even in small bathrooms, to give the illusion of more space.”
Pros: Compatible with underfloor heating, easy to clean, cracks can be filled, available in a wide range of patterns and colours, and each tile is unique.
Cons: Marble is porous, so it should be sealed before grouting and again afterwards. “Marble is very susceptible to stains, even with sealing,” says Johnson. “It can also scratch and chip, especially during installation. It will need sealing frequently.”
“In a wet area, it can be a slip hazard,” says Lillywhite. “It’s a high-value item, not just in terms of the cost of the stone, but because you need specialists to install it, otherwise it can crack.”
Maintenance: Frequent dry sweeping with a soft mop helps to remove any dirt that could scratch the floor. Mop with plain water or a specific, pH-neutral marble cleaner.
Is Marble Right for Your Bathroom?
Engineered-timber floorboards bring in the natural look and warmth of solid wood, but, as they’re made from layers of hardwood sandwiching a layer of ply, they’re more stable in a moist environment. They come in a variety of widths, timber species, styles, colours and finishes.
“Engineered wood works nicely with underfloor heating, as it performs well in changes of temperature,” says Johnson. “However, it cannot exceed 27ºC. I’d go for a mid-level thickness, as the thicker ones will obviously take longer to heat up.”
Campbell agrees. “With underfloor heating, boards should be no more than 14 millimetres thick.”
Pros: “Boards look warmer than other floorings,” says Campbell, plus they feel softer and warmer underfoot. They can be sanded and refinished several times, depending on the thickness of the veneer. They’re also easy to clean.
Cons: “Water damage is always a risk from spills over time,” says Campbell. Lacquered boards are sealed and robust, but lack some of the beauty of raw, unfinished wood.
Maintenance: Don’t leave standing water on floorboards. Sweep or vacuum before mopping to remove any particles that could scratch the surface. Wash with a damp, rather than wet mop. You can buy special engineered-wood cleaner – simply add a few drops to water. Don’t use wax-based cleaners or harsh detergents.
How Do I… Choose the Right Kind of Wood to Use in my Home?
“Laminate is one of the most affordable bathroom flooring materials, so it’s a good choice if your budget is tight,” Michelle says. Made from a fibreboard core topped with a photo covered in a tough, transparent wear layer, laminate can mimic the look of wood, stone or ceramic tiles.
“Some laminate can be prone to scratching,” says Johnson, so look for a good-quality product with a scratch guard. “You can have 10 years warranty on the protective layer,” says Campbell.
Pros: Fibreboard laminate is moisture-resistant, easy to clean, doesn’t need sealing, and comes in many colour choices.
Cons: “With wear and moisture exposure, the layers can peel,” says Johnson. Not suitable for most underfloor heating, though there are exceptions.
“Laminate won’t resist standing pools of water,” says Campbell. “It can’t be refinished, it adds less value to a property than porcelain tiles or engineered wood, it can warp from direct contact with water, and it can feel hard underfoot.”
Maintenance: “Use a vacuum or broom, then clean with a slightly damp mop using water or laminate floor cleaner,” says Campbell. Make sure you dry the floor after mopping.
A brilliant purse-friendly option, vinyl flooring can give you the look of timber, stone or tiles, or bring in pattern, such as geometrics or polka-dots.
Pros: “It’s waterproof and stain-resistant, and it feels warm and soft underfoot,” says Cambell. It’s compatible with underfloor heating (but check any temperature restrictions with your supplier), and is durable (“Up to 20-year warranties,” says Campbell.)
Cons: It can scratch, mark or fade over time, though the surface can be refinished. “It can feel plasticky,” says Campbell.
Maintenance: “Sweep frequently with a soft broom, and mop with warm, soapy water or a recommended floor cleaner. Never use anything abrasive,” she says.
“Cork is a versatile material that’s been transformed since the days when those little orange tiles were used in 1970s bathrooms,” says Lydia Robinson.
“It now comes in an engineered board form, too, with the option of a moisture-resistant core, and there’s a host of different colours and looks available.
“It can be used in wet and dry areas seamlessly, from a bedroom through to an ensuite, for example, without the need for thresholds,” says Robinson.
Pros: Resistant to mould and mildew, making it hypoallergenic, good sound insulation, recyclable, warm and soft underfoot, durable and sustainable.
Cons: Cork is light-sensitive, so it’s likely to fade in strong sunlight. “It’s also quite expensive,” says Robinson, “and difficult to repair.” It needs sealing and isn’t suitable for underfloor heating.
Maintenance: Frequent vacuuming and light cleaning with a damp mop. Should be resealed every two to thee years.
For a modern, slightly edgy look, you can’t beat concrete or cement tiles. “Concrete is a robust and durable material and provides a more industrial look,” says Robinson.
Make sure, however, that it’s laid correctly. “Installation can vary, both in terms of quality and cost, depending on the level of finish you want to achieve,” says Robinson. “It’s important to fully consider this – a specialist contractor will usually give you a more refined result. The colour, finish and overall look are very dependent on the installation.”
Pros: “Concrete is extremely versatile: it can be cast in any shape and custom-tinted any shade you wish,” says Johnson.
“It’s durable and compatible with underfloor heating,” says Robinson. It’s also easy to clean, won’t harbour pests, and actually gets tougher over time.
Cons: “Because it’s porous, concrete can stain without frequent sealing,” says Johnson. “With time and settling, small cracks can develop. It’s extremely heavy and will need strong support beneath it.”
Maintenance: Wash with a damp mop and plain water, or a mild, non-acidic detergent.
The Hard Facts on Using Concrete to Decorate
Rubber is sleek and modern, but with a softer look than concrete. It’s available as tiles, but a seamless sheet will ensure it’s neat and waterproof – meaning you don’t have to worry about spills. “It’s perfect for families with young children,” says Campbell.
Pros: “It’s good value for the cost, durable, sustainable, comes in a wide colour choice, is comfortable to walk on, and is hygienic because it’s seamless,” she says. It’s also compatible with some underfloor heating, but check first with your supplier.
Cons: “Not very scratch- and mark-resistant, can fade in sunlight, hard to repair, and polished rubber can be slippery,” says Campbell.
Maintenance: “Remove dust with a broom or vacuum cleaner and wash with a damp mop using the detergent recommended by the manufacturer,” she says.
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